Online forums have been around for a while. In fact, they first appeared online back in the early nineties and they’re still a mainstay of the web today. And these days it’s not hard to build a forum website when you use a trusted website builder or forum software.
Before the rise of social media, forums were the main way to build digital communities that allowed businesses to connect with their customers and create a space where their customers could interact.
Forums are still a great way for businesses to engage with their customer base and build a dedicated and loyal audience.
If you want to create a forum to rival the likes of Reddit, or simply want a way to nurture your leads and customer base, our easy 10 step guide will show you how.
A forum website is a website designed to build a community where online users can hold conversations with other users via posted messages.
The messages are often detailed and in-depth and the conversations will usually be archived for other users to read and join.
Forum threads are usually categorized into topics that users can contribute to and these threads remain online for people to read and engage with.
Forum discussions are typically monitored by an admin or moderator (usually the forum website owner) in order to ensure conversations stay on topic. Moderators often share rules of engagement and remove messages that break these rules.
The main benefit of building a forum website is to create a community around a shared interest or topic. A forum website provides users with a space to share ideas and opinions on the chosen topic.
An online forum is a great way to open up communications between the site owner (you) and your visitors and customers. A forum encourages two-way communication between you and your audience as well as facilitating your audience to begin discussions with each other.
Adding a forum to an existing website can also be great for the SEO of your website as it offers Google even more content for their bots to crawl and index. You just need to ensure that your forum is active and that users post useful and relevant messages.
#1 – Identify the Purpose and Audience of the Forum Website
The first thing you need to do is decide what your forum is going to be about. It will need to be clear to people what topics will be discussed so they can decide if they want to join in.
In order to chose the purpose and theme of your forum website you will need to identify your target audience. This will allow you to discover the topics that resonate with your audience.
You can opt for a broader topic for your forum website and then set up more specific discussion boards and threads on specific topics.
For example, if you own a florist business you may decide to launch a florist-themed forum website. If so, you can have floristry as your main forum theme and then launch discussions on specific topics such as seasonal flowers and how to care for specific bouquets.
#2 – Decide on the Type of Forum Software or Plugin To Use
Next, you will need to decide what software you want to use to build your forum.
Forum software allows you to add the forum functionality to your existing website or build a dedicated standalone forum website.
Some of the most popular software options include:
- Vanilla Forums
Or you can opt for a platform that integrates with your existing website such as Muut or the Wix Forums plugin for Wix websites.
Find Out More
Take a look at our website builder guide to help you decide which platform is best for building your forum website.
#3 – Choose a Domain Name
Once you’ve decided on the theme of your forum website you’ll need to come up with a name for it and purchase the domain name.
The domain name is the website address that users put into their address bar in order to access your website.
You can purchase your domain name from a domain registrar such as GoDaddy and when choosing a domain name opt for something easy to remember (so avoid numbers and hyphens) and keep it short and relevant.
#4 – Create a Sitemap and Wireframe
One of the important things you need to do when planning your forum website is to decide on the structure of your content.
Think about the topics you want your forum website to cover and how you can best organize these to make user navigation as simple as possible.
To ensure you’re structuring your forum website in the best way, create a sitemap and wireframe that breaks down all of your content categories.
Most forum websites organize their content via topic, organized by main categories and subcategories to allow users to find the content and discussions they are looking for.
#5 – Choose a Theme or Design for the Website
This is where you get to decide the style, themes and layout for your forum.
Perhaps you want a minimalist design that focuses on the forum content or maybe you want to create an interactive and vibrant website.
Whatever you decide, you can either opt for a premade website theme that provides a layout specially designed for forum websites, or you can design your website from scratch.
#6 – Customize the Website’s Colors and Layout
If you’ve decided to use a theme to design your forum website you will then need to customize elements to ensure it reflects your brand and provides the best user experience for your target audiene.
Choose colors and imagery that match your branding and are easy for users to clearly view on your site. You can also customize the layout of your web pages to reach a finished product you’re happy with.
#7 – Add Plugins or Widgets
Plugins and widgets will ensure your forum website is fully functional and has all of the features you need.
A plugin is an add-on that you can add to the software of your website.
Plugins that are suitable for a forum website could include:
- chat boxes to help users contact you directly
- photo galleries that allow users to add images to message boards
- social media integration where users can share forum threads on their own social media channels.
Extra functionality will encourage your audience to engage with your forum website for longer and potentially extend the reach of your forum through social media shares
#8 – Create Guidelines for Users To Follow
Before you allow users to start adding their own content and comments to your forum threads, it’s important to create a set of forum guidelines.
These guidelines will dictate how users are expected to behave and use your forum. They can include the types of content that are appropriate as well as rules about acceptable language and behavior.
It’s important to set expectations for how you want users to use and communicate on your forum website and be clear on what sanctions will be implemented should they break your rules.
Some of the things you may want to include in your guidelines are:
- No spam comments
- Be respectful of other users at all times
- Refrain from using offensive or derogatory language
- No self-promotion/promotion of third party companies
#9 – Write Welcome Messages and Rules
Most forum websites will include a welcome message for users, introducing them to the forum.
This welcome message is your opportunity to inform users about what your forum website is about, the topics that will be covered and reiterate the user guidelines and rules for interaction within the forum.
A welcome message ensures that from the moment a user lands on your forum website, they know exactly what to expect and how they are expected to behave.
#10 – Create Categories and Topics for the Forum
Start by creating the main categories that your forum will cover. For example, if you’re creating a forum website about cars, you may decide to create categories such as car models, vintage cars, and car maintenance.
Then you can create the sub-topics within those categories that users can join discussions on. Within the car models category for example you could create topics on Tesla, Mercedes, and Ford.
Once you’ve built your forum website and got it up and running you’ll need to maintain it. There are various things you should do to ensure that your forum website offers a great user experience and that users can easily find and enjoy your content.
In order to maintain your forum website to the highest standard possible you should:
- Promote the forum on social media and other platforms in order to raise awareness and direct more users to the content.
- Create dedicated social media accounts for the forum website to add social proof.
- Share information and details about the forum on relevant websites and other forums to help raise awareness.
- Regularly monitor and moderate user activity to ensure users are aligning with your guidelines and there are no violations of the rules.
- Regularly update and maintain the website, including any plugins, to ensure it functions well and offers a great user experience.
- Address any technical issues that arise straight away in order to prevent users from leaving and finding an alternative forum.
Forums are a good way to encourage customer feedback and conversation and allow you to build an engaged community who are all interested in the same topics and discussions.
You can add a forum to your existing website or create a forum website from scratch using forum software.
The most impotant part is understanding your target audience and the topics you want to discuss with them. You can then create your forum strategy by following our easy guide.
Have a go and let us know in the comments how you get on, remember building a forum website should be fun and engaging, so take the time to experiment and discover the features that work for you.
A good forum website should have a clear topic for discussions, have clear categories to simplify user navigation, and be designed to engage users. You also need to ensure that the functionality of your website is user-friendly and that you monitor posts and behavior to ensure everyone is adhering to your guidelines.
Not if you don’t want to. There are plenty of pre-designed themes for forum websites that you can purchase online that you can then customize with your own colors, images, and font, etc.
In order to attract users to your forum website you will need to share it online, such as on social media. You should also encourage existing users to share forum discussions by integrating social sharing capabilities. You can also attract users to your forum website by sharing it in email newsletters and within your wider marketing strategy. The best way to attract users however is to offer an unrivaled user experience.