At Vanilla, we know the ins-and-outs of forums, and we also know how to apply SEO specifics to your forum for prime optimization. As a result, we've got the answers you're looking for. Here are some commonly asked questions regarding forum SEO.
Before we dive in, however, I'd just like to take a brief moment to refresh your knowledge on what SEO is. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing websites or web pages to get positioned in a higher rank on the search engine results page (SERP) for increased visibility.
Now, without further ado, here's some of the most commonly asked questions regarding forum SEO.
1. Does the location of my forum impact SEO?
This questions debates the SEO value between the following two options:
1. Having your forum located in a folder, such as domain.com/forum.
2. Having your forum located in a sub-domain like forum.domain.com.
This question usually comes up because of the desire to ensure that all your inbound links are juicing the entire website, not just a part of it.
In our opinion, there's no difference if the forum is in a folder or sub-domain. If the content on a sub-domain is on a different web-server and IP address, it’s a good idea to register the sub-domain in your Google Webmaster Tools account. This way, Google knows that the website and forum are one and the same and you’ll get SEO juice for inbound links to the forum.
2. Does a forum need a sitemap?
A sitemap is essentially a list that tells the web crawlers (bots) which pages on your forum that you think are important. Sitemaps are created in order to help the bots crawl your website more intelligently, with a direction. The sitemap also provides the bot with other information, such as when the page was last updated.
When no sitemap is present, search engines will simply crawl by visiting links it finds on your site.
Sitemaps actually aren’t necessary for forums since they have a very clear tree-like content structure, which makes it very easy for bots to navigate. If, however, you do want to incorporate a sitemap, Vanilla offers this as a plugin feature.
3. Does the URL structure matter?
The URL always plays a role in SEO, and the more keyword dense the URL is, the more SEO value you will get. The structure, however, doesn't play a role in SEO as long as you still have keywords within the URL.
Each new discussion in your forum will have a unique URL that will usually be structured in one of two ways:
Vanilla is able to display URLs in both of these formats, and we haven’t seen one outperform the other.
4. Will migrating platforms mean losing SEO rank?
If you are migrating to a new forum and have to use a new URL, you can avoid losing SEO rank by setting up a 301 redirect. This will tell the search engines (and visitors) that your old URL has moved permanently and the search engine will be redirected to the new URL.
A 301 means that the web page doesn’t lose any of its authority as it allows for the link juice (SEO value) from the original URL to be passed along to the new URL.
5. Does it matter if my forum isn't mobile friendly?
If your forum isn't mobile responsive, you're going to lose out. This is a huge SEO factor for any forum (and any website, for that matter). It not only affects SEO rank, but it’s also something that the Google Search Quality Raters look for when they assess the “Needs Met” rating.
If you have a Vanilla forum, you're in luck.
Vanilla is mobile ready right out of the box. A Vanilla Forum is able to recognize when someone is trying to gain access through a smartphone. When this is detected, it automatically switches to the Vanilla Mobile theme so that users on mobile devices and tablets can see your forum in a view that’s compatible with their device.
6. Does having a closed forum impact my SEO?
Forums that require registration before the content becomes viewable does affect SEO because popularity plays a role in the ranking formula. If your forum requires people to register to view your content, it's likely that they simply won't take the time and effort to do this, and they'll look elsewhere. This means less traffic on your forum.
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.
For More Information
If you want to learn more about SEO in regards to community forums, be sure to check out the link below and grab your free copy of The Big Book of SEO. There's a chapter in this eBook that's specifically designated to discussing forum SEO.
Good luck everyone!