Visitors coming to your site from forums are worth 2 to 6 times the average visitor. Why? 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, then give you the 10 rules for getting it done.
As an example, I’ll discuss a forum I participate in hosted by Sitepoint.com, a resource for web designers and developers.
I use this forum for 3 reasons:
1. I have experience in this category, so I can have thoughtful discussions with my peers.
2. My expertise as a marketer complements the usual community member’s skill set, allowing me to contribute a unique viewpoint.
3. My site’s target audience overlaps with the forum’s audience.
Although the Sitepoint forum does not send me thousands of visitors every month, the traffic driven to my blog by the forum is of the highest quality.
The people referred to my blog from the forum 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 do on your own site. Figure out which referring sites are driving you the most high quality traffic, and 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 website, 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 intended visitor action is to read your content, or to buy your product. Engaged visitors are more easily reached with your message.
Why Forum Users Are Pre-Qualified
Someone coming from a forum is already 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 on the forum.
They are saying, “tell me more!”
Even if it it were impossible to drive traffic to your site from a forum, you should participate. Forums are a great place to learn about the topics that interest you. You can also use forums to build a network.
This inherent value in forums is exactly why they drive quality traffic. The link to your site is value-added content. People who click are already qualified visitors.
Forums Are For Humans, Not Search Engines
It’s important that my site isn’t a re-hash of the information visitors from the forum already know. Most Sitepoint readers are web designers and developers first, marketers second, so I have something valuable to offer them.
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 on the forum will refer to your site.
These links aren’t as useful for SEO as you might expect. Forum threads are rarely considered authoritative by engines, since nobody links to them.
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.
A signature link is a way of promoting yourself in a valuable way without being interruptive. 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 the search engines, they’re for people. Any SEO benefit is peripheral.
The 10 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 website 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.
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, then follow them exactly. But that’s not good enough.
Take the time to read some discussions to get an idea of how people converse. There are implicit social norms that you must be mindful of.
If you follow my 10 rules, you probably won’t violate the specific rules for any forum, but don’t take any chances.
3. Start by Responding
Forums are about conversations and community. One person starts a thread, either with a question or a comment, then others respond with answers or their own comments.
People give advice free of charge, 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 people’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 you better have some social capital first. Otherwise, your question will probably be ignored.
4. Contribute Your Expertise
Don’t hold back. If you have an expert opinion, demonstrate it. Don’t give a half-response to somebody and tell them 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 someone asks for it. That’s what your profile is for.
5. Don’t Be A “Me Too” Poster
If someone already said it, don’t bother repeating it. All you’re doing is wasting your breath and other people’s time.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t state your agreement with someone else, but make sure you provide additional support to their argument.
When another poster has disagreed with the person you support, re-frame the argument with your own expertise to contribute a new angle.
6. Don’t Be Selfish
Even if it’s allowed within the rules of the forum, you shouldn’t post about your own website and products, unless it’s in direct response to someone who asked for information.
Your signature is the place to promote yourself.
On the flip side, tell people about the great stuff you find that you aren’t affiliated with. Sharing information is what forums are for.
7. Explain Yourself, But Be Brief
Don’t assume people have the same level of knowledge on a subject as you, but don’t assume people have the time or inclination to be either.
Make your point right away, then follow with support. People who are interested in your initial thought will be curious to read more. Those who aren’t will skip your comment and move to the next one.
Make sure you’re writing for the web. Sentences and paragraphs should be short, with plenty of white space. Less is more.
8. If You’re Wrong, Say So
Nothing is more shocking and attention grabbing than someone on an internet forum admitting they were wrong!
If you’re in the heat of a discussion, and someone passionately persuades you to change your mind, say so. It’s a pretty big deal, and you should thank that person profusely.
Remember that forums aren’t soap boxes, 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 spell check if you’re not an impeccable speller.
The rules are flexible on grammar, punctuation, and capitalization; it depends on the norms of your forum. But consider 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 work place; 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. Never Go Negative
Just because you’re communicating relatively anonymously, from the safety of your computer chair, doesn’t mean you can harass other posters. This is especially the case when you’re trying to build online reputation and drive traffic to your site.
Forums posts may go stale and 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 (“It’s always interesting to hear a different take”).
If someone attacks you, either thank them the same way as if they simply disagreed, or ignore them entirely.
All forums have “trolls” – people who aggressively harass you just for the fun of it. The worst thing you can do is engage with them.
An Example Conversation
Let’s 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 I thought I had an answer for.
Luc Deacu wrote:
Pretty soon we will be launching a program that we have been working on for the past year and which was originally going to be priced at around $25/month or more. In the last week or so I’ve given it some great thought and have decided to release it for free instead.
I came to this decision because I wanted to give it a test run, and see if the public like it as much as we thought they would. We’ve thought that creating a “premium” version on top of the current one, and pricing that one would be a better move than to just price both.
Do you agree with our decision? What are some pros/cons of doing that, and have you ever done it before (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 this blog in my signature. Luc appreciated the advice, and decided to use my idea. I hope he’ll let us know how it went.