Forums a.k.a. "message boards" can be great marketing tools for your website. They attract repeat visitors and provide a meeting place for them to share their thoughts, ideas, questions and concerns.
Unfortunately many webmasters that attempt to launch a board on their site, end up closing it down due to lack of activity and popularity.
So what's the key to success, you ask?
Below you will find 5 quick tips on creating and promoting a message board for your website.
1. You Need Plenty of Traffic
If your site is receiving small amounts of traffic per day, then it will be very hard to get the conversations going on your board.
Keep in mind not everyone that comes to your site will even notice or visit your board, and those that do stop by may just browse without posting. In fact, the majority of the visitors to your board will only look around.
Your site should be getting at least 1,000 unique visitors per day before you even launch. Don't open it up prematurely because it can make your site look uninhabited if no one posts.
2. Create Some Starter Conversations
Once you've created your board, post a few questions to get the ball rolling. This may coax people to jump in and post some comments.
And if you are using a free board like http://www.phpbb.com, you can create polls to spark participation. People like interactivity and to give their opinion. Post a few polls and allow your visitors to vote on topic.
Also, don't be ashamed to talk to yourself. What I mean by that is you may want to create a few usernames on your own and have them post questions and answers. It may sound silly but if you're lacking activity, this may help get some conversations going. No one will know they aren't real people, except you! ;)
3. Promote! Promote! Promote!
Don't just provide one or two links to your message board. Link to it from every page on your website. Include it in the signature of your emails, and if you have a newsletter, devote a special edition to the launch of your board.
On your "Contact" page, suggest that your visitors post a question on the message board as an alternative to emailing you. This will force some people to browse the board and possibly find the answer they need. If your visitors begin finding the board useful, they'll return often and hopefully will start posting.
4. Keep The Categories to a Minimum In The Beginning
A big mistake that people make with new message boards is that they create too many categories. Remember that for most new forums, the number of posts are going to be small at first. So if you have 10 categories and only 1 or 2 are being used, it makes your board look scarce.
Try creating just one or two in the beginning and then once the traffic starts coming in you can add new ones.
5. Make The Board Easy to Use
Don't force your visitors to search for instructions on how to use your forums. If they have to figure things out, they will be discouraged and leave. Be sure to use a script that is neat and intuitive.
I recommend http://www.phpbb.com. Not only are they free, but the setup is easy and the layout is nice and clean.
Hopefully these quick tips will help you as you launch your new messaeg board. Again, don't forget to promote it like crazy. If you can build an active community, it can be quite the marketing tool for your website.
About The Author
Lisa Irby is the author of 2 Create a Web Site -- a site that encourages you to plan accordingly before diving into the web site creation process.