Adding a Forum to WordPress increases SEO by adding indexed pages and improves community by giving your visitors the ability to “participate” far beyond what normal comments allow. It also gives you a place to write random bits of content without writing lots of short, useless (and annoying) posts.
Web Forums are a very interesting way to build an online community, such as the infamous webmaster forums Digital Point, and Webmaster World. Forums are generally where people ask questions, and hopefully they get answers. A successful web forum can generate exponential pageviews vs. a blog or web site if there is a good community reading and participating.
It’s no surprise that this kind of functionality is long sought after in WordPress, and what site owners want most is the ability to embed and use that forum from with WordPress itself. Who wants a separate forum install? I’ve had them, and even from within a sub-directory of a successful site – it’s hard to get them off the ground.
There are lots of ways to “add a forum to wordpress”. The first methods is to integrate a popular forum with your WordPress install like Simple Machines, Vanilla, bbPress, phpBB, or PunBB bulletin boards. Integrating a forum into WordPress means a separate directory, a separate install, and a separate database. With some advanced coding and hacks you may be able to share logins, comments, etc. I am not a fan of this, and personally I think these techniques are a setup for failure. Mainly because, if you had to hack them to make them work – making them work with future versions of WordPress is likely going to be difficult, hard, or impossible. If you want to try, follow some of the older threads listed on this post: Integrating a Forum with WordPress.
The next way to setup a forum in WordPress is by using a theme that displays the categories and posts in forum type layout. This is nice because it requires installing nothing and only changes the way your content is displayed. It could also be bad because then you’re limited to that kind of layout. To check it out try the TDO Forum Theme for WordPress.
The final way to setup a forum in WordPress is by using a plugin. There are two that seem to be no longer supported, or not updated to be compatible with WordPress 2.5 and up: both XDForum 2, and WP-Forum.
The WordPress plugin that I chose works with WP 2.5 and seems to be updated on a regular basis: Simple:Press Forum WordPress Plugin. It’s currently the only one I see listed on the WordPress 2.5 Plugin Compatibility list.
There are some things you need to know about using Simple:Press. The plugin is listed to work with WordPress 2.04 – 2.51+, but in addition to that your MySQL server needs to be version 4.20+. The first site I tried this on was WP 2.3.3, but the mySQL was 4.1.2 (Hostgator) and I got this error:
WordPress database error: [You have an error in your SQL syntax; check the manual that corresponds to your MySQL server version for the right syntax to use near '' at line 1] SELECT display_name FROM wp_sfmembers WHERE user_id=
Immediately following this my entire WordPress install (dashboard and public pages) locked to a blank screen, and I had to delete the plugin to get my blog back. So I opted to try it on my (still existing) godaddy hosting account – which gives you an option of MySQL 4.x or 5.x. I just created a new 5.x database and dumped my current (4.x) WordPress blog db in it. Then I reuploaded the plugin – and everything seemed to work good, until I created some groups – and lockup central again! I deleted the plugin and all was well again. I did determine that if you decide to use Simple:Press on 5.x MySQL database on godaddy hosting – it has to be the main domain, it can’t be a virtuall hosted subfolder with a domain mapped to it (unless you figure out how to fix the .htaccess file). Finally I moved it to my dedicated box and it worked fine. My advice to you is backup your WP database if you try it on an existing site, and make sure your MySQL server version is 4.20+ and you’re plugins and WordPress install are current.
Once you enable the Simple:Press plugin, just to go “forum” in your main WP dashboard and (if you did everything right) you should see the install button as in the pic above. Unlike other plugins (that install database tables when you enable them) this plugin requires you to manually “install” the first time.
If everything goes as expected this is what you should see:
The basic setup options of the Simple:Press forum are like any other forum you’ve encountered in the past – with the exception of the fact that this forum is setup within WordPress itself. WordPress by default has 2 kinds of accounts “guest” and “administrator”. Simple:Press adds a new type “member”. But the real advantage of WordPress ’embedding’ is Simple:Press’ ability to do “post-linking” – which is best explained by the help file itself:
This has some very distinct advantages over a normal wordpress blog or standalone forum:
- As a blog owner this gives you a TON of more search engine indexable pages
- It keeps blog posts from getting clogged with hundreds of comments (just close them after a few and force everybody to the forum after that)
- It makes your blog uber-interactive, much more than a blog with comments alone
- You now have a place to post random tidbits of info without having to create tons of useless blog posts
- If your blog gets comments now, that’s pretty much a guarantee that your forum will get posts. The worst thing about a new forum is getting people to post, by seeding it with blog posts you get an instantly active forum
- Your blog now has more pages to monetize – w00t!
Simple:Press also has an “accounce template tag”. Once you enable this option you can display most recent forum activity from either your sidebar, home page, or any other post or page in your blog:
As “Add-Ons” in the forum you can enable private messaging, image uploads, or polls support (through the “Democracy” WordPress plugin). There are many, many other options – such as graphics, style, icons, and more that you can use to customize Simple:Press look and feel to be more like your site design.
I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of Simple:Press in this WordPress blog, but you can check out the new JTPratt’s Blogging Mistakes Forum Here. This is only the beginning of dramatically changing the methods of interactivity and community in this web site.
Have you managed a forum or tried to include one in your WordPress blog before? Comment now – or follow the forum link and add to the discussion!