Ten Tips To Ramp Up The Success Of Your Online Forum

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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.

Leslie – The Freebie Guy
Site: http://www.TheFreebieGuy.net
Forum: http://www.CaliStyle101.com

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

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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47 Comments

  • Reading this and checking the calistyle101 forum, I am quite amazed I have not seen even a landing page on ANY forum before, let alone an opt-in form or using the email list with a forum. All brilliant ideas when you think about it, but I guess people look at forums as “just forums” and haven’t leveraged them like you have.

    I am not surprised that your forum has been a success as you’ve done more than 99.99% other forum owners. With that, I think this is a priceless post about the subject and must read for anyone who is running or is planning to run a forum. Thanks Leslie and all the best.

    • Thanks Antti, I appreciate the kind words. We definitely did put a lot of thought into what we wanted to do with the forum even before we bought it, and it has turned out to be very successful relatively speaking.

      This was actually a fun post to write :)

  • Great ‘out of the box’ thinking Leslie! Thanks for the ten tips, you’ve shared some fantastic ideas. :)

  • When one thinks of forums you really don’t associate them with making money, but your post has opened my eyes, Leslie. It is great that Yaro gets his success stories to share their insights on this blog. It proves that his programmes are worth it, and also helps one to understand how his methods can be applied to things you normally wouldn’t think about. I’m heading over to visit your site & forum now! See you there!

  • This is superb advice.

    I’ve briefly tried running forums several times. So much work, so little return!

    I can see that these tips would have been tremendously useful.

  • As an online marketer, you face the challenge of building trust and loyalty without the benefit of a physical handshake, a face-to-face meeting, or even a smile. To this end online forums can provide an excellent way to build meaningful relationships with people and attract new customers.

  • Forums are so fascinating to me, and this post really explains some of the ins and outs of how to grow a forum!

    Some of the techniques that you talk about I can see were “used” on me in some of the forums that I go to, and encouraged me to participate even more!

    I have a question though:

    How do you find forums that are for sale?”

    • Hi William,

      If you are looking to buy a forum, a good place to start would be a place like Sitepoint. Alternatively, what I would do is just do a google search for a forum in your niche. This can be easily done by putting the word forum behind the keyword you are targeting. For example – “freebie trading forum”. This will yield a certain amount of results, depending on the niche you are in.

      Then, what you do is try to find one with a decent member base that is fairly dormant. Chances are, if the forum isn’t doing much, the owner probably won’t mind selling it for a low price. Then you move in and Ramp it up by doing some of the things I recommend. The fact is that no one is really doing that right now and if you do, you will be ten steps ahead of the game.

    • Forums are perfect opportunities to allow full personal expression by potential consumers. It also allows you to interact with consumers in a way that provides an opportunity to explain issues that may be difficult to accept at first read

  • Good tips Leslie. The contest idea is great. Even free contests can encourage participation. I’m sure you’ve seen forums that give users different titles based on how many posts they make. Others have a point system for when people thank you for something. On many webmaster forums there is even a point system to keep track of good buyers & sellers. All of these things lead to more posts. Once you get members coming back to your forum regularly, you can build a successful community that can easily be leveraged to help your main site.

  • Fantastic tips Leslie!

    I recently added a forum to my blog and created a bunch of videos on how to use it. I used bbpress (integrates perfectly with my WordPress) and I was able to install awesome plugins that allow my members to show off their social profiles, latest tweets, etc.

    I never thought about creating a real landing page for it, but I’m definitely going to now – great idea!

    To help encourage new members to post, I’ve added a new section to my weekly newsletter recap called “This Week In Discussions.” I basically showcase a post someone has started that I feel invites an interesting discussion. To read my response and the entire discussion, subscribers have to click through to the forum.

    • It sounds like you are on the right track Keller. Keep up the good work. Integrating the forum with Social media is also a great thing to do. I’ve also done some of that and we plan on doing more. I do like how you’ve done it with BBpress. It looks pretty slick.

      • Social media tools definitely add value to employee communications. They can help build relationships, increase collaboration, improve productivity, reduce silos, and build engagement. They also offer an excellent means to share ideas and gather qualitative feedback.
        So why is social media sometimes so hard to implement as an internal communications tool?????

  • I completely Agree with Leslie. I have seen supporting videos Leslie recommended before joining the fourm. They are superb. And, The best part about his forum is there are 100s of people to help you.

    I feel, forum is one of the best medium to build a good relationship and email list?

    All the best Leslie.

    • Thanks Anand. I appreciate the kind words. Having a forum in combination with a blog and email list is definitely a powerful combo!

  • I’ve never been able to get a forum off the ground and I think it’s because I can see that one would be incredibly hard work and I just can’t be bothered for the questionable ROI.

    • That can be true about any online venture. Blogging also takes a lot to get it off the ground, but if you position yourself in the right way, the only question about the ROI is “Why didn’t I do it sooner”, lol.

  • Thanks Leslie – these are really….REALLY helpful.

    Starting a forum is hard work and gaining traction is probably harder. We’ve already implemented a few of your suggestions on our forum and i’m looking forward to seeing the results.

    Thanks again!
    Martin

    • Unfortunately, having a forum addition to a website does not guarantee its success and usefulness in gathering the hypothesized attention and attractiveness. A new forum with no content, no members or no active discussion is like an empty hall. Anyone who steps into such an empty room would most definitely get the creeps and run away as fast as they can. Similarly, your forum can quickly lose its purported usefulness if it is empty and bare.

  • I’m wanting to start up a forum for my company website, but the biggest obstacle we’re facing/considering is how to attract new members to build an actual community, rather than have one or two members and have them slip into obsucre inactivity while we wait for more to join up

    • That’s why it’s a great idea to team up with other companies/websites that have some traffic. If you plan it well, you can have multiple sources of traffic, all leading to your forum, which can help give it a jump start. Also, by using some of the tips that I mentioned, you are really setting it up for a good start.

      • Forums equally play a significant role in bringing more traffic at your website. However, surveys have proven that forum visitors are generally pro-active information seekers as well as engaged users. Hence, forum visitors coming to your site are worth more than average visitors.

    • Any administrator of a forum has 2 main goals usually. Attract traffic to their site so that they can capitalize and rake in those advertising dollars, and to keep things orderly, and moderated in a fast reliable way. Over the years of runnign web forums I have come up with 3 good ways to achieve the first of those two goals faster then one normally would.

      #1 Reward Top Forum Contributors.
      By giving away either cash, electronics, or something related to the topic your forum is based around, you will create a nice incentive for members to contribute to your forum with relevant top quality information. One way to set up the incentive giveaways is to manually have your moderator and admin team choose a member or two every month who went above and beyond the others to contribute and help out the rest of your member base. Other ways is to create contests which will reward members for the best answer to a certain question. Either way, your members will get excited about the possibility of a reward, and check back often to see if they may have won.

      #2 Provide more information then the others.
      Even if your forum isn’t as busy as other competing sites, you can make it better. Quantity isn’t always quality. Provide insightful original essays, studies, or information that your forum members will both find useful, as well as possibly link to and send to other internet users.

      #3 Be fair, do not over censor, and clearly state your forum guidelines.
      More often then not, forums have very sketchy guidelines. If members do not know the rules, it is impossibly for them to follow them. Also make sure your moderating and administrator team is fair and even keeled. You will always have members challenging a moderators actions, but remember you can not please everyone. Do what you think is morally correct. If you treat one members in a certain way, good or bad, than you must treat every other member in the exact same way. Do not make exceptions. Be organized in your actions, so that members know what to expect. Make sure the moderators that you assign do not have motives outside of simply helping the community. I have see moderators abuse their power for their own financial gain, and it is not pretty, as the blame will usually come back to the administrator for appointing the bad apple.

  • Outsourcing is not as easy as they all say… what you say is not always what they hear…. :-)

  • I like the idea of using something like bbPress to integrate a forum into my WordPress blogs. That to me seems like a forum worth setting up? But a forum all on it’s own, not enough time on the old schedule!

  • Leslie,
    Awesome job landing a great guest post here. Lot’s of good advice I will bookmark this. Small world I had to double check as you just thought the your name before, you just left your 1st comment on my site yesterday on the Keller interview. Now I find you on posting some real value on one of my favorite blogs.

    Looks like like I going to have to add your site to my RSS list. Looking quickly I like what I see. Track everything great tip and people really do like audio and video I plan on doing a lot more it really helps people get to know and trust you.

  • I am really impressed with Leslie’s Freebie website, normally I don’t like when videos auto-play on websites, but on Leslie’s website I really loved it! The website feels so professional =D

    As far as contests you are right, I’ve been holding contests on a forum that I am a part of, and the website has seen a growth as a result of contest, and the great thing is, the prize is not that expensive, so it definitely has been a huge gain for the forum by having the contests.

    Till then,

    Jean

    • Thanks Jean. You know what? I usually REALLY HATE pop up videos myself, lol. But when I found that type, I fell in love with it. I do get tired of seeing myself pop up in a bubble though, lol. I’m gonna have to find away for it to only show up the first time someone visits and NEVER again, because if I get tired of it, I’m sure others do too.

      • Yeah the first time they visit it is the best way to do it. Perhaps code so that once an IP address has visited the website, then every time thereafter, the video’s default setting on auto-play is set to off. Off course it is easier said than done. Perhaps a better alternative would be a cookie that could track their first visit, and visits thereafter the video will not autoplay.

        Till then,

        Jean

  • Super article.

    I’ve never seen, or thought of, a landing page for a forum. Nice idea.

    Not sure I’d ever start a forum from scratch but who knows. Seems to me you’d need a successful site to feed it to have any chance of success.

    Cheers,
    Rod

  • Leslie glad to have another informative post from you. Forum integration is really a important factor which definitely encourages the readers feel that they are listened to. You can estimate the joy from the fact that it make me to visit some forums very frequently because I got my queries answered within 5 hrs… and a add-on that the warm welcome on logging in. Its just awesome.

    I am going to be a member at .CaliStyle101. :)

  • A few days ago i have set up a forum in combo to my blog, too. The reaction from the users were all positive because they can better communicate via a forum. This setup has result to an increase of pageviews in the blog. So if you have the chance to set up a forum, do it!

    Cheers,
    Volksphone!

  • Hey Yaro,

    I agree that a forum is a way to expand your earnings and also traffic. Beeing at the begining i didnt arrange myself to do a forum but soon i will start working to have one. Thanks for the usfel information.

    • You will see it is a nice expand :) The earnings and your pageviews and visitors will always increase. These are the experience I made by many blogs including a forum.

      Cheers,
      Volksphone!

  • [...] Ten Tips to Ramp Up The Success of Your Online Forum [...]

  • Hey all, forums are really good place to learn a lot. I participate in lot of forums but recently I had my account at DP suspended. They never told me why.

    I am not sure what happened, I dont spam or anything. Even my signature is clear :(

    I hate it when they dont tell you what you did wrong.

  • Yeah, another good post from Yaro,
    I was mesmerised with how you can reach 35.000 of Alexa rank while my first blog is still fighting to get 1.000.000 in Alexa rank. And as far as i know, build a forum is the hardest thing to do in internet.

    Daniel Likin

  • thanks for this article, I am really thinking that you are me mentors from now on Yaro.
    Larry

  • [...] this article may help Ten Tips To Ramp Up The Success Of Your Online Forum – Entrepreneurs-Journey.com by Yaro Starak [...]

  • A sense of community is very important – it’s what keeps me coming back to the forums in which I participate. I recently joined a forum where the top contributors were rewarded with “best answer” status. Makes one feel good when their advice and/or knowledge helped others.

  • A landing page for a forum? I guess I’m not too sure what the purpose of this would be. I personally like to see contests and polls within forums – gives the feeling of a “friendly neighborhood” when allowing members to participate in more than just the same old forum.

  • hey Yaro, thanks for such a useful information about forum, forum is very confusing, atleast for me. Every forum site has their own criteria which very different from each site, but these ideas will help me when posting massage in forum. Thanks again!

  • I’m not too sure what the purpose of this would be. I personally like to see contests and polls within forums – gives the feeling of a “friendly neighborhood” when allowing members to participate in more than just the same old forum.

    John

    Thanks

    …………………..

  • I’d say the 2 key things to bear in mind before setting up a forum are:

    a) Do you really have enough traffic to make the forum work… so many sites have completely inactive forums.

    b) If you do have enough visitors, are you prepared to dedicate time each day to oversee the postings + moderation?

  • Thanks for the great advise definitely going to optimise our forums landing page

  • Thanks for the grest tips, given me so excellent ideas

  • Great Tips thank you

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