View Full Version : Would You Start a Forum?

03-12-2006, 03:52 PM
I'm thinking about transforming my site from a daily updated blog to a reference site with a few content updates per week. Mainly because writing new content returns a lower amount of traffic per hour invested than promotion.

I'm also seeing surprisingly little interaction from my readers, and that disturbs me. I have great content but I think I'm lacking a sense of community. That seems to be important to any content site.

Do you think a forum would be a good addition? I could throw one up in a jiffy and tell my employees to start some threads.

The only thing stopping me is all of my competitors have forums. I'm not sure I can provide something better. So, why do it?

Right now, the unique selling point for my site is all of the unique content. With 60 articles, I have more than all of the competition. Should I continue to bank on the content or should I start a forum, just like everyone else?

03-12-2006, 03:52 PM
Stupid me. My site's address is http://www.realestateanswered.com

03-12-2006, 06:31 PM
I would say that that all depends on the goals of your site. Are you trying to monetize it? And if so, do you have a product that you will be selling or will you earn revenue by running ads? Do you want to get (more) famous? Or have more of that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from having people give thanks? Or do you simply want to help people? Or some combination of all of the above?

Forums can be a lot of fun, but they can be time-consuming and usually not as profitable as other types of content (because your typical visitors are repeat visitors and suffer from "ad-fatigue" and therefore don't click ads).

But if you are genuinely offering solid advice for free, trust me, your site--whatever incarnation it may eventually take--will grow. And quickly.

03-12-2006, 07:02 PM
Are you interested in being actively involved in your forum? If so, I think it would play a big role in attracting users.

From what I've seen, big forums do have a huge pay-off. However, running a forum will be far more work than writing content, assuming that the forum is successful and actively used. Even with a small user base of a couple hundred active users running a forum will be a part-time job, however it often isn't until they grow in size that they really start to pay off.

03-12-2006, 07:40 PM
Creating a popular forum is a huge time investment. If you're willing to put the effort in it can really pay off. Especially in your genre. Of course if you have employees that you can get to post actively that doesn't hurt.

03-12-2006, 08:37 PM
Besides posting (which I find I don't need to do a lot of on my own forums), all the little things add up fast when you have a growing forum with thousands of members.

03-12-2006, 08:57 PM
Besides posting (which I find I don't need to do a lot of on my own forums), all the little things add up fast when you have a growing forum with thousands of members.What are the "little things"? Skin? Hacks? Promos?

03-13-2006, 01:21 AM
Agreed with everything said above.
You will need to have a fair amount of commitment to time.

Not only that, but with forums, their success and/or failure is has a great deal to do with membership and their involvement. If people don't post, then your forum dies a slow death and it will just make the rest of your site look bad.

Whereas a blog, is really just updated by you and involvement or lack their of, of other people will not affect it

03-13-2006, 04:19 PM
Little things as in people asking you questions, moderating and removing content, managing moderators (once its too much for you to do alone), fixing technical problems, these things add up very fast on an active board.

03-13-2006, 04:28 PM
Thanks for the info. Everyone seems to agree that time is a crucial component, and it's the one component I lack the most. So, starting a forum is probably not a good idea... yet.

Do I have a way to monetize it? Yep, but I'm waiting until I get to 10,000 subscribers to my newsletter OR somewhere around 2000 uniques per day. Until then, I'll happily take a loss.

The question becomes... can a forum get me to 10,000 subscribers fast enough to justify the investment? I don't really know the answer. For example, how much would it cost to hire someone to run the forum? Has anyone seen other big sites hiring people?

As soon as the site picks up a little more momentum, I might be willing to do it.

03-13-2006, 04:45 PM
I would start one now.

Writing new content for traffic is like working for an hourly wage. When the new content stops, the traffic stops (more or less, work with me here).

Moving to a reference site/forum setup will allow you to save time by stepping back from writing so frequently. A blog without a new post in months looks stale, a reference site (especially one without dated articles) can have no new content for years.

As for running a forum, yes, there is some work involved, but the work involved at first is really minor, and eventually all the work can be pawned off on trusted volunteers (so long as you treat them right harhar).

03-13-2006, 05:04 PM

03-13-2006, 05:10 PM
Thanks for the insight, Chris. I definitely respect your opinion on the matter... but aren't you working for an hourly wage by answering questions like this one? The content is less refined but it's still time invested. Of course, you probably let other experts take over answering questions at a certain point. You just have to post yourself to get things rolling. Would you say that's true?

03-13-2006, 05:24 PM
Sure, it's an hourly wage -- if Chris was working.

He likes helping people -- this site, in it's current stage, is a hobby (the minimal ads can't really be counted). He'll always post here, not as work, but as a hobby.

03-13-2006, 06:08 PM

The difference is in the perceived value of a site.

The value in a blog is frequently updated content, most of a blog's readers read the blog regularly, so the old content holds little value.

Posting on a forum or building a reference site is like building an endowment, because people don't expect frequently updated content (or you personally don't have to provide it), you can eventually stop providing content, or start providing less, and you'll still get back dividends from your initial investment.

03-13-2006, 06:12 PM
The nice thing about forums is that you can take a break from writing content for a while and no one will notice much. You'll need to post at some point to give the forum direction and make it more useful but you are much more flexible than a blog or content site.

You can always use plugins and mods to use your forum content for creating your blog - i.e. picking out quality or newsworthy posts for your front page.

03-13-2006, 06:13 PM
Makes sense. Do you think my question and answer format is appropriate for a reference site though?

03-13-2006, 06:21 PM
I remember a guy on sitepoint -- he was a loan officer -- he ran a website that included articles, a forum, and a question and answer area. He'd take questions from private parties and post the questions, including his answers, on his website.

I think the combination of articles, forums, and a Q&A area would be ideal.

His site made a fortune because his traffic (and niche) was amazing. People would search for loan questions, "What does XYZ loan mean?" or "What does an interest-only loan mean?" and his site would be at the top for those phrases.

04-24-2006, 08:37 PM
I'm also seeing surprisingly little interaction from my readers, and that disturbs me. I have great content but I think I'm lacking a sense of community.
I'm not sure the Q & A style of this blog invites participation. I wouldn't claim to have a strong community on my blog, but some things that seem to draw comments:

Asking for comments.
A controversial topic, taking a strong or controversial stand.
Barely relevant, "light," or entertaining posts.

For example, people will bookmark an informative post (http://www.procata.com/blog/archives/2005/11/13/two-preg_replace-escaping-gotchas/), but they will comment on a fun post (http://www.procata.com/blog/archives/2006/03/29/the-coding-apprentice/) or a controversial post (http://www.procata.com/blog/archives/2004/07/29/goto-in-php/).

04-25-2006, 12:35 PM
I might have to agree with you there. Despite the volume of information I'm getting away for free, it stimulates surprisingly little word-of-mouth traffic.