This article and its associated code was last updated on May 28th, 2006. This modification now works as a vb product plugin.
The out of the box vBulletin style does not have a robust method of informing users about their current activity status or user level. As a result, guests entering on a page other than the homepage (which is most often the case) have no idea what a forum is about. Additionally, there is no visible status indicator for users making it hard for users to know their account status. Unactivated users may be uncertain why they can’t post, and new members may not be certain where to start.
To help solve these problems I have created a 4-part set of conditionals to better introduce members to your community while pushing them to register, activate or post. The default templates are just that, default – I highly encourage you to tweak the language and functions to meet the needs of your actual community environment.
Template edits: 2
Plugins: 1 (adds 4 phrases and 1 template)
This template hack should take under 15 minutes to implement and customize.
About the versions:
- The default version of this plugin adds messages near the top of the page in the most visible place possible.
- The vbSEO version of this plugin incorporates a minor change to the welcome headers and pushes them down into the navbar area.
Both versions have the same options and configuration settings.
Details on how it all works:
Step One: Turning lurkers into Members
After looking at my own referral statistics it was evident that almost all of my traffic was coming in through subpages from Google or other search engines. This raised an immediate concern as I realized that vBulletin 3.5 only contains a welcome message on the forum homepage. While it may be evident to any forum admin what a forum is about and why you should register I would imagine that a lot of users in a non-technical area might have no clue what my site was about or how they could join. Therefore it seemed important to move the welcome message to every page and to customize it to speak out about the exact community the user was visiting.
Step Two: Making Users Confirm their Account
Just because a user isn't confirmed doesn't mean they don't want to use your site; often time a user signs up with the wrong email address, forgets to confirm or their spam filter blocks the welcome email. Whatever the reason I found that many registered users were coming back to my site, logging in but not doing anything because they simply didn't know what was wrong with their accounts. Going off the header I had created for lurkers/ new users I added another snippet of code to inform unconfirmed users that they were indeed unconfirmed and to give them a link to get their confirmation codes and another link directly to support if they ran into problems.
Step Three: Get non-posting users to post
Another chronic problem faced by many forums is insuring users post after registering. Looking at other forums that I have personally registered for I began to realize that many new users, especially former lurkers would complete the registration process but not post because of the hurtles involved in getting into the board (registering, confirming). As a way to combat this part of the problem I added a third and final header for users with no posts. This header reminds the user about the forum and entices them to go to the intro & greets forum where they can post directly and get involved in the community.
Step Four: Getting inactive users to become more active
Because many members post once or twice and then go off and merely "lurk" I decide it would be wise to add a fourth and final welcome header to remind these users to come back and make another post. While not as powerful of a message this is certainly helpful in keeping your posting rate up and since it only appears after 14 days of inactivity most users should not have a problem with the message.
Since speculation is really nothing more than a guess, the real value of welcome headers only became evident after I evaluated a complete month worth of statistics. In just thirty days my own forum increased posting rates by over 3,500 posts a month. New user registration went up by over 250 users which translated into nearly 10 new users a day. User activity went up 50% and my welcome/ intro & greets forum has exploded from 10 posts a day to pages of post every day. Skip forward around a year and many sites have begun running their own version of welcome headers with fantastic results. For my own site, daily user activity has risen by well over 250% to more than 2,500 users per day, registrations have increased by more than 60%, and retention it at an all time high. In all areas that the welcome headers targeted we have seen remarkable improvements both in our short term and the long term growth goals.
But enough about why, give it a shot and please let me know how your results turn out.
Update: 05/28/06 - Updated instructions and added vbSEO version
Update: 11/22/05 - Remove excess html tags causing xhtml validation issues
Troubleshooting / FAQ:
Q: What versions of vBulletin does this code work with?
A: This code has been tested on 3.5. There is a 3.0.x version which I can provide if requested.
Q: Does this work with other forum programs like phpbb or ib?
A: Yes and no. This hack is for vBulletin only but there are ported versions for other programs, search this forum to find them.
Q: I am uncertain what to remove from the forumhome template:
A: All you need to remove from the forum home template is the current welcome block well commented and located at the top of the file. Using the internal template searching tool you should be able to easily locate and remove the code.
Q: I don't see any messages?
A: Be sure you have placed the code $welcomeheaders in your header template.
Special thanks to Jugo at vbulletin.org for providing the vB 3.5 product plugin.
These instructions apply to vBulletin 3.5 only, other forum systems may have their own template systems.