Creating Your Forum by MetalGearMaster

The Beginning
If you are just starting your forum, it is very important to make sure everything works. One of the things that could hurt your forum is if your users find errors that disallow them use of your forums features. When I first started my forum, I did a 1 month "Beta-testing" period, where I got some good friends I know to come to the board and just post. It lasted much longer than expected, mainly because they kept finding error after error (do note, that at the time I was fairly new to vBulletin and so made plenty of errors). If you're just running the default version of vBulletin, with no additional changes, then there is a 95% chance that there will be no errors in the actual board itself if you set it up properly.

Hacks and Additions
I know that Jelsoft doesn't support hacked boards, and that they don't like to work with them much because of changes to the code that they might not understand or like. However, from my experience, the more you deviate from the default vB the better. While the average user has all he/she needs with the default code and options, most will get bored unless you make additions.

I have found that adding hacks such as the Store or Journal increases posts substantially, be allowing me to "reward" members for posting (with points and/or journal account, etc.). has all the hacks you need. The site has information on how to install hacks, how to backup your forum, and how to start creating your own hacks.

I know that vBulletin staff and some members may tell me (or post here) saying that adding hacks will not make a forum successful. However, from my experiences, members hate seeing the same thing over and over. They don't want to go to one forum, find one set of features, then go to another and see the same set with different people. Sure, the new people might encourage them to stay, but unless they actually start posting, they won't get to know the people. Having a lot of features (and making them visible) is the best way to keep a member on the forums.

Custom Styles
vBulletin's default style is a great piece of work, and my congrats go to Jelsoft for making it so great. As great as it may be, however, it can get quite dull. Extending on what I said above, members hate seeing the same thing over and over. If you have the skills to create a custom style, by all means do so. If you don't, use vBulletin's integrated style manager to create something that is different from other styles. A little bit of design knowledge is needed here but it shouldn't be too hard.

Having a good looking style that attracts users will get you plenty of signups. In fact, having a good looking style could be all that it takes to get members and get them posting. But again, extensive knowledge of HTML, image-editing (via Photoshop or other such software), and vBulletin's style manager is needed. If you don't have that knowledge, don't worry. I started off with a simple sleek-looking grey, white, and blue design and I did nothing but change variables in the style manager. I also hired a member to create a logo and header image for us, but thats as far as my style went. A good place to get custom styles is and to buy styles, I would suggest .

A custom logo for your site will help show the professionalism of your forum. It helps to show the members that your serious about your forum, that you're mature, and that you know what you're doing. For example, check out 's logo. I know that whenever I see that logo, I'll immediately think yaXay (and might even check out the forum if I have the time). A custom logo isn't neccesary, but it helps. However, I would definitely think about getting rid of the "vBulletin" image in the header.

Throughout the Years

When you finish your site, the hard part begins. This is when your forum's success is either in view, trivial, or missing from the picture. When I first started my site, my forum's success was definitely trivial until about 6 months later when I realized I had brought together a group of people from around the net and made them the best of friends.

The first thing you should do is let others know your forum exists. Members aren't gonna stumble on your site/forum on accident and decide to stay. Tell your friends, your family, people you meet on the street, whatever it takes. Once you have a set amount posting regularly, your forum will be more attractive to others since it is active (hopefully). Start going to other sites and advertise yours (within their rules, of course), start thinking about Search Engines (which I will get to later), and start posting a link to your forum wherever you go. If you already have a main site setup, encourage viewers of your site to post and interact with others from around the world.

Do NOT buy those advertising solutions you see in ads. They are expensive and there's no guarantee they'll work. The best way to do it is yourself or with people you trust.

Affiliating and Partnerships
If you see a site that is as big (or as small) as yours, targets the same (or nearly the same) demographic and members as you, and you both have the same ideas and concepts, try affiliating with that site. 2 admin are better than one, especially 2 that both own their own forum, have a steady member following, and know what they're doing. This would also allow you to learn how others run their sites by speaking with that admin regularly.

So far, I have affiliations with 3 sites. 1 backed out before we could get our affiliation started, another is still in talks, and the last we have been in partnership for a month now. I have learned from their site and admin and they have learned from mine. We share ideas and help each other whenever needed.

One thing you should be careful of is not to affiliate with a site that could attract your members to their site (indefinitely). That may sound kind of childish (he's stealing my members!!), but it's true, and I'm only trying to have you avoid the same mistake my competitors made :cool:

Search Engine Optimization
Google. If you don't know what that is, you had better learn quick, because it could make or break your site. Search engine optimization is considered the key to a site's success. What better way to advertise to the masses then to have your site come up first in a search on a major search engine?

While there are many theories and ideas on how to best optimize your site for search engines, the best article/guide I have found is located here: . This guy definitely know what's talking about and I have learned a lot from him. I have yet to try any of his theories or code on my board, so I'm not sure if they work 100%. Try them and see for yourself.

Also, be sure to follow each SE's guidelines (such as Google, Yahoo, altavista, etc.) to make sure you're not breaking any rules and have yourself be at the bottom of their lists or not at all.

Getting a Following of Members
The best way to attract new members is to get a base of dedicated members posting daily. Reward your most active users with things like modship, and reward those who didn't become mod with anything else that may come to mind. Having active members posting daily will show that your forum is active and will attract members to join and participate in the talks.

After you get your members to join, it's a bit harder to get them to stay and post often. Make monthly contests for prizes targetted at your audience (in my case, I run a gaming site, so rewards like free games or Blockbuster cards are good ideas). Contests can help to drive posts in your forum while giving the members a goal and a prize to shoot for. My rewards consist of modship, points for the store, and emails/subdomains.

Final Thoughts

After you have your forum up and running, getting a steady stream of posts, and have an active following of members, it's time to up the gun a bit and get the final steps neccesary to have a succesful forum.

Main Site
A site that has content based around your forum is a great idea to keep things active and attract new members. Create a site and post content that will interest your current members and new members alike. There is no specific way of doing this, be innovative, smart, and think of the members, not yourself. A site that is updated often will not only bring more viewers, but also better search engine placement and hits.

Mature and Professional
Maintaining a level of professionalism on your boards and yourself will encourage maturity among your members. You won't have to worry about idiots messing things up or having to clean up the forums often because of "unwanted content." Being professional shows members your serious. It also shows them you are there for them, not yourself, and that you'll do what it takes to get things done right, to help them if they need it, and to make visiting your forum easy and fun. If you ban random members, flame anyone who isn't like you, or abuse your power, don't expect your members to stay or like it at all. There are a million other forums they can go to that have the same content and interests as yours, they're not obliged to stay at your forum. So please, treat members with respect and be mature.

Having a base set of rules will help to lengthen that level of professionalism. I won't try to tell you how to create your rules or what to write, instead, just add rules as they're needed over time. Start with a simple set (don't SPAM, don't flame, don't flood, don't hack, etc.) and made additions and edits as you go. If you need an example, check out my rules found here: . I started out with simple rules and expanded on them over the year that my forum has been open.

Finally, have fun!
If anything, be sure to have fun running your site. If it gets to be a lot of work, get a trusted member/mod/smod to be an admin alongside you to help you with the tasks. Just remember that there is no single key to success for a forum, so experiment with my guide above and with your own ideas and see what happens. If your forum dies or fails, don't be afraid to try again and again, until your forum is such a success you can't keep up with it anymore

MGM out

Author: MetalGearMaster
Web site:
Reprint permissions by MetalGearMaster copyright 2005