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The ABC of building a successful forum


bradley phil

11:31 am on Sep 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The ABC of building a successful forum

A is for... Authority

Your forum has to build a name for itself as the best place to go to for discussions about the particular niche.

* This means you and your team have to drive debate and discussion, usually by creating new topics the whole time. Get each team member to start one or two threads each day, and then go make interesting posts in the other threads to get those off the ground. Don't be afraid of bringing back interesting threads that aren't on Page 1 anymore and so are being ignored; bring it back with an interesting post aimed at pushing the discussion in that thread further and deeper. Each new thread means members staying on the forums just that little bit longer, making a few more posts, having a few more interesting things to read and say... basically, getting into the habit of spending time and being active on your site

* This also means getting top spots in search engines. Do that by getting links to your forum. Aim to add at least 1 new backlink every day; this means sending out lots of emails suggesting related websites link to you or to a thread about their subject. If I had a forum about fishkeeping, I might hunt down a thread about Koi fish and send an email to a website aout Koi fish suggesting they could link to that discussion. Many webmasters will ask themselves 'what's in it for me?' - you could perhaps suggest they sign up, stick a link to their own website in their signature, and post in that thread - even if you don't get the link back, you've still added a new expert to your community, which helps with our target to become the Authority in the niche anyway! And if he likes your site, a link will eventually come... you'll see!

* There are other ways of getting links; if you run a website about music, getting an interview with a band will get bloggers and people on other forums linking to you when they talk about that interview. Remember: Content is King. Getting a reputation as a site that features lots of interviews (or other examples of attention from big names in the industry) will also boost your Authority

* In some cases it's easier to become the Authority in your niche if you focus of a fairly narrow niche only. It could be easier for you to get big by (easily) becoming the #1 board for Classical Music discussion, than being the place people think of to come to to talk about classical music if your boards are about all kinds of music. You can expand into a bigger niche when you're bigger and ready to take a shot at becoming the Authority for a bigger niche.

B is for... Ballast Removal

The design and layout of your forums is very important. It can make all the difference whether a visitor leaves immediately, signs up - then leaves, signs up, says hello, then leaves, or sins up and makes ten posts every day, becoming an established member and recommending your forum wherever he goes. The rule of thumb here is Keep It Simple

* A lot of dead boards out there made the easily-made mistake of starting out with too many subforums. It's easy to see a lot of established boards with a forum for each specific thing the community could ever want to talk about. What you don't realise is that all those forums weren't there at the start. You should have AT MOST ten forums on a new board; don't be afraid to lump similar topics of discussion together; for example a fish forum should only start off with very broad forums, maybe one for 'tropical fish', another for 'freshwater fish'. Resist the temptation to have, from the start, a forum about Koi fish, one about Carp, and another dozen for every species you can think about. It's effort to move from one forum to another, so your members won't do it much; you'll get much more activity and participation if you have five interesting threads next to each other in one forum, rather than five threads in five different forums.

* Once a forum grows so big that you feel interesting threads get pushed to page 2 (and thus ignored) too fast for most members to see it, that's when your boards will benefit from splitting a forum into two smaller ones. You might feel it's finally time to give Koi fish their own forum if the existing forum has a lot of talk about Koi fish; or you might want to take discussion about Aquariums elsewhere. Only create a new forum if you need to make an existing forum slightly less active, and if you're sure enough people will talk about the subject of the new forum. That's how those huge boards came to have so many forums; splitting the big ones into two smaller ones.

* A lot of forums have beautiful, intricate skins. But this has many downsides. For starters, each page loads slower. This means it takes longer for each member to read threads, make a new post, move between forums, etc... if it's slower, then they can't do it as much! More than that, they're more likely to lose patience and leave. In many cases it's better to have a simple, snappy and uncomplicated design - look at how popular Google became compared to Yahoo... even though for many years they shared exactly the same results!

* Ballast doesn't just mean excessive graphics, wide borders between posts, etc. Ballast also includes jargon that make your site inaccessible to people new to your site, or new to boards in general. To you it seems obvious what the difference between boards, forums, threads, posts etc are. But what about someone that's never seen a forum before? So if you can, edit your language files to remove any jargon. Rename things to match concepts the user is already familiar with... for example, a new user using a Windows computer might come to your site and see a link to User CP or My Controls... without really knowing what those are. But rename it to Control Panel and suddenly his mind makes the link with Control Panels in Windows - obvious! Same deal with 'Archive' or 'Lo-FI' links... rename it 'Streamlined Version'! Go on a hunt for any jargon you can swap for normal, everyday words, and make sure you explain the rest of them in a Newbie Guide of some sort

* Another example of ballast to get rid of is features nobody uses. Do your users really need to know how many times a forum has been Viewed? How often do they use the vCard feature of invision boards? Does it really matter to a new user to know what Member Number everyone is? It just adds to the confusion. If it doesn't get used enough to warrant being there in front of a new user, adding to the confusion - get rid of it. Be ruthless. You want visitors to want to sign up, and existing members to post a lot. Focus on these goals.

C is for... Community

At the end of the day, what brings people back to a forum isn't just the level of banter or the desire to learn more about the topic of discussion. The major factor that will keep a member coming back every day for a year or two is the feeling that he/she belongs to the community here. You therefore have to get members to feel as integrated into the community as possible.

* This means helping them establish an identity in the community. If it's obvious they're trying to be funny, tell them that they are! Likewise, if someone clearly considers themselves quite the Professor in these parts, don't hesitate to tell them when they make a good point. A member with an identity is no longer an anonymous outsider; it's a member that feels a part of your community, whether it's the know-it-all, the joker, the troll that likes to step on toes... The feeling of being a somebody in a community is one they'll find hard to let go of, and will help to keep them coming back.

* A monthly forum 'award ceremony' can be a quick and easy way of doing this for up to ten members at a time - 'Best Joke' 'Best Debater' etc...

* Developing your forum's community spirit also means encouraging your members to get to know each other better, to make friends, basically! You're unlikely to abandon a forum if it's a community you're an active part of and have people you consider to be friends in. Get them to post pictures of themselves, to describe where they live, to talk about their other hobbies, etc. You can't force people to make friends.... but you can certainly encourage it!


8:10 pm on Oct 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

Wow, this is good info.

I say Wow again, I considered starting a forum, but the time involved in maintaining one worries me - so how does one get moderators and entice them to stay?

I guess this would depend on the forum area.


8:45 pm on Oct 26, 2005 (gmt 0)

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

>>most SE traffic will come to your forums based on keywords in your posts

I agree completely. It's nice to be #1 for "keyword forum" or "keyword discussion", but you'll find you get MUCH more traffic from searches that turn up your threads.

>>Would people recommend vbulletin for a comprehensive forum?

It's very powerful, has had very few security issues, and very moderation-friendly. There are certainly plenty of other forum packages, many of which are represented by happy admins right here.


8:14 am on Oct 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

N - nofollow tag : for all links.
P - Promotions using point systems : Empower memebrs with more posts using a point system.
S - Spam controller : Use spam controllers to avoid spam posting.
V -Visitor Posting is victory for 90% markets - Some Guests will not register but will post their questions and will partcipate time to time, it can consitute almost 30% to 40% of your daily posts depending on your market (webmaster forums are big exceptions).
R - Registration process : It needs to be simple. Make it stage wise, first stage simple form, (may be only email and password) , once logged in the person can fill in the details.
Q- Quick Reply : Quick reply will increase partcipation by almost 20%. Person spending regular x mins can posts (zy) more posts due to quick reply options.

Hey I forgot english alphabets and their orders, thanks for this post.



9:55 am on Oct 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

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


Some good additions there - bit of further comment:-

P - Promotions using point systems : Empower memebrs with more posts using a point system.
S - Spam controller : Use spam controllers to avoid spam posting.

Both of those are useful. One I've been experimenting with on the Spam Controller front is not allowing members with less than 10 posts to post URL's. At all (in software). Additionally, any first post by a new member containing a URL goes "on hold". Most driveby spammers post once and don't return. You can nip those in the bud automagically.

V -Visitor Posting is victory for 90% markets - Some Guests will not register but will post their questions and will partcipate time to time, it can consitute almost 30% to 40% of your daily posts depending on your market (webmaster forums are big exceptions).

Personally I always go members only for posting rights. It does reduce the total posts per day figure, but overall I think in a good way (signal to noise and quality).

It's not just about quality and signal to noise though, there are also community elements which come into play here. Allowing guest posting creates an "us and them" environment. In my experience members only forums always have a better sense of community.

That may not be what you're looking to create of course, but it's an aspect that I think should be considered.

Q- Quick Reply : Quick reply will increase partcipation by almost 20%. Person spending regular x mins can posts (zy) more posts due to quick reply options.

That's an excellent point. Out of interest, which forum engines don't have a quick reply feature?

N - nofollow tag : for all links.

I'm still in two minds about that one. Personally I feel that if a link is within your TOS, and therefore represents a useful link, then share the love with the site owner.

That, to me, is the natural way. And I think "natural" will become a more and more important facet of building websites if you have more than half an eye on your web pages performance in the search engines.

how does one get moderators and entice them to stay

You don't have to entice them at all. Members arrive, and some of them will stay.

They're there because they want to be there - becoming a moderator, to them, is a compliment to their overall contribution to the board (that can come in many ways).



10:44 am on Oct 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Thanks for the appreciation

U - URLs - It is good to have better looking urls like topic12.html than?id=12 . phpbb and invision had a mod to allow these kinda url using .htaccess.
B- Blogs - Blogs for your memebers. phpbb has a mod, I am trying to integrate wordpress with phpbb.
I- Integration - Integration of your forums authentication with your other applications. One authentication for all application.
W- Weekly newsletter and Wishes - A weekly newsletter to all interested members, it is nothing but top ten active posts. Also wish your members on their special occassions like Bday, anniversaries e.t.c.

Suggestion : If some Moderator can collect all the points suggested in one single summary to make it a boomark post :)

bradley phil

12:26 pm on Oct 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I personally wouldn't nofollow all links. Yes, it'll protect your site from linking to bad neighbourhoods. On the other hand, it's effectively telling Google + co that the content on your site isn't under editorial review (whereas, to a certain extent with the moderating team reading posts, it is), and that may cause it to disregard or devalue the content of your website. It's just a personal theory of mine - a nofollowed link in a block of text may have influence over the whole block of text (in this case, post). After all, why not?


1:01 pm on Oct 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The mod allows you to have condition by which you can bypass some links. While moderating if I feel that xyz.com is good to link to then I will allow it making it an exception. Even you can program in such a way to allow links added by moderators bypassing nofollow tag.

bradley phil

1:07 pm on Oct 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

is it really worth all the effort? there's little way of knowing what the impact of doing this is gonna be. You might get better value for your time and labour implementing features that will increase the 'stickiness' of your community for your forums.

I agree that SEO is extremely undervalued by community owners - vBulletin, phpBB and IPB are all very search engine unfriendly compared to other forum software like UseBB or webmasterworld's very own solution


7:04 am on Nov 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Hey, Guys

Thats a cool stuff from all of you.

I am upto building community and these things will surely going to help me.

If required, I will come again to ask my fello members to help me.

Thanks once again.



6:20 pm on Nov 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

This is a great thread and given me much food for thought. Many thanks to all those that have made a positive contribution.
This 40 message thread spans 2 pages: 40

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