How to Promote Your Website via Forums
Note: This article is about using existing forums at other websites to promote your website, not about setting up your own forum to promote yourself. That's a different topic.
There are two ways to use online forums to promote your website. One works and one doesn't.
Method 1: Spam Forums
This method includes a bunch of different strategies that all result in the same thing—getting as many links as possible from forum pages to your website. The links are included in forum messages and/or other pages such as your forum profile. You may visit forums and post messages yourself, you may hire other people to do it, or you may use automated scripts to handle the whole process automatically.
Although there's a good chance that you will see some initial success from using forum spam, it's a very poor strategy in the long run. Even using automated scripts, the return on investment isn't worth it. You may end up with quite a lot of links, but they will be very low quality, probably invisible to search engines, and in fact are a giant red flag to search engines that look for this type of suspicious activity. Most likely, forum spam will end up causing more harm than benefit to your website.
As you can imagine, we strongly recommend against this method and instead suggest that you opt for the second one...
Method 2: Engaging in Forums
Like forum spam, one of the goals is to get links to your website. This time, however, you're not going for the carpet-bomb approach. You will be looking for some of the same types of links that spammers seek (e.g. a signature link and homepage link in your profile), but you might also hope for additional links within messages, especially a few different links that point to different parts of your website. You'll also be more concerned about getting links in the right context.
The problem is that any type of self-promotion in forums is immediately viewed with suspicion unless you're an established, trusted member of that forum. Unless you follow some rules you'll be treated as a spammer even if you don't think you are one.
- Make a list of potential forums to get involved in.
- Check each forum's policy on self-promotion. This may be a good reality check when you realize how intolerant many forums are.
- Check each forum's link policy to see if they pass PageRank or if they use rel=nofollow (look these things up if you're not sure what they mean).
- Choose one or more forum to target, based not only on the above factors, but how well you think you'll fit in and how much you'll enjoy participating.
- Note that large and busy forums are not necessarily the best, in fact smaller forums have some benefits over larger ones. For example, you're more likely to become a prominent poster, your link pages will last longer and possibly carry more weight.
Rules of Self-Promotion in Forums
- Read the forum's rules.
- If it's acceptable, create a signature link (AKA sig link). This automatically places a link to your website in every message you post. Keep the link simple—don't use large fonts, garish colors or other cheap-looking tricks to get attention. Subtle works best for sig links.
Note: Our policy at MediaCollege.com is that members who have posted six or more messages can create a sig link.
- Don't make your first post a self-promotion. Plenty of forums will ban you summarily just for doing that.
- Get involved in the forum. Establish yourself, answer a few questions, make small talk, earn some trust.
- Ask a moderator if it's okay to self-promote. This simple step will make it clear that you're not a spammer.
- Try to avoid posting messages that do nothing but self-promote. There are exceptions, e.g. if your site is unusual or particularly well-suited to a forum topic. However most forum users tend to ignore this type of post, or worse, treat them with disdain. Instead, you should be patient and wait for someone else to start a topic in which it is appropriate to mention your website. Try to post your link as part of a longer message that actually contributes to the conversation, rather than just saying "Visit my website to find what you want".
- Don't post the same message to different websites. Forum owners recognize this and treat it as spam. Try to tailor messages to suit the particular forum you're posting to. (As an aside, search engines can penalize websites for duplicate content so some forum moderators will delete a message simply because it's already been posted elsewhere, whether or not it's spam.)
Many new website owners get so excited about what they can offer that they can't wait to tell everyone about it. Unfortunately, forum moderators are generally unable or unwilling to distinguish genuine cases from professional spammers. If you post like a spammer, you'll be treated as a spammer.
By far the most productive strategy is to make yourself an authority, or at least a respected member of a forum community. We've had people in our forum who have enjoyed strong regular traffic from us, because they spent the time to be useful here. You may even find that the forum owner starts giving you valuable extra promotion as a reward for your contributions (we've often done that here too).
Honestly, if your site is good enough, it won't take long before people start promoting it for you.