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Ok, time for our first traffic generation strategy: Forum marketing! Forum marketing is a classic marketing method that often isn’t used anywhere near as much as it should be. On most busy forums you come across, there are always a few people that are making a good portion of their income directly from their forum marketing efforts. They spend their time mingling and becoming part of the community, then they direct people to their products, services, or blog. Sound simple? Well it can be, if you know exactly what you’re doing.
I know this may sound like a big claim, but I think forum marketing is one of the best forms of traffic generation there is. Not only can you get in front of highly targeted people instantly, but it can also be fun! Enjoy being social and talking to people? Then this could be the method for you.
Today we’re going to look at how you can start your own forum marketing campaign, and I’m going to share with you a little known trick I’ve never heard anyone talk about. This tactic alone will take your forum marketing efforts to the next level, and maximize the amount of traffic you can get from these forums.
So, let’s get into it.
Aims Of This Lesson
- Gaining Traffic.
This lesson will help you gain traffic to your website without the use of Google.
- Community Building.
This lesson will help you build up a loyal community.
What Forum Marketing Is And Isn’t
Before we go any further, I quickly want to look at what exactly I mean by forum marketing. By forum marketing, I mean signing up to forums relevant to your niche, placing a link back to your website in your signature, and engaging in conversation with the community members. By forum marketing I don’t mean signing up to a load of random forums using automation software and leaving links on all of them.
Remember, the aim of this course is to move away from relying on Google for our traffic. Spammy link building tactics such as this will only potentially ‘benefit’ you in terms of getting higher in the search engines, and that’s not something we’re interested in right now.
So, we’ll be becoming a part of the community, and get our name known. But how can this benefit us?
The Benefits Of Forum Marketing
Ok, so here are the benefits of forum marketing.
- You Will Get Highly Targeted People Going Back To Your Website.
I know I’ve mentioned it briefly before, but I can’t state this enough: The traffic you can get from forums are HIGHLY targeted! Think about it: These people often use the forums in their spare time. They want to talk about the forum’s subject with other like-minded members, mainly because they’re interested in everything to do with it.
This person has made the effort to find a place to talk about your topic, and gets involved in the conversation on a daily basis. Therefore, don’t you think your niche is something that’s quite a big thing in their lives? You won’t get traffic much more targeted then other forum members, making this one of the top methods of getting in front of your target audience.
- Can Be Used To Strengthen Your Brand.
If your niche has a strong forum community, you can use it to position yourself as a authority in the niche fairly quickly. Make yourself helpful by answering the questions of other members, and posting useful tips and tricks even before anyone’s asked for them. People will notice this, and start to see you as someone who is very knowledgeable within the niche. This will lead to more people following what you’re doing.
This is the first stages of forming your community and brand, as you will gain loyal followers from your forum marketing. You can then direct these people back to your site (I’ll show you how in the next section ‘Diverting Forum Traffic Back To Your Site’) and get them on your list for easy future contact.
- You Put Yourself Out There For Networking.
Although there will be a lot of people you could help on the forums, you will often find other ‘experts’ and knowledgeable people as well. Although it’d be easy to see these people as competitors and compete with them for the attention of other people on the forum, it’s often better to see this as an opportunity for networking. Do these people have their own product or website too? Is there any way of collaborating with them and getting in front of their audience? Would it be possible to let them guest post on your site so they’ve written you free content? Could you help promote each other and both get bigger as a result? Could you provide social proof for each other?
There are a number of ways you can collaborate with other authorities in your niche, so if the other person is willing, this could benefit you both.
- It Can Be An Enjoyable Method Of Marketing.
Browsing the forums in your niche and becoming part of the community can actually be very fun. I know ‘fun’ isn’t often a word associated with marketing for a number of people, but I’m sure many will find this at least partially enjoyable. With some other methods of marketing, it’s easy to start seeing people as numbers. You check your stats, and saw you got 100 people visiting your from Youtube. You also got 50 direct visitors to your site in the same day, 56% of them being from the USA. With forum marketing though, you get to talk directly with and interact with people on a personal level. After a while you will get to recognize names and pictures, and start to build up relationships with some of the other forum members.
Because of the social aspect of things, forum marketing can be one of those marketing activities you do in your down time. You’ve done all the hard promotion and product creation work for the day, and to help unwind your mind before you come of the computer, you’ll spend a bit of time on a forum or two. While you will want to offer good advice to your fellow forum members and appear like a knowledgeable member of the community, you’ll also want to appear personal, and share some ‘non niche related’ information about yourself. This will allow people to see you as one of them, and not someone who’s just there to get them to buy something.
- Side Benefit: Forum Marketing Is Good For SEO.
As well forum as being a great way to drive targeted customers directly back to your site, search engines also recognize links created in forums as being useful recommendations. If search engines see a lot of links to the same site within a forum, they can see that that site is related to the forum subject matter, and that the owner is most likely an active member on the community.
Search engines try to rank real marketing practices highly, and forum marketing is as much a real marketing practice as distributing flyers or radio advertising. You shouldn’t post more on forums just to gain more links however, as there is a cut off point where your links will stop having as much effect on your search rankings. Post on forums to gain more links that people can follow back to your website. The SEO value is just a side product of that process, and not something you need to focus on.
How Well Can Forum Marketing Work
Before we go any further, I just wanted to give you an idea of how well forum marketing can work in some niches.
How well it works in your niche will depend on how big the main related forum is, and possibly how many big forums there are that cater to your subject matter.
If you are in a niche with a big forum and a lot of active members, you can use forum marketing as your only method for traffic generation (Although I don’t recommend this as it’s best to diversify). Even though you shouldn’t, I’ve seen people build up their sites to many thousands of page views a month, and they’ve only ever marketed themselves on forums. Over 60% of their visits come from one forum only, with the other visits coming from direct visits (Many originally finding them from the forums), social media (People on the forums shared the site around) and the like.
If you have a strong forum based community in your niche, this is very possible. Of course you will want to combined this traffic strategy with others as well, but if you can get your forum traffic moving, this is a good starting point.
If there isn’t one big forum in your niche, it could be a good idea to join a few different ones. This can help get the referral traffic numbers up, and allow you to reach people you wouldn’t have if you only focused on one forum.
What To Look For In Forums
If you want the strategies I’m going to mention to work, you need to make sure the forums have certain qualities:
The Forum Allows You To Place A Signature
This is one of the main things you want to look out for when going to join a forum. Having a signature is key for this strategy to work, as it will help lead other forum members back to your site.
A signature is a small area that will appear below all of your posts. You will be allowed to customize that signature, and write something related to you in it. For this strategy to work, you will want to leave a single link back to your website’s home page or other page of your choice. You will want to make sure you put an attractive anchor text on it, and some enticing text around it which will make people get interested and want to click your link.
So say for example you’re on a forum based around dog shows. In your signature, you may want to write:
“Once an amateur with a passion, now one of America’s top dog show contestants!
See how me and Poochy clawed our way to the top.”
Giving a bit of information can help people get interested, then your link will allow them to click back and see more of what you’re talking about. Make sure you link this to a page that will help you achieve your website goals, and hopefully get them signed up to your mailing list. We’ll be looking more at building a list next lesson.
You can see if the forum allows signatures by browsing a few of it’s posts. Open up 5 long topic threads, and scan to see if any other people have signatures under their posts. You’ll normally be able to tell their signatures as they will have a line between them and their main post. They’ll also usually be unrelated to what the person has just written. If you find some signatures with links in, this forum will be suitable to use.
If the forum doesn’t allow signatures, you could still sign up and manually add your website link here and there during conversations. If you do this, make sure what you write and link to is relevant, or the moderators may ban your account for spamming.
If possible though, try and find forums that allow signatures, as these are the ones that will allow us to do best with this method. If you look into a forum and it doesn’t allow signatures, it should only be seen as a secondary and optional place of promotion, unless there is a real reason to use it (E.G. A lot of people in your niche use it over anywhere else).
The Traffic Levels Of The Forum
Another thing you will want to look at is the traffic levels of the forum in question. Not all forums are equal in terms of traffic. Some get so much traffic that you get hundreds or more new posts a day. Others on the other hand may only get one new post every few days. Both of these can be used to get traffic back to your site, but in different ways.
The medium and high traffic forums are the main ones we’ll be using. These are the ones we can use to build up a genuine name in the community, and interact with the forum members regularly to build up a real relationship with them.
As there will always be fresh posts and news on these forums, you should find it possible to interact on them at least a few times a week. Remember, every time you do, you will be putting your signature out there. This is getting your link our there, and increasing the chances that some one will click on it.
Forums with low amount of traffic (And allow signatures) which also have a decent amount of page views can be useful too. Even if you have a forum which only gets a new post every few days, we can use this to our advantage. Sign up to this forum, and reply to a few of the topics you are knowledgeable about. Make sure they are useful replies, ones that people will see and want to look more into you. Then, go on to create a new topic that will be helpful to the forum readers.
The reason this strategy can help is simple: People often read forums, even if they don’t reply. So like I said, if each topic has quite a bit more views then it does posts, that means people are still reading these topics. People will still see your signature, and they’ll hopefully click on it to go back to your site. The beautiful thing about this? Your topic will stay at the top of the forum for longer then on busy forums, so you will have to post less to get in front of members.
Even if the forum’s traffic is so low that no one ends up following your link back, at least you’ve given it a try and as a bonus will have a relevant backlink for SEO purposes.
Dangers Of Forum Marketing
While there are many benefits of forum marketing, it’s important I make you aware of the other side of things. Here are two dangers of forum marketing:
- Time Drainage.
As I mentioned before, forum marketing can be fun. When you get involved in the community, it’s very easy to continually check the message boards for new updates to topics, and to see if someone replied to a post you made. The problem with this though, is you can end up spending too much time on the forums. You may say you’re only going to spend 20 minutes on the forums a day, but you might end up spending a lot more as you see more topics and more messages.
There are a couple of downsides to this. First of all, it’s not proper management of your time. Yes you want to show you’re an active member of the community, but you also need to spend time working on other sides of your business, and spending to much time on the forums can eat into this time.
Secondly, you will give off a different image of yourself. You want to be on there enough to have people see you and take notice, but if you’re on there a lot replying to every topic there is, the quality of your posts are going to go down. While I do suggest you be social and show a personal side of yourself in the forums, I don’t suggest you go on so much that people start to think of you as a ‘part of the furniture’. Being seen as someone who only has a life on the forum isn’t the image you want to portray.
- Bad Publicity.
If you go about your forum marketing efforts wrong, you could actually create bad publicity for yourself and your website. Due to the very nature of forums, at some point disagreements between members will occur. If you are part of a forum with a good moderation team, the majority of members will know that disagreements can only go so far. They won’t try to get horrible on a personal level, and they won’t commit ‘cyber bullying’. Having said that, in some forums disagreements are allowed to get more out of hand then they should. If you see a forum like this, you have two choices:
1. Avoid it and post on other forums instead, or
2. If a big part of your community meets up in these forums, you can join anyway but avoid confrontation if it arises.
I look at this more in the ‘Dealing With Arguments And Disagreements’ section later on in this lesson, but the bottom line is that getting involved in public (And virtual) ‘shouting matches’ isn’t good for you company image. So avoid this.
As long as you remain civil when posting on the forums and don’t allow yourself to spend too much time on them, forum marketing is definitely worth doing.
Finding Forums In Your Niche
Ok, so how do you go about finding forums in your niche? Well other then stumbling across them and asking for recommendations from other people in your niche, the easiest way to find them is to look on search engines. So for example, go on our good friend Google, and type in the niche your in. Follow this by ‘forum’ or ‘message board’.
So for example, say you’re in the football betting niche. Things you could search include:
- Football betting forum.
- Football betting message board.
- Football trading forum.
- Football trading message board.
- Betting forums.
- Betting message boards.
As well as searching for the main keyword in your niche, try searching for other related ones that may also throw up relevant forums. The more combinations you try, the more likely you are to find ones you can use.
Make a note of the forums you find for later use. It’ll be easiest to note them in a text documents e.g. Word, Open Office or Pages.
What If Your Niche Hasn’t Got A Forum?
While we know forums can be great for promoting your site and product, there are certain barriers that can come up in some niches. For example, what if your niche doesn’t have a forum?
From what I’ve seen, most niches do have forums. As long as your topic subject fits into a broader niche, there should be somewhere for you to talk. Within many broader niches, there are sub forums which are dedicated to the smaller areas in the niche.
Having said that, sometimes these sub forums may not have enough activity for what you want to do. From here you have two main options:
- Get Involved In Roughly Related Forums.
If you’re in a very small niche that doesn’t cover a wider area, you may still want to interact in related forums, as people may still be interested in what you have to say. Let’s say for example you have a website about how to catch tiger fish specifically. It may be hard to find a forum that speaks specifically about catching that type of fish, but you could still join general fishing forums and market / interact on there. While you may not have the knowledge of catching every type of fish, there’s a good chance there will be people who will benefit from your specialist knowledge. You could clue people up about what you do specifically, and maybe even compare your type of fishing to the others out there. This should gain interest.
- Create Your Own Forums.
Another alternative is to create your own forums. If you’re niche is quite wide but there’s no forums available for people to share knowledge, this could be a good idea. Wherever there’s a hobby, there is usually people that want to get involved and discuss that subject. If there’s no sign there’s a place for people to chat about what you do, then this is a gap in the market that you could fill.
You will of course need to get traffic to that forum to get it looking busy, but that can be done through the traffic generation strategies in this course or via paid advertising.
Note: If your niche is a very small one and you decide to create a forum, it’s probably a good idea to include sub forums so people can talk about the wider niche and talk generally. This will increase interaction on your forums, and mean that more people stay interactive for longer.
Thinking Outside The Box: Partly Relevant Forums
As I mentioned in the above section, if there’s no forum that relates exactly about your niche, you could use related forums to get involved in and gain new customers. But, even if there are related forums in your niche, you may still want to get involved in others that aren’t directly related if you’ve additional time.
Let’s say for example you run a site about looking after children. Yes it’d be good to target those types of forums, but there are a few others you could also target. For example, why not get involved in a message board for work at home mums? They will still need options for handling their kids while they’re working, won’t they? Or if you wanted, you could also go on a dating forum for single parents. These people will also have children, and may want help with managing their children alongside their dating life.
While you will get less people clicking on your links over highly relevant forums (People aren’t looking for exactly the solution you’re offering at that time), it is still possible to get some decent additional traffic from doing this. Just make sure the results you see in each partially relevant forum are ok before you go all out with this strategy.
Researching The Forum
Once you have made a list of relevant forums, the next step is to do some research into each of them. You can do this research while looking for the forums if you prefer, but it doesn’t matter that much either way.
Here are a few things you want to look out for, as they will give you an idea of how you should interact on that forum. Please note that you can find the information below by look at other people’s profiles in the forum:
- They Type Of Signature You Can Add.
Even if a forum you find allows people to use a signature, you will need to look at what type of signature they allow. Some forum moderators will allow you to use straight promotional / keyword signatures (E.G. ‘Click here and learn how to lose weight now’), while others will only allow you to put non commercial signatures in (For example quotes, sayings, links to your website that don’t appear overly promotional etc). This will vary from forum to forum, so make a note of what is and isn’t allowed and follow this style.
- The Way People Interact With Each Other.
Often on forums, people interact with each other in a certain way. While not every single person will interact in this same way, you will sometimes find there is certain way of talking or inside jokes that members use regularly. You can use these things to your advantage; by doing the same you can make yourself instantly look like part of the community.
So for example, some forums with a lot of younger people may use a lot of short hand talk (E.G. LOL, LMAO, TMI etc). On another forum, people may use a lot of smiley faces, have an ongoing joke, or have a favorite subject matter that keeps coming up.
Make a note of any of these things, and if appropriate, use them as well. This will help people notice and take to you a lot quicker.
- People’s Forum Names.
Another thing you should look at is people’s forum names. Are they all real genuine names (‘Gary’, ‘Dave’, Fred Smith’, ‘Devon Brown’ etc), or are some of them also brand and company names? Or a mix of both E.G. Jason @ Jason’s World. Why you need to take a note of these these things, is because it can effect the way you brand yourself on the forums. We look more at this issue in the ‘Picking The Right Forum Name’ section below.
- If You’re Allowed Images.
While using images is not essential to our strategy, it is a good thing to note whether or not you are allowed to use images in this forum. Specifically, we want to know if we can use avatars. A avatar is a small picture that represents you in all of your posts. We will talk about using avatars in the ‘Using A Stand Out Avatar’ section below. Please note though, that if the forum you’re looking into doesn’t allow images, you should still use it.
This lesson is continued in Lesson 4 Part 2: Forum Marketing Tips And Strategies For Beginners And Intermediates.