Gathering a Critical Mass of Members to a Forum

To engineer a successful forum, there are three key questions an administrator needs to ask before building the forum.

Goal #1. How will you gather a critical mass of members
Goal #2. What will compel members to provide content
Goal #3. How will the forum survive pass the first year
In this article we cover goal #1 – how to gather a critical mass of members.
Be niche

Your forum has to build a name for itself as the authority on a subject. All successful forums have something that sets them apart from the rest. For example, it could be the unique content of the site, an under-served niche demographic they target, or the personality of the site administrator.

If you’re creating a forum, ask yourself, “What will people get out of my forum that they can’t already get somewhere else?”

All successful forums have a purpose. They exist for a specific reason, to accomplish something. To connect people with common interests, or to facilitate conversation on issues related to the site.

One major reason many new forums fail is because there are too many forums on the same topic! Forums will not be successful if their sole purpose is building traffic for the main website.

Choice of forum software

Getting this right is critical. There is a high probability the existing forum posts will be lost by switching to different software later.

Consider search engine optimisation first. Since 85%+ of new traffic to your website will come from the search engines, having your discussion forum posts found by the search engines is essential.

Before you choose a discussion forum software package, make sure that all the posts within the forum can be found and ranked by the search engines. Most discussion forum software hide messages posts in such a way that they simply cannot be crawled by the search engines.

One way to find out if message posts within a specific forum software package are search engine optimised, is to visit a site using that software, copy a recent forum headline and paste it into Google and do a search (surround the search headline with quotes so Google knows exactly what to look for).

If the message headline comes up within the first 50 pages found by Google, you know the forum has been optimally indexed. If the headline doesn’t show, you might want to look for a different forum software package.

Most of the major forum scripts are geared for SEO, but there are ways to improve results further by adding search engine friendly URLs, or in the case of vBulletin, adding vBSEO (a full suite of SEO enhancements).

Dynamic URLs, session ids, etc. used by most forum software can be very detrimental to the forum health from search engine point of view.

Take care when choosing the type of forum and forum script or software that will be used. The forum should be easy to find and easy to use. Some forum scripts and software come with compulsory ads served from the parent company, and lead to a poor user experience.

Focus content and discussion

Users will sign up and post on your board if they find the existing content interesting, and consider it worthwhile to participate. Establish several interesting categories within your forum, without going overboard.

When launching the site you will not have many members, so keep the content focused on a few discussions only to avoid empty rooms. It is far better to have 4 active sections than 15 empty ones.

Don’t be afraid to lump similar topics together. Once a forum grows to a size where threads are pushed to page 2 and 3, then consider splitting a forum into two smaller ones.

Do not have too many off-topic discussion areas. Instead create one or two introductory discussions, where new users can post about themselves and existing users can welcome them.

Know that before making the forum public, it is a good idea to create maybe two or three threads in each forum area, so visitors will have somewhere to post. Many new forum users are too shy to post new threads on their own.

Function over form

Users care more about the content and community than the design. Image heavy sites have a high first impression, but subsequent low usability. Image rich sites take longer for each member to read threads, make a new post, move between forums etc. If the page refresh is slow, users post less and are less inclined to return. Google and Yahoo are not particularly attractive, but very successful search engines which observed the law of efficient page refresh.

Design should not be the focus, instead improve the user experience with clear and easy to use navigation, few fancy buttons and images and making sure everyone understands the functions of the site. There is no substitute for good form design, consistent branding, clear and readable type and ample white space.

Use hacks, add-ons and features sparingly

Many forum scripts have hundreds of freely available add-ons, for example, vBulletin, including social networking add-ons, live chat, shops and arcades.

The trick here is to employ fewer features, but do them well. Avoid making the mistake of adding so many features they become a visual barrier to new users, or slow existing users’ posting. Add too many features too quickly and you do not allow enough time to measure them, or allow your users to adopt them.

A simple, clean layout with features that promote registration, referral and posting are all that is required.

Super easy registration

Almost all forums have some barrier to entry, to screen out trolling and spam. However, a common mistake among forum administrators is making registration complex.

For example, some forums make you agree to rules, answer security questions, validate your identity via email and await moderator approval. While these measures counter spam, if your signup process is long and tedious, many users will give up. Try to achieve a good balance between security and ease of use.

Apart from making registration hassle-free, offer registrants some kind of benefit to join other than permission to post. These could be freebies or downloads.

Set your barriers to entry to be either large or small. Large will net you fewer members, but quality; small will gain you more users but of mixed quality.

Member referral schemes

Many forums fail due to a lack of publicity. Tell your friends to join, and if they find it interesting, they will tell their friends, who will in turn tell their friends etc. This can tie in very well with a referral scheme, whereby users are rewarded for referring other users to the board. Word-of-mouth advertising, in tandem with other forms of advertising e.g. SEO optimization, Google Ads, link trading with other forums, can result in a powerful combination which will draw more and more users to your forums.

Seeding links in other forums

Get people aware about your forum/site for free, simply by joining other forums and having your link in your forum/profile signature. Emailing sites such requests can attract negative publicity, as recipients may perceive you to desperate spammer.

The best technique is to join another forum. Have a link to your site in your signature, and try to make 10 or so posts each week. If you get a great reputation on the forum, people will check out your link. If you are a credible, it is likely people in those forums will join yours.

Useful forum articles

Forum design
Building content
Long term survival
Anthony Coundouris is a director and digital consultant for the digital marketing agency Firestarter.

New Online Shopping Deals Through Reverse Bid Auctions

Consumers are always looking for a way to save money on the items they want or need. Most of the items purchased online are luxury items and not necessarily a necessity. People need these luxuries to entertain themselves and when they can find these goods at a fraction of the cost they’re quick to spring on them. For years people have turned to sites like Amazon and eBay to find the lowest prices on consumer electronics and other goods but things are changing as people consider the potential discounts available.

One of the primary differences between traditional auction sites like eBay and pay per bid auction sites is that buyers pay a fraction of the cost consistently. This rarely happens on major auction sites, where the final cost is often just under the retail value. Image the delight of buyers on bid auction sites that get a MacBook or new LCD television for under $100.00.

This goes to show why reverse auctions and other pay per bid auctions have grown steadily in popularity as more people discover the savings to be had beyond the traditional auction model.

In a traditional auction buyers are competing against one another to purchase an item from a seller. As they bid, the price increases until one person stands out willing to pay the highest bid. The auction finishes and the product goes to the highest bidder.

Reverse auctions work in much the same manner in that they have a seller that’s offering an item for sale. A number of buyers all bid competitively in order to win the item that’s being sold. That’s where the similarity ends however. In a reverse auction, bidders are placing bids in order to drive the price down. When the auction finishes, the item goes to the lowest bidder. Some auctions force you to drive the price to zero before you can win, others let you continue to bid down the price until the price just gets to be too tempting and someone scoops it up in a “buy it now” fever.

Reverse auctions and other bid auctions have matured into a billion dollar global business yet they tend to remain under the radar. The primary reason is because they’ve only become common to consumers in recent years. Previously, these types of reverse auctions were used by business to business networks and government agencies.

There’s a great deal of excitement for consumers now, and it’s helping that popularity climb as more people hear about. The tension and nail-biting excitement really gets people going and can cause the adrenaline to surge in the last minutes and seconds of an auction. In many reverse bid auctions the potential buyer has to make a decision quickly about buying an item as they reveal the price lest someone else scoops it up.

With many bid auctions, there’s a constant overhanging chance that the item could get scooped up by another bidder at any time. Gone are the days of the constant flow of bids and “outlasting” other bidders. A strong strategy is needed for buyers that want to take a great deal home without overpaying in the excitement of the auction.

Info Product Creation – Strategies For Product Creation And Branding

Think of someone like Cesar Milano, and you instantly think “The Dog Whisperer”. Whenever you think of home decorating, what name jumps into your head? Chances are pretty good that it’s Martha Stewart.

Once you’re recognized for making a great product, people will come back to see what else you’ve got accessible, and when you create a list of pleased clients and inform them that you’ve got something new, in case you have established a brand for yourself, they are much more likely to want to buy it. You can, of course, prefer to design just one product or a number of unrelated products, however you’re missing a fantastic opportunity to build up hype and repeatedly sell to the identical clients if you do that. To make a brand identity it helps to have a consistent visual theme for your internet endeavors – an identical design and color scheme for your web site, your eBooks, your short reports, and so on.

If you don’t have any kind of design skills, no issue. You may go somewhere like elance.com, guru.com, rentacoder.com, or some other freelance internet site, and find a graphics designer to make a logo as well as website header for you which will represent your company. You don’t need to get any fancier than that. Individuals aren’t searching for elaborate web site design when they land in your internet site. They would like to know that they’ve reached the right place – and is going to be immediately reassured whenever they see your familiar looking banner. Then, they want the data which they came here to find – the best way to save cash with coupons while shopping at supermarkets, how to litter train their own cat, the way to flatten their abs, and so on. And they want the website to be simple to get around – they don’t desire to hunt around to find what they’re trying to find.

All you need to help establish your brand identity will be a custom-designed banner as well as logo that successfully conveys to the client instantly what you as well as your items are about. You may adapt that logo and banner and utilize some type of it for all your products. Say you are an expert fisherman and hunter and you want to create a number of information products which will teach people to fish and hunt. You may create a brand identity such as “The Good Ole Boy’s guide to Bass Fishing.” This could spinoff an entire selection of eBooks, instructional videos, product endorsements and so on.