Forums are very useful for a niche blog to form a community around the blog. It become a space for everyone to talk, and once as an admin you succeed in creating an active forum, you can easily leave it on users, as a good forum is mostly community driven. Your role would be to moderate the forum, and keep it clean from spam and other nonsense. From long I have planned to integrate forum on ShoutMeLoud, and in the past I also integrated one Q&A forum, which was good but it lacked many features like:
- Proper structuring of post
- It was hard to navigate
And over all, it failed to create the community due to bad structure. From last one month, I have researched on different ways to integrate a forum with WordPress blog, and found many solutions.
In this article, I will discus some of the most common available options for forum integration with a WordPress blog, and in future post I will share more on my finding. I will discus some of the grey areas of integrating a forum using available WordPress forum plugins.
Questions to ask before integrating forum with WordPress?
The very first question you should be asking yourself is:
What is the purpose of your forum? :
You have to be clear about the purpose of your forum. For me, it’s to give a platform for users to interact, solve their questions related to blogging, SEO, WordPress and other online marketing stuff that I cover here at ShoutMeLoud. More over, ShoutMeLoud is a community of blogger, and at times I have seen users have questions, which can easily be resolved by any experience Shouter over here. So, having such integrated forum platform will help them to quickly get their query solved. Now, when you are thinking about the purpose, you have to be sure of time you are ready to devote on that forum. For me, one hour a day is enough to solve at least 20+ users queries, and interact with community members. When you have answer to these two questions, move to next one.
Integrated forum or separate forum:
You might have searched for many Forum WordPress plugins like bbPress, MinglePress, SimplePress and one of the major issue with them is, they don’t use separate database. They will be integrated with your WordPress blog like a plugin, and will be using your existing WordPress database, to add new tables. This is ok in the beginning, but as your forum will grow big, you have to work really hard on keeping your database clean and optimized.
One major issue which I have read about integrating forum into WordPress via forum plugin is: compatibility. If one of them stops working, it will hamper other part too. For example, many users reported that upgrading Simplepress plugin broke the blog, and they had to re-install WordPress. Well, this is just one of many issues, which can easily be taken care by using a good WordPress forum plugin like bbPress or MinglePress.
Where as having a separated forum will ensure that nothing is broken on your main blog. Technically, it will not be directly linked to your existing WordPress blog. You will be installing a separate instance of WordPress on /forum directory, and use any of the plugin to add a forum to it. (This will atleast solve the above mentioned problem with direct integration).
Sub-domain or Sub-directory:
This is another important question you should ask yourself before integrating a forum on your blog. Where do you want your forum to be? What will be the SEO implication of integrating forum?
Specially, after Panda updates most of the forums were penalized due to low-quality content issue, and which is normal for a public forum. For me, I would prefer to install a forum at sub-domain level, as it will not impact my existing blog SEO. So instead of installing forum at domain.com/forum, a good idea is to install it at forum.domain.com.
Best Forum software’s and WordPress plugins to integrate forum
Once you have answered all the above questions, now it’s time to look out for some of the best options. As I mentioned, there are two ways to integrate forum:
- Integrated forum with WordPress
- Separate forum software
Based on my research & finding, I will share some of the best available WordPress forum plugins, and stand-alone forum software. I will not get into detail of any of these options, as they need separate post for detailed review. So, lets quickly look at some of the available options:
MinglePress is a free plugin, and it quickly integrates with your existing WordPress installation. I tried and tested this on my local WordPress setup ( Tutorial for same will be published tomorrow). The good thing about MinglePress is, it’s easy to use and comes with limited but all useful feature.
bbPresss is a WordPress forum plugin developed by creators of WordPress. It integrates with WordPress seamlessly, and easy to manage. The bad side of bbPress is, development is quite slow, and comes with limited features. Good side is, it’s one of the oldest & well-maintained plugin for WordPress. So, you can be sure of a good future with bbPress, as it will always be updated to stay compatible with latest version of WordPress.
Simplepress is another option, but it’s now badly criticised due to their pricing model, and slow support. Simplepress is free plugin, but to use plugins and get support, you need to buy membership which starts with $39 for 2 months. At this moment, for a simple forum plugin, I don’t find the SimplePress as a value for money.
Now comes, the self-hosted stand alone forum options, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with platform like vBulletin, PhpBb. Here are some of the best recommended self-hosted forum options:
XenForo is a paid forum, which is under developing stage, and is used by many popular forums like Digital Point forum. XenForo is priced at $140 for one year support and upgrades.
phpBB is best free open source forum software out there, and it is released under GNU general public license. Being an open-source platform, there are many free mods available for phpBB, which will help you to extend the feature of your forum. You can see one list of mod on official page over here. Another good thing about phpBB is it’s just forum, and unlike other forum software which let you create blogs, or work as CMS, phpBB is designed to be only a forum software. In this case, when we are planning to integrate a forum with existing WordPress blog, I find this as a better solution.
Of all the commercial and paid forum software out there, vBulletin is one of the oldest and popular option right now. Popular internet marketing forum like Warriorforum runs on vBulletin. vBulletin is good option, when you are planning to have a forum with all the features, and looking for professional approach. The only thing which you need to keep in mind is, pricing of vBulletin. Pricing starts from $249 which goes up as you add mobile-suite, or addons like branding removal. Do remember, latest version of vBulletin 5 is getting some pretty bad reviews, and current users are reporting hundreds of bugs (Via forums).
And for today, this is the last forum option I will add here. VanillaForums is another old forum software (started in 2006) and offers two options. Self-hosted (free) and a cloud hosted option. If you are looking for a deep-integration of your blog with forum (Something like a new discussion thread for every post, along with comments), Vanillaforums has a solution for you. Here is a guide on how this integration works.
I’m still digging down on all these available solutions for forum integration, and will keep sharing my finding with you. For now, if you are a forum-owner, and want to share your review, feedback and opinion about any of these forum software’s or WordPress forum plugins, do let us know via comment. If you find this WordPress Forum guide useful, do consider sharing it on Facebook and Google plus.