Is it better to have a standalone forum or with a site attached?
An online community has a significant power over hundreds, thousands or even more individuals. But we all know the already common SEO techniques that want you to promote your forum only for that when visitors come they will quickly register. However, I pose a question here: is it better to have a site as a homepage for your forum or leave the forum’s index page to do the work? I propose a short analysis over many aspects of this problem, but a significant area will be occupied by the mentality of the visitor.
You may think that having a forum is just enough to make it successful in a short period of time with the help of inbound links, promotions on related forums and so on. Expensive techniques when thinking to the time required to do so. But many forum administrators neglect a basic condition to the success of the forum. Of course, you can achieve success without some serious SEO, but you will be better off with it. The simple way of making a forum well known through search engines is to make a site that will eventually lead through a link to your forum. Simple as it is, it still requires some time resources. In the following lines I will show the advantages and disadvantages of having a site as a homepage.
Pro’s and con’s
Now, having a standalone forum is a good thing when you are addressing yourself to a specific segment of users, and that is “gamers, online MMORPG, computer-related, etc”, but if your targeted audience has a slightly increased average age, you might want to consider making a site. Why? Because youngsters and teenagers are well known to be impatient, most of them don’t search Google, MSN, Yahoo, or any other search engines, their searches are based upon links picked up from other related forums. To give examples of the opposite case, forums related to “automotive, home interior, weather discussion, politics, philosophy, etc” have a more specific audience, in this case not anyone has access to cars, not anyone can talk about politics or philosophy, and not anyone can interpret the weather and more. In this case, the number of related forums is significantly lower in comparison to the forums related to “things-that-anyone-has-access-to”.
While you may think that it’s useless to have a site , because it will still lead the visitor to the forum, this process only delaying the registration, it’s all about building trust and confidence. We will talk about this later in the article. What’s on the agenda now is: “Only more specific forums should have sites?” No. Because even you have a general interest forum or with a great number of related forums sucking up your possible users, this may be the long searched ace in the sleeve, giving you a clear advantage over the competition with an item unique in its diversity: INFORMATION. Yes, this is a clear pro for the site, because while updating the site on a frequent basis, your users will stick to the professionalism and new visitors will be attracted by your serious way of handling things.
Additional costs and revenues
Compared to the cost of the forum, the site shouldn’t be too expensive, with a domain a simple 1.5 $/month hosting account you get to some 25-30$ additional cost, but it will soon pay off if advertised well. Or you could put it on the same account with your forum and get virtually no extra costs for that it uses few resources in term of bandwidth and disk space.
Now let’s deal with the revenue. I can write a whole book on this theme, but I’ll resume myself to some lines. The extra costs (if any) will be soon covered and profit will arise if done properly. Using some PPC programs for your site and not only for your forum will make some extra cash. It’s all very simple: whilst on a forum, the user’s attention goes to the posts, avatars, interactive features, etc; the ads are neglected by most of them. However, on a site the ads are more prolific simply because you integrate them into the text. Making the site focused on your specific theme, giving it an original name as to be identified easily (similarly as a brand name) will bring you extra revenue.
Choosing the details
Here, we’ll talk more from the visitor’s perspective. We start with the domain name. You could register your desired domain name and put the forum in it as well. So a possibility is to keep the site and the forum on the same domain (i.e. mysite/forum.com). Not so good in the terms of SEO because the search engines want incoming links to your site from other sites, not from a directory of the same domain. On the other hand, it’s a good way of making your forum known if you plan on heavily advertising it on other boards. Another possibility would be to register 2 domain names; you will pay extra cash, but think in terms of SEO. Register the site as mysite.com and the forum as mysiteforum.com. Using this method, it will be extremely easy and time saving to get inbound links for your site through your forum, because now they are not on the same domain name. Put the site’s link in your signature; make forum wide ads with it and vice versa with the site. The advantage is that you save time with the promotion of the site/forum.
Next on the list is the design. It depends of your audience. If you have, let’s say, a medium age of 16-17 years you might want to put flashy graphics or customizations to make it more attractive, but if you have an older audience, concentrate yourself upon the text, in this case you’ll want to make the text more attractive by using bold words, short paragraphs, etc. Also, the graphic theme of site (colors, fonts, logo, etc) should be in alignment with the forum because when a visitor comes and likes that style (simple or flashy); he will want to see it on the forum also. Otherwise he may not want to register.
Don’t use the classic site builders; try to make an original site that is tight and fit. Originality is the key to success here. Making a site that is similar with other sites will only bring disgust from your visitors.
Your site should be about your forum, more exact, about the activity or the main theme of the forum. If your forum is about, let’s say, weather forecasting in North America, build your site so that it will be informative, but in the same time will make visitors stay. Your content should be directed to your site, giving information on some meteorological phenomenon, and after that “find more and discuss it on our forum”.
Marketing and SEO
When it comes to marketing efficiently your site, it comes down to inbound links and the quality of those links. Try to get as many links from your forum to your site and from other forums to your forum and then to your site. Due to the nature of a forum, and by that I mean, constantly adding new content and changing each day, your site will have enough change in it to be spotted and crawled often by crawlers. This can be done by inserting some hack in the site that will show new posts, stats, threads, etc.
Making it appealing to your users is another point in our discussion, not only your visitors must read it, but also your users, to keep a certain degree of interest. This way your site will get promoted “by mouth”. Try to make weekly competitions or at your desired frequency involving articles. This is a strong incentive, because the winning article will appear on the site along with their name, links, etc. Proving to your registered users that the site has a significant number of visitors will only enforce that incentive.
Site or forum?
What needs to be promoted more, the site or the forum? This is really down to you, if you want your users to come from the site, promote the site, if you want a more speedy registration, but not necessarily serious users, promote the forum. Each way you’d go, through interlinking, both will get a considerable amount of links.
The conclusion of this article is that if you want a professional look and feel of your forum, you might want to think about incorporating a site as a homepage. Success can be achieved, however without it; it’s just a matter of choice.
This small article is a short resume of a bigger and more comprehensive article that I’m currently working on. I can only hope that this article served you some good and helped you as a short insight over this subject.