Practical Ecommerce

Forums: Still Useful to eCommerce Merchants

The term “web forums” conjures-up visions of an outdated Internet. I remember the first time that I got “on line” it was done by dialing directly (by way of a 14.4 kbps modem) into an electronic bulletin board which was, essentially, a stand-alone forum.

But we’ve never really stopped using forums. At its core, Facebook is nothing but a forum with an improved graphical interface and many more bells and whistles. Blogs that offer the ability to comment often function like forums as the comments increase and cross-reference earlier comments. Traditional forums are more difficult to find than they were ten years ago but they continue to exist in many capacities.

Forums Are Useful for Three Reasons

While forums may be ostracized from the contemporary social media world, they are still in existence. And when you add a forum to your ecommerce site, it’s a useful marketing tool with three important purposes.

  1. Increase Traffic to Your Site. Since the forum is presumably related to your site’s products, it could increase visits and page views by attracting folks interested in your industry.

  2. Improve Revenue. It can help your bottom line by offering banner ads on it.

  3. Adds a Social Element. Forums can offer a simple and inexpensive (try free platforms like Phpbb.com and Vanillaforums.org) way to add an interactive, social media element to your own site.

Screenshot of Phpbb.com forum.

Screenshot of Phpbb.com forum.

Helps with Search Engine Optimization, Too

Forums can also help with search engine optimization. Posts and conversations on a relevant forum often produce long-tail terms (relative to specific or detailed search queries, usually three or more words long), and search engines will likely pick them up. In fact, Google recently began recognizing and highlighting forum posts within its results, making it more likely that terms produced in conversational web forums will end up found by search engine users. And, you don’t have to do much work to generate this traffic; forums are a natural for user-generated content rich in long-tail search terms.

Screenshot of Google search results from the forum of Line6.com, a music-related provider.

Screenshot of Google search results from the forum of Line6.com, a music-related provider.

Common Sense vs. Sexiness

Web forums are not sexy. But ecommerce merchants should consider the benefits of forums, especially if advertising is part of your website’s revenue. Forum technology is simple and, essentially, free. Placing a forum on your ecommerce site can increase page views while augmenting your presence in the search engines for long-tail terms. Forums, in short, exchange sexiness for plain, common-sense functionality.

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Jeff Muendel
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Comments ( 3 )

  1. LexiConn November 2, 2009 Reply

    If you’re considering a forum, don’t forget to think about these issues:

    1. Do you have the staff on hand to act as moderators?
    2. Are you prepared to deal with spammers and the like?
    3. Research the different forum software out there, and make sure you install *every* spam prevention plugin/option.
    4. Do you require registration and email confirmation for new users? If not, be prepared for the spam.
    5. Are you technically savvy enough to keep the forum software up to date? Forums are huge targets for hackers, especially if you go with open source like phpbb.
    6. Do you have enough customers and potential customers to fill out your forum? A "dead" forum can be a detractor to some visitors.

    Just a few things to think about before taking the plunge and starting an ecommerce forum (the traditional kind that is).

    Rob – LexiConn

  2. LightHouse November 3, 2009 Reply

    I agree with Rob, Unless your site started out as a forum turned store, i tihnk this is a bad idea. Forums are huge targets of automated SPAM software. And nothing is worse for trust and conversion then seeing a big dead forum attached to a site. I mean how much is there really to talk about after you buy a coffee table.

    When starting a forum the toughest part is keeping conversations started and alive. You want repeat users to interact. Do you think if you sell someone a coffee table they will return to talk about coffee tables day in and day out? I seriously doubt it.

    There is instances where this is fruitful on sites like body building dot com. That was a forum turned store and the store thrives off traffic from discussion. There is certainly a way to do this and a way not to.

  3. The Collectors Hub November 5, 2009 Reply

    Facebook and Twitter are great for short conversations and for sharing small blurbs of information but IMHO, nothing beats a forum for the type of information sharing you’d find in technical or industry groups. (i.e. ecommerce merchants or website developers)

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