Let’s face it, creating new content on a daily basis is tough. When you are running a blog, you are creating articles based on your specified niche. This is a good strategy, but what if the article that you just spent 3 hours writing is not getting much traction? This is not good at all, it’s like you are throwing your hard labor in the trashcan. What if you had an easier way of knowing what your visitors want to know. If you did then you would be able to write highly engaging articles right? Right!
I strongly believe that internet forums are one of the most valuable assets of an information based website. If you have a loyal community following you, why not create a place where they can discuss what they are interested in? A forum can serve as a power house of massive information that is almost rare to find. The more people are discussing a topic or an issue, the more brains are being combined to solve a problem. Now you will be able to see what kind of questions people are asking, thus allowing you to write highly related articles on those topics!
Also consider this for a motivator. The more posts your forum generates, the more search queries you will be ranking among in Google. The unique content being created by your users is like an “auto-pilot” generating traffic and back-links for you. Now we are not encouraging you to take advantage of your visitors. Just like my mother taught me, you have to treat others the way you would like to be treated. While keeping that at mind, join the discussion board! Yes you are the admin, but that does not mean you cannot contribute and help other people with their problems.
Now you are hopefully aware how much usability a forum could add to your website. So the question at hand is, “How do I get started?” I personally created this article because I had no ideas what kind of services are out there. The internet is a scary large place, so I decided to do some research. While browsing through numerous amounts of articles, I found out that many of the older plugins and scripts are no longer supported. The original creators jumped the ship, and left the unfinished software to collect dust.
I did find a few services that are very promising and would be of interest to you if you are creating a forum. Probably the most attractive option, in my personal opinion, would be #1 Vanilla Forums. They have recently came out with a seamless Worpdress plugin for their software, that looks very promising to webmasters. Now we both know that there are tons of other services out there, so I tried to collect the best choices based by their thriving communities. Let’s face the fact: If a platform does not have a strong community behind it, that you are taking a risk going forward. Whenever you need help with something (for examples WordPress), the experts usually stay around in forums and help you free of charge. However if a community is dead, you will be stranded and forced to hire somebody to help/do it for you.
Pro’s and Con’s of a Forum
- Growing a rich community
- Establish relationships
- Converting your guests to clients
- Ask users to make suggestions
- Helping other Human Beings
- Monitoring for spammers
- Keeping up with demand
- Hosting and Bandwidth
Some websites try to bypass a forum by adding a chat box at the lower right corner. Sure it’s nice to say hi to people who are browsing at the same time you are, but the interaction ends quickly. Then you have spammers that drop URL’s nonstop without your permission in the chat box (but let’s not go down that path). Our main focus was for the following scripts to seamlessly integrate with WordPress. However nothing is perfect, so some work from your behalf will be required. Without further a do, we present to you our top 10 forum choices/alternatives for your website!
Note: All of the images and download links will lead you to the specified website.
1. Vanilla Forums – (free and paid)
Vanilla Forums are open-source, standards-compliant, customizable discussion forums. Have a WordPress install? No problem, just download the official plugin and install Vanilla forums on your website. There are two ways to use Vanilla Forums,
- Vanillaforums.com that allows you to create a free based Vanilla Forum with limited features but an optional paid upgrade as well.
- Then there is the actual Vanillaforums.org which is for the “do it yourself” hobbyists.
- Vanilla Mobile – Experience the power of your community forum from any mobile device without any pinching or zooming.
- Social Connect – Allow your users to sign in to your community with their favourite social networks.
- Import Tool – Importing your old forum has never been easier. Move to VanillaForums.com from your old Vanilla 1, phpBB, vBulletin, or some other aging beauty today.
- Vanilla – Easily embed your Vanilla Forum into any site in the world with a single line of code.
- Custom Themes – You can change the look of your forum with themes ranging from professional, fun, and crazy. Switch themes instantly with just a click of a button, or create your own custom CSS and HTML.
- Vanilla API – Vanilla’s powerful API enables you to create social experiences to drive growth and engagement on your community.
- File Upload – Give the ability to upload files and attach them to your discussions.
- Banner – Change the title of feel free to upload your own logo to your forum!
2. Simple Press – (free)
Simple Press is a feature rich, completely integrated and fully scalable forum plugin for WordPress. The Highly customizable Simple:Press allows you to seamlessly turn your WordPress site into a community.
- Integration – Fully integrated with WordPress user registrations and logins.
- Security – Underpinned by a powerful user and permission system.
- SEO – Creates pretty/seo friendly permalinks.
- Components – Blog Posts and Forum Topics can be linked.
- Member Profiles – Extended Member Profile Options.
- Customization – Fully customizable skins and icons.
- Translation – Fully localized for language support
3. phpBB (free)
phpBB is a free flat-forum bulletin board software solution that can be used to stay in touch with a group of people or can power your entire website. With an extensive database of user-created modifications and styles database containing hundreds of style and image packages to customise your board, you can create a very unique forum in minutes. phpBB is the most popular commercial forum script that has been integrated into dozens of other blogging and CMS scripts.
- User Groups
- Private Messaging
- Data Management
4. Tal.ki Embeddable Forums (paid and free)
Tal.ki Embeddable Forums are the easiest way to add a forum, message board, or discussion board to your blog. This plugin will add a Forums page to your blog and allow your members to start their own conversations and topics on your site. The forums work with WordPress along with global login systems such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and a dozen others. Create your own discussion board in seconds.
- Customizable with CSS
- Easy-to-use Admin Panel
- Private and Public forums
- Email Notifications on new replies
- Automatic Security Patches and upgrades
- Permalinking support for sharing topics easily between members
- Ability to make announcements at the top of the forum
- Lockable topics
- Create as many sub-forums as needed
- Drag and drop ordering of sub-forums
- Supports Embedding of media such as Images , Video, and Flash
- Automatically brings a returning member to their last unread reply
5. bbPress Bulletin Boards (free)
bbPress is forum software with a twist from the creators of WordPress. This is for more experienced WordPress users, and has a huge social aspect to it.
- Integration with WordPress – bbPress integration should work with most recent version of WordPress in the 2.9.x series. You should upgrade your blog before trying to get WordPress and bbPress talking to each other.
- Themes and Templates – Activating a theme is even easier. Just select it from you bbPress install’s Presentation Admin Panel.
- Making Plugins – bbPress has a plugin API that functions exactly the same as WordPress’. All the familiar functions such as do_action(), add_filter() and so forth are found in bbPress. One of our goals is to make bbPress as pluggable as possible. If you have suggestions for new hooks or other improvements, please let us know.
- Template Tags – Template tags are used within your the forum’s Templates to display information dynamically or otherwise customize your forum, providing the tools to make it as individual and interesting as you are. Below is a list of the general user tags available in bbPress, (currently) sorted alphabetically.