The end of March is rapidly approaching, which means the end of Forums Month here at OurChurch.Com and the end of our blog series on online forums. It’s been fun seeing new people get involved on OCC’s Christian forums, meeting new people, discussing issues, and playing around with some of the new features we added. As I look back on the month, there are a number of things I learned about forums.
1) Optimizing forums for search engines works…
On March 1, we gave our forums a makeover so they would look like the rest of the OurChurch.Com site. At the same time, Kurt, our director of search engine marketing optimized the main page so it would rank well for the phrase “Christian Forums.” Within a week, our forums went from #73 to #5 in MSN and from #39 to #20 in Google.
2) Check that, optimizing forums didn’t really help after all
Having good search rankings is good, but ultimately the goal of the optimization was to bring more visitors to the forums. In that department things didn’t pan out. Our forums have had almost exactly the same number of visitors from search engines in the first 27 ½ days of March as we did in the 28 days of February. So, if our search rankings improved why didn’t we get more visitors from them?
3) Statistics are your friend
Using AWStats, the statistics software that comes free in all our Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze hosting packages, I was able to learn some interesting things about where our forum users are coming from. Checking stats regularly is an essential part of building traffic to any website.
I found that 88% of forum visits came from people who either typed the URL into their web browser or used a bookmark/favorite stored on their computer. This confirms something that is somewhat intuitive but never the less bears repeating…
4) Most forum traffic comes from regular, repeat visitors.
As I continued to look through the stats I found that of the remaining 12% of visits, more than twice as many (8.9%) arrived at the forums through links as arrived through search engines (3.2%). This highlights another principle…
5) If you want people to visit your forums, you have to mention them regularly and place links to them where people will see them.
Interestingly, virtually all the people who visited the forums via links did so through links within the OCC site, which is a good indication that…
6) One way we could do a better job of attracting new visitors to our forums would be to get more external links.
Another thing I noticed is that almost half the visits to our forums that came through links did so through the links on our homepage and the webmaster pages of our Beacon web builder. In both of these places, we have scripts that display the subjects of the most recent messages and link directly to those topics. That tells me it’s important to make people aware of specific topics because…
7) People who may not be all that interested in forums in general, will visit forums if they see a specific topic their interested in being discussed.
That takes me back to the original reason I checked the stats: to find out why our forums improved search rankings weren’t bring in more visitors from search engines. The answer to this was found by looking at the phrases that brought the most visitors from the forums. People who arrived at our forums this month through search engines did so while searching for 717 different phrases. The vast majority of those have nothing to do with OurChurch.Com or Christian forums.
In March we actually doubled the number of visitors that came from searching for “Christian forums” or “Christian forum” but that represented less than 2% of all search-generated visitors and less than 0.1% of all visitors. So, the bottom line is…
8) The vast majority of people who came to our forums through search engines clicked through to a specific topic rather than the main page.
That’s enough about stats…
9) Regular visitors like bells and whistles
This month we added the ability for our forum users to have their own custom avatars and we installed some new Christian smilies, aka emoticons. While the majority of our users aren’t using them, the people who visit and post most frequently were very excited about them and jumped all over the opportunity to add some bling to their posts. It’s the regulars who make a forum successful, so we do everything we can to make their experience more enjoyable.
10) Being a discussion initiator helps
Some people who visit forums just don’t like to start new topics. So, helps to stimulate conversation on forums if you know how to initiate interesting discussions. Initiating a discussion on a forum is not really any different than initiating one off-line. Start with an interesting topic, add your own personality to it, and ask open-ended questions.
Did you learn anything interesting about forums during forums month?