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How to turn an average forum into a successful one



8:09 am on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

First, i know this is probably not going to work for every topic, but i hope one can use some ideas in this post...

One of my sites (educational,very low paying niche) had a forum that attracted maybe one or two new members a week with about 5 posts a day. Here my story how i made it the biggest in its niche. The first problem was that there were already other forums in this niche that existed for years, second problem was that it was not only a small niche but also a very low paying one (Adsense). First i needed to get more people...

1.Get more people to sign up
I placed on all of my content sites a little line at the end of the article that says "If you would like to discuss "name topic" join our forum and share your ideas...

I made a News section in the forum were only the headline and the first sentence is visible for people that are not signed in...

I put the most interesting thread of the week on the front page...

I contacted "superstars" of my niche (Authors, Scholars etc..) to post in my forum (the time just before or after they published a book is a good time as they are more willing to do so and most of the time for free...

Another way to make people sign up is to get the "opposition" to come to your forum, for example if you have a fan forum for "Manchester United" I would start a thread like "10 reasons why Chelsea sucks", then i would go to a Chelsea fan forum sign up there as a huge Chelsea fan and would post something like "have you seen those suckers over there what they talk about us?", some people will most propably register at your forum just to bash your views on Chelsea ;) This brings me to my next point how to make them post, now that you have a regular stream of sign ups...

2. How to make them post
The Daily News section; this is at my place the most viewed subforum, but relatively few replies, nevertheless, some will reply...

The content pages error forum; One section is for errors, (factual and typo) you will be surprised how many people will make a post just to get a typo corrected (and it helps to keep the content part as error free as possible...

Promoting as early as possible the most active quality members to moderators; This is a very special point, a moderator will not only moderate but will post many quality posts...

Rewards; The most successful part of getting people to post on this particular forum was the introduction of Usergroups based on participation. Everyone starts as a guest (in my case they are not called guests but something not realy nice (nothing derogatory but nevertheless no one wants to be called that in my niche", so already i get some posts why the heck they are "fill in your term"! They have some restriction, (no signature, no avatar (again posts why this is not working), after 10 posts they are automatically promoted to full member, which gives them rights to have avatars, signature and a nicer usergroup name :)

The next Usergroup is the bulk of my members, to get to the next lever one has to participate for at least 3 months, must have several high quality posts and the admins/mod then decide if this particular should be promoted to the next level, he gets then a personal mail congratulating him and he gets access to more features (own blog on the site, personal email adress, own picture gallery)

People in that usergroup are sometimes promoted to the highest Level, to get there one has to write articles for the content site, if they are well written they will then be promoted to this particular level, with access to a special member section and a freebies like books etc..

Now why want people to get promoted? Well people (at least in my niche)love to get free books, so many work (post) really hard and lots just to get to that "VIP" level

Giveaway; We give allot to the community for free, actually almost 30% of our income goes back to the quality members, this creates a constant stream of new content (almost every book is rewied by the member and then published on the content site in the book review section), I also alway contact the author about the review, many just say thank you, but many also start participating in the forum...

3.Interaction of Content and Community
Every article that is written by a community member gets a link on the main page for 2 weeks (i use a blog software as front page which has the advantage of making it very easy to update, an archive for a nice sitemap and the article gets spidered extremely fast by the engines) and an ego boost for the member who has written the article...

Members Blog; because i offer a blog for special members (which surprisingly allot of them are using) most of the time i only have to link to the members blog for the recognition and the link juice stays within the domain...

Every article we write gets thrown into the forum for discussion, that way the article gets dissected, improved and often a spin off article is produced by a community member...

I check regulary my access logs for search phrases people arrive on my site but without having the exact content for it, (search engines are not perfect), once i have identified such a phrase, i start a thread about it, and once you are big enough and you have a dedicated community, chances are that either a popular thread or even a content with the exact phrase is the end result, hence making the previous top ranking search phrase a self fulfilling prophecy.

Using members as watch dogs; Everyone knows big content sites are the target of scrapers, copyright violations etc..
I explained once the ramifications and that we had to protect "our" content, now i get almost daily mails or posts about sites that are using our content, some are even contacting the owner of those particular sites, complaining about the infrigement...

To summarize; My content part is now basically community driven, i hardly have to write any articles myself, all i have to do is to give directions...

4.Monetizing the community
As i mentioned previously, the niche is very low paying and if it wasnt a labour of love, i would never have bothered, but 3 years later this "low paying niche" is one of the biggest money maker of all of my sites...

I made it from the start very clear that at the end of the day i would like to make money in order to maintain not only the quality of the forum/site but also to be able to give back to the community. This open approach was very well received and clearly understood.

Adsense; This was the first real money that poured into the site, while the earning per clicks were rather poor, the amount of clicks made some up for it and it made it actually possible to start giving back to the community. However the content sites were getting much more EPC, so my focus was right from the start making the community produce content pages.

Amazon; In my niche, books play a significant role; thats why i put on evey article an on topic amazon product link. I made it clear in the TOS that i will add my amazon affiliate code in every book title that gets mentioned in the forum, again this is understood and no problems, i actually have my moderators to do this for me, they have my affiliate code and know how to make a static amazon link with my referal Id. I have a most popular book of the month section, and a book review section, the book reviews from forum members are generating the most money from amazon, people trust people they know...

Demographic Monetization; The moment i realized that with trying to make money with my niche wont get me very far, but trying to monetize the demographics of my visitors i had a winner. While the niche might be relatively small and the potential to earn real money from that are remote, the people that visit the site have one thing in common, they are mostly highly educated and have lots of disposable income. I actually figured that only out once YPN came on board. Suddenly i had ads that were not really targeted to the content, but that paid so much more then what the contextual correct ads from Adsense were paying. My focus shifted then from monetizing the content to monetizing my visitors.

Since i switched about 3 years ago from gaming the engines to building a community driven site, i have not noticed an algo update, other then the rankings went up, I do only basic on page seo, no link building (still i get plenty of links every day, mostly from .org and .edu sites) and have other then checking the access logs for new phrases i can build sites for, completely forgotten the search engines. I get now about 5 to 10 new members a day, about 5000 posts a month (which seems probably small for some, but in my niche i am a giant ;) ) and have a the fun of my live. I created a community that pays my bills..

As i said at the beginning, not all of that i just mentioned is probably applicable to your topics, but i hope you got at least some ideas how you can make your community site a bit more successful...

Not being an english native speaker and making now my longest post ever at WebmasterWorld, i do apologize for all typos and grammar errors


9:56 am on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What a great post, Viggen. Thanks for sharing this.

I like the way that you've adopted a "total" strategy for your forum, balancing all sort of different incentives and techniques. Seems that overall you made it very easy for people to get involved and immediately see the benefits of doing do: more and better content, feeling of inclusion, goodies etc.

I like the football fansite example. One thing that's not often mentioned here is how communities can feed off each other and not necessarily lose out.


10:57 am on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

great post viggen.

A wealth of information in that post which I wouldnt find anywhere else, even if I pay a few hundred $$$ for it.



7:41 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

Nice post, viggen - I particularly like your encouragement to create quality content.


3:17 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I placed on all of my content sites a little line at the end of the article that says "If you would like to discuss "name topic" join our forum and share your ideas...

Not sure why I haven't done this before, but added the link just after reading your post.



4:13 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

First class post, viggen.


5:21 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Great post. This is one for the scrapbook [addons.mozilla.org].


5:47 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I agree - great post. Thanks!


6:02 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

interesting... and congrads

a quick question:

what is the setup of your members' blogs:

like www.forum.com/member/
or member.forum.com
or member.com?!


6:13 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Whoa! Great quality post Viggen! This relates almost identically to one of my sites nitch and will definately help me out! Definately bookmark material.


6:45 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Great post as several have said.

While you don't have to have a site that is a "labor of love" it certainly helps. Your interest level and knowledge level are generally higher making the work less tiring.

I like your comment on monetizing the demographic. It's something I've been playing with recently with mostly positive results.


6:48 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Great post, especially since I *was* deciding between comments on article pages or a link to a forum thread.


7:58 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Great post, thanks for taking the time to share.


8:08 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

That is a great post what I wiould really like is some info on SEO dealing with phpbb. Do you use that or have any info on that please?



9:22 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Some sort of "must read".
Thanks a lot! Going to translate into lithuanian after some days for our wm community
(with linking to that great topic, of course..)


11:03 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


Yikes! I'm not using phpbb again. I've lost lots of data due to it crashing on me twice in a week.

Great post though. I'd like to add one little thing:

- start with a small number of forums and then grow the number as the members grow. Because if you have a lot of different forums on the same board it ends up looking too empty.


11:16 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Fantastic Viggen.

Kafu's point above re few topics to start with is excellent too.


12:26 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Agreed Kafu. I have been using that method in my new forums. It seems to get poeple to all post in the same areas making them reply and get a little more activity going.


4:28 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Wait ... there are Chelsea fan boards?

Who knew?



P.S. AWESOME post, viggen. I'm definitely flagging this one.


6:01 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

great post viggen, many thanks for taking the time to share!


7:32 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The Daily News section; this is at my place the most viewed subforum, but relatively few replies, nevertheless, some will reply...

I note that there's a phpBB mod that will create a forum topic from an RSS feed. This would allow folk to comment on pertinent news stories (you could use a Google RSS new feed). I wonder if this might encourage repeat visits/registrations.



7:34 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

The blog is a standard set up that comes with an Invisionboard extension... site.com/forum.php?automodule=blogid=1 (I know this is an ugly url, but as i said the seo part is not my priority and although se-unfriendly those posts rank pretty well for very competetive terms...

Sorry, I dont use phpBB and as said before the seo part is not really my focus (other then killing session IDs), all my forum pages look like site.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=1234, The engines seem to have no problems to read and rank them...

Absolutely, i actually started with only three, Feedback,Topic and Off Topic...

Thanks guys for all your kind replies, in the coming weeks, i am going to write about my experience with moderators and how they can help you to monetize your forum...



11:26 am on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Thank you for this great post i am currently building my own community website and your approach seems very sensible i will let you know how it goes.


4:12 pm on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Awesome post viggen!

Here's a tip along the lines of something you mentioned. My affiliate blog which is #1 on all the search engines and gets tons of traffic but hardly any comments. My affiliate forum is still fairly new.

So I added at the bottom of each blog entry - "Come discuss it at the 5 Star Forums" PLUS I took the custom button from my forum that says "Post Reply" and added it too, for the pic is worth a thousand words effect. Then each blog I write I also copy to the forum for people to discuss. Blog topics in the forum get much more play, because it's a more interactive medium.

My forum has been growing like crazy and now gets more traffic than my blog. ;-)

Hope this little tip helps someone else that has a thriving blog but wants to grow their forum.



7:38 pm on Feb 22, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Have you automated the rewards process? Right now I am starting to offer rewards for my forum users, but to give them blogs, email, or a gallery album would require it be done by hand.


12:13 am on Feb 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Great post!


a) Since you have other sites as well as this one, any tips on what you did to keep your time investment manageable when you were still struggling to get to the point where the content was "basically community driven"?

b) Getting moderators/members to do book reviews seems like something that could be done for a lot of different forums. Any data on how big a role that's played for you? (e.g., percentage of income from Amazon links, percentage of SE traffic provided by book review pages/threads?)

c) Any significant mistakes or deadends you hit along the way that you can advise others to avoid?



5:22 am on Feb 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


You could always pay people to post for the first couple months while you are doing community building, they can be responding to your posts...

A secret I used was to create about 10 users then post with all of them.

I was the first 10 users on my forum, and each member had about 20 posts before the first real person signed up.

That person signed up to respond to one of my clones.



10:43 pm on Feb 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Have you automated the rewards process?

Yes, i mentioned the forum software i use above, and all those things are very easy manageable via usergroups.


a)As i usually do the same steps on all forum (those are niche neutral) it is relatively easy to manage, I will for example have for each topic several newsfeeds, pick the most interesting and post one forum after another the news, or i would go to Amazon, pick the niches newest book releases and present them in the forum one by one, or i would (for the off topic forum) post the same major headline news of the day with a slightly different (niche related) twist one by one. I also do the post bait allot (the chelsea controvery ;) ), usually it only takes a couple of weeks to get the first real conversations going..

b)This is essential for my strategy, the revenue from Amazon is not bad (about 10 to 15% of total income), however the real benefit is that i have people looking forward to something, and it creates an enviroment were postrank is unimportant but "usergroup" is everything, meaning good posts/behavior will get the member a reputation in the niche and free stuff. I also always contact the author(if the email is not available i contact the publisher) and drop a mail, telling him about the review and a bit about the site, you might be surprised how often they actually participate in the forum, right from the start, especially when they just published a new book.

c) Oh, of course, there are so many mistakes i made i wouldnt know where to start, however the biggest mistake i made at the beginning was to not choose the right host and the right software forum that suited my needs....



3:32 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

however the biggest mistake i made at the beginning was to not choose the right host and the right software forum that suited my needs

And what was the software that didn't suite your needs?


9:02 pm on Mar 12, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

And what was the software that didn't suite your needs?

i used phpbb and it needed too many mods to get what i needed, probably it would be possible but i am not the best coder so i went with a paid service (invision) and i am very pleased with it...


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