The Find A Forum Guide to Building and Running a Forum

Welcome to Find A Forum.Net. Find A Forum is the #1 Internet resource for information about Internet discussion forums.

As well as building Find A Forum back in 2013, I've also been a member of many discussion boards since 2002, and I've also started a number of my own forums. In this guide I've braindumped everything I know about building and running a successful and lucrative discussion board.

Niche Selection

Choosing a forum niche isn't too different from choosing a blogging niche.

When choosing a forum niche, use Find A Forum to check how many forums there are already in your niche. I have tried to cover most niches, but sometimes I do miss some very popular forums in specific niches. Also bear in mind that I don't add NSFW forums and I also removed a few that covered sensitive topics because the world has changed a lot since I started the site back in 2013.

Most smaller niches usually have two major forums in them. If you don't find at least two major forums then you might have found a good niche. Be wary of niches with a lot of forums - one example is bodybuilding where there are at least 7 huge forums!

What Are Good Forum Niches?

Here are some tips:

  • Stay away from very popular niches like making money online or weight loss.
  • Try to make your niche quite specific. So don't have a pets forum, make one about cats or dogs.
  • Hobbies and interests are a good area for a niche forum.
  • Very specific health conditions can be the basis of a good forum. It's usually better though if you suffer from this condition yourself.
  • Boards face serious competition from social media sites like Facebook and Reddit. However the fact that they are really cracking down on free speech is a big opportunity for independent forums.
  • Niches where people get angry or have problems are good because people are much more likely to sign up, register and post content.
  • Even if a niche is competitive you could do well with a forum focussed on your local area. For example there are some nice forums about buying properties in specific parts of India.
  • Try and choose something you are passionate about.

Forum Software

There are essentially five different products you can use to create your forum:

Which one you choose will depend on whether you want a paid or free solution, as well as which board's forums you like the look of most. A hot tip here is to use the Find A Forum advanced search to look for forums using a particular application and then see if you like the look and feel of their board. Note that some forums might have switched applications so look at the bottom of their forum home page as there is usually a piece of boilerplate text that tells you what board software they are using. It will sometimes tell you what skin/theme they are using too.

The table below shows the number of forums listed on Find A Forum that use each of these board applications:

SoftwareNumber of Forums
phpBB193
MYBB17
vBulletin818
Invision Community122
Unknown423
XenForo85

vBulletin used to be the real favourite of board owners, although the hottest kid on the block these days seems to be XenForo. I have noticed that a lot of the forums I initially added to Find A Forum back in 2013 have now switched from vBulletin to XenForo.

If you don't have the budget for a paid solution then phpBB is pretty powerful and a number of very large forums still use it. Use the Find A Forum search facility to find forums using a particular board software.

Even if you're a software developer I do not recommend that you reinvent the wheel by writing your own forum. Your efforts are better spent on growing your new forum's content.

Differences Between Forums and Blogs

There are a number of differences between running a forum and running a blog.

Building Your Forum

Installing phpBB is not quite as straightforward as installing WordPress. It definitely helps if you have some knowledge of phpBB, FTP and web hosting control panels.

Once the software has been installed it is a case of adding the forums and sub-forums. Usually it is best not to add too many of these at first. Also give some thought as to what topics people might want to talk about.

A major problem with forums is that they attract hackers and spammers. You need to keep your board software up to date, and regularly check for spammers. The spammer issue is a major one because if you make your board too secure nobody will post. If there is too little security then you will end up with thousands of spam posts.

Growing Your Forum

Growing your forum isn't too much different to growing any other type of website such as a blog. However the biggest problems with forums is getting people to post on the forum.

I have a few suggestions for overcoming these problems:

  • My friend has a successful forum and he started it with the help of some like-minded people who were eager to post topics in his niche. After a few months other people found the forum and it grew from there.
  • I have had a lot of success in looking for forums that have closed down and then replacing them. You can use our list of expired forum, blog and store domains to look for websites that you could replace. We also have a page here that lists broken forums.
  • You can pay for people to post on your new forum. There used to be a popular service called PostLoop but it closed down some years ago. You can search for PostLoop alternatives to find other services that offer this, or check out Fiverr. If you use a service like this then just bear in mind that not everybody who posts will know a lot about your niche and there is a danger of ending up with low quality posts.
  • Keyword research can work when you start a forum just as well as it works with a blog. It is a good idea to focus on problems people are having in your niche. Remember you can easily create lots of different user accounts on your forum and start a conversation with yourself! Then when real people start posting you can post less of your own content.
  • Forums can work particularly well when they are bolted on to an existing website. A number of the forums listed on this site for example are run by ecommerce sites. I call these 'storums'.

Monetizing Your Forum

Again, monetizing your forum isn't too different to monetizing a blog. One important consideration is that you should avoid showing too many banner ads to your forum's regular users. Maybe a good solution here is to only show adverts for non-members.

When I monetized one of my forums I found I didn't need to plaster the site with hundreds of adverts. I used one 468x60 ad spot at the top of my phpBB page template, and a 728x90 ad at the footer. Another thing I did was to write a little custom find and replace php function to hyperlink the names of hot products in my niche so when somebody clicked on them they would go to that product site (using my affiliate link). You can get some insane conversion figures with this strategy because people clicking on text links are much more likely to be committed buyers.

Another way to monetize your forum is to find companies willing to sponsor all or just a particular set of sub-forums in your forum. If you want some examples of this then check out the car and vehicle forums on Find a Forum because this is how a lot of those forums make money. For example the 'wheel rims' sub-forum might be sponsored by a company that makes wheel rims for cars.

BrettB, 19.02.2021

P.S. If you've read all this and feel that starting a forum is not for you, then maybe you could start a blog instead? Check out our sister site Find A Blog.Net for a load of ideas about what you could blog about.