One of the most effective but underutilized ways to market your site and drive qualified traffic to your website is through forum marketing. Thousands of forums are created every year online, each of them with a huge variety of topics created and visited by people who are passionate about the topics. By posting on forums that are relevant to your content, you can increase your website traffic a great deal, and it won’t cost you a penny.
What is Forum Marketing?
Forum marketing is the process of identifying forums that are relevant to your niche market and establishing a meaningful presence on them by posting valuable and useful content that is relevant to the topic being discussed. Much like SEO, forum marketing is a long term strategy. It is essentially about building brand awareness, establishing your authority and building credibility and trust in your business rather than engaging in overt or hard selling pitches. It used to be a very effective link building tactic, but Google now pays special attention to forum profile links because they tend to make up part of a spammy link profile. This is why it is not recommended to include anchored links to your website in your bio.
Over time, forum marketing is a very effective way to establish yourself as a trusted and credible source of information within a particular industry or niche. It is a well-established fact that search engines love content, but they tend to love online conversations much more. Live threads create activity from different parts of the world resulting in viral effect that attracts search engines
How Forums Work
A forum (also known as an internet forum, message board, bulletin board, community forum, or online discussion group) is a dynamic website that enables like-minded individuals to share ideas, ask questions, get answers and start topics or discussions on common interests. A forum is different from a blog, as a blog is usually written by one user and usually only allows for the responses of others to the blog material.
A forum usually allows all members to make posts and start new topics for discussion. It is also different from a chat room. Members in a chat room are usually logged on and communicate at the same time, while members in an Internet forum post messages to be read by others whenever they happen to log on. Internet forums also tend to be more topic-focused than chat rooms.
Forums bring together like minded people with common interests. If you are promoting a particular product or service for a small business, you want to reach out to people who will be most interested. And the best place to find them is to go to community forums with topics related to what you have to offer.
A forum can be focused on nearly any subject and a sense of an online or virtual community, tends to develop among forum members. There are literally tens of thousands of forums out there, and you can find forums for just about any niche. Most forums are focused on one specific subject with different categories. For example, if its a forum about health and wellness, you’ll find different categories such as nutrition, weight loss, physical fitness, and so on. Whatever hobbies, business or any topic that you can think of, you will find a forum created specifically for that.
Advantages of Forum Marketing
There are lots of good reasons why you should be doing forum marketing as there are many distinct advantages:
- Forum marketing can be a very effective technique for generating qualified, laser-targeted leads to your website – providing that you become part of the community yourself and are not there to just drop your link and leave.
- You can use forums to get to understand people’s problems and challenges, because most of the forum posts you’ll read will be about the difficulties, frustrations, needs and wants of that community within the forum.
- By providing meaningful posts and useful replies to questions, you build credibility and establish your reputation as an authority within a niche community.
- There are internet forums for just about every niche that often contain people that are very passionate about the topic. Take for example, dogs. There are tons of pet forums out there, where fellow pet owners gather to talk about the joys and difficulties of having a furry little friend.
- Forums can be laser-targeted to the niche you are promoting.
As already mentioned, when you register, do not include an anchored link to your website in your forum signature feature is enabled. Google’s considers forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature as a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Every time you post, you are also advertising your site, and all for free. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they first start using forum marketing is that they are so eager to use their signature that they flood the forums with meaningless posts and get flagged for spam. Be thoughtful about your posts and offer some quality content with your posts. That way, you will gain a positive reputation as a forum contributor and build traffic with forum backlinks that will increase your profits and online presence.
Locating the Best Forums
The first step in forum marketing is to locate the right forums. To find a forum for your needs, create a set of highly targeted keywords and phrases that best describe the product that you are marketing. If you are providing a service, then create a set of keywords that best describe the service, such as seo, social media, plumbing, roofing, etc.
The best place to start is on a search engine like Google. For example, if you’re looking for an SEO-related forum, you can use search strings like:
- seo forum
- seo community
- intitle:seo forum
- seo inurl:blogs
- seo answers
- seo bulletin board
- seo online discussion
This should bring up lots of options.
You can also use the following search string: your keyword + “Powered by vBulletin”. vBulletin is a forum software that a lot of people use for creating and running forums. You can also use the following approach to find live discussions about the topic in which you’re interested, as questions are being posted:
For each keyword term in your keyword list, create a question that includes the keyword phrase. Try and put yourself in the position of someone who is a potential customer for your product or service and think about the logical questions they might ask that could be answered by your product or service. This is very easy and doesn’t require any extravagant combinations of special words. Simply use common sense.
For example, if you are marketing a plumbing business, this is how you can transform that keyword phrase into a question:
“How can I fix a leaking tap?”
In most cases, this system will work best if you include the question mark and also put the double-quotes around the question.
To build a longer list and increase the volume of leads you receive, create variations of each question. Simply enter your keyword targeted questions including the double-quotes and question mark into their search engine and you will instantly get a ton of the latest forums and discussions online related to your niche. Continuing the above example, you could try:
- “How can I fix a leaking tap?”
- “How do you know if you have a septic tank?”
- “Can you install a toilet on a four-inch cast in a basement floor?”
- “What’s the fastest way to fix a broken tap?”
Do this for every keyword in your list.
How to Find Forums in Your Niche
Try searching with double-quotes surrounding the niche keyword and the word forum. You may put the quotes around the niche keyword excluding the word forum in the following manner:
“niche keyword forum” “niche keyword” forum
Another Google search tool you can use is the tilde (~) operator. The tilde (~) operator takes the word immediately following it and searches both for that specific word and for the word’s synonyms. It also searches for the term with alternative endings. The tilde operator works best when applied to general terms and terms with many synonyms.
As with the (+) and (–) operators, put the tilde (~) next to the word, with no spaces between the ~ and its associated word. For example: ~lightweight laptop NOT ~ lightweight laptop.
Here’s what you can do to find forums in your niche using the tilde (~) operator:
forum ~niche keyword forum ~keyword1 ~keyword2 “forum” ~niche keyword “forum” ~keyword1 ~keyword2
Here is how we can apply this to the dog training niche:
forum ~dog training “forum” ~dog training “forum” ~dog ~training
“forum” ~dog ~training, this will tell Google to search for the EXACT word forum, and then return all the possible synonyms for the word dog and the word training.
The tilde search operator comes in handy if you’re having difficulty with your niche keywords.
Now that you’ve found a few forums and online discussion groups, you need to ensure that they’re going to be worth your time. Below is a checklist of things you will want to be sure to look into, before launching a marketing campaign on a particular forum:
- Does the forum match your niche?
- Does the forum contain enough members?
- Is the forum active? When was the date of the last post? You can find out how active a particular forum is by evaluating the response and viewing figures of recently posted threads on the forum. You can also check out how many people have been online at any one time.
- Is the forum private or is anyone allowed to join?
- Is the forum a paid membership?
Registering as a Member
Once you have found a forum that meets your criteria, you next step is to become a member of the forum. Start by choosing a username very carefully. You’ll want to use your brand name, site name or any other name that is very memorable and branded. Avoid anything with numbers. The name you choose to use is important because your content will be associated with it. If you choose something that is not connected in any way with the content you are posting, it will be more difficult for users to associate your content with your username.
Creating a Forum Signature
Once you’ve setup your account, your next step is to create a forum signature. A forum signature is a block of information automatically appended at the bottom of each forum post. Creating a forum signature is an important step because it is how you’re going to drive traffic to your website. Do not be tempted to include exact match anchor text back to your site in your forum signature regardless of whether the forum allows them or not. Because of widespread abuse in the past, they are viewed by Google as part of a spammy link profile. They confer no SEO value, and could cause problems from you at some point.
In your signature, add a strong, benefit-driven call to action that will be effective for your target audience. For example, if you’re a dog groomer, you could add “Tips and advice for dog lovers”. The link to your site could be “Save Money by Grooming Your Dog at Home”. This is how you can use a forum signature as a branding tool to subtly promote your products or services. Bear in mind that if you spam a forum with random useless posts with the intent of just having your signature spread across multiple pages, then you could come across as a manipulative spammer.
Adding Real Value
Now that you are a member, it is time to create a reputation for yourself on the forum and aim to build a reputation for yourself as an expert. The important thing is to get out there and start interacting with the community and helping others whenever you can by providing meaningful advice. This time will be worth it, because while you are becoming an expert, and you will be gaining the trust of those around you which could lead to qualified leads for your business.
Avoid responding to threads just for the sake of “boosting your post count” and having another chance to display your signature. Quality is definitely more important that quantity. If you can add one to two quality posts per day, you can get some good traffic from that. Part of becoming an expert on a forum involves crafting thoughtful and helpful responses to highly visible threads.
One of the best ways is to find a post that is a question, and answer it in a way that helps the original poster. This will help you gain a notch with the original poster, as well as others reading the thread. Learn to answer questions in a way that provides value to the original poster, while not “giving everything away”. After all, if you reveal all everything on the forum, there won’t be much reason for people to visit your website for more information.
Stick to the top of the forum as much as possible. If you scroll down too much, not many people are going to see you because you’re going to be towards the bottom of the thread. When answering, don’t go into too much detail. Just give a very brief and concise post that directly answers the question being asked. Bear in mind that when you help someone by providing real value, you will become more of an authority or an expert in their eyes.
Following are tips that will enable you to position yourself as an expert in your niche:
- Answer niche-specific questions whenever possible.
- Aim to establish yourself as part of the community by providing real value rather than self-promotion.
- Post frequently and consistently.
- If you want to drive traffic to your site, you’ll need to create your own threads. If you have a very popular post on your site, you can post it in the forum.
- Publish original threads offering helpful advice. If you have a content piece that has done really well on your site and on social media, you can use a shorter version of the article as the basis of your thread.
- Establish relationships with other active posters.
- Keep an eye on the most popular threads.
- Once you have established a strong presence on the platform, you can begin to post content with a link back to your site.
When a member is approved by the administrator or moderator of the forum, the member usually chooses his or her own user name and password. Sometimes, a password is supplied. An avatar, or photograph or picture, supplied by the member can appear under the member’s user name in each post.
Provide value by posting relevant and meaningful content, and actually helping others. Make sure you have a gravatar (your actual photo, not your company logo) attached to the email address of your website, and the same photo on all of your web properties including your website and social media profiles. When people see the same photo on your website and social media sites, this will reinforce the trust they have in you.
In addition, when people see your meaningful and relevant posts on lots of forums in your niche, they are more likely to click through to your website. With this technique, you’ll get the kinds of natural links that search engines love, and you’ll be building your brand and authority in the process.
Remain Professional Always
A forum may be a casual environment, but if you are posting on behalf of a business, every aspect of your forum presence should remain professional at all times. The user name and picture should be appropriate to the business you are representing. It’s also important to include all relevant information about yourself in the bio section of a forum profile. Avoid sales speak, but be sure to include background information that relates to the forum content. Each post should be well thought out and checked for spelling and grammar errors before being published.
As a newly registered member, it would be quite unwise to start promoting your products or services as soon as you are approved to become a member. This will make others wary or suspicious of you, and you won’t achieve much on the platform. You want to make sure you take the time to “settle in” and avoid coming off as a marketer and getting your account deleted. First of all, check and see if there is an introduction thread. Provide a few thoughtful comments in some active threads, and aim to get your post count up to at least 20.
Forming Relationships on Forums
As you move forward and become more invested in the forum, take steps to form relationships with some of the other dedicated members. Building relationships with respected and prolific forum posters can have a tremendous impact on your business. As you post, you will start to recognize some of the names of others, and they will recognize you when they see you post. You can even send some of these people personal messages from time to time. This is a great way to make a closer contact on the forum. It is done directly through the forum in most cases, and isn’t seen as being as invasive as sending an email.
You can do this for all kinds of reasons, to continue a discussion in private from a thread, to ask additional questions, or even just to introduce yourself. There are many advantages to forming these kinds of relationships besides the obvious ‘trying to sell your product” angle, including:
- You can ask these people to check out your product and provide a testimonial;
- You can ask these people for feedback regarding your market, such as the
types of things they look for in a product, etc.
You never know where a relationship may lead. For example, say you are promoting a dog training product. You could form a relationship with a petstore owner who would be willing to promote your product in his or her store!