Using forums to build traffic

Forums are one of the oldest forms of social networking on the Web – they evolved from the old pre-Web Bulletin Board System (BBS) as early as 1994. So it’s no great surprise that even from the early days, many website owners have sought to use other people’s forums as a means to drive traffic to their own website – by fair means or foul. Here I’m going to look at which techniques to embrace, and which to avoid, if you want to use forums to build traffic in an acceptable way.

There are several different ways in which forums can send traffic to your site:

  • from links within forum postings themselves
  • from links in your forum signature
  • from advertising on the forum (which usually has to be paid for)

Choose the forum(s) wisely

There’s really not a whole lot of point in joining a forum for steam train enthusiasts if your aim is to market your home brew beer or your forex site. Sure, there might be a bit of overlap between the interests, at least amongst some people, but you’d be better off joining one (or more) in the niche which is most relevant to your site. You probably don’t want to choose a direct competitor’s forum to post on, but it does happen sometimes and it’s fine if people are grown up about it.

Whilst you don’t want to be posting on a forum that’s completely dead, if your aim is to build traffic, I would say not to worry about how big the forum appears to be at first glance. Some places advise, for example, not to bother with forums unless they have a certain number of members and/or posts. I don’t agree with this advice at all as some of the best forums cull inactive members and prune obsolete or useless posts. It’s better to look and see if the forum is active, and what the quality of the postings are like. If they allow spam then, unless you’re a spammer yourself – forget it!

Read the rules!

Now, we all know not to join a forum and say, “Visit my website” or “Buy my product!” Some places will ban you for that, such as my British Expat Forum and Clinton Lee’s Experienced People forum. On the other hand, some forums welcome people who want to talk about what they do. All forums are not the same, so always read the rules before joining in. You are likely to have more success if you become a respected member rather than just barging in and doing the wrong thing.

Links within forum posts

I’m a member of a little forum (I’m not giving its name here because I don’t want it to be inundated with crap), and they ask you to link to your blog or site pretty much as soon as you join – they have a special forum to post about your blogs, projects, or whatever, and they also respond positively with interest to these posts.

They’re also laid back about “self-promotion”, so it’s perfectly acceptable to make a forum post on there, saying “Hey, I discovered a great way to paint widgets the other day. Have a look at my article (with a link) if you’re interested.”  Obviously I don’t overdo this, but the occasional post like this usually leads to a pleasant discussion about the topic.

Ah, I hear you say, but it’s only a small forum. Even so, when looking at links coming in from external sites, it’s one of the biggest ongoing referrers of traffic to the site I represent on there.

If you can get a link from a really busy forum, then that can send heaps of traffic. For example, someone linked to my food blog on Money Saving Expert and that sent a ton of traffic, but it was fairly short-lived (and didn’t result in any extra income). I guess I could join in on MSE myself, but I would have to work hard at joining in and only mentioning my own sites occasionally. I don’t really want to hang out on there, so I’ll give it a miss for now.

On the other hand, joining in on a busy forum is still a valid tactic – if you want to spend the time needed to get traffic from this method. It’s much better when someone else, particularly a respected member, posts about your site on another forum. Then you don’t have to play silly beggars joining in where you don’t particularly want to, just to score a few links.

Links in forum signatures (sigs)

Again, you should read the rules about sigs. Some forums don’t allow any. Some only allow links to paid-up members and some allow free links but only to certain groups of members, eg those with a certain post count. Similarly, the permitted number of links in a sig varies, so don’t irritate the forum admins by trying to include more sig links than you’re allowed. And as for fake sigs, don’t do it. That can be a quick way to get booted off many places.

There are several reasons why people want to get sig links. The main two are:

  • to tell other people about their website(s)
  • to increase the number of backlinks for SEO purposes

If you join in regularly on a forum and people get to know you, then using your sig link is an easy way to include a small promotional message with every post you make.  It could be anything from: “Read my recipe for deep fried tarantulas” to “Please help us to find disabled toilets worldwide”

On the subject of post count, nothing annoys a switched-on forum admin more than people posting rubbish to increase their post count. They see it as a form of spam, because they are likely to suspect you of doing it for some underhand reason, such as: trying to get a sig link in the first place (or other privileges); just to get your sig seen more often, ie more little promotional messages; or – worse – for link-building purposes.

We know that there are some valid reasons to build links, although I argued earlier that building traffic is a better strategy than trying to play a numbers game with building links. However, the whole ball game of building links has changed. It used to be that the more IBLs a site had, the more it would rise in the SERPs, and the more traffic it would attract. I already covered that in this article about link building basics.

Most people agree that it just doesn’t work any more. Most sensible people don’t do it nowadays. However, there are still companies who don’t keep up to date, and so they continue to hire people to make thousands of crappy forum posts with the company’s link in the sig, in the mistaken belief that this will be good for traffic. Doing such a thing will not help your site now and it may even be harmful.

Posting adverts on forums

Whilst some forums do have free marketplaces where you can buy or sell your goods and services, adverts on forums  usually have to be paid for one way or another, and there are probably as many different ways to do it as there are forums. Some places have designated areas where paid-up members are allowed to post adverts up to a specified maximum number. Other places have designated areas where you can buy one-off adverts for a specified price for a specified time. Some have banners and buttons on their forum with “Your advert could be here” type of messages. It’s difficult to predict the likely ROI of buying such an advert, it’s probably a case of “suck it and see”, as long as the forum isn’t charging the earth for you to try it.

Give before you take

So, that’s a quick round-up of some ways in which you can build traffic from forums. The main thing is, as always, try to give before you take. Don’t just join up with the sole purpose of driving traffic from their place to yours. That’s selfish – and it shows. And then people won’t like you and they won’t be interested in visiting your website. Join in and contribute, and you may find that opportunities present themselves and traffic may flow as a result.


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