When you think of search engine optimization (SEO), chances are optimizing a forum is not the first thing that comes to mind. Indeed, most SEO strategies are aimed at increasing website page ranking. However, many of these practices (and a few new ones) can aid to increase the visibility and success of your forum.
What Search Engines Love
Search engines, such as Google, utilize proprietary algorithms that determine the ranking and visibility of everything on the internet. There are many factors that impact how well a website or forum will rank:
- The clean coding and design of website, making it easier for search engines to crawl and index
- The number of backlinks a site has linking to its, i.e. how many other websites are linking to you and sending traffic your way. Not all links are created equal. Links from high authority sites such as a well-known news outlet will have a greater impact than your friend putting a link on their blog.
- The quality of the content contained within your forum.
- Proper use of title, meta tags, and categories. Using the same subject in: the title tag, the URL, image alternative text, and written content.
Above all else, search engines want to connect their users to a site that answers their question. That is why when someone searches for something such as hosted community software, you’ll see Vanilla Forums right near the top.
The first result on the list, an article by Entrepreneur, lists 5 software platforms that host online communities. Vanilla Forums, it should be noted, does make the cut! Since Entrepreneur Magazine is a well-known, widely circulated publication and website, they show up well in that particular search. Since Vanilla Forums is mentioned by name and linked to in this article, we show up well too. That is SEO at work.
Translating This Method to Generating Forum Traffic
By now you see that the key to generating high rank search engine results are content, traffic, and popularity. All three are important and should factor into your plan to generate traffic for your forum. Some things you will want to consider:
1. Creating an Open Forum
Forums that require registration before viewing the content will be more challenging from an SEO standpoint. In general, forums run this way will see an increase in membership, since that is the only way to view the content, but will also see a higher drop off rate. However, continued engagement may not be there.
Open forums generally see less memberships since anyone can come in and view the content. This also allows the content itself to be searchable. There’s also an increased risk of spamming for open forums, however if your forum hinges on maximum exposure, leaving a forum open is the way to go. In general, the easier you can make it to join and interact, the higher the engagement rate which translates into higher rank in searches.
One aspect that you should be aware of in open forums are spam. At Vanilla Forums, we automatically tag all outbound links as nofollow, so it doesn’t affect your forum SEO.
2. Ensure Smooth Operating and Clean Code
If your forum is clunky, difficult to load, or doesn’t appear well, your search rankings will suffer. Thankfully forum software such as ours, handles a lot of the heavy lifting for you, or otherwise makes it easy to customize as needed.
3. Link and Promote Your Forum
SEO is not a short-term fix, but rather a long-term strategy. It will take time to achieve results and doing any or all of the above will not yield an overnight ascension to the front page of Google. It is important to promote and link to and from your forum.
- Form partnership and link exchange arrangements with friendly websites who are not in direct competition.
- Promote and link to your forum on social media as well as in email correspondence such as newsletters or within your email signature.
Remember: Content and Community are King
At the end of the day, all the smoke and mirror tricks won’t get your forum anywhere if it is a boring, lifeless place to be. As a community manager, it is incumbent on you to foster a community where you and your members are vibrantly engaged in creating fresh, original content to interact with.
Search engines love dynamic sites with a variety of content and frequent content. One thing that they look for is whether you create your own or not. By encouraging your community to create and share their own you will increase engagement and it will help enhance your SEO.
Search engines value many things, but they all want their users to find information that is relevant to what they are looking for. If your forum remains true to its purpose and your community loves you, search engines will too.