My suggestion is to improve the targeting of the ads on your forum. If your ads are not covering your bandwidth when you have a decent amount of traffic then you need to find ads that suit your customers better.
You need to know what type of people view your forums and match the ads to that.
Here are a couple of threads about monetizing your forum:
It's not an easy thing to do in most cases. You'll need a strong forum to make it happen, and even then it's tough to turn it into a major revenue source.
What motivated the launch of the forum in the first place? Was it intended as an education and learning resource? A social networking or connecting venue? A place for members to promote xyz? A place for members to inform others of xzy?
Was the forum meant to build traffic for a related site? Was it about creating 'stickiness' as an approach to building loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals? Did you simply wish to foster community, therefore money 'isn't really an issue' (unless and until it grows considerably)?
My research suggests that most forums fail to yield a ROI when subjected to a "time/dollars in = dollar profits out" analysis.
The ROI may be valuable when other metrics are applied. I'm a huge fan of altruistic behavior, however good works that require - but lack - adequate funding can wither and die. If that's your situation then I feel your pain.
Perhaps a reassessment of the purpose, intent and goals of the venture in forum building might yield a different determination of 'whether it's worth it' or 'whether it's paying for itself'.
Think about the many ways 'pay for itself' can be interpreted and you might see some new possibilities. One client referral, for a developer, could more than cover the costs of running a forum whereas the money paid for running banner ads won't.
Consider eliminating 'pay for itself' from the formula and focus on giving value. Changing one's focus, particularly from 'me to you' or from 'what's in it for me to I'm here to help you' is sometimes pretty magical stuff.
Um, let's see. We originally started the site for two reasons. One, we wanted to build a community and two we wanted to make enough income for my sister and I to stay home with our kids. We did not want to have intrusive ads or payed only memberships. I think we were not as aware of the low pay off on forums as we are now. We do get a lot of traffic to our main site from our forums, but the bulk of our traffic on our site is our forums. I do not want to get rid of our forums even if they don't pay well. I wanted to be able to give back to our members and not be a take only site. We have built a great community for mothers and I am proud of that. However, that being said our forums are time intensive. I know I can't spend a 40 hour week on my site forever without making a profit. That's why I am looking into ways to make our site more profitable.
The forum attempts I have done with ads have been failures for income.
People immediately look at the content of the messages and ignore the ads.
There is too much on the screen competing for eyeballs.
If you can figure out how to do it with the software you have, try putting a banner AFTER the first message in each thread, rather than above the thread or below the thread. That might get a few more percent clicking.
There are always going to be a handful of forum members that use 90% of your forum resources (bandwidth, mysql cpu-load) but generate the least income. The problem is unless they are abusive in other obvious ways, you can't typically ban them.
- lower costs to run it: there are reliable dedicated server deals out there for $59/mo - with the right optimiziations (MMCache to precompile php which also happen to be free, mysql optimizations, add as much RAM as possible, get SCSI) a 2.x single pentium can process up to 0.75-1M dynamic PHP page views/day
- SEO: have your users create content, SEO your forum to rank in the SERPs and visitors will actually click on the ads
- and/or: have users 'donate' money, give them e.g. a star for each $10 donated, there are even plugins out there for phpbb etc. Unless your forum is extremely unique and the clear market leader in your specific niche you'll probably get more from donations than from subscriptions, if in doubt try both.
1) Perform a demographic study of your membership.
2) Survey your membership regularly. Question 1: Which of the following products/categories have you personally purchased online in the last 6 months? Which are you planning to purchase? Etc.
Get more info about your membership's habits, economics, etc. Use this info to build answers/solutions to your questions about how to get the forum to pay for itself.
If your membership is moms at home perhaps you should partner with educational software providers, etc. What economic decisions are the venue of you demographic? Product reviews by members + AdSense?
In order to sell to your market you need a deeper understanding of your market and that starts with asking questions.
I think selling premium accounts is your better bet. In my experience, ads on forums do not generate much money at all. I'm close to breaking even with premium account sales.
In my humble opinion, the best way to get people to want to pay for a forum is:
Give them enough good useful tools, where they would comeback to use the tools as well as your forum.
I have to say this and not to offend anybody, I would not make the tools ebooks, for they are available Everywhere.
Good software that will make things easier & therefore, you would want to make sure to bookmark your site.
Possibly, pay a commission for those bringing in members, that way you would have the help of others looking to signup others.
One word of caution with last idea:
Make the cost in the $9.95 month range, and pay 50%.
A residual of $5 a month to affiliates doesn't sound like much, but you bring in 50 new members and you have
$250 a month.
Just 2 cents worth
Good luck whatever you chose to do.
Run a silent auction. See if you can get some of your regular members to donate items. Then make a list, and let the bidding begin. I do this every year before Christmas. I take a month to request items for the auction, and a month for bidding.
xenithforever, welcome to webmasterworld!
That's quite an interesting idea, paying members to bring in new members. Instead of paying people though, I would give them a discount on their subscription. It's just easier than sending money to people. Also, make sure they don't get the discount until after you've collected the money from the new member. That's a great idea to give a or finder's fee or commission for new members. I may just have to try it sometime.
Also note that with a bigger site you will have considerable scale advantages on ads.
[edited by: rogerd at 3:08 am (utc) on Dec. 8, 2004]
[edit reason] Can't post links, sorry [/edit]
try putting the advertisments into your sig.
most likely you post a lot at your forum... might work