If you’ve ever had a strange physical sensation and became a bit paranoid about your health, you likely searched for that symptom in Google. If you’re like most people, the first few results were not a doctor’s article giving you background of the symptoms, but rather a forum with dozens of people freaking out over the same issue and wondering if anyone could tell them what they have.
Forums, to this day, still rank extremely well in Google search engine results. For some reason, the search engine algorithms treat them like any other type of content, and since many of them are loaded with relevant keywords, this can mean that a website with a forum gets ranked extremely well for content created by its members – content the company didn’t even create itself.
So are forums a smart way to add content to your website? Let’s look at the pros and cons of installing and running a forum below.
Benefits of Forums for Content Marketing
- Free Content
Clearly the greatest benefit is that forum content is essentially free. Some businesses prefer to create a few posts themselves to get the ball rolling, and there are costs to running a forum in general, but the words themselves all represent free content. Very large forums can add hundreds of pages to your website, and while some of those pages are bound to be low quality, others are going to be just the type of content that Google appears to love. Free content is almost always valuable, and there is no denying that forums rank well.
- Broad Keywords
Forums also provide you with keywords you would never target on your own. Every time someone comes to your website and creates a forum post they’re using their own unique way of writing in a way that others are likely to search for, and that means that you may be attracting hits for keywords you hadn’t ever considered. Natural language is a great way to build content, and natural language is very common in forum posts.
- Relationship Building
Even though content marketing’s core value is to improve your rank in search engines, it’s also designed to be a relationship building tool. Customers that see content they like are more likely to trust your company and come back for more, because they know there’s real value there. Forums are high quality relationship builders. If your forum takes off, you’ll get hundreds of visitors that come back regularly to discuss various topics – possibly even becoming friends with each other. That’s a great way to build relationships, all without much work on your part.
Weaknesses of Forums for Content Marketing
Unfortunately, there are a lot of downsides of forums as well. These include:
Moderation is an extremely difficult, extremely time consuming issue that you’ll need to address with your forums. Many people will use these forums to promote and create spam. Many others will write angry or inappropriate posts that will not represent your business. Moderation can be a full time gig, and something that can cost a considerable amount to your company in the long run.
For a while in the early 2000’s, thousands of websites were adding forums and very few of them were successful. Forums don’t immediately get success. Ideally, you’ll have to create a bunch of posts yourself and have your own employees contributing to make sure the forum looks populated. You’ll have to market the forum specifically to make sure it gets visitors, and you’ll need to participate yourself for a long time in order to ensure that when someone does join the forum they see that there’s a reason to come back. Some companies find that to be too much work.
It’s also important to remember that you generally want every type of content you create to improve conversions. Forums are not designed to improve conversions, and if the posts in the forum are of low quality, it’s possible that they actually turn off potential customers from your company. Remember, every piece of content on your website represents your business, and that means that the users of the forum – even though they have nothing to do with your company – are representing your company to incoming visitors. Poor quality content and potential customers may be out the door.
Now, that may not matter too much. These visitors would not have found your website without the forums. But it’s something to consider. Forums are valuable relationship building tools, but they are much less likely to convert than other forms of content.
- Google Changes
Finally, it’s my belief that Google will not be rewarding forums forever. Forum content doesn’t provide much value to those that are searching for answers to their questions. When I search for “how to get rid of bedbugs” I don’t want a forum with dozens of people asking the same question. I want an informative article that tells me what I want to know. Since Google regularly updates their algorithm to improve search result value, it wouldn’t be surprising for forums to soon be punished for low quality and low value content.
Overall Impressions of Forums for Content Marketing
Forums are not a bad tool for content marketing, but you need to make sure that you’re using them correctly. You need to have moderators, you should strongly consider building content in the forums yourself before turning it over to unknown users, and you need to market the forum specifically because a dead forum is a valueless forum.
One of the best ways to use a forum is to use it as a customer service tool. Allow customers to ask you questions about your company, products, or industry, and have someone with knowledge answer them, ideally with links to other pages on your site to keep interest in your company high. This way you’ll show up well for specific questions that people may search for and provide answers that are sure to provide value to incoming visitors.
But forums in general are somewhat of a mixed bag for content, and something only worth considering if you’re ready for the incredible commitment they require.