When someone migrates a forum to a new platform or starts up a new community forum, SEO is often a top concern. If you trust that Google and others are trying to provide the most relevant search results, then it’s better to focus on building a thriving community with lots of useful content and assume that SEO will take care of itself.
But the big search engines like Google don’t fully disclose how they rank search results and so there are lots of opinions about SEO out there.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and what we think are the best answers.
1. Does having a forum in folder like website.com/forum get me better SEO than putting it on a sub-domain like forum.domain.com?
This question comes up because you want to make sure that all your inbound links are juicing the entire website, not just a part of it. Our opinion is that there is no difference if the forum is on 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?
Sitemaps are XML files that help search engines find your website URLs and can also provide some information about those URLs to help the search engine crawl them more intelligently. When no sitemap is present, search engines will simply crawl by visiting links it finds on your site. Forums have a very clear tree-like content structure and so sitemaps aren’t necessary. As for the other information that can be added to a sitemap, we trust that the search engines will set their own behaviours based on what they find on your forum.
3. Does the URL structure matter?
Each new discussion is going to have a unique URL that looks something like this:
http://forum.website.com/category-name/this-is-the-discussion-title.html or http://forum.website.com/1234/this-is-the-discussion-title
Vanilla can display URLs in both these formats and we haven’t seen one outperform the other. When it comes to forum post URLs, the real deciding factor is that they are based on the Discussion title. Members of your forum are not likely writing titles with SEO and keywords in mind, so this is something you cannot fully control.
4. If I move my forum to another platform with a different URL structure, can I keep my SEO ranking?
Yes. You’ll want to make sure to setup 301 redirects. What is a 301 redirect? It’s a way to tell a search engines that an old URL has moved permanently and it will be redirected to the new URL you specify.
5. If I embed a forum into a page on my website, will my website get the same SEO benefit as having it on a sub-domain or in a folder?
While Google tries to index iframed content properly, it doesn’t always get it right. When the forum is on a sub-domain and linked to your website navigation, Google will have no problems finding and crawling the content. What’s more, it’s easier for people to create external links to specific pages on your forum. These links will help your SEO.
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decide to go the embed route, here is a short Embedding Checklist to follow:
Choose the embed friendly theme. This theme has minimal padding around it and will look good at any width.
Set up the forum on a sub-domain. (Even though nobody will see the URL, this helps search engines attribute the SEO juice to your main domain.)
Register this sub-domain in your Google Webmaster Tools account. (If you are not embedding, you should do this too.)
6. What are things that could hurt my SEO?
There are lots of things that can impact your SEO
Links from bad neighbourhoods. Services like MajesticSEO or MOZ are helpful in locating rogue links you might want to get removed.
Malware (check your site here. Just replace your domain with your own to see how it fares)
Choosing a bad domain (always use archive.org to see what was there before you buy)
Spam in your forum (we have some great plugins to help with that)
We hope the above tips help you with your forum SEO, but now it’s your turn. Please share below your own SEO tips. Maybe you think we missed something or you have an SEO tip that you are just burning to share. If have any questions too, ask away, and we will do our best to answer them.
Learn more how Vanilla Forums does SEO by downloading our free eBook!