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Best Forum Software for SEO?

What is the best out-of-the box forum software for SEO purposes?

5:54 pm on May 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

OK, so I have been running SMF for about 3 months as a sub-domain (forum.example.com) and it is totally stuck in the Google supplemental index. I ahve been trying to research what the potential duplicate content issues may be with this software and what other forum software might be more SE-friendly.

Could anyone provide me with feedback regarding this issue? I know some of the paid forums like vBulletin have vbSEO, which is a paid add-on that improves inexability.

I just want the post pages to have the possibility of ranking...HELP!

8:05 pm on May 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

>>vBulletin & vbSEO

That's probably the most sophisticated setup, and an extensive SEO admin panel gives the admin the ability to customize the configuration.

phpBB has one or more hacks which are designed to improve SEO - perhaps one of our phpBB pros can chip in with some commentary.

Flat-file forums written in Perl tend to be a little cleaner for SEO due to static page names and fewer dupe issues than database-driven forums that can serve the same content umpteen different ways.

8:26 pm on May 4, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I've yet to see any compelling evidence that VBSEO improves the search engine performance of a vBulletin forum.
1:55 pm on May 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I've tested vbSEO offline and it does the right things from a basic SEO standpoint - static-looking URLs, keyword forum topic "folders", redirects of index to root, nofollows on potential dupe content, redirects for old-style URLs (from offsite bookmarks, etc.) This is all SEO 101, but the authors seem to have a clue.

Having said that, Google is getting pretty good at sorting out complex dynamic sites so the benefits of doing this stuff either by vbSEO or by your own hacks probably aren't as great as they might have been a few years ago. At least from Google's standpoint, I don't see a compelling need for vbSEO - between the "archive" and the live forum, the stock software with a few template tweaks does an adequate job of getting content indexed. (That's not to say some more serious mods couldn't provide better indexing and rankings.)

It's possible the benefit might be greater with non-Google engines. MSN in particular seems to have a lot of problems indexing deep content despite their frenetic spidering - maybe a cleaner URL hiearchy will help them out.

I haven't personally evaluated the long-term SEO benefits of vBSEO, but I've got a large scale experiment that should launch in a few weeks. We'll see how it performs.

4:15 pm on May 6, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I'd be interested to hear how the experiment pans out. Please keep us posted.
8:38 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

vbSEO is great for the long-term. Your traffic will, in the long run, rise.

The real test with a vbulletin forum is trying to keep the old threads, that may be buried deep down on maybe page 100 of forumdisplay, indexed and not supplemental. That is a whole new level of SEO in itself.

The archive is interesting and very controversial. Some scream duplicate content while others think it's great. Personally, I have it turned off and don't even link to it. I know some users may have it act as a sitemap and 301 to the actual threads.

12:38 am on May 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

vbSEO is great for the long-term. Your traffic will, in the long run, rise.

That's an assumption, not evidence. My vBulletin forums have all experienced increased traffic over time.
12:39 am on May 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Good point. Since active forums are constantly adding new content and, one hopes, picking up links, it's not unlikely traffic will rise. I think one test would be to plot SE referrals over time. A slow, steady increase with little change before and after implementation would indicate little or no impact from vBSEO. A jump in the months following implementation would indicate the software improved performance.

I guess the ultimate test would be to find two similar forums and implement on one, but the "control group" approach is tough to implement in the real world.

1:07 am on May 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Agreed. Seems like all forum software has potential issues in Google. It's unfortunate that the functionality that developers create for a better user experience would cause so much peril at the hands of the mighty G.

I have decided to give SMF more time and implement stricter controls similar to the approach employed with Worpress, using .hta and robots.txt files to attempt to control what is spidered.

I will report my findings...

4:50 am on May 11, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well, for what it's worth, I have a popular forum, was phpbb with the SEO mod for quite some time. A while back (posted here) I switched to vBulletin, with vbSEO.

The difference is real, more traffic, and FAR BETTER PR rankings. Actually seeing good PR on some of the threads. On phpbb only stickies seemed to get PR, but vbSEO seems to balance PR better.

PR of course, is not everything, but it's not just that, traffic and rankings on certain words and phrases are up as well.

From someone who has used both, vBulletin with vbSEO is better then phpbb with the SEO mod.

But.. (always a but eh?) it is tricky, you need to set it up correctly. They offer pre-configured setups, one is actually based on WebmasterWorld and that's what I use.

2:21 pm on May 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

One of the big advantages of some (but not all) "search engine friendly" forum URL's is that they are far more user-friendly than the cryptic, dynamic default URL's.

In today's era, search engines recognize the major forum software, and have rules as to how they index and rank forum content. If the "search engine friendly" mod leaves the forum software identifiable, my impression is that the search engines apply the same "how to index this forum" rules regardless of whether the URL is original or "friendly".

Nonetheless, I think there is an indirect benefit to having user-friendly URL's, as they make it easier for people using a site to understand where they are in a site, may make it easier to link to a page, and make it easier for somebody viewing a link to anticipate what they're likely to find at the other end. Something that increases the likelihood of linking to your forum, its categories, subforums or threads is likely to give you an SEO boost over time. (I also suspect that search engine friendly URL's help some contextual ad programs match content to a forum page.)

I truly wish that the proprietors of vBulletin would "get over themselves" and include with the package an option for "user-friendly URL's". If you read their threads on the subject, the contend that only a small subset of webmasters want "search engine friendly" URL's. But to me, it's not about the search engines - it's about usability. And having an officially supported solution is much more reassuring than installing an unofficial mod or a third party solution.

2:28 pm on May 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Seems like all forum software has potential issues in Google.

You actually bring up something that few discuss around here. And, I wouldn't say "ALL" forum software but I'd be willing to bet that "certain" forum software may be flagged. How did it get flagged? Footprints.

There are a lot of forums out there that are subject to exploits on a regular basis. If you were a Google Engineer, wouldn't it be in your best interest to seek and find those that are vulnerable and possibly filter them in your results?

7:38 pm on May 12, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

include with the package an option for "user-friendly URL's".

I couldnt agree more. VB should have VBSEO as part of the original pacakage. The vbSEO mod costs almost identical to VB. It is effective imo, but it should be stock, not seperate.

10:05 pm on May 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Perhaps if vBulletin sees enough people paying for a mod they'll offer it as an option themselves.
1:54 am on May 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I'm not sure how they would be able to assess the sales of a third party product. I suspect that they are correct, also, in their public statement that only a small percentage of their customers desire this functionality, and also in their concern that a lot of their customers use hosting services which would not support mod_rewrite. I think they should nonetheless add the feature, though, as it would improve both the product and user experience.
2:11 am on May 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I have modded my board for SEO and am getting some great results, with visitors up in the 1000's per day mostly through google.

But it seems that few others with the same type of forum system want to know how to do it. Few programmers and users seem to conceive just how important SEO is for forums and instead are more concerned with baubles and bling.

You don't need mod rewrite to get good results, thats just one of many componenets.

Its crazy, but in the end I am benefiting at the expense of others. The first free forum that is well SEO'ed will make a killing on the net.

2:26 am on May 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I agree completely. Why there isn't a forum solution that takes the current requirements of Google is beyond me. However, I did uncover one solution that appears to be fairly good with SEs: bbPress. With some minor tweaks it seems to perform really well. The only caveat is that it is so basic and simplistic, it's not very powerful in terms of functionality.