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Top 10 Tips for Growing a Forum
Many people are intimidated by the prospect of expanding their forums to cater for a larger audience and attract visitors. The process of analysing a forum, locating its faults and coming up with a solution in order to make it more appealing is by no means an easy task. However, using a few simple ideas, you can avoid the majority of common mistakes made by forum owners and give yourself the best chance of running a successful, expanding forum. To help you on your way, here are ten top tips that will have your forum looking far more appealing to visitors in no time:

1. No doubt that most people are aware that first impressions count, and forums are no exception. Undoubtedly the biggest problem facing forum owners is how to make their community stand out and make a good first impression that will encourage visitors to sign up to the forum. Unfortunately, far too many forums look unattractive, with default forum skins, poorly coordinated colour schemes or confusing forum titles. Though a bespoke skin customised to your specific forum is preferred, there are plenty of excellent free skins available, and by simply tweaking the colour scheme to suit your forum, you can have something that costs nothing, yet is much more visually appealing. Combine this with a logical ordering of forum categories and detailed descriptions, and you have immediately improved the appeal of your forum dramatically.

2. Following on from the above point, the next job is to look at the structure of your forum. Though ultimately you need to advertise to increase your member count, the starting point is to get your forum looking as inviting as possible in order to get maximum return on your investment. Look at your forum categories and descriptions and decide whether or not you really need all the forums, or whether certain topics could be combined. Empty forums do not look appealing, so aim to have a handful of relevant forums to start off with and gradually expand as required.

3. Next on the list is to add an incentive to your forum. Unfortunately, long gone are the days when people would sign up to a forum just because the topic took their interest. Now, there is a wide range of forums for almost every subject imaginable, so it is vital that you have something that sets yourself apart from the competition. Whether you offer loyalty reward points that can be exchanged for goods or vouchers, or simply have membership ranks to encourage active participation, you almost certainly need something in order to attract the visitors and turn them into actively participating members. Be creative, though at the same time be realistic – do not offer anything that you are not prepared to fulfil, particularly if your advertising proves to be particularly successful.

4. Population of your forum is important, and although it is difficult early on when the member count may be a little low, there are ways and means of getting information and people on your boards. The ideal solution is to enrol the services of friends, family or colleagues that may be able to make a handful of posts on your forum to get things started. Alternatively, it is fairly easy to trade posts with other forum owners in order to get things moving. You can purchase posts from paid posting companies, whereby people are paid to make a set number of posts on your forum. Though not suited for niche topics, mainstream forums may be able to use these services effectively as a means of getting the ball rolling.

5. A moderation team is also an essential part of any successful forum. Early on there will be very little for these members of staff to do, though as time progresses you will no doubt encounter spammers and unsavoury characters that do little for the reputation of your forum. The added bonus of having a moderation team is that discussion can be started between them which will give visitors something to read and hopefully feel strongly enough to post their own thoughts on the subject. Moderators give visitors a sense of organisation, and whilst you do not want too many early on dominating the forum, two or three regular moderators and/or administrators will give your forum the impression of an active, organised community.

6. Advertising is an essential step in growing any website, and again forums are no exception. Once you have the look and structure of your forum in place and some recent material for visitors to see, it is now time to look at potential advertising avenues. Search engine submission is a good starting point, and whilst the majority of good search engines may already have you in their listings, this process is free and relatively quick, and so the opportunity of customising your listing shouldn’t be missed out on. Directory submission is becoming a more popular way of generating back links, though it shouldn’t be relied upon too heavily as the number of sites entering these directories now means that it is very difficult to get seen unless you cover a niche subject. Better ways of advertising your forum include article submission, whereby you write an article on a relevant subject and submit it to free article directories along with a link back to your forum. Again, the results are unlikely to be spectacular, but the added back links will add value to your site. More targeted advertising may include banner or text adverts on related sites, though bear in mind that very popular, traffic-heavy websites will be charging a premium for their advertising space. Look around the web and see what is on offer, though remember that you do get what you pay for, and often cheap advertising will result in very little return.

7. Word of mouth is a much more powerful advertising tool, though it can be difficult getting people to take notice unless you run a large, popular community. However, all publicity is good publicity, so display your link everywhere, including on your website, in profiles and in signatures. If you are an active member on a large forum, just imagine how many people will be seeing the link to your forum. If you happen to have a moderating team, ask them to do the same, or even consider purchasing “signature space”, which is where you can have a link in an active member’s signature for a set period of time for a small fee.

8. Sponsor or run a competition. If you are a relative newcomer, then it may be a better idea to sponsor a competition on a related website or forum that already has a significant user base or at least steady traffic. Most sponsorship deals entail purchasing a prize or offering a service in return for having links to your forum and/or website listed within the competition details. This can be particularly effective if the site in question is popular and is on the same topic as your own forum. Alternatively, you can run your own competition as an incentive for visitors to sign up for your forum and participate. Make sure that it is accessible to as many people as possible to encourage the maximum number of entries. Be aware that this may not be a good idea unless you have a significant prize, a reasonably sized existing user base or a moderate advertising budget – the last thing you want is a flop of a competition with few or no entries at all.

9. Purchasing material can be an excellent way to improve your forum and instantly turn it into a valuable information resource. If you are a design-based forum, for example, then giving registered users access to free forum skins or web templates will give you community an added incentive and yet another reason for visitors to sign up. If your community is based around information, such as travel, then purchasing a set of guides and releasing them as a weekly feature will give visitors a good reason to return. Alternatively, you could post these to a separate blog and use that as a means to drive traffic to the forum through links and advertising. Remember that content is king, and by giving your forum a real boost in this department, you are drastically increasing its appeal and potential.


10. Search engine optimisation is something that isn’t always associated with forums as much as it perhaps should be. All too often, META tags, keyword density and URL’s are largely ignored by forum owners, which can have a detrimental effect on how your board is seen by search engines and in turn potential members. Take advantage of the tools available and make use of keyword rich text and forum descriptions on your main page. It is also worth investigating the possibility of a mod rewrite or similar function, whereby the ugly, unintelligible URLs of threads are rewritten using the thread title, leading far more friendly links. The majority of major forum platforms such as vBulletin now support this, so it is worth checking the documentation before looking for a third party solution.

It takes many ingredients to build a successful, sustainable forum, though by using this handful of tips, you will give your forum the best possible chance of growing and realising its full potential. Don’t be put off by the technical aspect, as the majority of these steps can be followed by technical gurus and first time forum owners alike.

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