A forum in an online discussion board that allows users to exchange views, ideas, and experiences, often focussed on specific topics or subjects. Forum participation in marketing involves engaging in these discussions to provide useful insights, build connections, promote a community, and increase brand awareness.
We have seen huge changes in the way businesses market themselves in recent years, with a bigger drive towards a customer-centric approach that puts customers in the driving seat. Focus has shifted from simply selling products or services to engaging with your community, such as through an online forum, in order to more accurately understand their needs and provide a space to establish meaningful relationships.
A natural reluctance to lean into the world of forums is rooted in its past use as a ‘black hat’ SEO tactic. ‘Black hat SEO’ refers to the misuse of strategies to gain an untruthful advantage over competitors, using tactics that manipulate a site’s search engine ranking ability. Tactics, such as hidden text in images, keyword stuffing, machine-generated traffic, and spammy link building were often used to increase a site’s traffic and search engine visibility.
Forums were used as a way to increase the number of site’s linking back to another site. These backlinks
were often hidden within comments, or woven discreetly into text. Once Google introduced its spam policy to protect users and improve search experience, many site’s found to be using ‘black hat’ tactics were penalised, lowering their online visibility and, in some cases, removing them entirely.
In HubSpot’s State of Marketing Report, social media
was crowned the most popular marketing channel companies across many industries used. However, social media as a marketing channel has become saturated with new competition, and it’s increasingly harder to break through the ‘noise’ and encourage engagement.
Forums provide a space to reach both broad target markets and smaller, niche markets that are willing to engage with your brand. They also provide a number of benefits that help boost a brand’s SEO, without using black hat tactics.
1. Generates content
A key benefit of forum posting for SEO is the continual generation of fresh content. The more a brand can be involved in forum participation, providing valuable information and experiences, the more opportunity it has to get this information to rank competitively on the search results page.
Online forums are inherently targeted toward the most relevant topics, and issues that are at the forefront of trending discussions. The best way to capitalise on these trends is to ensure the presence of keywords within the content. According to HubSpot’s State of Marketing Report “71% of marketers say using strategic keywords was their number one strategy for SEO”. These keywords will help Google discover and rank the content. There are a number of free tools you can use, such as Google Trends, to research trending keywords for your content.
Forum content is also ideally formatted for search engine results page (SERP) features, such as featured snippets, which sit prominently at the top of the results page – the most prized and profitable position! Our tips on how to optimise your content for featured snippets look at simple, yet effective optimisations you can make to put your content in the best position for featured snippet domination.
2. Allows brands to speak directly to prospective customers
As marketers, sometimes it can feel like our messages get lost in the vast ocean of social media and organic search. A carefully selected forum allows marketers to target those who are already in the market and looking for your products or services. While social media is great for brand awareness campaigns, forum participation for businesses allows laser precision targeting your ideal customers.
3. Builds relationships with customers
Participating in online forums in a genuine manner and interacting with other participants in a helpful way can encourage others to engage with your brand. Over time, these interactions will hold more value than you realise as they foster meaningful relationships with your audience while increasing brand loyalty.
4. Increases your Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E.E.A.T)
The content you produce on a forum needs to provide something meaningful for your audience. Informative, quality content will help strengthen your expertise on a particular subject, while demonstrating first-hand experience will help to boost your experience and authority.
The more you can demonstrate these traits regularly through forum participation, the more trustworthy and credible your brand will be deemed. These qualities are essential for Google’s search quality rating system. The more E.E.A.T a brand provides, the more likely its content will perform within the search engine results.
5. Offers invaluable consumer insights
Forum participation can also help businesses identify their target market’s pain points, needs, wants, and desires, as forums provide a safe space for participants to speak candidly about their experiences, views, and opinions - both good and bad!
Google’s Consumer Insight’s found that 79% of shoppers expect brands to understand their unique needs and expectations. This insightful knowledge can then be used to tailor your targeting, focusing on what really matters to your audience. Integrating this within a content strategy will then help boost your search engine optimisation and online visibility.#
6. Discover user-generated content
Often, a useful by-product of forum participation is user generated content. As forums provide an open space to discuss products, services, and brands, users may post reviews, images, video content, as well as Q&A’s that can provide invaluable pieces of content. Consumers are increasingly seeking the experiences and perspectives of others during the consideration phase of their buyer’s journey.
To help boost trust during this phase, it’s important for brands to interact with the user-generated content. This may, in some cases, mean responding to negative reviews. Brands can use this opportunity to listen, take in the feedback, and offer a genuine response. Very quickly, a negative experience can be turned into a positive one. This can help to instil a sentiment of trust, and show a brand’s willingness to listen to its customers.
7. Strengthens community and brand identity
Contributing to an online community in a genuine and helpful way, responding to member’s posts and establishing yourself as a trusted source of reliable information are essential components for the development of an online community. The more ‘buy in’ you have from your community, the more prominence you will have within the market.
Forum participation also provides a key role in strengthening brand identity as you can showcase your business values and ethos throughout all of your interactions.
8. Increases website traffic
High-quality forum content can drive readers to seek more information or context by visiting your website. Providing a further wealth of knowledge on your site through blogs, articles, white papers, videos or podcasts is going to give site visitors a reason to come back for more.
Google recently introduced a new Perspectives and Experiences search feature aimed at enhancing searchers’ experiences. This new feature - ‘Perspectives’ - will sit beneath the search bar and, once clicked, will offer users a mix of short form videos, Q&A’s, images, written posts and more.
Google recognises the changes in search behaviour as users spend more and more time researching before making a decision about a product or service. Its aim is to offer more helpful information and experiences from everyday people to improve the decision process and diversify the range of information available.
On top of this, in 2022, Google launched a helpful content update with the purpose to discover content made for people, not just to attract people. This new system searches through forums, blogs and articles to seek out the best and most relevant information.
A forum’s core purpose is to provide a space for such perspectives and experiences. This positions forum content favourably with these new Google updates as it provides authentic and unique opinions and experiences.
As search continues to change and adapt to the needs of the user, forum participation will ensure a business continues to provide a regular and steady stream of quality content and maintain healthy search visibility.
Our team of passionate digital marketers understand the need to adapt to changes within the digital world and keep up with the latest trends and updates. Contact us today to discuss any queries you may have about your own SEO strategy. Alternatively, explore our wide range of digital marketing services including content and biddable media.