Web Development 203: Forum Participation

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Forum participation is another activity that can generate traffic to your website or blog. First of all, presumably the subject of your website is something that interests you or about which you have some expertise; therefore, if you join a forum whose subject is similar to that of your own site, you will have opportunities to take part in discussions about topics that genuinely interest you. The discussions might inspire a future blog post or suggest ideas for your website which, in turn, can lead to traffic to your site. For example, if you notice the same topics being discussed often, or the same questions being asked repeatedly, you could write an article about those topics or a blog post that attempts to answer those questions. The next time the topic comes up in the forum, you could post a brief response and also direct interested readers to visit your blog post or article for more thorough coverage of the topic.

In addition to any inspiration it may kindle, forum participation also provides the opportunity to interact with people who share your interests, some of whom may have websites or blogs of their own. If other forum members visit your blog and find it useful, they might link to your site as an additional resource on the topic. Perhaps their visitors also have websites or blogs and they, in turn, add a link to your site too. And so on--the benefits would snowball. Now the question arises: How do you share the fact that you have a website with other forum members? The opportunity to make people aware of your site or blog is made available in three possible places: i) in your member profile, ii) in your signature, and iii) directly in the body of a post.

Public Profile

Many forums offer members the option of creating a Profile, in which members can share some information about themselves, for example, interests, location, a favorite book, a website URL, etc. When other members of the forum wish to know more about you, they can go to your Profile, note the website you have listed, and visit it. (Keep in mind that this information is public, so do not share anything in your Profile that you wouldn't mind sharing with the whole world.)


A signature is a short phrase that members can create that is automatically appended to the bottom of their posts (they can usually be disabled on individual posts, if it is not wanted on every post). Signatures offer a convenient way to automate the process of adding a standard close to each post—one that may include the URL of your site. For example, I have a signature similar to the following in some of the forums in which I participate (note that the blog title is usually hot-linked to the blog URL):


Website Development Blog

Body of Post

The opportunity may arise for you to include a link to your website in the body of a forum post. If your website provides information directly applicable to the topic being discussed in the thread, you can add a link to your website right in the post. This opportunity does not present itself often and, when it does, you have to be sure it won't be identified as spam; otherwise, the post will be deleted immediately and your forum membership may even be terminated by the administrators. This point should be stressed: before including a link directly in a forum post, be very sure it is directly applicable to the topic being discussed.

Note that not all forums offer all three features and, even if they do, links in forums are usually nofollow--so they provide no benefit in terms of PageRank. Links in a Profile or Signature usually have the nofollow attribute attached to them. Links included directly in a post almost always have the nofollow attribute attached to them. Very few forums allow links without the nofollow attribute. In any case, do not focus solely on whether a forum's URLs are nofollow or not; instead, your primary consideration should be raising awareness of your site among your target audience: (i) members are precisely the people you want to know about you and your website, and (ii) other visitors to the forum are brought there by an interest in the subject of the forum (which the forum administrators are also working to promote).

Join a Relevant Forum

Internet forums exist for just about anything. For example, say one of your hobbies is fishkeeping; you have a few aquariums in your home, have been keeping fish for several years, are very interested in the hobby, have gained substantial knowledge about the hobby, and have created a website about fishkeeping. Now you want to find forums pertinent to fishkeeping. You could start with a Google search:

Search 1: fishkeeping forums or
Search 2: forums about fishkeeping

Alternately, you could use some of Google's advanced search capabilities; most forums have the term "forum" in the URL, so you could do a search as follows:

Search 3: fishkeeping inurl:forum

Going through the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), you could then find forums that are most appropriate for you. Perhaps you are interested in a particular type of fish, say, betta fish. You might refine your search and find the Bettas4all Betta Forums. Perhaps you are particularly interested in one aspect of keeping betta fish, say, breeding bettas. In this case, you might find the Betta Breeders Forum. Refining your interests further, maybe you would like to interact with betta breeders in a particular geographic region, say, Canada. In this case, you might want to join the Betta Breeders Canada Forums. The point of this example is to illustrate how closely forums can be matched to your own interests and/or expertise regardless of how specialized they are. There is no justification for joining random forums with the intention of making scores of near-meaningless posts just to drop your link all over the place; that is a deceitful practice. Instead, find a forum relevant to your interests and join that forum. Then participate with meaningful and informative posts that also yield traffic to your site.

Consider a scenario that goes counter to the advice given above: say you join a forum whose theme is dissimilar to that of your site, for example, an astronomy forum. Your lack of knowledge in the field of astronomy would limit the contributions you could make, the numbers of posts you make would be few, and you would be perceived as being not very knowledgeable on the topic. Most importantly, the number of members who also have an interest in fishkeeping would probably be significantly less than what would be found in a fishkeeping forum--the result being that few members would visit your site.

To summarize, forum participation is an activity that can effectively generate targeted traffic to a website or blog. In addition to the immediate and direct benefits, such as the posting of your link in the forum, the secondary benefits are equally--or even more--significant: the opportunity to be genuine in your participation, the creative stimulus, and the potential for like-minded visitors to promote your site through their own work. By joining an appropriate forum, specifically, one whose subject is similar to that of your own site, the probability of getting visitors is higher than if you join a forum whose subject is dissimilar. In conclusion, done properly, forum participation is an excellent method of making your site or services known among the audience most likely to be interested in the subject.