The number one question most administrators ask is “how do I attract users to my website?”. Unfortunately, there is no magical answer which will apply to everyone, but there are things which you can do as an administrator to ensure visitors to your forum will stick around long enough to register.
Once you have chosen your niche and set up your forum, you have a blank canvas. As a site administrator you have two levels to work on:
- A technical level, and;
- A user level
On the technical level, you are the webmaster and the forum administrator.
As the webmaster, you have to ensure the site is functional. That is to say, if you have pages outside of the forum structure, make sure they are aesthetically pleasing, quick to load, and most important, provide easy access to the forum itself. If you have installed any MOD’s on your forum, test them out, make sure they are in working order. If you have installed any custom styles, try out as many pages as is possible to make sure they all work and you haven’t missed any files when uploading. First impressions count, and the last thing you want is for users to go on to your forum and see dead links or pages that won’t load.
As the site administrator, you define the site rules and regulations. In many cases, it is a wise idea to lay down the rules early to avoid any ambiguities as the forum grows. A simple topic outlining what is acceptable and what is not in what you expect to be the most active area of your forum will be sufficient in the beginnings of your site. Similarly, you also define how large your forum is in terms of categories and forums. A rule of thumb is to start with 1 category and 3 forums, and expand as you need to, as it is much easier to upsize than it is to downsize.
Creating a small number of forums will make the site appear more active to guests. Having 3 forums with 100 posts each looks much better than having 15 forums with 20 posts each.
Don’t forget to pay attention to detail! One example of this is if you’re targeting users from a particular region, say New York, then make sure the default time zone is set to that of New York’s. Users will subconsciously think the site has been tailor-made for their needs when settings such as these don’t need to be adjusted, which will encourage them to be involved with the community.
People know you are the administrator, and you are the one that needs to set an example. Many administrators think that all they have to do is create the forum, modify it, and let the site users do the rest. It is because of this mentality that most forums fail to get off the ground.
The administrator must be a user as well, and that means getting involved in the discussions, posting thought-provoking material (dependent on the subject matter of course), and something that is often overlooked; making new members feel welcome.
Joining a forum is often hard for the ordinary user, particularly when tight-knit groups have already formed among the “regs” (regular posters). If you, the administrator, post a quick “welcome to the forum!”, others will follow your lead, and with a bit of luck the newly registered user will jump straight in to the deep end, rather than simply dipping their toes in.
This is an analogy that Sean Berry, the administrator of TroubleFreePool.com, agrees wholeheartedly with:
“Being active when starting my forum is the only thing that got my site off the ground. I was a member of another similar site before starting my own, but the administrator presumably had some financial problems, and one day just left his site. I had never run a site before and thought it might be fun, so I did a little research and threw a site together over the course of an afternoon. When I went to the other site to announce that there was a new site in town where all the many users could come to register, I was dismayed to see that someone else had the same idea, but two days earlier! He even went as far as to make his site an exact duplicate of the other, right down to the forum descriptions.
I was starting up on a free forum site and had almost no programming experience. The other guy was a programmer by trade, and was running his site on his own server. I thought I was done, but rather than give up, I tried to focus on why my site was different. I added more off topic areas and personally welcomed every single new member. I was constantly trying to generate new content on the site so that there would always be something new to talk about. People responded and we started to grow.
Meanwhile, the other site that got a head start… well, he just watched people join but would take off for a couple days at a time, and didn’t contribute much, or make any changes to adapt to his user-base.
It’s been a year and a half and we are nearly 4,000 users strong with over 50,000 posts. The other new site has been gone for almost a year now. I have to give tremendous credit to the early member and moderators who took a chance and jumped in, but in all modesty, I can say that a key difference that made my site work and the other not, was that I was active, enthusiastic and tenacious.”
Constantly generating content so that there is always something to talk about is a great point. Posting a couple of new topics after you set up the forum and then backing off is not the way to go, you must be constantly adding new material. Not only will potential members appreciate this, but so will Google. Pleasing the Googlebot has a follow through effect, as the more content you post, the higher the likelihood you have of ranking well on Google, which in turn provides you with masses of visitors.
Often when starting out, you will not have the added advantage of an existing user base to feed off. You may only have a small group of people, or maybe only yourself.
If you have a small group, try and ensure that discussions are always in progress, you don’t want the posting rate to stagnate. As more users register, then you will hopefully see exponential growth.
If it is only you, a strategy many administrators employ is to create multiple accounts themselves and set up discussions that way. The benefit of this, is you can create solid content in every post. Some administrators pay people to make posts on their forum, however often this generates “spam” posts, with each message unrelated to the subject matter and only a few words long, turning away prospective members.
The main thing to remember, is to be involved in your community on all levels. If you do this, you are well on your way to creating a successful forum.