A 2012 blog article on HigherVisibility.com claimed the “Top 3 Reasons Forum Links Are Still Worth Your Time”. The idea was even though it’s never a good idea to include a comment on a forum just because you want a backlink, even user forum no-follow links have benefits to marketers and bloggers. The author cites three reasons for this:
- Clicks. If you’re offering great advice in your answer to a forum question, and you say that a link can offer even more information, that will surely help you generate some clicks.
- Reputation. Spammers don’t usually bother with no-follow links; thus aiding to their bad reputation. However, users will appreciate that you are adding a link, and it shows that you’re putting your audience before your search engine rankings (even if you’re not).
- Backlink Profile. Google likes sites that have both nofollow and dofollow links because it shows authenticity. So despite not having a direct PageRank SEO benefit, this will help improve your subject authority.
So I thought: Is this true?
I sat with Patrick Clinger, CEO of online forum SaaS provider, ProBoards, to explore the idea that properly configured online forums might be beneficial for both the businesses who host, and the users who contribute, to them.
How should companies approach using online forums as part of their overall marketing strategy?
There are two main things a company should focus on when developing a forum strategy. The first is whether or not you should create your own forum, and the second is working on a strategy to participate in forums relevant to your industry.
Creating your own forum has many benefits including SEO value, the ability to add more stickiness to your website, increased transparency, providing better customer service, and much more. Many companies are able to build a huge fan base that rally around their products by including forums in their overall marketing strategy.
It’s also important to not forget about joining in discussions on other forums that are not your own. By participating in online discussions and providing your own valuable insights you can boost your company’s online reputation. Be careful not to only participate in discussions where you see an opportunity to advertise your product or service. People are wise to this and your contributions will be met with scorn if people feel your only agenda is to promote your company. Be sure to contribute positively to any conversation, and always be open about your intentions.
What kind of business can realize benefits from this strategy?
Every business needs an online strategy for how they will communicate with their existing and potential customers. Any company that wants to build an online following and is open to being transparent with their customers will realize the benefits of having a forum. Equally important, you need to research and identify areas in which you can participate in online discussions relevant to your industry. Everyone has their own niche that they work in, and there is a forum out there for nearly every topic imaginable.
No-follow or follow links–what do you recommend for a business?
Follow links are the clear winner, but you shouldn’t be afraid of no-follow links. You should always be working towards developing relevant, organic links unless you want to feel the wrath of Google’s ban hammer. This doesn’t mean forum links (which generally are no-follow links) are always a bad thing. If you participate in an online discussion and provide original, unique content, you are not likely to see any negative impact from that link and you are likely to have users click over to your website.
What are the top things a business needs to do to effectively manage an online forum and keep it on topic?
There are a few things I definitely recommend:
- Set the rules for your community right away. People never like when the rules change, so get it right from the get-go. Take a look at some other forums to see what rules they have in place, and figure out what works for you.
- Appoint moderators to your forum based on your level trust. Many times a community can be self-sustaining with volunteers. It’s a great way to keep your community managed even when you are not there 24/7.
- Content is king; a forum lives or dies on content. Always keep the discussions going, post news and announcements related to your business, invite people to create their own topics, post polls asking for users opinions, and more. Stay engaged with your audience.
- Have an “off-topic” section for users that want to just chat. This will keep the clutter out of your more relevant, keyword rich areas. It also provides a great place for people in your community to get to know each other better while not under the same restrictions your more on-topic areas will require.
In so doing, you can avoid user feedback like forum-user, “hooperman”, once wrote:
Featured Image: stockCe via Shutterstock
Image #1: Screenshot taken June 2014