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Leslie is a Freebie Trader and blogger who teaches people to make money with Freebie Trading and beyond on his blog at TheFreebieGuy.net and on his new forum at www.CaliStyle101.com. Leslie is a member of all my programs and recently left some great posts in our members forum about his success with monetizing a forum, so I asked him to write an article for us. Here it is…
Every successful blogger reaches a point where they feel the need to expand their portfolio. Maybe they’ve been able to make a consistent income on a monthly basis, but want to take the next step to increasing their earnings significantly. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. Some bloggers choose to develop products, membership sites or promote higher priced affiliate products. For me, it was adding a forum to my portfolio.
I’m a Freebie Trader. My business revolves around teaching people to make money with Freebie Sites and getting free stuff. The focus of my blog at TheFreebieGuy.net is to show people exactly HOW to do the same. At the beginning of this year, I was approached with the option of buying a Freebie Trading Forum (CaliStyle101.com) at a price I simply couldn’t refuse.
At the time, the forum had approximately 10,000 members, but was in a pretty dormant state. There was essentially no activity. However, there was potential. Regardless of the fact that the members weren’t active, having 10,000 instant members seemed much better than starting from scratch. So I bit the bullet and decided to give it a go.
I knew that if I were to have the forum succeed to the level I wanted it to, I had to do something way different than any other forum I’d ever seen. The result was a revolutionary concept that allowed me to build a profitable and extremely valuable forum in a relatively short period of time. Our alexa rankings went from over 300,000 to approximately 60,000 within 30 days and down to 35,000 in 3 months and membership has almost doubled.
There are many forums out there. However, what you will notice is that most of the forums that are very active are those that have been around for a relatively long time. So I’ve put together a few tips that can help newer forums to break through some of the barriers they might encounter to make a forum that can shoot your forum to the top.
Tip #1 – Mindset Change: Your forum is a product, treat it like one
When starting a forum, it is easy to slip into the mindset that the forum is simply an add-on to your site. It’s something that people can use IF they have a question. Although, this might be the goal in some cases, if you are trying to build a profitable forum, it’s going to take a mindset change. You should look at your forum as a valuable product, and treat it like one.
Tip #2 – Integrate your forum with a membership site script
Forum scripts are becoming more and more advanced. There are add-ons that expand the functionality of forums even further. However, if you want your forum to have unlimited income potential, it is a great idea to integrate your forum with a membership site script such as Amember. This will give you the ability to expand (over time) to having paid products, affiliate programs, and other features that can expand your income potential.
Tip #3 – Optimize your Landing Page
For most forums, the default “landing page” is a listing of all the subforums. For established forums, this is not a problem. However, if you want to rise above your competitors, you should consider something different. The Landing Page is usually the first point of contact between your first-time visitors and what your forum have to offer. Do they understand what they are getting? Are their curiosities piqued? If not, then something needs to change.
Many forums overlook this point and it’s a point that can help you out significantly. Take a look at the landing page I have at my forum at www.calistyle101.com and you will see exactly what I’m talking about. If you sign up, that proves that it’s effective
Tip #4 – Have an Autoresponder sequence that encourages participation
If your forum is integrated with a membership site script like Amember, then you can easily integrate it with a service such as Aweber so that when someone registers for the forum, they can opt into an autoresponder sequence. The primary purpose of this sequence is NOT to sell to your readers. Your first goal is to get each person to make their first post.
My experience has shown me that if you can get a person to make their first post, you increase the chances that they will become an active member. This can be by highlighting different forum features, or by asking them to introduce themselves to the community.
Tip #5 – Have CLEAR written Guidelines for appropriate Forum Behavior
This is your forum, and there should be guidelines as to how you want it to be run. Who determines those guidelines? You do of course. If you are knowledgeable enough to start a forum, you should know the industry enough to have an idea of where to start.
Tip #6 – Do NOT do everything yourself
Running a successful forum takes a LOT of hard work. That’s a fact. Fortunately, it can be relatively easy to find people to help out with forums for as little as $0. Many people love being involved in forums and appreciate the exposure they receive by being a moderator at your forum and just being helpful in general. This is a win-win situation in which everyone’s a happy camper.
Tip #7 – Encourage the community mindset
When someone comes to a forum, they aren’t there because they want you to give them a bunch of information. They are there because they want to interact with other people who are interested in a similar topic that they are interested in. This is something that needs to be heavily encouraged. Whatever you can do to emphasize that your forum is a community will pay off in the long run.
Tip #8 – Seek out potential partners and build relationships
If your forum has the potential to be a successful forum, chances are that there are other companies/websites that can benefit from having a presence on your forum, either with advertisements, or even better, their own subforum. This is also a SUPER arrangement because they get exposure to your audience AND you get exposure to their audience.
They can use their individual subforum to answer questions about their products/services, or just business in general.
Tip #9 – Hold contests that promote interaction
People love winning things. I remember winning an iPod touch in a forum just for posting. Was I happy? EXTREMELY. Did I want to go back to that forum and post more? HECK YEAH! Do I implement this concept in my forum? HECK YEAH! Has it paid off? I’ll let you answer that one.
If you are trying to populate your forum with posts, holding contests that promote interaction is a great idea. These can be as simple as selecting a random post to choosing the post that contributed the highest quality content for the month. The prizes don’t have to be as huge as an ipod touch, but you would be surprise at how much it encourages participation.
Tip #10 – Track EVERYTHING and make everything Better
This is another aspect that is too often overlooked when it comes to forums. The best way to know what works to to test, test and test some more. Google Analytics allows you to track almost every aspect of your forum and has the ability to show you how each traffic source is performing, and how will it converts. If you track these details well, you will be able to see what works well and perfect it.
Google Website Optimizer also helps you to optimize different aspects of your landing page, or other key pages on your forum by doing split tests – once again, free of charge. You can use it to perfect even minute details like font size, page color, and every detail you can think of. By taking Google Analytics and Website Optimizer together, you can come up with a high converting set up that can help propel your Forum into the future.
Bonus Tip – Use Audio and Video to Spice things up!
Every forum uses text and yes that’s a great thing. However, one thing that has set our forum apart from every forum in our industry is that we decided to put together a set of video tutorials that explain what the forum is about, and how they can get started. The members just LOVE those video tutorials and it’s something we intend to continue working on. Use this in your forum and it will help set yours apart from the status quo.
Those are a few tips that you can implement at your forum, or if you are starting a forum that can help your forum bypass mediocrity and set yourself up for long term success.
You can learn more about Leslie and how he makes money online in this podcast interview with him: Podcast: How Leslie Makes Money Online By Giving Away Freebies
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