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Author: Subject: The Secrets to Starting a Successful Forum : A Guide
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[*] posted on 12-13-2006 at 05:58 AM
The Secrets to Starting a Successful Forum : A Guide

Here is a great article we ran across recently with several excellent ideas for starting and promoting a new forum. Cudos to the author!

What To Expect From This Guide

This will be a guide revealing the "secrets" of starting up a new forum, because so many people attempt to do so, and so many of them fail. There are no true secrets that nobody knows about, but there are things you should be doing to promote your forum and get some traffic to it. Don't expect any "secret to 1000 members in 5 days!" type of guide, but you can expect tips that will deliver results.

If you ask any experienced webmaster, they'll tell you that one of the hardest things to do successfully is start up a forum.

To Start a Good Forum, You Need a Forum With :

a) A good purpose. People won't want to come to a forum about nothing important, they want to go to a forum that will be beneficial to them in some way, or interesting. So for example, starting a forum about different types of earth worms probably won't generate much traffic, as the earth worm niche probably isn't huge. You can expand on that idea though and perhaps make a forum that deals with fishing, and then include a forum for worms/bait.

b) A niche element (or category). You can certainly feel free to try to tackle a general category, but you have to provide something niched (targeted) that your competition doesn't have if you want to do that. Really broad categories are going to have forums with insane amounts of members (Digital Point for example with almost 50,000 members), and are going to label themselves as "the" place to go. So you're going to have to offer something more. If you don't want to try to create a gigantic forum, picking a niche can be a lot easier. An example of a more niche forum is the Info Vilesilencer forums. They are a directory forum that targets just directory owners and deals with just directories, opposed to general webmastering like Digital Point.

c) Incentive to post. This is making the users want to post in your forum and become an active member. You can do this a various number of ways which I will explain later in the article. Look at the Profit Geek Forums, they have a contest where you can win great prizes just for posting, as well as tons of content on the main page. I'll discuss these more later on.

It Takes Time

This goes with anything dealing with webmastering or anything that you want to succeed in, and I'm going to say it and say it again : it takes time, especially with forums. Like I said, forums are one of the hardest things to start up. You're going to have to spend hours and hours promoting it and posting in it, and it's still going to take a long time to get decent members. DO NOT expect to get 100 members your first day, or even month. It may take you 2 months to get only 50 members, but it's so critical that you do not giveup around this time. Profit Geek has gotten over 100 members within the first month, and if you ask any big forum person, they'll tell you that that it's abnormal to get that many *active* members in under a month. Do you think we got 100+ members from simply making the forum and posting a link to it around other big forums like Digital Point? Heck no. Hours and hours (6+) were spent on Profit Geek every single day. We have fresh new content all the time, and a great contest in the forums that keeps people coming back. Does this mean you have to spend 6+ hours a day to make a great forum? Nope, but you will have to spend a lot and it will take longer. So don't be discouraged if it's month 1 and you only have 25 members, there's nothing wrong with that. As long as those members are active and posting, 25 is very good!

How to Drive Traffic to Your Forums (the Cheap Way)

Here is the meat and potatoes to the article, I'm going to actually discuss what will drive traffic to your forum. I'll be going over the ways that are cheap, as you can pay to get members to your site, but I'm sure you don't want to be spending a monthly budget of $1000+. The Profit Geek forums were started up and promoted with very little money. So here we go.

1) Fresh Quality Content

If you want users to join your forums and actually have an interest in them, you have to give them some content, and you have to keep it coming, and keep it fresh. One of the better ways of having content is by having a main page or blog for your site. Profit Geek (Main Page) has both. Profit Geek is a webmastering site, so we need to give our users a lot of quality content to help them with webmastering. We have our blog which in the beginning we made a new article every day to build up a nice base of articles for users to read. We also have a weekly podcast show, and webmaster tools to help them. So users will be attracted to Profit Geek because they see that we are giving out fresh tips and news every day, and this will make them want to come back frequently.

A main page isn't needed for a forum though, but make sure that you're posting quality articles in most of the sections and make and effort to help people out as much as you can.

2) Attraction Marketing

One of our podcast episodes deals with attraction marketing. I'll describe it here, but to get a more detailed explaination, simply click here to listen to the 5 minute podcast. Attraction marketing is basically labeling yourself to other people. You obviously want to label yourself as a good and helpful person. So how do you do this? Well Johnny, you go out there and be a good helpful person! Go to other similar forums and make a name (the same name so you're known about on all forums), and just start helping people out. Soon you'll develop and image for yourself, and people will know to come to you for help. Reply to their post and give a thoughtful and helpful post, and then at the end say "PM me if you want some more help!" When they PM you, give them more help, and then give them a link to your forums and say something like "I can help you out with whatever you need, just join my forums because I browse there more frequently." It's as simple as that. But you have to make sure to give out thoughtful responses; giving a 1 sentence response and then say "hey join my forums" won't do anything for you.

3) Be Active in Your Own Forum

People like to see when the admin is active in their own forum, especially in the beginning. Once you become pretty big, the members do most of the work themselves. But in the beginning, you have to be on there every day posting and helping out everybody thats posting, starting new topics, etc. If you're never on and there's only 5 members, they're going to get sick of talking to eachother every day and wondering if the advice they're giving eachother is right. They like to see the expert come in and help them with whatever they need.

4) Post in Other Forums About Your Forum

Now the key thing here is to not spam your forum everywhere in the world. I'm telling you to trust me when I say this. I've learned from personal experience that spamming isn't the right way to do things, you're just risking your reputation and it usually won't even result in much. So don't go to every forum and start a thread about your forum in all 50 sections. Just pick the most appropriate forum, and say "Hey I just started [this] new forum, I'd appreciate it if you took a look at it and gave some feedback." That's not spam, it's just asking for feedback on your forum. Most webmaster forums have a "Website Review" section, so that's the best place to do it.

Also, don't limit linking back to your forums in just threads. If someone asks for advice, give a thoughtful (not crap) response, and in the end say "you can find more information about this at my thread over [here]." That will drive the user to your forum, and if he likes the information he sees, he'll join.

5) Your Signature Links at Other Forums

Your signature is a very valuable thing. If you notice at forums like Digital Point, many people actually rent their signatures out to other places, which can then add their link and some text to that user's signature. Something also important in your signature is your anchor text. This should contain good key words, but also be attractive for the user to click. I'll give out a bad/average example, and then a good example of a signature link for the Profit Geek Forums.

Bad Example

Web forum

That's telling us nothing, only the fact that it's a link to a webmaster forum. There's a million other ones out there, so why waste the time clicking?

Bad Example #2

Profit Geek

This example is a little better because it includes the brand, but it still doesn't really make our user want to click it. What is Profit Geek? They don't know, and we're not telling why click?

Good Example

Profit Geek Webmastering Forum - Free contest, win prizes just for posting!

Here, we're giving out a brand name, telling what the name is, and giving the viewer instant incentive to click that link.

Good Example #2

Free Prize Giveaway for Webmasters - Profit Geek Webmastering Forum, Make more Money!

This includes instant incentive, the brand, and part of our slogan. Another solid signature link.

6) Run a Contest

Running contests are an absolutely great way to drive a lot of traffic to your site. It's what got Profit Geek most of it's new members. People love winning things, it's just the fact of the matter. So when they see that they have a good shot at winning something for doing pretty much nothing, they'll take that chance. Over at Profit Geek, we're giving away great prizes every day to random forum members. All you have to do is have 3 posts/day, and your chances of winning are great. One member has won 5 times in the first 2 weeks. To get contest ideas, just read the Profit Geek Contest Rules thread. I bet after reading, a part of you will want to join . And that's exactly the effect you have to go for when you run a contest. We also have a contest for most referrals. So the most back links we get to Profit Geek from the winning site, that site owner will get $250 in cash. So we're making a contest which is fun, and getting benefit from it as well.

7) Create a Unique Name

When you make your forums, you want to pick a name that's going to stick in a person's head, but not be stupid. For instance, Profit Geek is a unique name that sounds good as well, and gives people an idea on what the site is about. You know the site is about making money (Profit), and "Geek" makes it sound original, while telling the user "we're geeks about making money, we spend all our time on it and know how to do it well." So a bad name would be something like Webmaster, or Site Building Place. Don't have totally generic names, try for something that makes you stand out.

8) Increase Your Search Engine Rank with Backlinks

Backlinks are simply links back to your site, and they will help increase your rank in the search engines, which will help people find your forum. One of the best ways to do this is by submitting your forum to directories. This can be a h***le if you do it yourself (you can always pay somebody to do it, there's services out there for it), but it has to be done, and will help you a lot.

I won't go into big detail about backlinks here, but Profit Geek did have a podcast episode dealing with links and backlinks, and if you are still unclear about them, I strongly suggest listening to the podcast here.

Next, I'll give a couple tips for traffic that involve a little bit of money, but can help with the startup of your forum.

9) Text Link Ads

Text link ads are a good way to get backlinks to your site, and for people to click on (if you have the right anchor text). The anchor text suggestions are the same for text link ads as they are for forum signatures. Try and tell about yourself, while giving the viewer some sort of incentive to click that link.

The thing is, you can get $100 in free text links if you spend $125 at Text Link Ads. So you're getting $225 for the price of almost 1/2 that, and can be good for the startup. Whether or not you continue with them after you've spent your $225 is up to you. But if you're looking for every possible way to get traffic to your forum, text link ads are one way.

10) PPC Advertising

Again, this can be quite costly if you decide to do it all the time, but there are deals out there. Currently there's a deal going on with Microsoft adCenter. Go to this link, and then sign up for adCenter with the promo code DM-2-1106. You can get $200 in ads by spending just $5. So this is another great and cheap idea to start your advertising. Also, Profit Geek is giving out $500 in PPC advertising to a different member every day for the next month, so you could win that also.

Putting These Tips to Practice

Ok, so now you know what to do to make your forum a great place to be. But how do you even start?! There's so many things you have to do, and thinking about them all at once is just overwhelming. What you have to do here is manage your time properly. Getting everything prepared before you launch your forum. Make a main site and build up the content there so people have a lot to read. Actually make the forums, set up the layout and design, and start some topics so people have something to discuss when they first come. Get everything for your contest set up in advanced, line up sponsors, set your rules, have everything ready. Then once you launch the forums, it's all about getting the word out, and doing whatever you can to get the word out.

More Things to Keep in Mind

-Have I mentioned spending time and being patient yet? I'm not sure, so I will again . Remember guys, forums take A LOT of time and attention to really get rolling, so don't get discouraged and don't give up.

-Try to follow all of the tips I gave. If you follow a couple of them, you'll have an o.k. forum. If you follow most of them, you'll have a good forum. If you follow all of them, you will have a great forum that people will want to participate in.

-If you need any extra help or have any additional questions, just head over to Profit Geek and shoot me a PM and I'll try to help you out as best as I can.

Wrap Up

Alright guys, I think this article is long enough as it is, so I'll wrap it up. Starting up a great forum is a very hard thing to do, but if you're determined enough and won't give up on it, it won't give up on you either. Forums can be a great place to make some money from, and a great place to just start up a community as a hobby, they're a lot of fun as well!

I wish you all luck in starting up your forums if you have the courage to, just remember all the tips I gave, and remember that you need to be patient with it. If you keep both of those things in mind, you'll be all set to starting up a great community.

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