[Case Study] Can I Build a New Forum Community From Scratch?

by brettb
21 replies
Here's a challenge I've started this year. I hope you find it useful. Basically I want to know if it's still possible to start a new internet forum from scratch.


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.
Lessons learnt so far:

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.
#build #case #community #forum #phpbb #scratch #study
  • Profile picture of the author jcpenz
    Thanks for this article, ...Some good advise you have put up here...It made me start thinking about the future of my own forum..Thank You
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  • Profile picture of the author anwar001
    Good inspiring post. Starting anything new may take up lot of commitment and hard work initially. It is important to keep going on even when you are not seeing any substantial results early on.
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  • Profile picture of the author brettb
    Yes it does take commitment.

    A mini-update:

    I have 1400 posts now.

    My Bounce Rate is down to ~25% and Time on Site is over 5 minutes. My forum is compelling. If I had more backlinks, my search referral traffic would soar.

    I have 2 new users posting. They haven't posted a lot, but they have posted.

    I'm thinking of doing an outreach campaign to ask business owners to post on the forum in exchange for publicity for their products. I get content and maybe I'll get some backlinks.
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    Need LSI Keywords? Try the Niche Laboratory keyword tool (affiliates info page here).

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  • Profile picture of the author oppyeaunome
    Really looking forward to seeing what you do with this case study. I've been thinking about starting a case study soon. Hope you stay on track and hit your goals.

    Watching this one closely.
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    • Profile picture of the author brettb
      Originally Posted by oppyeaunome View Post

      Really looking forward to seeing what you do with this case study. I've been thinking about starting a case study soon. Hope you stay on track and hit your goals.

      Watching this one closely.

      Thanks - I probably should set some goals.


      The latest news:


      My best poster (that isn't me) has made 200 posts now.
      My bounce rate is steady at about 30%. Can anyone beat this?
      Traffic is growing at around 50% a month.
      My standalone pages built with the phpBB Pages Extension are now indexed by Google. One is ranking for a 450 a month search phrase. It has few competitors so could potentially get to #1.

      I really need to think about an outreach campaign to get more people posting.
      Signature
      Need LSI Keywords? Try the Niche Laboratory keyword tool (affiliates info page here).

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  • Profile picture of the author affmarketer101
    I do not think NEW forums can work anymore because social media, FB groups dominate everything.
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    • Profile picture of the author OptedIn
      Originally Posted by affmarketer101 View Post

      I do not think NEW forums can work anymore because social media, FB groups dominate everything.
      They can work if you are willing to work like hell, but the reasons you list are the most common as to why the difficulty of achieving success has been greatly diminished. The structure and features of a well-designed forum are vastly superior to the social media experience. True aficionados on almost any topic will gravitate to a an intelligently moderated forum over a Facebook page or group as they are generally free-for-alls. In a word - anarchy! This does NOT engender loyalty, culminating in long-term involvement. It can be exhausting to most participants with an IQ over room temperature. Hence - massive churn.

      Still, I wouldn't let the obstacles stop me - but I'm not too bright and I love challenges, especially when the general consensus is, "It can't be done."

      "Get outta my way, LOSER!!!" lol
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      "He not busy being born, is busy dying." - Bob Dylan • "I vibe with the light-dark point. Heavy." - Words that Bob Dylan wishes he had written.

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    • Profile picture of the author brettb
      Originally Posted by affmarketer101 View Post

      I do not think NEW forums can work anymore because social media, FB groups dominate everything.

      Actually I think new forums can work BECAUSE of social media.


      FB is mired in privacy/censorship hell. Teens don't use it. Older people are leaving it in droves. Reddit is hot right now, but as it gets ever more corporate it will ultimately screw up - its core audience are very fickle.



      Anyway, who's gonna be stupid enough to run a site on somebody else's platform? Man I had enough of that in the HubPages/Squidoo days .


      More little victories:
      • It would seem I have 3 regular posters now. As I get more posters they're writing about topics I've never thought about, so we start to rank for more keywords.
      • Traffic continues to build.
      • Bounce rate goes up and down but time on site is continuing to build.
      • I am finding whole new micro niches within my current niche. Each of these is full of nano niches.
      • I'm starting to explore writing fiction in my niche. This has a lot of potential.
      • While I'm not monetising my site yet, I have found a potential affiliate offer to promote. They say my niche's followers spend A LOT of money. Well I suspected as much.
      But OptedIn is right, I am working like hell on this. Fortunately it's the niche I'm more passionate about than anything else.
      Signature
      Need LSI Keywords? Try the Niche Laboratory keyword tool (affiliates info page here).

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  • Profile picture of the author Deevoo
    WOW, with your kind of experience, you should know better than me, if you see a potential in an idea or a new concept for forums, only you can decide if you should do it or not.

    Personally, I think there are some well established forums out there. If I can make make a forum better than the current standard, I'll go for it. Maybe instead of re-inventing the wheel, I'll grab one and add my concept to it.
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  • Profile picture of the author John Durham
    The best traffic is your own.... You should release a report, give it away for free to a few hundred or more people... Then send them to your forum for more information and support on that subject. Then you will have a massive hit of a bunch of people who all have something in common and are excited about the chance to talk about it together.
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  • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
    Yep; everything grows from passion. Keeps you energized, patient and persistent, seeing the journey through. Smart tips.
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    Ryan Biddulph, Blogger, Author, World Traveling Digital Nomad
    If you want to become a full time blogger you can buy my eBook here
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  • Thanks for the advice and i am sure that this will help me in future when needed.
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  • Profile picture of the author ishaq amin
    Brilliant thread.
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  • Profile picture of the author brettb
    Forum going well. Another member joined overnight.


    Next year could be really interesting for this particular project.
    Signature
    Need LSI Keywords? Try the Niche Laboratory keyword tool (affiliates info page here).

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  • Profile picture of the author mzonas
    I have been involved with forums quite a lot. What I have noticed is that free software forums like phpBB and MyBB have more spammers than paid ones like vBulletin, IPB, XenForo, etc ...


    Also, what worked best - allocate $1K for the campagin, post somewhere (either here or whatever) that you are paying for posts, let's say 10 cents per post, member has to post 10-20 posts a day ($1-$2 daily investment per member, or $30-60). Now if you have 10 posters, you get 6,000 posts within a month from 10 members (or you can ask them to sign up with fake personas). Now you get 10,000 posts over 1.5-2 months time. Have another campaign during that time where you buy related traffic (banner ads, facebook ads, etc ...). People will see that forum is new but active so they are likely to join. If I saw forum that I am interested in but see that there is no activity then I wouldn't join.


    Not sure how much this helps but I am following your journey.
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    Hey! My name is Don Mazonas and I love Internet Marketing. Also, check out Greyhound SEO - a new SEO agency based in Essex, yet, service the whole globe.

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    • Profile picture of the author TheKing
      Originally Posted by mzonas View Post

      I have been involved with forums quite a lot. What I have noticed is that free software forums like phpBB and MyBB have more spammers than paid ones like vBulletin, IPB, XenForo, etc ...


      Also, what worked best - allocate $1K for the campagin, post somewhere (either here or whatever) that you are paying for posts, let's say 10 cents per post, member has to post 10-20 posts a day ($1-$2 daily investment per member, or $30-60). Now if you have 10 posters, you get 6,000 posts within a month from 10 members (or you can ask them to sign up with fake personas). Now you get 10,000 posts over 1.5-2 months time. Have another campaign during that time where you buy related traffic (banner ads, facebook ads, etc ...). People will see that forum is new but active so they are likely to join. If I saw forum that I am interested in but see that there is no activity then I wouldn't join.


      Not sure how much this helps but I am following your journey.

      Do you know some places where we can find good forum posters ?
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  • Profile picture of the author brettb
    My forum traffic has stagnated, and so has user growth.


    I think my topic is too broad which means that I don't have enough content in niche X to satisfy Google. It sent me a load of visitors for the 'X forum' keyword. However it has somehow worked out that they weren't satisfied with my site, and now I no longer rank for X niche keywords.


    I'm doing better in the Y and Z niches. People interested in these are still registering and posting.


    Well the internet is super saturated these days so I guess I can't expect too much.
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    Need LSI Keywords? Try the Niche Laboratory keyword tool (affiliates info page here).

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    • Profile picture of the author iconoclast
      Originally Posted by brettb View Post

      My forum traffic has stagnated, and so has user growth.


      I think my topic is too broad which means that I don't have enough content in niche X to satisfy Google. It sent me a load of visitors for the 'X forum' keyword. However it has somehow worked out that they weren't satisfied with my site, and now I no longer rank for X niche keywords.


      I'm doing better in the Y and Z niches. People interested in these are still registering and posting.


      Well the internet is super saturated these days so I guess I can't expect too much.
      Since you're still getting people who are interested Y and Z niches, why don't you run some paid ads targeting that demographic or interests?
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  • Profile picture of the author GiorgioGD
    Interesting case study. Hope your user growth and traffic will increase over time!
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  • Profile picture of the author IGotMine
    What would you recommend for attaching a small forum to an existing WP site?
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  • Profile picture of the author agmccall
    Hey Brett. How is the forum coming along, any progress

    al
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    Broken promises don't upset me. I just think, why did they believe me?
    ~Jack Handey~

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