By Chris Beasley

There’s Gold in Them Thar Forums

By Chris Beasley

User niche just started an interesting thread here about forums, and more specifically why you should want to run a forum.

I happen to agree with just about everything he said. Forums are great to own. They do not bring in, in general, as much revenue as other types of content sites. The reason is that, as outlined in the thread, a forum is not always attractive to advertisers due to their high page views per unique. Advertisers in general will pay more to reach a large number of uniques rather than to reach a smaller number of uniques multiple times. Its just the way things are.

However, that issue aside, forums are the most stable type of content site you can own, with the most potential for longevity. The reason is that your forum is completely unique, no competitor can ever supplant you. Even if someone has a forum on the same topic it does not matter since it is the individual aspects of a community, ie the personalities of your members, that make a forum, and no one is ever going to get the exact same combination as you have. In fact the only real thing that can kill a forum is gross mismanagement.

Forums can be hard to start, as I discussed here, however once they do start they grow exponentially. The reason is that users tend to be loyal supporters of your forum and they will recruit people to come and join. Additionally as your total number of threads & posts grows you will get more search engine referrals. It is an ever increasing cycle of growth, a cycle that can continue for decades.

Being self employed is never without risk, you always need to worry about something changing and your business going under. Diversification is key to long term survival, but also running such stable web properties as forums can help you sleep at night. Every serious website publisher should run at least one forum, this is especially true if you have a content site you can pair it with.

As for profiting off of forums, its not really as hard as some people believe. Sure, ad networks have traditionally loathed forums, but they are starting to come around and if your forum is particularly popular and or in certain industries you can get accepted into ad networks with it. Additionally Google Adsense is always an option for forum owners. Sure, forums traditionally get low click-through-rates on advertisements and so using a CPC program like Adsense might not make a whole lot of sense, however this is not always the case and with Google now including CPM based advertising with Adsense you might be suprised at how much you can make.

Of the 4 decently active forums I run, 3 regularly get CPM based advertisers through Adsense, two of which run nice CPM ads around 90% of the time. In fact, one of my forums from about August through December of last year seemed completely sold out with ads for artsy movies (specifically “A History of Violence”, “Bee Season”, and “Memoires of a Geisha”). When you’re getting movie studios dropping bucks on your forum the earnings can’t be all bad. They were nice classy looking ads too (most Google Adsense CPM ads are), no “Smack the Monkey to Win an Xbox”.

Undoubtedly the first comments to this post will be along the lines of “How do I get CPM ads from Adsense?” so I figured I might as well give a preemptive answer. So in short, you don’t pick CPM ads, they pick you. Certain topics are more apt to get them than other topics, and larger more professional looking and or popular sites probably get more too.

So, go out there, buy a license for vBulletin, and start a forum. 5 years from now you’ll thank me. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the high profile purchase of blog networks by major media companies lately. Well, if you ask me, I think its only inevitable that major forums will be gobbled up eventually as well. A forum could just be your ticket to a 7 figure payday.

  • Gerto

    I’d start right now; If only I knew a subject…. :-)

  • Shaun B

    Brilliant article. Thank you for confirming what I thought :)

  • Great article and very true. However getting folks to post and getting it off and running isn’t easy. Never Give UP!!

  • mhdoc

    I had let all the negatives I read justify not doing it. One more excuse down the drain :)

  • Gerto

    ok; 2 hours ago I read this blog and said I didn’t know a subject; Well, now 2 hours later, I’ve registered the domain name, put a forum online, and the first people are already joining!

    Thanks!! :-D

  • Ulchie

    I agree with you Chris. Blogs aren’t the only type of internet medium that has substantial consumer power. They are a definite target for consolidation by larger companies.

    A company that is making good money could probably go around buying up large forums. The enourmous purchasing power and influence large forums can have on entire industries or large groups of people should not be overlooked.

    You think blogs fetch a high price… just wait for the flood of companies buying forums or companies that have a network of forums. Probably for much higher values than any blog network has ever sold for.

  • It’s not like you just dump some forum software under a domain and wait..
    Starting a successful forum is a business apart IMO.

  • Chris- in terms of moderation, administration, and all of the other words that end in “ation”… how time-consuming can running a forum be? Obviously eventually you could find some trusted members and promote them to help moderate the discussions, but it still must be a bit of work in trying to stay on top of things. It’s probably a bit easier if your full-time job is from home doing this sort of thing, but even then I’d imagine it would take a bit of time expense.

  • It is time consuming… but not anymore than a normal content site. Sure, you must moderate things and deal with user issues, but on the other hand you don’t need to be writing or finding new content to publish.

    However, it certainly helps if you’re interested in and knowledgable on the topic your forum is on.

  • malikyte

    Personally, I think a blog or a forum is more or less a supplement to assist with the other. One will be the main focus of a website, and the other will be the support.

    Most sites I traverse, a forum is the main focal point of the website. It creates the most bandwidth, the most user interaction, and the most visitor returns. In my mind, I include Sitepoint in that description. A blog can only be contained and maintained by so many people, it’s a finite number (unless we’re talking about a wiki, which is totally different, but can still be finite depending on administrative settings) – whereas most forums can theoretically have an infinite number, assuming hardware and bandwidth requirements didn’t exist.

    Forums are a great thing to have, so long as your idea warrants having a forum; and one that can actually be used. Great article.

  • Gator99

    Maybe 5 years ago that would be true. But now you’d really have to capture a specific niche, everything else has been done to death. The only ones I can see really profiting from this advice are the folks selling the vBulletin licenses.

  • Ulchie

    I know many people have forums less than two years old Gator99. Performance Park has very very large forums I believe are only 18 or so months old. TylerCruz has a successful poker forum that was started sometime 2004, not all that long ago, and in a pretty competitive industry.

    If you never try and just use the excuse that it’s too late to start, you will miss many more opportunities on the internet which has so much more growth. Technically speaking, almost everyone world wide could eventually be online, possbly 6-8 billion(depending on world pop. levels) people. Yes, they speak different languages, but the fact is the internet is probably 1/8th of the size it will one day be. Heck there are still people in the US that are not online! Plenty of new people, maybe even enough to support more forums on topics that already have good forums. Hence SitePoint, DigitalPoint, NamePros, WebMasterWorld, and so many others that are on similiar subjects. And you think SitePoint is big yet it only has 100,000 members out of a world with billions of people. Plenty of growth yet, and plenty of people to use new and different forums.

  • Nice article, but it should be pointed out that simply setting up a forum will mean nothing in 5 years time. It’s totally dependant on topic. Choosing something unique, or something that you specialize in would be more appropriate.

  • mhdoc

    Cianuro, I think the point was that it is better to do something than to do nothing. I’ll bet that not one in a thousand who reads the article actually buys a license and makes the effort. If you get away from the computer, electronics, webmaster niches there are lots of subjects which have not been exploited as thoroughly.

  • kris

    Nice article. I was just thinking of setting up one for my site http://www.sexynaija.com, so to me this article is coming at the right time. I already have adsense on my site and i’m always thinking of ways to increase visitors and by so doing increase revenue.

    Now my question is why is everybody talking about buying license? Are the free ones not good enough? And would anybody know of a good forum that i can set up to use my current database. I wouldn’t want members registering twice. But i’m also getting the idea of keeping it separate from the dating site, so that people not interested in dating can still join the forum.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on these.



  • @Gator99:

    The only ones I can see really profiting from this advice are the folks selling the vBulletin licenses.

    well, you are not required to get vB to start off a forum. There are other paid & free options available for you to choose. Its you who are to decide which forum software you want & then it depends whether that’s free or not!! No-one’s forcing anyone to buy vB & Chris didn’t say buying a vB license would be better or anything like that, he just said that as an off hand remark!! :)

    Besides, there are a lot of forums running on free software which have quite large communities!! :)

  • Buying a license is better.

    There is anecdotal evidence that paid forums, such as vbulletin, are hacked less than free forums, such as phpbb. In my own experience this holds true as every phpbb installation I’ve ever made was hacked at one point, whereas no vbulleting installation I run has ever been.

    Additionally most people agree that the features, especially the backend, of vbulletin is superior to phpbb.

    However, if you cannot afford the $160 for a license, then you should use phpbb or another free forum. Just make sure to diligently apply all updates and do nightly backups.

  • Chris, phpBB can be just an exception. And I’ve heard a lot of people say that if you apply regular security updates etc to phpBB, chances of it getting hacked are almost nil. Isn’t it just like saying that Linux is better since Windows is infected with viruses & security holes(though the price factor in that case is reverse).

    On the contrary, I agree that vB is indeed superior, no doubt about it, but usually people starting out with forums & having not made a buck online via any of sites, they are sure gonna hesitate a bit on spending on a vB license.

    Besides, I’ve seen it in recent past that it has become sort of a status symbol where people think that if someone forum or something is not running on a commercial software like vB or MT, its just prejudiced as being “cheap” or low grade!!

  • whitestorm


    Any particular reason you would advise buying the $160 owned licence for vBulletin over the $85 leased licence ?

  • Lately I’m finding there are almost too many forums for every subject. Sometimes when I look for a good forum to join I get lost going from one to another. I need to join a bunch of them and check each. I’m just concerned it’ll become like blogs: millions out there with fewer and fewer gems to be found.

  • I have a forum with almost 200,000 posts now. It’s over five years old and is just a pleasure to own. Little work for me, I don’t even need to participate to sustain its activity (a great feeling), and I can tell people have a pride in it. I use AdSense on it, but also sell announcement post sponsorships and have people sponsor our seasonable contests. The lesson: create a list of guidelines for running it and stick to them. If you persist long enough and continue to steadily grow, you will have an active, sustainable community that requires little intervention on your part. That’s the life.

  • Any particular reason you would advise buying the $160 owned licence for vBulletin over the $85 leased licence ?

    I think I can answer that. If you really plan on sticking with vB & you are making an investment, then its better to pay a one time $160 fee instead of the yearly $85, since if you want yearly update access you just have to pay $30(I think that’s the fee) yearly after 1st year, so in the long run, you save quite a lot. Besides you can sell an owned license, but I don’t think you can sell the leased license!! So if you are not the one who’s just considering vB & wanna try it out & not sure if you’re gonna stick with it, then the leased license might suit you!! A fair number of people do buy a leased license too I think, its not that its never sold!! ;)

  • kgtrip

    Sure, you must moderate things and deal with user issues

    This is my main concern. I’m playing with the thought of opening a forum, however I really concern from the fact it would force me to constantly moderate stuff, as opposite to my content site where I just create & leave it. Furthermore I believe that blogs would be better choice in time consuming prospective than forums, as they require small to none moderation.

  • Just as a point of curiosity, roughly what percentage of visitors to forums actually go ahead and register? Is it 1 out of 100 unique visitord will sign up? Or More or less?

  • RenFromPenn

    How bandwidth and disk space intensive is a forum? When I am just starting out with a forum I couldn’t possibly afford a dedicated server if that is required. Can you begin with shared hosting?

  • I found someone who had a content site and offered to create a forum based on their content. I started off getting 99% of my traffic from their site, but as content grew I started to get more and more Search Engine traffic. Today my inkjet forum (http:www.nifty-stuff.com/forum ) gets about 80% of it’s new user traffic from Search Engines!

    Regarding bandwidth and diskspace: This really depends on the forum software. Personally, I like forum software with fewer bells and whistles that are more server friendly. Also, you’ll begin to find that bandwidth and diskspace are the least of your concerns, but that it begins to be more of an issue of server CPU and RAM usage.

  • Jack

    And for all forum users take a look at this nifty software that will enhance your operations


  • tymnoscinny

    Hi Everybody…

    Just joined the forum and thought I’d say hello.

    Kudos to the mods on making such a great place to hang out on.

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