In this guide, I give you my insights on how a simple content marketing campaign can generate more sales than combining all of your SEO, PPC, and Social Media activities.
For this marketing campaign, we use forums related to your products or website. I provide you with a step-by-step blueprint that you can apply to all of your websites, starting today. (Keep in mind, I said starting today, not getting it done today. You will understand why in a few minutes.)
I love case studies because they strip away the theory and leave you with the facts. I include real live case studies and examples in this guide so you can see exactly how the process works in real life. I show you how to setup your campaign from "A to Z", how to make it work, and how you convert that into a nice return on your investment.
Grab a cup of coffee and let us get started! Enjoy!SECTION 1: Finding the right forums in your niche
A few months ago, I was researching the fast growing Xenforo forum platform and stumbled on this thread: http://xenforo.com/community/threads/the-b...rum-list.26352/
. It made me realize that for literally every niche
there are many forums on the web with an active member base.
I suggest you check that thread and browse through those forums. The sheer volume of posts and people using those forums will get your "marketing juices" flowing and you will start to understand why I am so excited.
With a single high-quality post on a forum, you can reach thousands of new readers and potential customers. How cool is that?
If you position yourself as trustworthy person on forums, you get highly targeted traffic, consistently. You build links to your sites. You create more influence for you site and people start recognizing your site's name. You build an alternative source of traffic that is not at risk to Google's next algorithm change.
So, that's when I started thinking... How can I use forums in an ethical way
to reach this large audience? How do we reach every forum reader in our niche without 'breaking the bank'?Where do you start?
Start with searching for niche related forums. The sample site I use in this guide is: 10luxurycruises.com
. The stats I generated for this site are impressive, especially when I compare it to other traffic generation methods.
Let's get started!Step 1 – Get Ready to Make Notes
- Open an excel sheet to note down each forum you find. Trust me! You do not want to skip this step. The forums you find are going to help you get traffic and make more sales. (If you do not have Microsoft Excel, you can use Google Drive's spreadsheet, OpenOffice, an Apple iWork's sheet, or even something as simple as Evernote, Notepad, or Google Keep.)Step 2 – Finding Niche Specific Forums
- Use Boardreader - Forum Search Engine
to start your research. Use the following steps:
• Set the search function to 'Show posts for last week
'. (I do this to make sure the forums are highly active today, not a few years or months ago.)
• Start with an exact match
search and broaden your search terms when you run out of forums. In this example, I would enter, "luxury cruises", "cruises" and "traveling". (I use exact match to find the most targeted forums first. Keep your reader's interests in mind and brainstorm a few topics for your sites.)
After you click on a search result, look for two things:1) Relevancy
• How does this forum relate to your website/product? Look at thread subjects and see if they make sense for your market.
• Would people be interested in hearing about your website/product? You can quickly tell if people talk about buying products or if they are already product owners sharing advice on how to use them. Do not hurry through this step.
• Does it have a sub-forum for your niche? If the forum looks too broad or general for your product, glance through the sub-forums to see if there is one specific to your market.
Note: If you use a large forum that has a sub-forum for your niche, do not ignore the larger forum. Post occasionally to other related or general areas of the forum to expand your reach.2) Activity
• How many members does this forum have?
• Do forum users post new threads every day?
• How many people are currently online on the forum or viewing categories?
(Note: You can usually see this information at the bottom of the forum's home page.)
• How many views does an average thread get? This last question is important, you want an idea of how many people will view your posts, at least on average.
• Watch for how fast people reply to new threads. A high activity forum can have a dozen or more replies within an hour of a new thread going live.
Make sure you add notes about relevancy and activity to your spreadsheet. You should focus on the most relevant and busy forums first. Do not separate relevancy and activity. Look at the two items together to determine the best forums to join.
# of views on specific 'cruising' threads.
A quick search at Boardreader.com provided us:
• Cruisemates.com/forum/ - Can it get more niche specific? This forum has 113,000 members. That is not bad. Imagine putting your website in front of thousands of active members in moments.
• Cruise-addicts.com/forums – 51,000 members here.
• Cruiselinefans.com/index.php - This is too easy!
Think about that. With just the first three forums I chose, I have an audience approaching 200,000 people. All three forums have high activity, too.Step 3 – Expand Our Forum Search
- Do a simple search on Google for Cruises + Forum. You will discover more highly relevant sites that to add to your excel sheet, in our case study I found:
The list goes on-and-on. Do not hesitate to search for generic topics related to your niche, too. To give you an example, for our sample site, I would not mind building a presence on forums like Tripadvisor and Fodors at all. Also, look for subcategories on more general forums.Suggestion:
Sit down and write out a description of your clients and their interests. What other interests do they have? As an example for our cruise site, I could include adventure forums, other travel categories, tourism forums, wedding and honeymoon planning sites. I could even toss in forums dedicated to the Discovery Channel, Travel Network, National Geographic, and other sites where people explore adventure. Explore ideas to find your target customers on forums.Tip:
I always start with a search on Boardreader.com because it gives me more niche-specific and high activity forums than Google for some odd reason. Since it is a forum specific research tool, it keeps me focused on forums and I do not start visiting blogs and other websites, wasting my time.
Here are some search suggestions you can try on Google:
• Your niche keyword + "Powered By IP.Board"
• Your niche keyword + "Powered by Invision Power Board"
• Your niche keyword + "Invision Power Board"
• Your niche keyword + "Forum software by Xenforo"
• Your niche keyword + "Powered by phpBB"
• Your niche keyword + "Powered by Vbulletin"
(In case you do not know, those are the most common bulletin board systems in use today.)Step 4 – Choose Your First 20 Forums
- Add 20 forums to your excel sheet for now. Trust me; this will be enough to start. (Remember, high activity and high relevancy.)SECTION 2: Set up your accounts
Do you have your list with 20 forums ready? Congrats! It is time to register your 20 accounts and set up your profiles.
Ready, then let us get started setting up your accounts!Step 1 - Create Natural Accounts
- Pick a normal username (or multiple), upload an avatar and add your contact details. Avoid strange names or using unusual characters in your name. You want to brand yourself as a real person, person people trust in your market.Step 2 – Create a Compelling Profile
- Take a few extra minutes to completely fill out your profile on each forum. That simple step gives forum members more confidence in you as a person.
Creating a complete profile does one more thing. It makes you stand out from the crowd on the forum. Members expect only the most established and well-known members having complete profiles.
You can add a profile backlink on some of the forums. The profile backlinks, are an added benefit. Keep in mind, in this guide I am not focusing on website rankings, I am focusing on getting targeted traffic to a website.SECTION 3: Building trust and authority
It is time to start interacting in each of the communities.Step 1 – Learn the Forum Rules First
- Your first step is to read forum rules, stickies, and a few random threads with replies.
Why? For two reasons.
First, if you accidentally violate rules, you can have your account banned in moments. New forum members are at higher risks of bans, suspensions, or ignores. Learn the rules and the culture to make sure you avoid problems.
Second, each forum has its own unique group of members, with different demographics and a unique mentality. Your posts will make the difference in how you will be perceived on forums. Get a feel for how people interact. Some forums are lighthearted and fun, others are extremely serious. Some forums focus in newbies, other forums focus on veterans. Some forums enjoy a good in-thread battle, other forums ban both members involved in the debate.
Let me give you an example. Many of the members at CruiseMates Cruise Community and Forums - Powered by vBulletin
are first time cruisers. They are inexperienced and full of questions trying to avoid a wrong choice. If I compare this audience to the members at Cruise Addicts Message Boards
, it is different. There they are cruisers that are more experienced. This group is more interested in getting the best deal on their next cruise, having the right insurance and sharing their stories.
As you see, it is important to adjust our style of posting on those two forums.
The first impression you make is important if you want to build an authority persona on each forum. You need to hit the right tone if you do not want to be an outcast.
(Example: Cruise newbies want to hear your stories of "if it's fun" and "what to bring", while veteran cruisers already know. They want deals, special experiences, and to find new adventures at the ports of call.)Step 2 – Take Notes
- Add notes to your excel sheet that describes the mentality of each forum. This will make it easier for you to decide your tone of posting when you make your posts on the selected forum.Step 3 – Start Replying to Threads
- When you make a few posts, the best thing to do is offer value. Simply give honest advice to people asking questions. Do it in a fun, light or more serious way depending on the attitude of the forums, as I just discussed.Tips
• Do not get involved in discussions or negativity. This will not serve you in anyway, and is almost guaranteed to hurt trust levels and your persona's reputation on the forum.
• Do not promote your own website, brand name nor add links in any of these first posts. This can result in an account ban and a loss of your time. In the next step, I will go in-depth on how to make the connection to your site or brand.SECTION 4: Making the connection. Reaping the rewards.
There are a couple of ways to make the connection to your site and start generating traffic from your list of forums from Section 1. In this part, I will give you some ideas on how to do this effectively and ethically.
Your focus should always be to add value to a forum. Think of it like this: What type of content can you share on a forum in your niche that is appreciated by their members? What kind of posts do you enjoy in forums? Below, you can see my views, what worked for my sites, and in our case study:Step 1 - Start a New Thread
- Starting a new thread is by far the easiest way to attract attention. How many views did an average thread get in your excel list? Now do the math. If an average thread gets 500 views (which you should aim for) and you post it on 20 forums, you have 10.000 FREE eyeballs rolling over your content.
Writing a guide, just like the one you are reading, is one example to offer value. My goals are 1) to help you and 2) not waste your time. When starting a thread, these should be your goals too. I will show you some more good ways to go about this:
• Compile a list of detailed tips to help your readers.
• Share a personal story. People love to read about the experiences of others. You can see my famous case study example of this below:
• Compare different products objectively. Do not rate or review them. Just state the facts.
• Post a high-quality industry related interview/article and link to the source.
• Share a tool or plug-in.
Remember, at this point I am working to build trust, value, and confidence in our persona on the forum. There are tons of ways to take one of the examples above and do it the wrong way. Here is how NOT to do it:
Use common sense. I am sure you geniuses know what is best for your site! If you are unsure about what types of threads to write, just glance through the active threads. See what types of subjects the threads covered and use them as your inspiration to offer massive value
• Spend time writing a good subject line. This is what draws people into your thread.
• Write from personal experience. Make it personal so people can relate to you. You are talking to real people, not computers.
• Do not share your press releases or news about your website or products. People simply will not care if they do not know who you are. The WIIFM (What is In It for me?) principle is strong on most forums.
• Generally speaking, the more informative and longer your thread is, the better. People appreciate content that is well researched and thought through. Good content is not likely to be removed. Provide value without a sales pitch.
• Add images or photos to illustrate your points.Step 2 – Share Your Content
- When you create your masterpiece of content, you want to share it with as many people as possible.
That is when your excel sheet comes in handy. Do not worry about sharing the same piece of content/thread on multiple forums. Most of the time forum members are not active on multiple forums in the same niche. In my opinion, sharing the content on multiple forums is the best thing you can do. Share it with as many people as possible, as long as your content offers value.
Does a post get deleted from time to time? Yes. But...
The total number of views you get on the remainder of your +/- 20 threads, the positive interactions, the PMs, click throughs to your website, and the sales are worth it. Some of the threads I included in the images got 2000+ views on a single forum. Go ahead, start writing your threads and scale up!
You can see what I define as positive interaction below:Additional Steps for More Interaction:
A. Blog Posts – Built-in Forum Blogs
A hidden gem that most people do not know about, are blog entries you can add to your own forum account. You do not need to blog on a daily basis on the forums, but adding a blog post occasionally adds to your status as an authority.
This will not generate the same amount of views as threads, but it still allows you to create a valuable online property. If you post good content on your blog regularly, people will start to take notice. A funny thing, I find that it is actually easier to attract blog readers on an active forum, then starting a blog on your own site. Go where your audience already is hanging out! Your blog on the forum is a personal space, you can write down anything you want.Extra Tip
– You can write a brief blog post on a topic and direct readers to your personal blog, YouTube channel, or Facebook page for more complete details on a topic. Add a link to it in your signature. You blog post can have a link to you site, even if your signature line does not. Announcing you are blogging on the forum's blog in your signature line can be a very smart move.B. Signature
The signature is the part that gets placed below each of your posts. You can use a signature as a substitute for a link in your thread. You have to put in some time and testing to see what works best for you.SECTION 5: Consistency, expanding and maintaining your forum research
You have published your masterpiece on 20 niche related forums. Good for you! If you are serious about this, you should not stop here. You need to keep posting on forums that produce results and replacing forums that do not provide traffic.
But make sure you....Step 1 - Keep Organized
- I know I touched on this before, but it becomes more critical as you expand. It is easy to lose track of different usernames, passwords and posts created. Here is a sample excel sheet that I use:https://www.keywordmarketingpro.com/files/F...ate-Report.xlsx
After you have posted your 'masterpiece' thread, you know which forums are giving you the best results, in terms of traffic and reader activity (keep an eye on your analytics!). Start creating more posts on these forums on a consistent basis. When it is time to share something of interest, do it. Gradually build your post count and authority on forums that help you get more business. It is as simple as that.Note:
I am referring to your website or blog analytics. I am guessing you use Google Analytics, or something similar to track traffic. You will see clicks to your website from the forums in the traffic section. This helps you identify the forums that you should focus on.This is great but how do I scale?
I am sure there are more than 20 forums in your niche. Keep adding new ones every month and you will end up with a few winners that bring in traffic and profits on a consistent basis. Figure out the forums that are the most active and relevant and you will be successful. You don't think there are more than 20 forums for your niche? Then read on...
What I am about to tell you is important, very important.Step 2 - Don't Limit Yourself to One Forum Category in Your Niche
- Hit different audiences from different angles. Let me give you an example:
Do you run a jewelry web shop? Show one of your bracelets on a fashion forum (audience 1) and explain in a step-by-step guide how they can make the bracelet themselves. If people do not want to put in the effort, provide a link to your web shop so they can just buy the same bracelet from your web shop.
People on hip-hop forums (audience 2) are probably not going to make their own jewelry, right? Find pictures of rappers that wear (similar) jewelry that you sell in your web shop. List 10 pictures of rappers with the jewelry in a thread and make the connection to your shop. I have just found thousands of new potential customers by slightly changing our content marketing angle.
How many fashion forums are there? How many hip-hop forums are there? I could come up with at least 25 more angles. Think like your clients. Think about their other interests.
Heck, I could even start a campaign for 10luxurycruises.com by publishing about reward programs on huge forums like flyertalk.com. The possibilities are endless.
Start with your most targeted market first and work your way down. Remember, that is why I suggested 'exact phrase' searches first all the way back in Section 1.
Build a large forum list with different audiences and repeat the process on successful forums. In other words, keep the winners and replace the losers.
Think about the power behind this. If you know the demographics of your customers, you can find forums where people just like them are visiting every day. You can start posting information in front of their eyes before they even do a search to buy a product. This is a powerful way to reach out to new customers.
If you want examples or ideas for your
site, just ask me.
The keys to your success are:
1) The quality
of your posts and threads
2) The activity
of the forums
3) The relevancy
of your posts and threads related to the people who are participating on the forums.
Lock those three words into your memory, Quality-Activity-Relevancy
The cool thing is that these ideas can be applied to any niche.
I hope this guide makes you think how you can approach your online marketing differently.
Do not limit yourself to SEO, PPC or Social Media, and the constantly changing whims of Google and Facebook. You can start talking to your market directly where they sit down and meet with their friends, in niche forums.
Feel free to ask me anything below!