Here’s the first question that needs to be answered:
What do we mean when we say “forum” in 2020? Honestly, we pretty much mean the same thing we did back in 1994. But let’s flesh it out a bit to make sure we’re on the same page. A forum is an online discussion site:
- where people gather to converse,
- that’s (typically) focused on a single industry or niche, and
- lets you participate in the conversation via a forum member.
There are basically four different versions of forums which are available today:
- Traditional forums-Also called message boards. These are the standard forums that generally use “threads” and “sub-forums” to host discussions on relative topics. Reddit would be considered a modern version of this type of forum.
- Private forums-Traditional forums that either a) require a personal invitation to join or b) require a monthly membership fee. These forums aren’t open to the general public.
- Q&A sites-A hybrid of the traditional forum that lets members ask questions and receive answers from other members of the site. Quora is a prime example of a Q&A site.
- Social media “groups”-Public or private discussion groups on social media sites like Facebook that are typically formed around a common interest (i.e. parenting, dieting, fashion, etc.).
The Working Definition of “Forum” for Earning Forum Backlinks
As you’ll see in just a minute, not all forums are created equal when it comes to backlinks. For that reason, we want to give you a working definition for “forum” to use as a reference point for the rest of this article: Any forum type that gives you an opportunity to earn a do-follow backlink back to your site. Now, before we move on, there are two key points to make about this definition:
- Most forums that agree with this definition will be traditional forums—both public and private. Q&A sites typically don’t offer do-follow backlinks.
- This definition will rule out a significant number of popular forums. Many (not all) of the most popular forums don’t offer do-follow links. No big deal. It just means we’ll have to do some digging to find do-follow forums (and I’ll show you how in a bit)
But besides providing you with high-quality backlinks, being an active participant on forums gives you two additional SEO benefits:
- Forums help you drive targeted traffic to your site. Forums give you direct access to hundreds (even thousands) of members who make up your target audience. This means you have the potential to persuade those members to visit your site.
- Forums allow you to establish relationships with influencers in your industry.
- They let you interact and build relationships with other key influencers who can further help you build your business.
But not all forums are created equal.
Here’s the thing …
There may be several different forums for you to join, but that doesn’t automatically make them valuable to your business. Some forums will provide little value because:
- They’re inactive. Meaning the forum still exists but isn’t actively participated in or managed.
- Their links are no-follow. Meaning you won’t get any “link juice” from links pointing back to your site.
- They’re not industry or niche-specific. Meaning the forum is unrelated to your industry or niche.
What Makes a Forum Valuable for SEO?
In order for a forum to be considered valuable for your SEO efforts, it needs to:
- Have an active and vibrant community
- Allow do-follow links that give your site valuable link juice
- Be related to your site’s industry or niche
Simple enough, right?
Now, let’s look at how to find relevant, active forums that offer do-follow forum backlinks.
1. Finding Industry-Related Forums to Post On
Posting on active forums is fairly straightforward. For instance, if a forum hasn’t had a new post since 2016, then it’s not active. In just a bit, I’ll show you how to find out if forums offer do-follow links. But right now, let’s talk about industry-specific forums. The truth is that posting on forums unrelated to your niche is a waste of time, even if they offer do-follow backlink opportunities. Thanks to Google’s focus on relevance, Google will give backlinks to unrelated sites very little (if any) “link juice.”
For that reason, we recommend focusing only on forums related to your industry.
What exactly makes a forum “industry-related?” There are two major criteria for defining industry-related forums:1. A forum exclusively focused on your industry. For example, if you have a business devoted to web design, then the forum will focus on web design.
2. Use Google Search Strings
Google search strings are by far the best method. What they do is allow you to get specific with your searches and uncover hidden gems.
A search operator is simply a character or string of characters that is used to get more specific search results.
There are thousands of operators that you can use to speed up your process of finding accurate results from search engines.
3. Use Monitor Backlinks’ Competitor Module
Another nifty trick is to let Monitor Backlinks gather your competitors’ backlinks, and then search them to find forum opportunities you might not find using Google’s search strings. Here’s how to do it: First, log in to Monitor Backlinks and visit the Competitor Links module:
Your competitor’s new backlinks will be automatically added to the system. When this happens, go through the list and look for any new links that originated from forums. You’ll also get automatic email notifications when they get new links, so you might even know about it before they do!
If you don’t have a Monitor Backlinks account yet, you can get started with a free trial to make the most of this handy feature, together with real-time backlink monitoring, rank tracking, and more.
4. Determining If Forums Offer Do-follow Links
So you now have a list of industry-related forums with some real potential.
The next step is to find out whether these forums offer do-follow backlinks. Because if they don’t, then they’re not worth your time.
There are two ways to check:
“Inspect” a Link-If you use Google Chrome, you can find out if the forum’s links are do-follow by using the browser’s “Inspect” function. Here’s how it works: First, visit the forum in question and find a post with links:
Use a Browser Plugin-You can also use Google Chrome and install a browser extension that highlights links that are do-follow. The extension I recommend is Automatic Backlink Checker.
Here’s how to use it:
First, visit Google Chrome’s Extension page and install Automatic Backlink Checker (it’s free):
Automatic Backlink Checker highlights all of the links on a given webpage with two distinct colors. One-color represents no-follow links. The other color represents do-follow links. For instance, in the above example, blue equals do-follow and red equals no-follow.
I prefer this method over using the “Inspect” feature because it’s fast and simple. But use what you feel most comfortable with. Neither one is a bad choice.
5. Earning Do-follow Forum Backlinks
Now that you’ve found some forums to join, it’s time to start earning some valuable backlinks!
There are three main ways to earn do-follow forum backlinks:
1. Forum Profile Page
This is your profile page that’s generated after you join a forum. Virtually all forums have a page like this and let you enter your website URL into a specific section:
2. Forum Signature
This is the area beneath a forum post that displays your personal “signature.” Some forums will allow you to include a link to your site in this section.
3. In-post links
These are links that are included in the individual forum posts. These links can either be the complete URL or anchor text.
6. Developing Your Ongoing Forum Posting Strategy
Once you’ve located where to place your do-follow links, your next step is to develop your forum posting strategy.
But before we get into that, it’s important to be aware that each forum you join will have its own specific set of rules and guidelines to follow. That being said, there are universal rules that will apply to virtually every forum you join.
Here are 4 of the most essential rules to follow:
1. Read the forum rules and guidelines.
Always, always read the forum’s rules and guidelines before making your first post. These rules will keep you from getting banned and having your profile removed (thus removing any valuable backlinks you’ve earned).
2. Be respectful to all members.
This includes other members like yourself plus the forum moderators. It’s okay to have a disagreement and express your opinion. It’s never okay to use derogatory and inflammatory language to do so.
3. Be helpful and contribute.
Remember, your goal is to not only build backlinks but also drive more traffic and make valuable connections. The best way to do that is by providing other members with helpful advice.
4. Don’t blatantly promote yourself.
Blatant advertising on forums is a great way to get yourself banned fast. There are certain forums that will allow some form of promotion. But even then, exercise caution and do so sparingly. Promote yourself by providing value to other members.
7. Stay on Topic
In other words, don’t hijack threads by posting unrelated content. If you can’t contribute to the current conversation but have something related to share, the best thing to do is to start a new thread and start your own conversation.
These make up the gist of the major bannable issues forum moderators have with members. Follow these rules and you’ll be golden.
But if you want to make sure you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes, here’s a great guide that has some additional etiquette tips you can follow.
8. Why You Need a Forum Posting Strategy
Once you’ve read the rules and joined the forum, your next step is to develop your own forum posting strategy.
Why do you need a posting strategy, you ask?
Because a forum posting strategy helps you in three important ways:
- It protects you from getting banned by keeping you from committing bannable offenses.
- It maximizes your effectiveness on the forum by giving you a proven game plan to follow.
- It saves you time and valuable resources by eliminating the need to think of ways to contribute to the forum when you interact with it.
9. A Universal Forum Posting Strategy That Gets Valuable Forum Backlinks
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to creating your forum posting strategy.
The strategy I’m about to share with you has worked for countless marketers in a variety of different niches. It’s simple, smart and, best of all, effective.
Here’s how it works:
Find sub-niches and posts on the forum that focus on your area of expertise.
For instance, if you’re exceptionally skilled in email marketing, then on the Warrior Forum you’ll search for posts within the Email Marketing sub-forum
Step One: Finding Forums
Finding a forum sounds easy, doesn’t it? It is and it isn’t. The hard part isn’t finding forums. The hard part is finding the right forums.
For the purpose of this tutorial, I’m going to pretend that I’m building links for Linkarati.
The Internet is hardly lacking for forums about, well, the Internet. The Internet is fairly narcissistic that way. If you were to subscribe to every single forum devoted to the Internet, you’d drive yourself berserk.
Don’t worry: you don’t have to keep tabs on every single forum. It would be a complete waste of time. Forum link building should really be lower on your list of priorities, so I wouldn’t recommend following more than three or four, based on certain criteria.
If you’re in a niche where you’re compelled to winnow down a list of the best forums to follow, here are three key factors to consider:
- Your specific audience/brand message
- The forum’s audience
- The forum’s rules on promotion
- Activity and engagement
For the first point, realize that just because two forums are devoted to the same niche, it doesn’t mean they’re devoted to the same audience in that niche. Think of our realm of digital marketing. Warrior Forum and Black Hat World both cater to people looking to make money online, yet their audiences want to do so in different ways. Yes, Warrior Forum has black hat users, but overall it’s more holistic.
Because Linkarati is DEFINITELY more interested in white hat link building, we would be better off following Warrior Forum.
Be mindful of the forum’s rules on promotion and linking as well. Some forum moderators will be none too thrilled if you are consistently promoting/sharing your own content, and their annoyance would be completely justified (more on this later).
Forums will often have a page that explains their policies. Take the aforementioned Warrior Forum for example:
That reads pretty straightforward to me. These folks have no problem with you wanting to link to your own site. This pertains only to your signature though. This doesn’t address linking within the content of a post. This is when you want to look around at other posts – see if other people are using links.
Pick a thread with several replies, scroll through the conversation, and look to see if anyone is sharing content. For example, here’s a thread called, “Content is king!” with 66 replies (as of this writing). Scrolling through, you can find:
Speaking of looking for a thread with lots of replies, this is the most important part of picking the right forum to follow. If you’re going to spend even the modest amount of time scoping for forums for link opportunities and link prospects, it’s best to pick a forum where people actually spend time.
This is pretty easy to detect and to detect quickly. Simply land on the main page and look at the last/most recent post column (which every forum will have). That column will almost always have a timestamp as well.
Step Two: Create a Profile
Now that you’ve picked your forums, it’s time to become a member.
Some forums will allow people to post as a guest. It’s rare, but I’ve seen it. Don’t be one of those people. To do so would completely be opposed to what you are trying to accomplish here. You’re not only building links, you’re building relationships, which in turn builds links. No one builds a relationship with a poster who doesn’t even bother to use a handle.
Plus, the whole becoming a member process will typically take less time than it did to write this sentence.
So let’s use Warrior Forum as an example again. Bear in mind that the process is going to vary slightly from forum to forum, but I feel Warrior Forum’s process is pretty average.
Find the link that allows you to register, which will ordinarily be above-the-fold and easy to spot.
Step Three: Engage
Your signature link may drive some traffic, and it’s good authority building. The more and more you contribute to the forum–more on that in a minute–the more people are going to associate the brand in your signature as a thought leader.
However, this isn’t the most powerful link you can build on a forum. The links that are going to be more powerful for you are contextual links in posts.
To build this kind of link, this requires frequent engagement. That means not just watching other people talk, but actually getting your hands dirty. That also means that a majority of your posts in the forum should not include a link back to your site. Not only are other forum members going to start rolling their digital eyes if you link to your site in every post, but the moderators will also think you’re a spammer. That’s because you are.
Remember, a big component of forum link building is relationship building. No one wants to engage with someone who is clearly there just to blatantly self-promote. So offer advice when applicable. Answer questions you know the answer to. If someone wants to know about a product that you’ve used, give them your feedback.
Just be a normal forum member.
The more you contribute, the fewer people will mind when you link back to your site in a post, as long as the link is natural. Don’t insert a link if it doesn’t either a) help to clarify a point you’re making or b) source your content.
Step Four: Finding Time
As I’ve said before, forum link building should be lower on your list of priorities. Other links are going to be far more powerful, at least in terms of link equity and traffic. The links you build in forums are more about community engagement and establishing authority.
So forum link building should only take up a small percentage of your time. What I would suggest is carving out a specially designated time that you devote to scouring forums. If you regularly find that you have a lighter workload on Fridays, have a Forum Friday. Schedule time from, say, 1 to 1:30, in which you look for discussions you can contribute to. If you don’t have anything valuable to contribute, don’t force it. If this is the case, observing the conversations will possibly spawn some ideas for new content.
Add this time to your Google calendar, so that you will get your weekly reminder. Go to your calendar page and click on the create button in the top left of the screen.
Again, forum link building shouldn’t be high atop your list of link building priorities. But it can be quick, easy, and the consequences can be wonderful.
If done properly, not only are you driving traffic to your site, but you’re engaging with people in your niche who may help you build links on other sites in the future, as long as you help them in return.
Spending time in forums can also spur content ideas for you. If you notice a lot of people are asking a similar question, it’s something you can address on your blog or website.
There’s really no reason not to be engaging in your niche’s online community.