This is a guest post by Tristan Higbee. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.
Forums have been around since the earliest days of the Internet, and people have been using them ever since to drive traffic to their websites. While they’re not hip and sexy Web 2.0 darlings like Twitter or Facebook, forums are still a great way to drive targeted traffic to your blog. Below are 8 things you need to keep in mind when using forums as a traffic driving strategy.
1. Pick the right forum
Choosing the right forum(s) to participate in makes a big difference. Hopefully you’re already an active member of a forum or two. If not, hopefully you’re at least aware of some of the popular forums that cater to your niche. If that’s still not the case, Google “YOURNICHE forum” or check out Big-Boards.com.
If there are multiple forums in your niche, you should focus on being active in just one forum at first. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, and you want to be sure you become a prominent member of the community. That’s hard to do when you’re trying to post in half a dozen different forums. Once you’ve become established in one, then you can determine whether joining another would be best for you.
If you’re not already active in a forum and you have multiple forums to choose from, there are a couple points to consider. How large and active is the forum? You won’t get much traffic from a forum that has 30 members and the last post was six months ago. Do you like the look of the forum? I’ve chosen to participate in certain forums because I just like the way they’re designed. Does the forum allow signatures? Some forums don’t allow signatures, which will make it harder for you to get traffic (see the “Put a link in your signature” section below). And finally (and perhaps most importantly), do you like the community that has built up around the forum? You’re going to be spending a lot of time there, so make sure you like the kind of discussion that’s going on.
2. Choose your username carefully
Your username is your brand out there on the forum for everyone to see, so it needs to be chosen carefully. Ask yourself what message you want your username to send. Using your name as a username gives your interactions with others a more personal feel than if you just used the name of your blog or business. It’s important that you username fits in with your niche and the forum. For example, if you’re posting to a realty forum and the forum community you’re posting to has a very professional feel to it, you’ll obviously want to steer clear of usernames like “xfallenangel1987x.”
3. Put a link in your signature
Your signature is the couple lines of text that appear below each one of your forum posts. Putting a link to your blog or to a particularly good post is the backbone of any solid forum-based traffic strategy. This is how you’ll get the majority of traffic out of the forum.
A standard signature will include the name of your blog and maybe your blog’s tagline or what your blog is about. Linking to an especially informative or interesting post can also be a good strategy if you want to drive traffic to certain parts of your blog. Remember that you can also link to a newsletter signup page to help grow your list.
You can read more about putting a link in your signature in this previous Daily Blog Tips post.
4. Craft your profile carefully
Your profile is what people see when they click on your username, and it usually consists at least of your avatar, a short bio, and a link to your website. Most often, your avatar should be a picture of you. We like to know that we’re interacting with a real person, and a photo gives a face to the name and helps create a more personal interactive experience. If you prefer anonymity, then use anything you want as long as it fits in with 1) the feel of the forum, and 2) the image of your blog or business. Using the realty forum example again, you wouldn’t want your profile pic to be a funny animated .gif of a guy getting hit in his private parts with a baseball. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to use a serious, black and white photo of yourself if you’ve got a fun and colorful blog about funny YouTube videos.
Your bio should include relevant information about you. Again, make it professional, but don’t be boring and one-dimensional. Sure, talk about how much experiences you’ve got in your particular field, but also talk about any other interesting information about yourself. If you’re on a rock climbing forum, you could state that you’ve been rock climbing for 12 years, that you are an avid backcountry skier in the offseason., and that you love watching Lost. Give people more reasons for them to interact with you.
And while we’re on the subject of getting people to interact with you, be sure to include a line in your bio (preferably at the end) that you welcome people to contact you with any questions or comments. This can help people feel comfortable about coming to you for any additional help or information beyond what you provide in your forum posts.
Many forum profiles have a space for your website’s URL or the URL of your favorite website. Be sure to put your blog in there!
Finally, take advantage of any other profile features your forum might have. Some forums let you enter your Twitter handle, for example. Others let you enter your other interests. Use these elements to further differentiate yourself from others, to establish yourself as an expert in your field, and to set yourself up as a person people want to interact with.
5. Don’t be spammy
When you’re networking with people in person, you don’t shake their hands and immediately stuff a business card down their throats. You want to get to know the person a little bit before interacting with them on a professional level. To put it another way, you wouldn’t go all the way on a first date, right?
Sure, you’re using the forum to promote your site, but that shouldn’t look like the main reason you’re there. Stick around the forum for a while before you start promoting your blog openly. No one likes it when the forum user’s first and only post is, “Hey guys! Check out my sick awesome new blog!”
6. Provide quality content
We’ve all heard that “Content is king” for getting traffic to your blog and getting people to subscribe to your blog. The same applies to forum posts. For example, don’t just respond to a question by saying “Yes” or “No,” but justify your response with a clear, well-thought-out, informative, helpful reply. Provide the best content you possibly can. Link to other resources both inside the forum and elsewhere online to provide even more helpful content.
Another tactic you can use is writing content especially for the forum. Think of it like guest posting for the forum: you provide your own content for free to the forum, and in exchange you get more exposure for your blog. At the end of the forum post, you can include a line of text that says something like, “This was written specifically for the Whatever Forum. If you found this information useful, check out my blog at WhateverIsAwesome.com.” You’re adding value to the forum while at the same time giving people a reason to check out your blog. Win-win!
Having said all of that, not all of your posts need to be long and epic. Quality content can be as simple as posting a funny YouTube video that a lot of people in the forum community can enjoy.
7. Start new threads
If someone opens up a thread to read it, that person is obviously going to read the first post in the thread, right? The first post in a thread gets read more than any other, so being in that position is a great way to leverage your forum posting.
It’s important, however, that you start the right kinds of threads. If you’ve got genuine questions about something, then by all means ask about it. If you don’t have any questions, a great way to go is to ask people’s opinions on a topic that they all can have input on. If you’re posting to a mountain biking forum, for example, ask people what they’d do if they had $5000 to spend. Would they spend it on a new bike? Upgrades to their current bike? Travel to that place they’ve always wanted to ride? More examples can be asking people on a Corvette forum to post sweet pics of their ride, or encouraging members on a photography forum to post links to their portfolios.
8. Post often
Forum posting isn’t the best passive traffic strategy. You can’t just spend a week posting multiple times a day and then sit back and expect the traffic to roll in forever. The threads that you spend all that time and effort posting in will eventually be pushed further and further down the page until they disappear from page 1. It’s sad, but that’s just the way it is. Participating in — and getting traffic from — forums is very much an active process. To get the best results, you really need to commit to it and make it a regular part of your blogging process.
Above all, just try to enjoy the experience. Hopefully you’re talking about things you like, and you might as well be building blog traffic while you’re at it, right? In addition, forums are great way to get post ideas for your blog, so keep your eyes peeled.
Pick a forum, do your best to become part of the community there, apply the above 8 points, and you’re sure to see the traffic start to come. Good luck!
About the author: Tristan Higbee just launched Blogging Bookshelf, where he reviews books and ebooks specifically for bloggers. Subscribe to the Blogging Bookshelf newsletter and get his ebook, “101 Ways to Battle Blogger’s Block”, for free.