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Forums – How to Expand Your Blog #1

Yesterday I share with readers an exercise to brainstorm 10 ways that they might expand their blog in the coming years.

The reason I suggest the exercise is not that there’s anything wrong with being ‘just a blog’ but because as I look at a lot of top blogs going around today it strikes me that many of them have evolved in different directions and now also include other mediums, areas and features that wouldn’t normally appear on a blog.

By no means is it essential to grow your blog in this way – but it certainly is a trend among many successful blogs.

Over the next few days I want to explore some of the ways that I see blogs being expanded. Hopefully in doing so it’ll give those wanting to grow the potential of their blog a little inspiration in how they might do it.

Expand Your Blog with a Forum

Lets kick things off with a way of expanding a blog that many bloggers will be quite familiar with – adding a forum to your blog. This can be done either as a free area or a paid or premium area where members pay a subscription to join it.

Examples of Blogs and Forums Working Well Together

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 2.12.00 PM.png1. Ars Technica – Major Tech blog Ars Technica has had a forum area operating for some time now.

I’m not sure how many members it has but as I write this it has over 700 signed in members on the forum and over 3500 guests viewing it.

Discussion areas cover most of the topics that the blog covers and in many areas there’s a lot of action (literally millions of posts).

Screen shot 2009-09-09 at 2.11.41 PM.png2. Digital Photography School – I quickly added a forum area to my own photography blog not long after I started the site as I began to hear from readers that they didn’t want to just respond to what I had to say – but they wanted to start conversations, ask questions and share what they were learning themselves.

This forum doesn’t get as many unique visitors as the blog area on DPS but it does drive a lot of page views. It also converts pretty well in terms of advertising and over time has been picking up speed as more and more members join and as the site begins to grow in it’s search engine ranking.

Other Examples include:

There are of course many others – feel free to suggest more in comments below.

Advantages of Forums

There are many advantages of starting a forum. Here are four that come to mind for me (and they just scratch the surface):

1. Increased reader engagement – one of the things that I noticed after starting the forum on DPS was that it seemed to hook people into the site for a longer period of time. Most blogs have a life cycle in terms of new readers where the average reader will eventually move on from the blog as their interests change, as their knowledge grows, as they master the topic being explored. However starting a membership or community focused area gives those who might move on from your blog a reason to stay connected – the relationships that they form. I know I have a few members of the DPS community who for one reason or another moved on from being blog readers but who are still central members of the forum.

The key thing is that forums require people to ‘sign up’ or become a member. This requires people to ‘buy in’ or invest a little something into your site which gives you a point of contact (you get email addresses etc) but also creates a point of connection and sense of ownership of your site in your reader. This extra engagement often leads to long term relationships and loyalty.

2. User Generated Content – one of the things I’ve been experimenting with in the DPS forum is to set up a ‘photography tutorials’ area. In this area we encourage readers to share what they’re learning about photography. It’s been a successful area of the forum for two reasons – firstly it creates useful content that other forum members enjoy but secondly it also has created content that I then can use on the blog.

Example: today I put together this post – 21 Great Reader Shots [And How They Took Them]

3. Increase Page Views – as mentioned above – my photography forum doesn’t get as many unique visitors to it as the blog area – but it does drive a lot of page views because each visitor who comes tends to view more pages per visit. This is fairly typical of forums as the way they’re set up tends to drive people to view multiple threads and view a thread multiple times as they interact with others. This can be a good way of making money via impression based advertising (although it can decrease the overall CPM rate if you’re using AdSense as someone viewing multiple pages is probably less likely to click ads).

What I find with having both a blog and forum is that there are some great cross promotional opportunities. In blog posts I’m constantly referring to threads in the forum that have examples of what I’m talking about or that I set up for people to share photos on the topic I’m talking about. Similarly in the forum we often point people with questions to tutorials in our forums. While some people tend to stay in one or the other of the areas – there’s a fair bit of cross over.

4. Appeal to a Different Type of Reader – I discovered a month or two into DPS forums that quite a few of those joining never read the blog area and that quite a few blog readers had little interest in using the forum. While some do use both areas it became evident to me that quite a few people preferred one medium over the other and that the two sections were appealing to two different types of people. I’m not sure if it’s to do with personality, demographic or learning style – but I guess we each find different mediums more appealing and starting a forum gives another option for people to connect with your site.

Challenges of Membership Areas

1. Moderation – most bloggers understand the challenge of moderating comments and protecting their blogs from spammers. On a blog comment moderation can be enough for some bloggers to give up and close comments – but on a forum there’s no such luxury because closing down comments kind of kills the whole purpose of a forum.

There are lots of tools and features of most forum platforms to help with this but in the end moderation takes a lot of time and effort. At DPS we have a growing team of volunteer moderators (lead by a paid community manager) to tackle this challenge. Much of their time is taken with dealing with spammers or trolls.

2. Community Building – our moderation team is not just there to police the negative stuff happening on the blog but also to grow/build the community. Building community doesn’t just happen – you can’t expect to just set up a forum area and automatically have community – it takes work, creativity and time.

3. Critical Mass – one of the biggest challenges with forums is having enough critical mass to be able to kick them off and attract other readers. This is why I didn’t start a forum on DPS immediately – I wanted to grow the blog’s readership first. I also started a Flickr group before the forum to grow a community there that I could then transition into a blog.

The other thing I did to get the forums active before going live was to invite a smaller group of my key commenters from the blog and long term newsletter subscribers to get early access to the forum so there was some activity there when the site went live.

Concluding Thoughts on Forums/Membership Areas

Forums are not easy. While they have many plusses they take a lot of work and time to build. They’re probably best suited to blogs with an established readership or list to help kick things off but also where the topics lend themselves to discussion, sharing of opinions or sharing of something else (eg. pictures).

Further Reading from the ProBlogger Archives on Forums

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. SeoNext says:

    I am totally agree with this post.Having a Forum along with a blog is really a great way to expand the community of any blog…but it is time consuming & takes time in showing results.If your forum would be good then it shows good results.Really a nice & informative post.Thanks for sharing.

  2. A good forum is a useful way to build the blog and an active community.

    We went the other way round on Management Accounting Portal http://cmaindia.informe.com/portal.html . The users are more active discussing on the forum than contributing or discussing on the blog.

    One of the challenge as a moderator is about spamming and sometimes discussion going off the track.

    Regards,

    Santosh Puthran

  3. Cynthia says:

    Great Advice! I have some plans for expansion that are going to be HOT HOT HOT lol

  4. Rajendra says:

    Hi Darren!
    Its really good post, as most of the new bloggers like me will definetly find useful from this.
    I am also from one of them who is looking for an good traffic on my blog http://www.clickblogging.blogspot.com. Its really having an
    good stuff to refer and implement these things on my blog.
    I just want to ask one of the simple question, as to start an successfull blog we need an piller/solid content, but most of the bloggers who are not so well and good in english and want to start blog in english then what would be the solution to this problem ?. As most of the new bloggers having same problem. So I expect an answer on this question?

  5. Rajendra says:

    On internet there are so many forums available, so could you provide any suggestion which is best among them.

  6. rick says:

    Nice post. I agree that forums can drive traffic and page views, but they do require significant attention due to spammers and the lot. I recently removed my forum for many of those reasons, but am currently looking for an alternative form of viewer engagement.

    Like some of the posters have stated, there are a lot of forums out there. My suggestion is to initiate unique topics to differentiate your forum. If you are interested in a easy to use wordpress plugin forum, I was using simple:press forum.

  7. Nothing has done more for our success then adding a forum. And it’s not like the old days. Ning has made this easy, it’s free until you want to take it over, then it’s only $19.95 a month. You’ll be able to cover that walking backwards even if it is just with putting adsense ads in place of where Ning had them on your site.

    Great post guys!

  8. A lot of successful blogs have become forums in and of themselves. Best thing to do is to ask people to leave a comment. Let them know that their input is important to use and your readers.

  9. Great post, yes adding Forums to a blog can effect very positively on a Blog.
    It can increase traffic, it can connect the current traffic and old traffic.

  10. Terrific post but forum building is beyond me right now.

  11. Atul Kumar says:

    Hi Darren, I am silent visitor and enjoy all your tips for bloggers. I maintain blog http://onlineAppsDBA.com for database & applications administrators and was thinking on integrating forum with blog for quite some time.

    Can you please share tips for selecting good forum software and how to engage users and motivate them to answer other’s queries ?

    Few things in my opinion for forum
    1. Point based system and reward system
    2. Templates & layout similar to blog

  12. You never cease to amaze me with your ideas and well executed posts. Thanks for all the great information!

  13. Moderating is the killer for forums, in my opinion. I guess I better staff up if I want to incorporate one of those into my blog, right? :)

    Pete | The Coolest Tango Shoe Contest Ever

  14. Forum is a place where loyal visitors can come … stay … share their views … see what other people are looking for and give advice and take advice.

    If you have loyal visitors that a forum is must segment for you.

  15. Jesse says:

    I’ve definitely had issues since launching my forum. I don’t have enough readers who are willing to be active members of the community, everybody apparently wants to sit back and soak up information.

  16. Ronblogger says:

    Having a big community is really an advantage plus the fact that they generate content on your site

  17. Benny says:

    I noticed most of the big forums use vbulletin, which seems to have a great user interface. However it’s not free. It’s at least $100 per year or $180 to buy it forever. For a new blog like mine, I’d wait before buying Vbulletin.

    However I see that PHPBB is a free forum software. Has anyone used it before?

  18. I must say I tried a few forums, while one was very popular, the other (which I expected to be even more popular) never worked out. Eventually, I had to close them both down. Even the popular one, due to moderation issues…

  19. crastatte says:

    Hello,

    as we all know, it’s important to let everybody know that we have nice homepage.
    So, this is mine :)

    http://www.crastatte.com

    Seeya!

  20. I really like your idea. I am glad that you have brought this topic. Having a blog and expand it to a forum is great as long as we do the right strategies to improve it.

  21. Tnelson says:

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. There are some good points here.

  22. Amazing tips….thanks a lot for sharing these tips.

  23. Roger says:

    Great post Darren. I think that starting a forum is one of the best ways to accomplish several things, all of which are necessary to expand a blog. This is a very valid point you bring to the table. Thanks!

  24. hokya says:

    do you know which is the best forum for wp developers?

  25. Jesse says:

    @hokya
    Try the WordPress developer forum:
    http://wordpress.org/support/

    All the documentation, best practices, and most of the big plugin/template developers hang out there and good advice is pretty much everywhere there.

  26. Carl Vandors says:

    Your site is extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for information on this subject last Thursday.

  27. publorgs says:

    Waw. Glad to hear so nice comments. Hope we will have more information soon

  28. Frecos says:

    Hope to see same more information in futere.

  29. Ron says:

    What if I want to start a forum related to my blog, which is about Legal/Law, is that advisable, and if so how will I start it?

    I’m thinking it is a hard niche to start a forum from.

  30. umar says:

    Forum really promotes a blog

  31. Gary Sanet says:

    Hey all,
    Can anyone tell me how to start a free forum where we can put our own adsense ads ???

    And should we host it ourselves or should we let them do the job ???

  32. boociogue says:

    May be out of subject but wanted to equity something with you! Got on this online dating web…just a ussualy site. But what really was ipressed is at near indeed geting a change to talk to a Womanizer ideal! And she was close! You gotta appreicate the power of itnernet.!

  33. celiaonegirl says:

    Hi! I am new to this forum.
    Hope to learn and share. Thanks!

  34. vivek says:

    thanks for such a good suggestion but i think forum take time tfor growing our readers but still its a effective way to increase our readers

  35. Adam Radwan says:

    A truly GREAT post with so many details! just love it!

  36. Gareth says:

    What are your thoughts on building a blog around a forum? Is it also possible for blogs to share a forum?

  37. gerehoors says:

    How many Twitter followers is needed to get lots of traffic and business to your site?