My background: I've been making money online since 1998 and was a software developer for 20 years. My big online hits were a software business ($100,000 in revenue) and blogging ($1000 a month in AdSense alone at the peak). Offline my biggest hit has been investing that revenue. I now earn more from my investments in real estate and stocks than I do from my online businesses . Hmm, there's a valuable lesson here, but that's a topic for another thread...
Challenge background: last year I tried starting an ecommerce affiliate store. The store wasn't a great success. However, real users started posting on the very basic forum I had bolted onto the site.
Tools: I'm using phpBB. I tried it back in 2012. It's much better these days. The anti-spammer tools are more effective. It's also much easier to add extensions.
I opened the forum in February 2018. Small victories so far:
- The site is in Google and now gets search traffic every day.
- I've had a few "real" users register and post. The first two were spammers just looking for somewhere to post links. But I do now have 1 regular poster who has posted some really good content. And I've just had another good quality poster register overnight.
Effective spammer blocking: Captcha on registration, email confirmation to activate account, no links can be posted until user has made 5 posts (this last thing is the most effective at stopping human spammers).
Niche selection: Choose something you're passionate about. Hobbies are awesome. Pets, cars, aircraft, trains, collectibles, That Weird Thing Only You Do are great. MMO, SEO, weight loss, health, finance are all horrid niches. But as I said, weird stuff... that's a great niche. I now realise though that my niche and domain name are a little too broad. I should have made a site in the small green widgets for gardeners niche instead of just widgets or even green widgets. The smaller your specialism, the easier it is to monetise, since you'll know *exactly* what your users are interested in. You'll also have less competition and will attract more fanatical users. However my niche itself is a good choice. There are no big Fortune 500 players in the niche and no unicorns, just amateurs like ourselves.
Forum Topics and Sub-Topics: Don't add too many sub-forums at first. Start with your core topic then expand later. Don't add news/current affairs and off-topic stuff. You don't need them. Also until real users sign up you don't know exactly what sub-forums you'll need.
Populating forums: I tried forum posting services like PostLoop but the best way is just to create several users and converse with yourself. Cycle the posting so it looks like the board has a lot of activity from different posters.
Ideas: I've got thread ideas from looking on other forums, Search Console keywords, keyword tools and also some random stuff I know about my niche. Keyword targeting is of course important. In the early days you will only rank for easy long tail keywords. But remember to write for humans. Nobody will join a boring forum! To be successful you need to be open to the idea of letting your forum's topic wander a bit. Most of my visitors are very passionate about a particular topic, so I have added more of that. In fact I added a sub-forum for it.
Grey hat forum starting: Look for popular forums that have closed down! A lot of forum owners are giving up because they lack the technical expertise to upgrade their forums, keep off spammers and effectively monetise their sites. Also people often lose interest with projects after 7 years. And of course we quite often find new hobbies and lose interest in others.
Getting backlinks: Jeez, it's SO IMPORTANT to get a good backlink profile. Even more important than good content! My secret weapon here? I've added the phpBB Pages extension and have added some interactive tools to my forum. They will get natural backlinks. Greyhat tip: buy expired forum domains that have good backlink profiles in your niche. A bit of research can easily bag you domains that have links from niche specific wiki's.
Monetisation: This is a hobby site and currently has no monetisation. However this is a shopping niche and my typical user has money AND is super passionate about their niche (think fishing, golf - those type of people). My brother in law is a Carp fisherman and when he goes fishing he takes a tonne of equipment with him. And no - that's not an exaggeration !!!!! Actually my first real user bought a product I wrote about - what a good sign. Also my niche would do very well with Kindle books and crate subscriptions.
How to be truly successful: COMMITMENT. I've written 1000 posts in 6 months and after all that writing I only have 2 good forum posters that aren't my own personas. To make money online these days you really need to keep going, even on the down days. Had no visitors for 3 days? You just go to keep plodding on...
Any questions about starting a community? Or got any tips about growing a community? Post them here.