Choosing a name for your forum categories

by Martin Reed on 27 July 2007 in Snippets

As I have said before, you should only ensure you have a large number of categories if your community can support them; there is nothing worse than visiting a forum for the first time to see empty categories.

That being said, if you are confident that new categories will be used, you should go ahead and create them. Before you do that however, take some time to think of a good name for the new category.

Why spend time naming a new forum category?

What to name a forum categoryYou should always spend some time to come up with a good name for your new forum category – it makes you different.

How many forums have you come across where the forum category is simply named after its subject, without any thought, personality or humour? This is a mistake – those forums are not engaging their visitors, and are not encouraging them to delve deeper into their site.

What looks more interesting from the two examples below?

Category List A

News Forum
Talk about the news

Sport Forum
Talk about sport

Car Forum
Talk about cars

Category List B

Journalists’ Domain
Put on your reporting hat and share your thoughts on current events

Talk Sport
Dodgy team call-ups wouldn’t happen on your watch! Share sports thoughts.

Grease Monkeys
It’s got an engine, and it’s greasy – you love it! Talk about cars here.

Of course, these are just examples but I think you would agree that Category List B looks more inviting and a little more original that Category List A.

Some readers of this article may argue that what you name your categories matters little compared to the quality of your content – I would agree. The reason I suggest you take the time to incorporate a little originality into the names of your forum categories is to attract the interest of new visitors.

You may have the best content of any online community, but if a visitor isn’t intrigued enough to dig around your site to get to it, it’s wasted.

Using original forum category names helps spark interest in your community for the first time visitor. They encourage the visitor to stick around for a few more seconds, they convey the personality of your community and they are a whole heap more exciting than boring, standard category titles that your competitors are using.

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Tim July 27, 2007 at 5:40 pm

That’s something I hadn’t really put much thought into… but I guess you have a very valid point, I’ll try it out.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 27, 2007 at 11:30 pm

Tim – I think anything you can do to retain your visitors for those extra few seconds is worth doing. Let me know how you get on and if you notice any benefits from being more inventive with your forum categories.

Melissa Odom July 28, 2007 at 5:23 am

I like this idea! Just wish I was more creative. :)

Russ July 28, 2007 at 9:47 am

Although something like that does make a difference and certainly improves the look of your forum, I’m not sure if it would help in the long run – eg. getting new members, keeping old ones.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 28, 2007 at 10:06 am

Melissa – Anyone can be creative; if you are unsure of an idea for a name, ask your members!

Russ – I strongly believe this method can help in the long run both in terms of getting new members and retaining old ones.

You will only get new members if your community offers something unique. Originality, such as through the use of interesting forum category names, encourages the first time visitor to poke around your site for a little longer than they may have done otherwise.

During this time, your content has a real chance at encouraging them to join your community. Your content could be great, but if it is hidden behind uninspirational category names, it may end up never being seen.

Small changes to your community such as inventive category names help show your members that you care about their community experience. They also help reflect the personality of your community. If you get your members involved in the naming of categories, you also make them feel more valued. All these factors will help to retain your members.

I am not saying that if you use original names for your forum categories your community will suddenly be successful; this is simply one of a range of methods you can employ to help differentiate your community and enhance its chance of success.

Mike July 29, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Nice tips. I will definitely be trying to come up with some more creative descriptions.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 29, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Mike – Good luck coming up with some creative names and descriptions. Don’t forget to have fun whilst doing it!

Smiley July 29, 2007 at 10:50 pm

I had different names before on my forums for each category. But one night I was reading them and thought “people who are new to forums are just going to be so confused…”

I decided to go down changing all the names to much more straight forward names. “Health, Beauty, Fitness & Fashion”, “Music, Television & Video” etc.

A new user to forums will understand straight away what that forum is about. I know there’s a ‘description’ bit under the forum name for people to read, but who really reads the descriptions? I know I’ve never. “Web users are lazy!”

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 30, 2007 at 3:39 pm

Smiley – Sometimes it is a good idea to keep it simple; as for the category descriptions, I have no idea how many people read them. They can be used as a bit of fun, though – anything that gives the casual visitor more of an insight into your community is worth utilising, in my opinion.

Smiley July 30, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Yeah. I’ve one a lot to differentiate, I’ve basically gone down the lang_main file changing just about everything. So I think in my case, I could get away with having straight forward category names!

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 30, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Smiley – That sounds almost obsessive; a man after my own heart ;)

Chris Guthrie July 31, 2007 at 7:30 am

Interesting point here Martin. I saw you had visited my blog (love that mybloglog widget ;) ). On some of my forum’s ‘subforums’ I occasionally use plain descriptions, but I feel that often times it is done simply to keep up the pattern of having a description for each subforum.

Smiley August 2, 2007 at 3:56 am

LOL – yes, I am quite obsessive lately when it comes to editing the site. I’m just learning new things all the time. 4 weeks ago, I didn’t even know how to restore a database – now I just about know how to completely re-arrange phpBB boards.

So I’m always looking for new ways to differentiate, everyday of every week :)

Obsessive.. yeah.. but it’ll be worth it in a couple of years down the line !!

Martin Reed - Blog Author August 3, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Chris – Thanks for dropping by. The descriptions are so standard these days that people often forget they can be a inventive and stand out from the crowd at the same time.

Has this article resulted in you considering a change over at your forum?

Smiley – I am glad that differentiation has become such a strong priority for your site’s development and growth. Keep it up!

Alvina March 18, 2008 at 6:03 am

I think this is a good idea if the forum is dedicated mainly to native English speakers or if the titles are simple. I’m not a native English speaker and if I saw “Grease Monkeys” on a forum, I’d have to look at it a few times in order to figure out what it is about. On a site I administered, the “History” forum was renamed to “Thought and Memory” for example, however it turned out to be more difficult for some non-native speakers to figure it out. Some would send me PMs asking me if we have a history forum. So I decided to keep it simple and instead personalize my forum by adding some custom icons for each forum.

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 19, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Alvina – You make a valid point; whilst forum categories and descriptions should be original, they still need to be clear. There is no point having inventive names and descriptions if people don’t have a clue what they mean!