When you think of search engine optimization (SEO), chances are that your mind automatically thinks about tactics to increase the rank of your website and web pages. What you might not think of, however, is applying these practices to your community forum.
Yes, SEO tactics can also be applied to your forum and increase traffic just like any other web page. This blog will give you some of the best tips when applying SEO to forums.
What Search Engines Love
The first step to knowing what the best tips are to increase the visibility of your forum is really understanding what it is that search engines want to see.
Search engines, such as Google, use ranking algorithms to determine where your web page will appear on the Google search results page (SERP). Your aim is to appear on the first page of the SERP, so to optimize your SEO, you definitely need to know what Google throws into their algorithm pot.
What's the secret formula?
Well, in short, Google looks at both on-page and off-page SEO factors that contribute to your ranking position.
Off-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing activities associated with advertising a web page or web site and generating more traffic, mostly done through social media and link building.
In contrast, on-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing both the content on a web page and the HTML code behind the web page.
Both of these are key to generating more traffic.
To give you a good idea of what some of these factors are, here's a quick look at some of the on-page SEO factors, taken from Chapter 3 of our newest eBook on SEO:
This image shows you the most important on-page SEO factors. Part of delivering exactly what Google wants to see means optimizing each of these factors, in addition to various off-page factors. Doing so will show that your forum (or any other web page, for that matter) has the value and quality that Google users are looking for.
Remember, the Google ranking algorithm is designed to deliver users quality content and high value, useful pages. That's why optimizing your forum is so important - your forum is brimming with a wealth of knowledge that can help others, and you need to make sure that you show this value to Google so that you can have a favourable rank.
To learn more about how to optimize each element of these on-page SEO factors, be sure to check out our free eBook, The Big Book of SEO.
Tips for Increasing Forum SEO
All in all, the key to generating a high SERP rank for your forum is twofold: quality content and popularity. Here are three tips that can help you boost the SEO of your forum:
1. Create an Open Forum
Forums that require registration before viewing the content will be more challenging from an SEO standpoint. In general, forums that require users to register will have a high member count, since that's the only way to view the content, but will also see a higher drop off rate. This however, could also work the other way around.
It's also possible that people won't even bother to register and try to find their answers elsewhere on Google. Chances are, they'll find them somewhere else. That being said, it's probably not worth the risk to close off your forum to members only.
Open forums, on the contrary, allow all internet users to have access to content. This, in turn, increases the searchability of the content because open forums generally have a higher engagement rate, and a high engagement rate positively impacts SERP rank.
Leaving a forum open however, does mean that you'll need to ensure that your moderators are doing their job, since there’s an increased risk of spamming. Your mods need to be on the constant lookout for spam with outbound links. Fortunately, if you are a Vanilla customer, this isn't something that you need to worry about since 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 isn't mobile responsive, your search rankings will suffer. To avoid issues like this, make sure that you're using the most up-to-date coding standards to ensure clean code. This will maximize the crawlability of your forum, ensuring that bots can crawl the website deeper via internal links.
Luckily, if you're with Vanilla Forums, we use microformats, which are small patterns of HTML that search engines, for example, can easily recognize when deploying bots. Microformats represent commonly published content like people, events, and tags in web pages. In addition, Vanilla uses open graph to ensure maximum SEO in social media networks. This makes sharing content easier on other platforms with proper attributes such as title, meta description and a picture, which optimizes your SEO value.
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 deliver a front page SERP result overnight. It takes time, my friends!
Linking and promoting your forum is a good way to get the ball rolling, which may help you reduce the timeline to success. The more people know about your forum, the more traffic you'll get. The more traffic, the better you'll rank!
Linking and promoting your forum is actually a huge aspect of off-page SEO. Here are some tactics to get the job done:
- Form partnerships 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.
Learn more with our free eBook on SEO
At the end of the day, all the optimization in the books won't help if your forum actually doesn't provide any value to your users. As a Community Manager, it's up to your to ensure that not only is your forum content fresh, original and of quality, but also that your members are engaged.
Search engines value many things, but their ultimate goal is to deliver relevant information that's of quality and will be useful to the searcher. If your forum remains true to its purpose and your community loves you, it's likely that the search engines will too.