Building a Forum is a Great Way to Improve SEO

By Sergio Aicardi on September 16, 2019

Many of you reading this blog may have been compelled by the title which contains the word “forum” – which may have made the hairs on the back of your neck rise. Although forums have typically been used and abused by spammers attempting to get back-links there’s still value in creating your own forum from an SEO perspective.

As some of my followers may know, I am an SEO nerd and one of the digital marketing leads for an online retailer known as Mobility Scooters Direct.  We’re one of the top players in the powered-mobility space and most of our online revenue comes from organic traffic.

organic-traffic-report-for-mobility-scooters-direct

In late 2017 and early 2018, I hit a bit of a plateau with my eCommerce website’s SEO traffic growth. I kept trying to think of new tactics to improve organic traffic in a creative way that most competitors were not thinking about. That’s when I realized, that a user-based forum could be a great tool for crowd-sourcing content and, creating a ton of internal linking opportunities. Today, the forum is generating new topics, replies to existing topics, and sign ups on a regular basis. I strongly believe that the forum is leading to an increase in organic sales, traffic and overall growth. Not only is the forum generating unique and keyword-rich content naturally, its also supplementing the growth of our email marketing lists and re-targeting lists for Google Ads campaigns. In this blog post I’ll go over the process that we used to create a forum for our e-commerce website.

Choosing a Platform (CMS) & Theme

Just like any website project, you’re going to need to start off with the basics. A domain, a server, a CMS (content management system) and of course a design for your forum is necessary. Choosing a domain and server is easy, and there are several great companies to work with but we’re not going to cover those steps in this article. There are some great blog posts published on the Search Engine Journal that I linked to below for choosing a domain and setting up a server.

How to Choose a Domain Name That Will Stand the Test of Time by Gillon Hunter.

SEO-Friendly Hosting: 5 Things to Look For in a Hosting Company by Amelia Willson.

In my case, I choose to install the forum into a sub-directory instead of using a separate domain. This allowed us to build our existing domain’s content and SEO. You can go about it in either way, you can even use a sub-domain if you’d like. If you plan on building a business that is based on a forum solely, you may need a new domain. If you have an existing business and website that has SEO value, using a sub-domain or sub-directory is probably a better option as you will be adding SEO value to an existing website.

Choosing a CMS & Theme That Works for You

There are several CMS’s that you can choose to manage your Forum. For me, the choice was WordPress because I have the most experience with WordPress compared to any CMS. Additionally, when using WordPress you can choose from a wide variety of themes which allow you to save time and money when compared to building out a custom website from scratch. According to a post by Matt Southern, WordPress powers over 30% of the top 10 million sites on the web – which says a lot. WordPress also offers several awesome plug-in’s that can be used to add features to your website on the front end or management side. There are many other great CMS options out there and I encourage using a CMS that you’re most familiar with.

We decided to go with a WordPress theme known as “Help Guru” which is pretty robust and is fairly low-priced ($69 USD) This theme has a lot of features that are helpful when it comes to the administration of the forum. There are several WordPress Themes that are designed specifically for forums. You can find them on trusted sites like WordPress.org or Theme Forest by using their internal search feature and using the keyword “forum”. We recommend choosing a theme that comes highly rated and that offers features that make it easy to manage the forum.

Organizing Your Forum

Once you have a theme and your design customized to your liking, you’ll need to optimize your forum for usability. We recommend creating main category forum and sub category forum sections so that your users can quickly find relevant forum sections that they can engage with. This is where you can add some SEO tactics by using keyword friendly URL’s for your category structure and by adding section SEO friendly descriptions to each forum section.

category-structure-for-forum

For our forum, we created a category structure that mirrors our product category structure from the eCommerce section of our website. This is because the audience that we are working with primarily engage the forum to ask questions about products that relate to troubleshooting, replacing parts or upgrading their mobility devices. By mirroring our eCommerce category structure, customers who purchase from our site in the past can visit the forum and the category structure will be familiar for them.  As you may notice from the screen shot above, each category has a description that includes internal links and keyword-rich content. This allows our topic category pages to rank organically on Google for keywords that bring in great traffic, leads, sales and more.

mobility-scooter-forum

Funneling Your Forum Traffic into Your User’s Shopping Journey

As a digital marketer, its important to always think about the user’s shopping journey and how to get more qualified users to embark on that path. Here at Mobility Scooters Direct, we leverage email marketing, re-marketing (through the Google Ads & Facebook network) to keep engaging prospective customers after their initial interaction with us. Reports indicate that on average, our customers interact with our various advertisements at least 5 times before making a purchase on our website. This means that users return to our website or related social media pages 5 times before finally deciding to make a purchase. This is why we find it so important to create multiple touch points through out the customer’s shopping journey.

Our forum is quickly becoming a powerful source for prospective buyers to enter into our user journey. With a few simple API hooks and a registration form, you can get your forum members to join your email newsletter upon sign up. From there you can easily funnel those users into various marketing campaigns like we do. Once a user signs up for our forum, we then follow those users with re-targeting ads across the various networks in hopes that eventually they end up purchasing an item from our store. Having this type of optimized shopping journey creates a snowball effect for sales and conversions as seen in our Google Analytics reporting.

traffic-report-for-forum

sales-from-forum

Restricting Back Links From Users & Preventing Spam

One of the most common issues that you will face when managing a forum is combating forum spammers. Almost immediately, you will start to get fake accounts that use scripts to add topics or posts to your forum with back links. To prevent this, we recommend 2 things.

First, you’ll want to ensure that your forum has some sort of anit-spam feature like Google RECAPTCHA or some sort of plug in that blocks spammers from creating fake accounts. RECAPTCHA by Google works the best in my experience, below is a quick demo video of Google Recaptcha.

Secondly, you’ll want to disable users from being able to add hyper links to their posts or replies. This can be done easily within the Help Guru Theme Options but you might need a developer if you’re not using a WordPress Theme.

When those 2 things are done, you’ll likely mitigate a lot of your spam which makes it much easier to manage your forum.

How Moderators & Admins Can Help With SEO

Once your forum is up and running, you will need someone or a team of people to manage it. Many forums allow active members with to become moderators or administrators to help answer questions or reply to topics. This can be done by modifying user access roles within WordPress or your CMS of choice in most cases. Moderators and administrators can help with adding SEO-friendly internal links, external links, keyword rich responses and more. To get the most out of your blog, its important that the person managing the topic responses and moderation of topics has an understanding of SEO.

Take a look at some of the responses that we post when users as questions on our forum related to our products. As you can see, we are able to add some great links and refer users to certain products that we carry for sale. It’s a win-win for everyone.

example-of-seo-friendly-response-to-forum-post

What Have You Learned About Forums?

If you have experience with forums and SEO, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. There are many ways to go about creating and managing a forum effectively, not just the way we do it. This is why we want to hear from you if you have your own forum or if you have any insights regarding forum management. Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback.

 



About The Author

Sergio Aicardi
Sergio Aicardi /

Search engine marketing is what I am passionate about and enjoy doing. I feed off of the knowledge and the fact that SEO is always and will always be changing. Remember, when it comes to SEO, always think like a search engine and you will succeed.