Remember Chris Lee, the founder of RankXL? He since sold the RankXL brand which was too bad. He wanted to move onto other things.
He’s a great guy. We used to email back and forth a ton. Super nice. He knew niche sites like no other.
He was a real gentleman. Treated his customers well. I know because I promoted his course and FS readers told me Chris was such a great guy.
I bring up Chris because a few months before he sold RankXL and moved onto greener pastures (I hope), he launched a paid forum. I joined. I loved it. It was building up steam. Great members. Great platform (I ended up using the same platform).
Then he sold the entire RankXL brand.
The forum died.
Where could I go to yammer on about this biz with like-minded folks?
Then it occurred to me that I could start my own forum. Actually, it wasn’t my idea. My wife had been suggesting I start and build a community forum for years. It was time to take the plunge.
I asked Chris what platform he used. He told me Discourse. I signed up. 2 hours later my forum was live with me as its sole member. Yeah, it literally took me only 2 hours and I’m hopeless with software.
The first day was fun where I would converse with myself online. Haha, I’m kidding. Fortunately, I had a decently-sized FS readership to help kickstart the forum in earnest.
I added forum access to course memberships and in short order I had a couple hundred members. It’s been a going concern ever since.
I and many hundreds of members now have a place to hang out and learn a few things daily.
Launching the Fat Stacks forum was a great decision. I’m sure glad I did it.
Table of Contents
- Why do I bring this up?
- Should you start a forum or community for your niche site?
- What are good niches for investing in building a community?
- 3 ways to make money from your forum
- Reasons you shouldn’t launch a forum
- Reasons you should launch a forum
- Here are the advantages of forum software like Discourse:
- Advantages of FB Groups:
- It all depends on what you want from your forum
- Can you drive a lot of traffic to your more lucrative blog or elsewhere?
- Should you charge money for your forum?
- Should you keep your forum private (as in not indexed in Google)?
- Should you start a community such as a forum or FB group for your niche site?
- How can you join the Fat Stacks Forum?
Why do I bring this up?
Because yesterday, a reader asked whether it’s worth starting a forum or community attached to a niche site.
It’s a great question. Whenever possible, I like to address readers’ questions.
Here are my thoughts and experiences running a forum.
Should you start a forum or community for your niche site?
I own ONE forum and it’s attached to the Fat Stacks brand. It’s in the “how to blog” niche. It’s a great niche for building a community because we’re a group of like-minded folks all striving to build up a successful online publishing business.
I do NOT run a forum for any of my niche sites. My biggest niche site isn’t in a great niche for a forum so I don’t bother. If it were, I would start a forum.
In fact, I’d love to do so but I know the effort wouldn’t be worth it.
What are good niches for investing in building a community?
Any niche where folks have an ongoing interest in the topic is ideal for building a community. This is a lot of niches. Examples include:
- Any specific entrepreneurship endeavor such as blogging, ecommerce, etc. It must be specific though.
- Fitness (you should drill down to a particular fitness ideology or modalities like keto or weightlifting)
One simple way to determine if your niche is ripe for a forum is to search your niche with the term “forum” in Google and see if there are any. Go into them and check out how active they are. If there are multiple new threads and answers posted daily, that’s active. If it’s been 2 weeks since the last activity, that’s not terribly active.
One example of a very successful niche forum is the Bodybuilder.com forum. That is the go-to weightlifting forum.
There are definitely other niches, but you get the point.
3 ways to make money from your forum
While many people start a forum for fun they also hope it makes money.
Here are your options.
Selling: You can make money from it if you sell something like info products, services, coaching or something else that you can promote to members. I’m not talking about sledgehammering your members with offers but instead via growing a loyal readership who gets to know you and are then more likely to buy something from you.
Display ads: The other option is from display ads – but you need an absolute boatload of page views to make decent ad revenue from a forum. Ads on forums don’t pay all that well.
Sponsored posts: Some forums can sell sponsored posts where members can hawk their wares – courses, services, etc. You need a lot of active members for this to pay well but once you have the necessary membership, it can be lucrative.
Sale value: I’ve never sold a forum or a site with a forum so I don’t know how forums are valued, but I have no doubt that niche sites with a successful forum attached to it will fetch more money.
Reasons you shouldn’t launch a forum
It’s a commitment. I spend time on the FS forum daily. It’s not a grind for me. I like it. If I didn’t like forums I never would have launched it. But I recognize that for it to do well, I should participate. If you think you can launch a forum, kick back playing video games and collect checks, it’s probably not for you.
Ad revenue isn’t great. While ads can earn great on websites and videos, they don’t earn well on forums. Ad revenue should be secondary unless you happen to get millions of forum page views… that will add up to decent revenue.
Reasons you should launch a forum
You enjoy it. I enjoy yammering on about this biz. I’ve also learned a ton from many folks in the forum. I actually don’t know much about this biz. I’m amazed at the knowledge many members have on the FS forum.
Build up a loyal readership. If you wish to build a loyal readership for any reason, some form of community helps big time. People get to know you, like you and trust you. A loyal readership is the gold standard for any publication.
Support. Forums can be a great vehicle to offer support if you sell stuff. It’s the prime support vehicle for FS courses. This way I leverage my time responding in that my answers are available for other folks. There are no stupid questions in this work and if there are, I’ve asked all of them myself.
What tech platform should you use?
This is a big decision. You can go the Facebook Group route or use forum software (I use Discourse). For FS I went with a forum platform instead of FB Group. I’m in the minority. Most of my esteemed blogging colleagues use FB Groups.
I have no regret despite having to shell out money each month for the forum software.
In fact, I’m getting close to where I’ll have to upgrade as the FS forum is nearing 100,000 monthly page views (I never thought this would happen especially since it’s only a little over one year old).
Here are the advantages of forum software like Discourse:
IMO, it’s a better format for a resource-based community. It’s easy to search all kinds of topics. I like the layout. IMO it works better than FB groups. Discourse looks great and works flawlessly on mobile as well (unlike older forum software). In fact, I often jump on the forum via my phone. You can download an app as well.
Like you, I’m a member on several FB Groups but I still don’t like the format as much as a forum. Years ago the Warrior Forum was a central hub for most people doing IM. It’s since become a ghost town. I missed forum participation so I started my own. I started it and run it because I enjoy it.
You own the site. Any time I have an option to own vs. borrow (piggy back) a web property, I prefer to own. You don’t own your FB group. Yes, it has value and can be sold but you are at the mercy of Zuck. I own the FS forum. Short of getting shut down by the FCC, I’m bulletproof.
Monetization – with forum software you can monetize with ads. Now, I say that with a grain of salt because ads don’t earn well on forums. It’s certainly not a reason to start a forum. But, the option remains and if you do get millions of page views per month, that ad money will be decent.
Advantages of FB Groups:
Because I don’t use FB Groups I’m not all that aware of the key advantages other than it’s free and most people have a FB account so it’s easy to get folks on board. I suspect there are some powerful sharing features as well which can drive traffic and new members.
There must be powerful reasons to use FB Groups because there are a ton of them. I suspect there are more FB Groups than forums.
IMPORTANT: If you opt for a public community where anyone can join, I have a hunch FB Groups is best because posts can go viral, get shared etc. It can be a powerful traffic driver.
Despite the FB advantages, I prefer the forum format. My mission isn’t to get the most members but instead to attract the right members – folks who are interested in the topic. If I wanted more members, I could make the forum free and public but that would compromise the quality. Or, I’d use FB Groups and promote it with ads.
It all depends on what you want from your forum
For me, I prefer the right members, not more members. The forum is not a traffic driver or a vehicle to build an email list. It’s about the community.
If you want to grow a membership fast and drive traffic, FB Groups can be better.
If I were to launch a community for one of my niche sites, I’d be tempted to use FB Groups because I would open it to the public and try to grow the membership.
Can you drive a lot of traffic to your more lucrative blog or elsewhere?
Yeah, you can. I believe FB groups can do this really well especially if a public group. Members’ posts can be shared. It’s easier to get members because it’s on the FB platform so you can grow it fast.
Traditional forum platforms can also drive a lot of traffic but probably not quite as effectively as FB groups.
Should you charge money for your forum?
I charge money for the FS forum via inclusion with a course purchase or you can buy annual access to the forum.
This has worked out very, very well for the forum because the payment requirement serves as a filter. It helps ensure that members are actually interested in the topic and take the forum seriously.
It helps keep out trolls and other spammers.
HOWEVER, most niches will NOT support a paid forum. B2B niches can charge for forum access but your run-of-the-mill B2C hobby niches will not grow if you charge for access.
Therefore, generally speaking, charging for access is not the best route.
Should you keep your forum private (as in not indexed in Google)?
I actually don’t know the answer to this.
Forums used to get a ton of search traffic but not so much anymore (other than Quora). I’d worry that having an indexed forum attached to your niche site domain may hurt the domain. Forums end up with a lot of thin content, duplicate content, etc.
BUT, I really can’t say one way or the other. If anything, put it on a subdomain or separate domain altogether if you‘re going to index it with Googe. In an abundance of caution, I’d put it on a separate domain altogether.
If you run a public forum and have a minute to spare and want to set me straight on this issue, hit reply and let me know. I know some FS readers run some huge forums.
I keep the FS forum private. It’s not indexed in Google and I have no plans to index it in Google.
Should you start a community such as a forum or FB group for your niche site?
Only you can answer that.
It’s a no-brainer if you want a place to chat with like-minded folks about your niche. That was my main reason for launching one.
However, if you have clear path to making it pay you big bucks, that’s obviously another great reason to start one.
If you both enjoy it and have a monetization strategy, that’s a recipe for a successful community.
It definitely helps if your site already has decent traffic so that you can get some members fairly quickly.
It gets old chatting with yourself.
How can you join the Fat Stacks Forum?
If you don’t want to shell out for a FS course but would still like to join the forum, you can do so here.
FS Forum metrics:
- Members: 1,099
- Page views per day: 2,000 to 3,500
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.