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Should You Add A Forum To Your Site?

I was recently reading a message board thread on a popular SEO site and the question came up whether this particular person should add a forum to his site. I appreciated the honest answers from those who replied and I mulled over several points myself that I thought would be beneficial. Combined, these are some of the prevailing thoughts from site administrators:

1. Site Traffic. While there is no "rule of thumb" as to what constitutes a busy site, most administrators felt that a site with at least several hundred daily unique visitors was worthy of adding a forum. One administrator cited that probably 10-20% of the visitors would actually join the forum, while the rest would continue to visit the web pages. Any amount less, the adminstrators believed, would find the forum visited infrequently. Fears were voiced by some that an "empty" or underused forum would send out a bad signal.

2. Moderators. Knowing that a forum can quickly get out of control if not watched regularly, one respondent urged that at least 2 current site visitors be appointed as moderators. The thoughts were that if there were already regular identifiable visitors to the site, at least 2 could be found to help out with the new forum. Across the board, no one felt comfortable with the administrator starting the site without moderators.

3. Development. A side conversation ensued about the development of the forum. We soon learned that the administrator was not well versed in PHP so he was going to have to expend some money by purchasing a license from vBulletin or Invision Boards to set up a site. We did learn that through AdSense and banner display ads his site was profitable, so the financial outlay of $200 or so wasn't a problem for this administrator. Still, he could save himself some money by opting for an open source PHP site if he had the time and inclination. In both cases he clearly had neither, thus a licensed forum made the most sense.

4. Maintenance. Besides having the help of moderators, we all recognized that a certain amount of regular maintenance would need to be performed including: registering people who for whatever reason could not register themselves, resetting passwords when requested, updating forums as required, backing up data on a regular basis, making important upgrades and modifications as warranted, marketing the site via mass emails and advertising, promoting the site via an orchestrated advertising campaign, etc. Nobody felt that the administrator could create the site and basically stand back. By experience, we knew that we had to share with the potential forum administrator that forums are time consuming and require a lot of special care.

5. Time Management. As outlined in point #4, the amount of time involved to successfully launch, maintain, market, backup, and update forums can be huge. I mentioned in my reply that whatever time was allocated to forum management would quickly take away from other administrative tasks including writing articles, updating web pages, sourcing new customers, as well as impacting precious personal time.

6. Niche or Not? Not mentioned by me during the discussion {I thought about this point later} was whether the site was a niche community or one amongst many. Clearly, if the administrator starts a forum that is like many others it may have difficulty establishing itself in a crowded market. As the manager of two successful forums, the Corporate Flight Attendant Community and the Aviation Employment Board, I have learned through trial and error that some forums work, while others do not. I might add, that I have managed as many as one dozen other forums which I eventually had to close or relinquish because of some of the points mentioned previously, e.g. low traffic numbers and time management.

In all, forum management brings a whole additional level of responsibility for any site manager. Weigh the benefits against the pitfalls and give due consideration to all the points mentioned above. You may still elect to start a forum and, if that is the case, I only wish you success in your new undertaking.


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