In today’s fast paced and competitive online world, it’s paramount for businesses to devise ways to attract more visitors to their websites, retain those visitors and to improve their websites’ page rankings.
One tool that can help achieve these objectives is a forum or discussion board, and today these have become some of the most popular ways of engaging and interacting with others online.
Forum and discussion functionality can be a great addition to any website. In this article, we will go through the many advantages and few challenges businesses may face when implementing forums or discussion on to their websites, and share a few tips on how to manage it.
- Content – One of the key advantages of including a forum and discussion feature on your own website is that it will automatically generate fresh content. Search engines love content, so having a forum with lots of people all contributing and adding new posts and replies can generate enough content to really push your site forward. It can take some time to get to this kind of level and you will need some great members, but if you can get an amazing group of users all posting away then this can really help your site increase its rankings.
- Increased sales – Discussions and forums play an important role when your customers are at the very first stage of the customer buying cycle; that is the pre-purchase/dream stage. Genuine, authentic customer photos, videos and comments help them to research and dream about your products and experiences when they first get to your website.
- Visitor retention - A forum or discussion area on your website gives new online visitors, clients and potential customers a reason to return to your site, especially if they need help or advice on a certain subject. We all want visitors to keep returning to our site, so having a forum can be a great way of making people want to come back and use your website regularly.
- Market research - Being in direct contact with your customers and potential customers allows you to be better informed about their needs, wants, questions and general interests. So they can become a great research tool! Discussions and forums can also give you insight into the vocabulary they use, helping you to ensure that your messages and content use language that they understand and are familiar with.
- Community building – Forums are ideal to provide your community with a way to connect to each other. It is a fantastic tool to swap ideas, create meaningful relationships within overlapping industries and create a sense of belonging.
- Interacting with your customers and prospects - A discussion forum is a fairly informal place but you can share announcements about your business, answer questions about your products and services, and generally talk about features and benefits of doing business with you – because after all, it should be information that those interacting with your forum will be interested in.
While all the conversations are happening, you’re providing information to prospects as well. People interested in possibly buying from you may browse your forum, see the community, see your ability to service and communicate with your customers, and this may entice visitors to become buyers.
- Moderation - Whenever you open up a public forum or discussion board then you are going to have to think about moderation.What about negative comments?
Click here to read an article we wrote recently specifically dealing with this but remember, negative comments can often provide great opportunities because they give you the chance to react with the unhappy customer openly and publically, rather than the customer festering and simply not using your services again. Think of it as an opportunity to turn around those few unhappy customers and show potential customers that your organisation does actually take notice and react to what people say.
Finally – other visitors often come to the defence of an organisations’ bad experience and this is fantastic when it happens. Building a strong and loyal community can really help to police your own website and when your own community comes to your defence, this completely nullifies any negative effects that may come from such comments
- Spam - Like the majority of things on the internet, a forum is just an open target for any spammer because if your forum gets big then it could have some weight in Google (and other search engines). So it’s vital to consider how you will deal with this before it becomes a problem for you.
- Kick starting your forum - It can be difficult at first to attract visitors to your forum. An empty forum basically has no hope of attracting people that participate. People need to see content and be able to explore topics. Creating all this content can be a lot of work and time.
Establishing a discussion forum can take some initial time and effort but once people start contributing to the discussion, you’ll start to see the benefits that your forum is bringing to your business, and the time and effort needed to maintain it will seem less and less each time you see your traffic and profits going up.