Best WordPress Forum Plugins & Important Advice

Forums are very useful for a niche blog to build a community around it or for entrepreneurs to engage with the remote team. It becomes a space for everyone to talk, and once you succeed in creating an active forum as an admin, you can easily leave it on users, as a good forum is mostly community driven.

Your role would be to moderate the forum and keep it clean from spam and other nonsense. For long I have planned to integrate forum on ShoutMeLoud, and in the past, I integrated one Q&A forum, which was good, but lacked many features like:

  • Proper structuring of post
  • Easy navigation

Overall, it failed to create the community due to lousy structure. Over the past few months, I have researched different ways to integrate a forum with WordPress blog, and found many solutions.

In this article, I will discuss some of the most common available options for forum integration with a WordPress blog, and in a future post I will share more on my finding.

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The very first question you should be asking yourself is:

What is the purpose of your forum?

You have to be clear about the purpose of your forum. For me, it’s to provide a platform for users to interact, solve their questions related to blogging, SEO, WordPress and other online marketing stuff that I cover here at ShoutMeLoud.

Moreover, ShoutMeLoud is a community of bloggers, and at times I have seen users have questions, which can easily be resolved by any experienced Shouter. So, having such an integrated forum platform will help them quickly get their query solved.

Now, when you are thinking about the purpose, you have to be sure of the time you are ready to devote to the forum. For me, one hour a day is enough to solve at least 20+ users queries and interact with community members. When you have an answer to these two questions, move to the next one.

Integrated forum or separate forum?

You might have searched for many forum WordPress plugins like bbPress, MinglePress, SimplePress and one of the major issues with them is, they don’t use a separate database. They will be integrated with your WordPress blog like a plugin and will be using your existing WordPress database to add new tables. This is ok in the beginning, but as your forum grows, you have to work hard on keeping your database clean and optimized.

One major issue which I have read about integrating a forum into WordPress via forum plugin is compatibility. If one of them stops working, it will hamper other parts too. For example, many users reported that upgrading Simplepress plugin broke the blog, and they had to re-install WordPress. Well, this is just one of many issues, which can quickly be taken care by using a good WordPress forum plugin like bbPress or MinglePress.

Whereas, having a separated forum will ensure that nothing is broken on your main blog.

Technically, it will not be linked directly to your existing WordPress blog. You will be installing a separate instance of WordPress on /forum directory, and use any of the plugins to add a forum to it. (This will atleast solve the above-mentioned problem with direct integration).

Sub-domain or Sub-directory?

This is another important question you should ask yourself before integrating a forum on your blog. Where do you want your forum to be? What will be the SEO implication of incorporating the forum?

After the Google Panda algorithm updates, most of the forums were penalized due to low-quality content issue, which is normal for a public forum.

For me, I would prefer to install a forum at sub-domain level, as it will not impact my existing blog SEO. So instead of installing forum at domain.com/forum, a good idea is to install it at forum.domain.com.

Best Forum software’s and WordPress plugins to integrate forum

Once you have answered all the above questions, it’s time to look out for some of the best options. As I mentioned, there are two ways to integrate a forum:

  • Integrated forum with WordPress
  • Separate forum software

Based on my research and finding, I will share some of the best available WordPress forum plugins, and stand-alone forum software.  So, lets quickly look at some of the available options:

Discourse:

You need to install the Discourse forum on your server (Digital Ocean recommended).

You can also let the discourse guys host and manage your forum. The price starts at $100. If you manage by yourself, you would be needing only $10/month server from Digital Ocean.

Managing Discourse forum is very easy and provides everything you need to built a community forum. After trying PHPBB, vBulletin & XenForo, I finally settled for Discourse and have never been happier.

Check out Discourse

bbPress:

bbPress is a WordPress forum plugin developed by creators of WordPress. It integrates with WordPress seamlessly and is easy to manage. The weak aspect of bbPress is the development which is quite slow and comes with limited features. The good side, it’s one of the oldest and well-maintained plugins for WordPress. So, you can be sure of a good future with bbPress, as it will always be updated to stay compatible with the latest version of WordPress.

SimplePress:

SimplePress is another option, but it’s criticized due to its pricing model, and slow support. SimplePress is a free plugin, but to use plugins and get support, you need to buy a membership which starts at $39 for 2 months. At this moment, for a simple forum plugin, I don’t find the SimplePress as a value for money.

Now comes the self-hosted, stand alone forum options, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with platform like vBulletin, PhpBb. Here are some of the best recommended self-hosted forum options:

XenForo Forum:

XenForo is a paid forum and is used by many popular forums like Digital Point forum. XenForo is priced at $140 for one year support and upgrades.

phpBB:

phpBB is best free open-source forum software out there, and it is released under GNU general public license. Being an open-source platform, there are many free mods available for phpBB, which will help you to extend the feature of your forum. You can see one list of the mod on official page over here. Another good thing about phpBB is it’s just forum, and unlike other forum software which let you create blogs, or work as CMS, phpBB is designed to be only a forum software. In this case, when we are planning to integrate a forum with an existing WordPress blog, I find this as a better solution.

vBulletin :

Of all the commercial and paid forum software out there, vBulletin is one of the oldest and the most popular option right now. Popular internet marketing forum like Warriorforum runs on vBulletin. vBulletin is good option when you are planning to have a forum with all the features, and are looking for a professional approach. The only thing which you need to keep in mind is the pricing. Prices start at $249 which goes up as you add mobile-suite, or add-ons like branding removal. Do remember, the latest version of vBulletin 5 is getting some pretty bad reviews, and current users are reporting hundreds of bugs (via forums).

VanillaForums:

And for today, this is the last forum option I will add here. VanillaForums is another old forum software (started in 2006) and offers two options. Self-hosted (free) and a cloud-hosted option. If you are looking for a deep-integration of your blog with the forum (something like a new discussion thread for every post, along with comments), VanillaForums has a solution for you. Here is a guide on how this integration works.

I’m still digging into all these available solutions for forum integration, and will keep sharing my finding with you. For now, if you are a forum-owner, and want to share your review, feedback and opinion about any forum software or WordPress forum plugins, do let us know in the comments. If you find this WordPress Forum guide useful, do consider sharing it on Facebook and Google Plus.

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