Discussion forums now form the central part of many websites since they allow users to interact with each other in a way that has not been previously possible. Discussion forums provide users with a way to discuss different topics that they have created themselves in different forums that you specify for each specific subject. Discussion forums can easily be setup on most web hosting packages these days through the use of script auto installers or by using a freely available discussion forum package that you don’t have to pay anything to allow you to use it commercially. Creating a discussion forum for your website can ensure that your visitors return more often since they will want to catch up on the latest gossip in the forum, whereas they may not return if you have a standard website on which you don’t update the content very often. A disucssion forum can also benefit you in terms of the content that you add to your website; for example, you could use a discussion forum to gather feedback from your visitors on what they think of your website. Finding a web hosting package that is able to support your website and a discussion forum is important since you want to ensure that both are able to run side by side.
A discussion forum can bring your website many advantages both in terms of visitor numbers and how high your website is in search engine rankings. Having your website high in search engine rankings is important since this will help you to receive more visitors, but work is needed to get your website up to where you want it to be in search engines. The main benefits that adding a discussion forum to your website can bring include:
- higher visitor count – people are more likely to visit your website if you have a discussion forum since it gives them a reason to visit, and they are more likely to refer your website to others who have similar interests
- higher returning visitor count – having more visitors continually return to your website is important since it means that the content of your website is of interest, and that the discussion forum that you have added is worked as you would like it to
- a higher search engine ranking – if you create a discussion forum that has many posts related to the intended subject, then your overall website is more likely to be given a higher ranking by search engines.
Since discussion forums can be beneficial to your website in many different ways, it is recommended that you add one to your website if you feel that your website covers a topic that can be discussed by all your website’s visitors.
As well as the core discussion forum, you can also use add-ons for some of the major discussion forum packages to expand the functionality of the forum software that you are using. Although the core discussion forum may be more than suitable for your needs, a large number of plugins or add-ons are normally available to make your life easier when managing the forum or for your users when they are posting on the discussion forum. Add-ons for discussion forum packages are normally available in the following categories:
- themes – adding different themes to your discussion forum software will allow you to change the appearence of your discussion forum, allowing you to make it look more like your main website if you are unable to create your own theme for the software
- security and moderation – moderating your discussion forum is important to ensure that it doesn’t contain any posts that could offend others, making it as secure as possible is also important to make sure that your web hosting account can’t be compromised in any way
- attachments – in some situations your discussion forum users may want to upload files for their posts, and to ensure that they don’t upload any viruses to your web hosting account you need to use attachment add-ons to ensure that they aren’t viruses.
Add-ons are important for discussion forums since although the core software package may be secure and provide you with a large range of features, modifying your discussion forum can provide you with more ways to expand your discussion forum.
When starting your first discussion forum, it would probably be in your bed interests to use a free forum package since you never know if your new discussion forum is going to work, and at least if you use a free package then you don’t loose any money if it doesn’t work out. Commercial forum applications are normally recommended for large forums that require scalable forum software that will allow for the owner’s to expand their discussion forum over time. Examples of free forum applications include:
- PHPBB – this is one of the oldest pieces of free forum software around, and since there is a large user base it will be updated actuvely for a while yet and is guaranteed to be pretty secure when compared to other solutions
- SMF – like PHPBB, SMF has been around for a long time and has a large active user base meaning that you can call on the support forums that are around for free support, and can rely on regular updates to ensure that is is secure.
Although commercial forum applications cost money, they provide you with access to a dedicated support team that are able to provide you with support for an application that they know inside out. Examples of commcercial discussion forum applications include:
- vBulletin – this is probably the most popular discussion forum application available and is used by many business large and small who want to run their own forums, it is also used by some of the largest communities on the internet
- IPB – although this is a popular commercial forum application, IPB isn’t seen as the most popular around and because of vBulletin isn’t used by many businesses wanting to run their own discussion forums.
Choosing the right forum application for your needs is important since you want to be able to manage your forum with ease. Choosing an application that doesn’t suit your needs could result in you being unable to manage your discussion forum effectively.
Discussion forums are normally coded in a primary server side scripting language for use with a database backend so that all the necessary data can be stored in one central location. The two main languages that forum applications are coded in these days are ASP.NET and PHP; ASP.NET discussion form applications are normally designed for used with a Microsoft SQL Server backend, whereas PHP forums are normally used with MySQL databases. Because of the differences in certain forum applications, it is important to find a web hosting package that is able to support the discussion forum application that you want to host, regardless of whether it is free or you have paid for it.
If you want to use a forum application that has been written in PHP then you can consider either Windows hosting or Linux based web hosting. Since PHP is a free scripting platform, it can be used on either operating system allowing you to only have the need to use one webhosting operating system. ASP based discussion forum packages on the other hand can only be hosted in a Windows web hosting environment because it is a Microsoft product. However, if you need to run PHP and ASP scripts under one account then you can consider Windows web hosting since it allows you to do this without the need to have two web hosting accounts (a Windows based one and a Linux based web hosting plan).
Specialist discussion forum web hosting can be of benefit to you if you are looking to set your website up primarily as a discussion forum and nothing else. Web hosting providers that sell specialist web hosting can normally offer you better service for the particular area that they specialise in, meaning that for example if you use a specialist discussion forum hosting company, they can probably provide you with better support and advice on how to run and manage your discussion forum than a standard web hosting provider would be able to. Although specialist web hosting can be more expensive than standard web hosting, it normally pays off to have more reliable web hosting and support in the long term – especially for a website that is running a discussion forum at its heart.
In conclusion, discussion forums allow you to expand your website in a way that you may have not thought possible previously. It allows you to diversify your offering by allowing your visitors to interact with each other instead of just reading the content of your main website. Discussion forums also allow members to create threads on specific subjects meaning that you can expand the kind of content that your website contains overall. If you want to run a large forum then it is suggested that you seek specialist discussion forum web hosting and purchase a commercial forum application for your needs.