We all know that getting the first 1000 users to register on your forum is a very hard milestone to reach. I would venture to say that the vast majority of forums on the internet never even reach that mark. It can be a long, frustrating journey, but it’s importance should not be over looked. The thing with forums is that the more users you have, the more likely you are to get new users to register. People want to participate in a lively, popular forum – they won’t bother registering if the forum looks dead.
It’s kind of like a catch-22. You need users to get more users, but you can’t get those first users because you don’t have users (say that 5 times fast). So how do you go about making your forum active and attracting those first registrations? Funny you should ask, because that is exactly what this article is about. Below I describe multiple tried-and-true techniques.
1. Creating Fake Accounts
When you start a new forum you of course have your administrator account, but you should also create another 5 or so “fake” user accounts, meaning accounts that you control. Post some through one account, then login as one of your different user names and post some with that one. Rinse and repeat. Try to make each different fake user have their own personality and vary their posting order. This is an easy way to get the initial activity going in your forum. When you start to get a good amount of real users, slowly fade out your fake ones.
2. Forum Post Exchanges
Webmasters are always looking to do forum post exchanges – i.e. you post in my forum 10 times and I will post in yours 10 times. This is a great way to get more user registrations and unique content for your forum, and it has the added benefit of relationship building with other new webmasters. You can set up these exchanges yourself (most webmaster forums always have people looking for these) or you can use ‘official’ forum post exchange websites. I’ve found three main ones, though I am sure that their are more.
I cannot vouch for any of these sites as I have not used them. I was a member at a very nicely implemented post exchange site, but it appears that they are no longer online.
3. Keep Your Category List Small
I wrote an article previously on the importance of keeping your category list small. Potential users will be turned away from forums that have twenty different categories and only one or two posts in each one of them. Keep your forum structure small and concise until you truly have the need to add more categories – it helps make your forum appear more active. It is very tempting for new webmasters to want to create a whole host of categories thinking that this will make their site look authoritative, but trust me, just don’t do it. Now i’m not saying that you should bunch every topic into one forum category – you still need clear delineations – but just don’t go overboard with it.
4. Registration Prompts
Most of the popular forum software default templates don’t have a very eye-catching registration prompt. You want something that immediately catches the eye of an unregistered user and says “Hey! You should register!” It’s pretty easy to go into your template and add this yourself, but if you are not familiar with your forum package most of them have mods for this functionality. If you are using vBulletin, vBulletin.org has a great selection of mods, and you can find code snippets at vBulletin.com also. For phpBB, you can find all the information you need at phpBB.com.
A good prompt might look like this:
Hello guest! We’ve noticed that you still haven’t registered[link] yet. By becoming a member you’ll get these great benefits: no ads, access to our members-only forum (which has some great information), the ability to create and reply to posts, access to our arcade, the ability to search our forum, and much more! Registering is quick and easy, so what are you waiting for? Register now[link].
I’ve personally used this trick before and it does help. Try not to make your message rambling, but include enough information to make the guest want to register.
5. Have Registration Benefits
Make registration a must-have. There are a lot of ways to do this, but you have to be careful – some of these techniques may just piss your readers off instead of making them want to register. Try it out and see what works for you.
- Only registered users can read threads – warning: if you go this route you need to make sure that search engine spiders can still access posts
- Only registered users can use the search function
- Guests only have access to certain categories
- Registered users see no ads
I’ve even seen one forum that let guests only view five threads in a twenty-four hour period, which I thought was great – give them a taste but leave them wanting more. All they have to do is register.
Again, I will state that you need to be careful if you decide to implement any of these ideas. It may hurt instead of help, it really depends on a site-by-site basis.
6. Search Engine Optimization
Forum software generally hasn’t been all the great when it comes to SEO, though newer versions are partaking in better practices. Basically, URLs like myForum.com/viewthread.php?t=112 aren’t very SEO friendly. A lot of forums now have mods where you can use URLs like myForum.com/title-of-my-thread/threadID, which has the obvious benefit of including keywords inside of the URL. Also, the thread title or category title should go before you forum name in the page title – display the most important information first. For example, the best structure for a title would be: Thread Title – Forum Title, instead of the default Forum Title – Thread Title. Here are some good links that I found:
- How To SEO Your vBulletin Forum
- Zoints SEO for vBulletin
- Magic SEO URL for phpBB (paid)
- phpBB SEO URLs v2
7. Create Enticing Content
You need to create threads that will make a guest want to register and participate in. Ask questions to your users, post polls, start talking about a controversial subject. Anything that will make the user want to add his or her two cents.
8. Become Influential In Similar Forums
Find a couple forums that are in the same generally niche as yours is and register there. Make great posts, be kind, and become influential, someone that other members look up to. Maybe even rise in the ranks, if you’re able to. Create a well-crafted signature, and people will come. When you have respect and clout people will more likely want to check out what is in your sig. Now don’t just have the name of your forum linking to its address – have something creative, eye-catching. Use colors and maybe an image. Just don’t make it too obvious that you’re trying to steal their users.
9. Make Registering Easy
No one likes to go through a long process of registering. Therefore, I suggest that before you start having problems of spam bots and the likes, don’t use email verification or image checking. Don’t ask your guests to fill out a whole page concerning their location, interests, and biography. Make it easy and quick. One forum I saw had a new user registration box on their side menu on the front page. All it asked for was a username, password, and a checkbox asking if they agreed with the terms of service. Filling it out would take all of ten seconds, then bam, you’re logged in. There are also mods for this sort of functionality if you search for them.
10. Hammer To The Pavement!
Forums are hard. So just keep promoting and don’t stop. Use all of the techniques that I outlined above and then some. Come up with crazy new ways to get more members. Don’t give up. Once you achieve a large community, the feeling is great. And remember, the more members you get, the easier it is to get more.
I hope these ten tips at getting your first 1000 members will help you! Those who persevere are those who are dedicated, so there is just one question you need to ask yourself before starting a forum – are you dedicated?