Forums & SEO

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I just sent out my latest newsletter which included an article on the effect
of forums on search engine traffic.

I'm publishing the article here as I think it should be of interest to any
of you contemplating adding a forum to your website or may consider doing
so.  It can also be read together with all the SE news and an article on
some new pagerank online tools here.

I hope you find it useful...


2. Forums & SEO

The adding of a search engine friendly forum to the ABAKUS website, was
probably the most singularly effective thing I did with regards to bringing
in traffic to my website.

I can tell you that apart from the ABAKUS home page, the next most popular
entry page to my site, by quite a wide margin, is one of the forum pages.
With more than double the amount of the next best entry page which is my
popular tools page, it is fair to say that without my forum, I would lose at
least a third of my search engine originated traffic!

To give you an idea as to the power of forums, check out the following
search term exactly as is it below in Google. inurl:/foren/

The result you get is. %

Each and every one of the ~8.900 pages indexed is a potential entry point to
the ABAKUS site.

If you are impressed with that, consider how much search engine traffic gets with over 58,500 indexed pages. Each of which is a
potential search engine entry page.

Don't forget, no forum thread pages are duplicated and each topic will have
its own specific title. What is really the clever part, is that others add
most of the content/pages for you!

Once a search engine friendly forum is built, it doesn't take long for it to
grow to the position where each day 3-5 new pages with unique, commonly
thematic, pages are created. I think you'd agree with me, that this has to
be THE best way to create very many new web pages.

The aim of this article is to take you through the 10 steps that you need to
go through in order to start your own successful search engine friendly
forum. The subject you create your forum on is completely irrelevant, as
long as it is search engine friendly, merits public discussion and you know
how to market it (also covered), then within a month or two you are going to
find you are getting gan increase in search engine traffic, and your forum
is going to increasingly be the entry point to your website.

Step 1:
The first thing to do is to make sure you can install a forum on your web
server. Commonly you require PHP, although some forums are PERL (CGI) based,
and a popular database. The most common database is MySql which is supported
by the majority of forums. Once it is established from your web host that
PHP and a database are in place, you need to consider web space. A forum
over time can grow quite large. Especially the database (ABAKUS database is
well over a gigabyte now).

Step 2:
Choosing your forum should not only take functionality into account, but
also the ability to modify it with a view to search engine friendliness.

Important: ALL forums that I am aware of require some modifications to make
them search engine friendly!

A good list of the freely available and commercial Forum software can be
found here . /

In my experience, the best free forum, taking features and the abilty to
make it search engine friendly into account, has to be PHPBB. Currently in
version 2.0.6.

Probably the best commercial forum, with regard to power and search engine
friendliness, is Vbulletin, which is the forum used by for
Avoid Perl language forums such as Ultimate Bulletin Board (UBB) or
Ikonboard. They are not impossible to make se friendly, but are considerably
more difficult and less effective. I personally chose PHPBB because it had a
large support forum and because there already existed details on modifying
it with a view to search engine friendliness. PHPBB also has all the
functionality, style flexibility and add ons (Mods) that you are ever likely
to need.

Whatever your forum choice, check that there exists the possibility to make
it search engine friendly.

Step 3:
Follow the installation instructions of your forum. If you have chosen
PHPBB, then it is pretty straight forward as long as you know basic details
such as your database name and database login details (username and
password). Try and install your forum as close to the root directory as
possible Eg. Instead of You may wish to name the install directory
with a keyword if it is of a specific theme, such as in the example below.

Step 4:
Careful thought needs to be taken as to your category and particularly your
Forum names. These should not be changed regularly so should therefore be
given careful consideration and got right at the start. Needless to say you
should name forums using your top keywords. If you only have the one or two
main keywords, be sure to repeat them as forum names. An example on say a
fictitious games console website might be 'Playstation Cheats Forum', 'New
Playstation Games', 'Playstation Accessories', etc.

On most forum admin areas, you can give your forum a description as well.
Again think SEO and choose descriptions that use your keywords. "Playstation
and Playstation 2 Cheats and Walkthroughs."

Step 5:
Although not vital for the optimization, you do need active, friendly,
enthusiastic and knowledgeable moderators if you don't want to do it all
yourself. Have in mind who you want to moderate your forum and only pick
those that aren't afraid to start their own threads. This is vital if you
are to get registrations. Most forums flop because the
moderators/administrators don't know how to do their jobs properly and don't
know how to draw new members into a forum dialog.

Step 6:
Once your categories and forums are named, and you have used the forum
administration tools to get the 'look and feel' you like, it's time to make
the forum search engine friendly. This varies form one forum software to
another. Each of the main forums however have their own support communities
and many will have their own instructions on how to modify the forum to be
search engine friendly. For PHPBB for example there is a huge support forum
with threads on SE friendly modification, complete with easy to follow
instructions. For virtually all forums, a main priority is to be able to
kill the session ids for search engine robot visits. For PHPBB the following
thread gives you instructions on how to accomplish this.
Full discussion on the modification can be found here, it is a VERY long
thread though. .

If you install/already use versions between 2.0.0 to 2.0.3 then reply to
this newsletter and I will personally send you pre modified phpbb files and
instructions so you can not only have no session ids, but also the flat urls
I have.

For Vbulletin, check out the following thread and also the 'Similar Threads'
links at the bottom.
Flattening urls (no '?' or '&' in the url), is also possible on Vbulletin
boards (See As far as I'm aware there is a need for Apache
mod_rewrite to be available for vBulletin.

Step 7:
Once the forum is modified to be search engine friendly, in most cases that
is all there is to it. You can however speed things along by adding features
like "The last 5 Threads" on your home pages. This is not only a great way
to get new members but also helps search engine spiders find threads for
indexation. I not only did this on my German and English language home pages
but also have, at least for my German language forum, a special url which
acts as a feed for Google on all the threads.

If you are interested in the code just reply to the email and I will send
you the file for free.

Step 8:
Once the forum is search engine friendly, and you have done all you can to
help the spiders find it, now what you need to do is attract new membership
and get people posting in your forum. A good idea is to start a thread in
each of your new forums which end in a question or at least definitely
invite an answer. You can start for example with a controversial subject
which some guests may feel strongly about and feel the urge to become a
member and post. Other ways are to post in usenet with your forum in the
signature. Be sure you post something useful and don't just plug your new
site/forum! It is normally best in fact to answer someone's question proving
you are knowledgeable in your subject, rather than start your own newsgroup
thread. In time, once you've gained respect, you can then mention your forum
in a post. Create a 'NEW' link on your webpage in a prominent place. Get a
few friends to help you start it up. Don't contrive questions and answers,
just ask them to honestly ask question they may have or add comment as much
as possible. Once a forum gets started, then you normally find it will grow
and grow as long as you've got the right moderators or you yourself have
good communication skills. There was a time when my German forum got only
two or three new posts a day. It is now averaging around 40-50 new posts per

Step 9:
Think SEO when you are starting threads and answering them. Use thread
titles that use your keywords. The same goes for replying, get your keywords
in there. As admin or moderator, don't get into the "what do you think?" as
a thread title way of posting. Far better is "Opinion please on the
Playstation 2 Mod Chip".

In short, always think SEO when titling new threads and when replying as

Step 10:
Be patient. Google will take its time, but will get around to indexing all
your pages within a month as long as you have it correctly linked up from
your other pages. Every page on your main website should link to your forum
either as a footer link or in the normal navigation. Be sure you have very
knowledgeable Moderators and make sure they are active in posting at least
two to three new threads per day.
It will take about 2 months, but then you will find traffic from search
engines landing onto your forum pages. VERY important is to give a visitor
that landed on your forum page the chance to easily get to your main website
home / product pages. PHPBB by default does not install a 'home button' for
example, so I added one on mine. I also added full navigation in the footer
of my forum as well. A good exercise is to take a look at a thread and think
as if this was the first page you came to on your site and you now wanted to
find out more. Is it obvious and easy to get to your main pages?
It is work, but from start to finish I could personally install a search
engine friendly Forum, with no session ids for Google and flat urls in under
an hour (I have done it a couple of time before mind).

With just about all forums, there is a way to flatten urls using what is
known as the Apache Mod_Rewrite function. This is not for the inexperienced,
but is something I am writing a stand alone article on, and it will be
released within hopefully the next couple of weeks. It is essentially "An
idiots guide to Mod_Rewrite" and will help all those with very unfriendly
urls such as dynamically generated shops and content from CMS systems etc.
If you would like to comment on this article then please join in on the
following thread. Forum membership is free and painless and you wont be
bombarded with Spam either.


Any of you managed to make other forums not mentioned search engine friendly
I'd appreciate hearing about it. They are mighty powerful things if done


Re: Forums & SEO

Alan Webb wrote:
Quoted text here. Click to load it

A link to the article, as above, would probably suffice - then anyone who
found it useful could subscribe to your newsletter.

If you feel that any of the above is incorrect,
inappropriate or offensive in any way,
please ignore it and accept my apologies.

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