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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Kyle Eslick is WordPress enthusiast who took his passion for WordPress to the next level in 2007 by launching WPHacks.com as a place to share hacks, tutorials, etc. Connect with Kyle on Twitter or Google+!

  • http://www.ilfilosofo.com Austin

    Vanilla is another open source forum that integrates nicely with WordPress.

  • http://www.insideredbox.com Michael

    I think the term “integrate” is being used very loosely here. Either that, or I have different idea of what integration is.

    bbPress does “integrate” with WordPress in that it can use the same user database. Do any of the other options allow this? (or at least synchronization of the db?)

    But even with bbPress sharing the database, I still do not think it is integrated enough.

    What I am looking for is the ability to “replace” the comment system with a forum-based system on certain pages/posts (or all of them).

    I envision a page/post showing perhaps the last 10 (or x) “comments” that have been left, and still having the standard comment form. But, when the “comment” is left, it actually goes to that posts thread (or specific forum) inside the forum software.

    So, what is happening is that WordPress is using data from the forum to display comments, but allowing the forum software to handle the rest. This allows for better threaded messaging and management for wordpress pages that get a lot of comments.

    For example, I have a page that I use threaded comments on that has over 600 comments. It is nearly impossible to sort through the comments and read then in a logical way.

    Is there anything out there that can do what I want? If not, does someone see the usefulness of something like this?

  • http://www.ilfilosofo.com Austin

    Do any of the other options allow this? (or at least synchronization of the db?)

    Yes, I’ve integrated the user tables with WordPress for all those mentioned: bbPress, phpBB, vBulletin, and Vanilla. bbPress is by far the easiest to do, of course.

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  • http://www.wordpressmania.it Stefano, WordPressMania

    @Michael: Interesting vision.
    Would you mind to list which forum features would you like to see in the comment system?
    Could be an interesting extension to the Threated Comments Plugin (do you know it, don’t you?)

    Stefano

  • Josh

    @Michael I think you have the right idea and I’m looking for something similar. When you click on the comments link at the bottom of the blog post it automatically goes to the corresponding thread on the forums that’s automatically created when a new blog post is created.

    I have noticed that there is a vBulletin Plug-in that does this, but I’m not exactly going to shell out $180 for forums just yet, though there forums do look the best I’d I’d love to use them I can’t justify spending that much for forums on my mediocre blog site.

    I don’t remember where I saw this, but it was somewhere on the vBulletin Forums. A website that uses this is here http://www.doomworld.com/

  • Dawn

    I have used SimplePress Forums Plugin in the past and found it intergates completely, uses the same user id’s, etc. There are options to link to blog posts or have the blog posts show in the forum and also, comments can be linked to forum posts.

    http://www.stuff.yellowswordfish.com/simplepress-forum/

    It’s not as well-known as others mentioned, but certainly worth a look for a quick and easy install. I always found it easy to configure and use. It supports CSS, so you can match the style of your existing blog.

    I should have shares in it ;)

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  • deamonicangel

    I have also used simple press forum on my wordpress blog. It’s a plugin which is very easy to install and as Dawn says it can be themed to fit your current blog colours. The only downside of simple press is that you can’t generate a backup and store it on your computer or convert it to another forum type so it’s slightly limiting in that area. I have heard that it is planned for a future release so I highly recommend this forum.

    I’ve tired bbpress in the past which is a forum created by wordpress that not-so-easily intergrates into wordpress. Maybe it was just me not being able to work it but simple press really is that simple compared to bbpress.

    If you’re looking for a forum on your blog simple press is the forum software for you.

    ~ Deamonic Angel

  • CB Predator

    i have been using phpbb since a month now…and its working like very smoothly on it…like very easily……integrated…..

    Thanks to wordpress team.

  • Kelly

    Kyle, I didn’t notice anything about Talki forum plugin. Do you know something about it that makes it avoidable?

    I was going to try it out and see if it helps get the word out about my WordPress video course. What do you think?

  • http://www.hillarybost.com Hillary Bost

    Thanks for the references. I have been wanting to have a more forum like blog for a couple different niches I have been working on.

  • http://sanuja.com Sam

    I like phpBB because of the options that comes with it. Is there way to integrate it to my wordpress without using a custom theme specially for phpBB?