Forums are a fantastic source of traffic that are severely undervalued by many bloggers and internet marketers who want to drive more traffic to their blogs and websites. With the explosion of social media, forums have somewhat fallen out of favour but it’s a mistake to write them off as they still offer some powerful advantages.
A forum is a message board attached to a website where users can discuss a mutual interest, normally the subject of the main site. Before social media and instant messaging, this was one of the main ways that people would discuss subjects online. While they are less common these days however, there are still certain subjects that lend themselves well to forums and the members on these boards tend to be highly committed.
The great thing about a forum is that anyone can post links there and these actually ‘count’ as inbound links for Google (whereas links on social media are usually treated differently). And because forums have fallen out of vogue, you will likely find there is significantly less competition here for you to try and stand out against. Success on a forum is just as nuanced as on any other corner of the web though, so let’s unravel how you can make this really work.
The Challenge of Forums
The main mistake that most people make on forums is to think they can just sign up and start posting links to their website or blog. This approach doesn’t tend to work very well on any platform but it’s particularly ineffectual on a forum where there will be a tight-knit community of users who know each other and who visit the board for discussion and entertainment.
If you sign up to a forum only to start immediately posting links, it will be seen as spam and your account will likely be banned. Along with this, your link will be deleted and you will have hurt your reputation among the regular users.
Imagine if someone came into an evening book club you attended and started trying to sell their wares – this is precisely what it’s like for those users on the forum.
Instead then, you should use the forum in order to gradually build trust and make friends first. This of course involves a lot more work but if you put the time in, you’ll find it pays off massively. Not only will building trust help you to avoid your account being deleted when you share a link, it will also set a precedent of quality – meaning the members will actively be interested in the things you link to.
In fact, if you build enough of a relationship with the users on the forum, you might even find that they actively help you with your promotion efforts – just as a friend might in ‘the real world’. If you spend time developing a reputation on the forum as someone who adds value and makes useful contributions, then you discuss that you’re working on your own website, you may actually find that they volunteer to share the link around and that they provide useful discussion and feedback.
If you’ve ever read the book ‘1,000 True Fans’, then you’ll know that theoretically having a small number of truly dedicated fans can be enough to provide you with the backbone for a business. A forum provides you with the perfect place to develop those fans and then to enlist their help/promote your products or services. The only difference here is that they start as fans of you and then migrate to the brand; which works very well seeing as it seems far less cynical.
Here then is the process you can use:
- Introduce yourself (normally there is a section where you can do this on most forums)
- Take part in some discussions
- Demonstrate your knowledge by answering questions
- Contribute some topics of your own and show that you have interesting ideas
- Help out some other people with their own projects if the opportunity arises
- Post some links to useful other sites
- Mention your own projects
- Post to your own site – only in a situation where it is relevant to the discussion and where it won’t be jarring
Note that this is also a great way to find contacts and people you can work with!
On more thing: as with your social media efforts you can once again use a ‘cross pollination’ method. In other words, if you have a subject that appeals to more than one niche/type of audience, then this is a great way to bring in more visitors. You can even create new content specifically for a forum that you know of.
Some social bookmarking sites work very similarly to forums. Reddit is a perfect example if you find the right ‘SubReddit’ – but the same rules still apply. Just try and advertise yourself and you’ll be crucified!