Integrating forums into a WordPress blog is a topic I covered in great detail in the Hack WordPress eBook, Finding Success with WordPress, but I just realized it hasn’t really been discussed much here on this site. Therefore, I decided to write up this post to kind of bridge that gap.
Before I get into what you need to add a forum to your WordPress blog, I first want to share my opinion on forums in general. Though you’ll often see WordPress bloggers adding a forum on a directory or subdomain of their established blog, I personally recommend anyone considering building a forum to do so on a separate domain (even if it is just your blogs name with the word forum/forums after it).
If you look around at the most popular forums, an overwhelming percentage (probably 90%+) are hosted on their own domain name. This is because forums rely heavily on direct traffic, rather than on search engines and other sources. If you go this route, you’ll want to try to integrate the two sites in other ways. Here are a few ideas:
- Branding – Use the same logo as your blog (with the forums domain name) or a similar logo on your forums to help readers to know the two sites are associated.
- Link Integration – Add a link to your forums from your established blog and add a link to your blog from your forums to show association.
- Forum Theme – If you have the technical knowledge or use the method I will cover below, you can create a similar theme for your new forums. This will also help readers to know that the blog and forums are affiliated with each other.
I know many people would still prefer to build their forums into their existing domain name, so here is some information that will hopefully help.
How to Integrate Forums Into Your WordPress Blog
Setting up a forum for your blog is as simple as finding the right WordPress plugin or software to install. Here are the primary three I recommend depending on your situation and needs:
- BBPress – This is a free and lightweight open source forum software that was designed specifically for WordPress users. It is also currently owned and supported by the WordPress team (Automattic). In order to use this software, you simply need to download the software, place it on your server where you want your new forums to be, then go to that website and use the installer to finish getting setup. It comes with an admin panel so you can customize your forums to look and work the way you want them to.
- PhpBB – PhpBB is another free open source forum software that is known for its customizability. The newest version, version 3.0, offers a great forum look for your website. PhpBB also has a skins folder (themes) and many premium WordPress theme authors offer free forum skins if you buy their themes. Examples of this include Brian’s Revolution themes and the popular WP Remix theme. If you go this route, you can simply upload the skin and activate it within your forums control panel to make your PhpBB forums match the look of your theme! If you’d like to get an idea of what a WordPress forum might look like when integrated with a blog, check out this post over at Profit Blogger. It includes some information as well as screenshots of integrated WordPress forums, using the Revolution themes mentioned above as examples.
- VBulletin – This is by far your best option, and probably the forum software you see being used on most of the popular forums you visit regularly. Unfortunately, though, you will have to purchase a license to use this software. At last check, you can either lease your license or own a license. Leasing is roughly $100.00 a year, but you can own the software for that domain for $180.00 (with a years support). They also offer installation services and support for an additional fee.
Once you’ve picked out your forum software, simply activate the plugin or run the install script that comes with the software. Each option comes with its own admin/control panel, so you can set it up to look and function the way you want it to.