A jumpstart basic SEO guide for new forum owners.
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a process of making a website optimized or ready for search engines and search engine ranking. SEO is very important for websites and especially for forums since most forums have a competition. Many people who run forums tend to go out and spend a lot of money for software and services to increase their SEO. What these people don't understand is that you can complete the most basic SEO services for your forum for free and still rank as high as you could with some paid modification or service. In the article, I will give you a basic guide to SEO on forums from my 10+ years of experience and research.
Friendly URLs are important
Many people are arguing the concept that friendly URLs do nothing for your community verses being great for SEO. It is common sense to just look at the URL itself and know that it does wonders for SEO. SEO has a lot to do with keywords and a friendly URL (example: forum.com/pets/pictures-of-dogs/) is much better than a non-friendly URL (example: forum.com/topic.php?=364575478). For one thing the search engine and spider is going to read the keywords on that URL to help determine how the page will appear in search. Another great reason for this is that it is easier to remember for those who save the post or want to return especially for category URLs.
Most of you forum software has a built-in feature to create basic friendly URLs. If the software doesn't have this built-in, then look for a free modification. This is not extremely important but it will help. I would do it first just so you don't have to figure it out later on.
Don't hide information from guests
I see a lot of forums these days hiding their main content from guests as an attempt to get them to join the forum. While this is possibly good for getting membership rates to increase, it is extremely horrible for SEO. Search engines and spiders are guests and if they cannot see your content, then the content will not be indexed and your forum will likely suffer a bad SEO score. Always keep all contents open to guests to better increase your SEO scores and rankings.
Now there is some information you should block from search engines, this can easily be done in your robots.txt file. You should ask your forum software provider about what all files you should block that is not needed for SEO. Some of these files include your administration control panel, the who's online list and member contact information.
Descriptions need to be descriptive
Let's say you have a Pet Forum (I am using Pet forums as the example in this article, haha.) and you have a board on your forum called '“Dog Chat" for discussing dogs and dog topics. What will you set as your description? If you have “Talk about dogs here!" then you have a poor description. Make your descriptions a couple of sentences and describe some things to talk about on this board. A better example would be “Discuss dogs, K9 health, dog training and dog food - This is the place to talk about all things to do with man's best friend". A detailed description of your categories, boards and subforums will greatly help with your SEO.
Another thing is your Meta description. A lot of people are saying that search engines no longer look at Meta tags. I don't understand why people say this because when I search for my forums on Google, it always shows the description of what I have listed in the Meta tags so apparently these people are mistaken. I suggest making good Meta tags and mainly focusing on those that are important such as Description and Keywords. Make your description about 1-2 sentences long and include the main content in the first sentence. Make sure you list about 10 or less keywords as search engines will only look at so many keywords. Place your most important keywords first.
To No Follow or Do Follow, that is the question
Many people say that setting links (from other people) on forums to No Follow will help you increase the rank of your forum's SEO. This is because the search engine is not going off your site to another site that is listed on your forum. Instead, the search engine ignores the third-party link and stays on your forum. This is a good practice in my opinion unless of course you have a forum for advertising and getting back links, then you should set everything to Do Follow. If members complain about the links being No Follow and you are not an advertising forum, then they most likely joined so they can get their link on your forum for a back link - can you say Spam?
This has been a basic forum SEO article by Shawn Gossman. Remember, this is just basic guide, there are many more methods and adjustments to make to have a better SEO score and ranking. You can Google for these ways or you can find this on this forum. You may redistribute this article on other websites as long as you keep my name and all links in tact as well as provide a link back to this page (original source). Please reply to this article to tell me what you though and if you have further SEO tips for forum owners.