Forums can be a great asset for your WordPress website, providing a range of benefits for your business and your users. However, they also need looking after and, when poorly managed, can cause a lot of problems. In this post, we’ll look at the pros and cons of creating a forum on your WordPress site.
What is a forum?
Essentially, a forum is a meeting place for discussion. An online forum usually takes the form of a message board where people can converse through posting and replying to messages. Individuals have the ability to create a topic for discussion, ask questions or put forward a point of view to which others can respond.
The benefits of having a forum
1. Great for customer service
If you run a business of any kind, your customers will have all kinds of questions about your products and services. Responding to those questions is a sign that you offer good customer service, however, if lots of people are asking the same questions over and over, it can be a time-consuming process.
A forum gives you the perfect way to deal with those questions. You can create a topic for that question on your forum and write the answer. This way, when people ask in future, you can point them to the forum and save yourself the time of dealing with each query individually.
If there are questions you haven’t thought of, customers can ask them on the forum and you can supply the answers when they appear.
2. Forums help develop customer loyalty
One of the great things about forums is that members will often help each other out. You’ll always find expert members who are inclined to offer advice to others and take a leading role in solving your other customers’ problems.
When this starts to happen, your forum turns into a self-help community. The benefit of this is that customers are more likely to use and continue to you use your products and services when they know they have such a community to turn to when they need advice.
3. A valuable source of customer feedback
Forum members often discuss any issues they have in detail. This gives you a much greater understanding of how to help them. The problems they have with your products and services will help you focus on the improvements you need to make. You’ll may also become aware of other products and services they need and this can drive future developments in your business.
As you can participate in those discussions, forums enable you to make sure you give your customers exactly what they need. Software companies, for example, use forums as a way to ensure that their apps are regularly updated to respond to their customers’ feedback.
4. Improved SEO
Search engines like websites that offer users detailed and relevant content – and this is exactly what a forum provides. An established, well-run forum can do this in an almost encyclopaedic way.
In addition, if new topics and posts are added regularly, your site will be adding lots of fresh content which is also good for SEO purposes. And with members using lots of relevant keywords in their posts, it’s likely that your forum content will appear in search results, driving new traffic to your website too.
Problems with running a forum
1. Getting your forum off the ground
The hardest task with any forum is to get it established. No-one is going to join or start contributing to an empty forum so, initially, it is up to you to create the topics and start posting. Once the forum has some relevant content, you then need to start promoting it to your users. To do this, you should put links on your site to the forum and invite customers to become members in your communications with them. You should also make it easy for people to become members.
2. Establishing the rules
Well-run forums have clear rules about how members are expected to behave when posting. This usually requires them not to post things which are offensive or illegal, for example, using bad language, posting copyrighted images or making defamatory comments.
You should also set guidelines about what kind of content is or isn’t allowed and where on the forum particular discussions should take place.
3. Managing the forum
Once you have established the rules, you will need to manage the forum. To do this you will have to check that members are not breaking the rules you set. If they are, you may need to impose sanctions on them, such as temporarily blocking them from using the site.
Another important aspect of managing the forum is making sure that important questions are answered. If you are the only person managing a busy forum, it can take up a great deal of your time. To manage it effectively, you may need to restrict the number of topics which can be discussed or ask others to be administrators or moderators.
4. Preventing spam
Whilst many people use forums to find help or discuss things with others, there are some that use them for more selfish purposes. You’ll find people becoming members just so that they can create backlinks to their websites, scammers who post links to phishing sites and many other types of unwanted activities. If these things appear on your forum it can result in a search engine penalty which can have devastating consequences for your website’s ability to rank in search engine results.
To prevent this, you need to make it clear in your rules that these things are not acceptable. Some forums configure their setting to prevent links being used in forum posts altogether. It is also possible to permanently ban spammers from your site – you can even put a block on their IP address to prevent them trying to re-join using a different username.
How to create a forum on your website
Like most things on WordPress, you can create a forum simply by installing a plugin. The most popular forum plugins are bbPress with over 300,000 active users and BuddyPress with 200,000 active users. These two plugins have been around for a long time and have a well-established reputation amongst WordPress users. There are, however, quite a few other plugins which offer similar functions.
Forums can be very useful features for your website, enabling you to build a community around your brand, solve your customers’ problems, increase loyalty and boost SEO. However, running a forum requires time and effort to get it established and continued management once it is up and running.
If you run a WordPress website and are looking for dedicated WordPress hosting, check out our WordPress hosting packages.