Visitors to your web site by way of forums are worth two to six times the average visitor. Why? Well, I’ve found that forum visitors are proactive information seekers, community-minded participants, and engaged users. They do more everything.
The evidence: traffic to my own blog.
In this article, I’m going to show you why you should use forums to drive traffic to your web site, and then give you ten rules for how to go about doing so. As an example, I’ll discuss a forum that I participate in and are hosted right here – the SitePoint Forums.
I use this forum for three reasons:
- It’s a forum largely for web developers, and I have experience in this field, so I can have thoughtful discussions with my peers.
- My expertise as an online marketer complements the typical forum member: web designers and developers.
- My site’s target audience overlaps with the forum’s audience.
Although the SitePoint forum does not deliver thousands of visitors to my blog each month, the forum traffic is of the highest quality. They read more, participate more, and come back for more.
Here is some of my analytics data from the past two months. We’ll compare average metrics for visitors coming from the SitePoint forum to the averages for all site visitors.
Note: This is a useful exercise for you to conduct with your own site. Once you’ve established which sites are referring the most high quality traffic, redouble your efforts at those sites.
Normally, 71% of my visitors leave without viewing a second page (they were expecting someone taller). Only 30% of my visitors from the forum leave immediately.
83% of my visitors are new to the site. But when they come from the forum, 75% are returning for a second time (or more).
The average visitor only looks at 2.5 pages on my site. Visitors from the forum look at over 9.
When someone from the forums comes to my web site, they spend an average of 18 minutes on my site. That’s 532% of the average for all of my visitors, who visit for 3 minutes on average.
These numbers demonstrate that visitors from SitePoint are more engaged with my site, more interested in what I have to say, and more likely to return. The average visitor from the forum appears to be worth 2 to 6 times an average visitor.
This is important whether your visitor’s intended action is to read your content, or to buy your product. Engaged visitors are more easily reached with your message.
Why Forum Users Are Qualified
Forum visitors are interested in self-education and connecting with like-minded people. They’ve already sampled some of your writing, since they followed a link associated with something you said in the forum. And by clicking on that link, these visitors are saying, “tell me more!”
Even if it seems impossible to drive forum traffic to your site, you should participate. Forums are a great place to learn about the topics that interest you, and you can also use them to build networks of contacts – , professional and personal.
This inherent value in forums is exactly why they produce quality visitors. People who click are already qualified visitors.
Forums Are for Humans, Not Search Engines
It’s important that my web site isn’t a rehash of the information forum visitors already know. Most SitePoint readers are web designers and developers first, marketers second, so I have something to offer them.
Remember, forums are for driving human traffic to your site, not for boosting your search engine rankings. Some SEO bloggers suggest posting on forums as a way to build links pointing to your domain. Creating a link in your signature means that every post you make on the forum will refer to your site.
However, these links aren’t as useful for SEO as you might expect. Forum threads are rarely considered authoritative by engines, since they’re not used to link to. Forum pages also have hundreds of outbound links, well over the number recommended by the official Google guidelines. Whatever authority the page has is diminished by the abundance of links.
But make no mistake: a signature link is best practice. It’s a way of promoting yourself in a valuable way without being brash. People reading your comments need a way to learn more about who you are and what you do, so a link to your site is value-added content.
Signature links aren’t for search engines, they’re for people. Any SEO benefit is peripheral.
The Ten Rules
Okay, you get it: you should be posting on a forum. Now what?
1. Build Your Profile
When you register for a forum, you should fill in as much information as possible. Most forums have a page for your user details. People visit this page when they want to know more about you or send you a private message. Describe what you do and what your web site is about.
Avatars are an important part of your profile. Because of the volume of text on a forum page, avatars are the way people identify the poster. Make sure your avatar is unique and recognizable at a glance – you want to make sure people associate you with your ideas. And if you use an avatar on multiple forums and social networks, use the same one.
Most importantly, write a strong signature. This is the text that will appear at the bottom of every post you write, so put some thought into it. Like the signature of an email, your forum signature says who you are. Use your signature to link to your website.
2. Follow the Rules
Read the rules of the forum carefully, and follow them. Take the time to read through the discussions to get an idea of how people converse. There are implicit social norms that you must be mindful of.
If you follow my ten rules, you probably won’t violate any forum rules, but don’t take any chances.
3. Start by Responding
Forums are about conversations and communities. One person starts a thread, either with a question or a comment, then others respond, either with answers or their own comments.
People give advice free of charge in forums, but at the cost of their time and energy. They rightfully expect that the favor will be returned, so they shun people who take without anything to give.
It may not be your intention to be a leach on the community, but participants are wary of newcomers automatically. Take the time to respond to others before asking anything yourself. Post in other user’s threads before you start your own.
Most forums show the number of posts of the author next to every comment. Make 50 posts before you start your own thread. You might have an important question for the community, but it’s best to establish some social capital first. Otherwise, your question may be ignored.
4. Contribute Your Expertise
Don’t hold back. If you have an expert opinion, demonstrate it. Don’t give a half-baked response telling the member they can learn more if they follow the link to your page. Contribute highly relevant information immediately and in abundance. You don’t have to qualify your expertise unless it’s asked for. That’s what your profile is for.
5. Don’t Be a “Me Too” Poster
If someone has already said it, don’t bother repeating it. All you’re doing is wasting your energy and other people’s time. That’s not to say you shouldn’t state your agreement with someone else, but make sure you provide additional support to their argument.
In the event another poster disagrees with a thread you support, use the opportunity to contribute a new angle to the argument, using your own expertise.
6. Don’t Self-promote
Even if it’s allowed within the rules of the forum, don’t post about your own web site and products, unless it’s in direct response to a request for information. If you want to promote yourself, your signature is the place to do it.
On the flip side, tell people about great products you aren’t affiliated with. Sharing information is why forums exist.
7. Explain Yourself, but Be Brief
Don’t assume people have the same level of knowledge on a subject as you, but don’t imagine that they have the time or inclination to be either. Make your point straight away, then back it up with support. People who are interested in your initial thought will read more; those who aren’t will skip your comment and move on to the next thread.
Make sure you’re writing for the Web. Keep sentences and paragraphs short, with plenty of white space. Less is more.
8. If You’re Wrong, Say So
Forum discussions often hinge upon opinion, so nothing is more attention-grabbing than a poster on an internet forum admitting that they were wrong!
If you’re in the heat of a discussion, and someone persuades you to change your mind, say so. It’s a pretty big deal, and furthermore, you should thank that person.
Remember that forums aren’t soapboxes – they’re platforms for conversations and an opportunity to network.
9. Write Intelligently and Correctly
You don’t have to carefully revise and sculpt every forum post, but you should proof everything once. Consider using the spell-check if you’re not an impeccable speller.
Although most forums don’t set specific rules on grammar and punctuation, you should give thought to this: everything you say, every single post, every nugget of wisdom, is a representation of your personal brand. Writing like an intelligent adult is the equivalent of maintaining proper hygiene and a presentable appearance in the workplace; if you don’t pay any attention to it, it can undermine everything else you do.
However, be aware that the Internet is a global phenomenon, and some of the people you interact with will be non-native English speakers. You don’t need to point out any mistakes your fellow posters make.
10. Negativity is a No-no
It goes without saying, just because you have a degree of anonymity, communicating from the safety of your work desk, doesn’t mean you can harass other posters. This is especially the case when you’re trying to build an online reputation and attract users to your site. Forums posts may fall off the main page, but they never go away.
If someone disagrees with you, respond with a thoughtful rebuttal, or thank them for their opinion – for example, “It’s always interesting to hear a different take.” If someone attacks you, either thank them as if they’d simply disagreed, or ignore them entirely.
All forums have trolls – people who aggressively harass you just for their own entertainment. The worst thing you can do is engage with them.
An Example Forum Thread
Let’s now take a look at a recent post I made on the SitePoint forums that demonstrates these rules in practice. I came across a pricing question in the Promotional Techniques forum that I thought I could answer.
Luc Deacu wrote:
Soon we’ll be launching a program that we’ve been working on for the past year, which was originally going to be priced at $25 per month or more. In the last week or so, however, I’ve given it some further thought and have decided to release it free-of-charge.
I came to this decision because I wanted to give it a test run, to see if the public liked it as much as we expect them to. We thought that it would be a better move, ultimately, if we created a premium version – in addition to the current one – and pricing just that version instead.
Do you agree with our decision? What are some of the pros and cons of handling it this way? Have you ever done it before, and if so, how did it go?
Thanks in advance,
Consider pricing it at $25, but offering a discount code to all the places you are promoting your product.
For instance “We’ve got great new product X, which only costs $25. But we’re running a promotion, and right now you can use discount code GIMMENOW to take advantage of our 100% Off Coupon (Yes, that means FREE)”
This does a few things. First, it makes your offer temporary, so people will know they have to act now to take advantage. Second, it favors the people you’re offering the code to, and they’ll respond to your generosity. Third, whoever you ask to promote it for you will feel good about doing so, because they’re doing something nice for their audience.
Here is a screenshot:
Note my recognizable avatar and the link to my blog in the signature. Luc appreciated the advice and decided to try my idea. I hope he’ll let us know how it went.
In this article I presented 10 rules for boosting traffic to your web site that hinged upon your involvement in an online forum. My experience is that, by following these rules, your web site will see an increase in high quality traffic. However, they’re also a good list of rules to follow when interacting online anyway – be polite, helpful, respectful and generous, and everybody wins.