Cut down on the forum categories

by Martin Reed on 4 June 2007 in Snippets

If your forum is new, it may look pretty bare. You will often have a membership count in the single or double figures, and you will have categories with a low number of posts and threads.

Don’t advertise emptiness

Which forum would you rather join?

Forum A

An empty forum

Forum B

A busy forum

Now, I am assuming that you would prefer to join Forum B – it is clear that this is a popular community with a good load of content and interaction taking place.

Have you noticed how we often check the topics, post and member count before even considering joining a new community? That’s because once we are online, we become lazy.

We don’t want to go through the time consuming process of registration and confirmation emails before we can contribute to a community – checking these stats gives us an indication of whether getting involved in a new community is worth the effort.

Tackling emptiness

The easiest way of reducing the impact of your forum’s lack of content is to reduce the number of categories.

There is no point having 15, or even 5 categories if they are going to be empty. Keep things simple when you launch a forum – stick to perhaps three or four separate topics, and keep them generalised.

As these categories begin to be populated with content, you can then add new categories and move relevant posts over. This way, new categories you add will immediately contain content and prevent ‘the zeros’ from driving potential new members away before they give your community a chance.

Don’t forget to create content

Reducing the amount of categories your forum holds is not an excuse for not providing content. Sure, a community site is all about user-generated content, but if you are the only member of your community this task falls to you.

There is no excuse for having empty or sparsely populated categories on a forum. If they are empty, then they are not needed. If they have only a few posts, it is up to you to create the content and get the interaction started.

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Cifra June 4, 2007 at 6:42 pm

I’m gonna disagree with you on this one, Martin. The categories of a forum, from my experience, mostly depend on the experience of the webmaster, but the most important factor is actualy the subject, or topic, of the whole forum. For instance, one rap battle forum I have (nothing interesting, 1k users) has a news section, a debating section, a battle section, and a support section. Every section has at least 3 categories.
What I want to say is, that sometimes, if you want to control the user’s posting behaviour at least a bit, you have to categorize your site’s “topic”. And the topic changes the way one categorizes his forum.
Damn, I’m horrible, please excuse my English :D

Cifra June 4, 2007 at 6:51 pm

Sorry for the double post (can’t edit), but I’m not sure if I grasped what YOU wanted to say. Anyways, forgot to add, that I don’t think there is a big difference when you concentrate you users onto less categories to increase teh size of posts. Because for a good startup, one needs at least 15 actove members, and that is enough for the whole forum, normally.There’s always the fast jump between no members an many members. Sorry again, I’ll read posts twice next time :D

Martin Reed June 4, 2007 at 8:14 pm

Hi Cifra – thanks for your comment.

I took a look at your forum, and yes you do have a good number of categories but this works well for your forum as each category is populated with content.

What I was trying to get across in this article is that there is no point having a large number of categories if they are going to sit empty.

Start off with a few categories, then add more as you grow. Of course, once your forum is established and users are generating content, you can get away with a larger number of categories – which is just what you have done.

I hope this clarifies what I was trying to get across in my article :)

Smiley June 4, 2007 at 10:17 pm

Whoops. lol.

And here I am with two bloody dozen of them LOL.

But, I think the number of categories needs to reflect the dedication of the owner and its staff/regulars.

Such as I have a small backing, so in the next few days those people will sign up and we’ll all be going on huge posting sprees to get new threads going.

So, it’s not AS bad for me.

I do agree, though, that if it’s your very first community and you’re all alone with no-one else to help you and you’re relying soley on new users, I can see how having plenty of categories could be your downfall.

Martin Reed June 5, 2007 at 12:19 am

Hey Smiley – Empty categories do not reflect dedication of the owner, staff or community members. If they are empty, they actually show a lack of dedication!

If you can create a good amount of content and ensure each category is used though, there is nothing wrong with having 20 or more categories!

An empty category is a waste; have too many of them and you may well discourage new visitors from becoming members.

Thomson June 5, 2007 at 2:47 am

Thanks for the idea. I had a powerpoint forum which I just started a while ago. I was trying to promote it, It is a good idea to minimize the categories. I liked that idea.

Thanks for Sharing

Martin Reed June 5, 2007 at 11:44 am

Hi Thomson. Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. I am glad this article was useful to you, and look forward to reading more of your comments in the future.

Thanks for dropping by.

Business Education June 5, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Yeah I agree with you, If we keep create content, it most likely people will join. I also want to add, It is important to add also SE url friendly. So we can run SEO strategy on our forum.

- Ruri

Martin Reed June 5, 2007 at 7:25 pm

Hi Ruri, thanks for your comment.

Yes, I agree that there should definitely be some attempt at basic SEO when developing forums.

I have covered how to optimise phpBB titles, and will write a few more basic SEO articles in the future.

I get worried though, when people spend more time working on ‘SEO’ for their sites rather than generating content!

Smiley June 5, 2007 at 7:50 pm

I only made my new one yesterday so I’m going to wait a few weeks, see which categories get used the most, and which don’t, then delete the obsolete categories or merge them with others for now.

They can always be re-added one by one a couple months down the line as the member list grows.

I’ve also adopted your view on internet users are lazy, and already I’ve seen results, small results mind, but results nonetheless – that’s only after one day on a site that might as well be non-existant when new!

On my other site I simply had text that says “Bookmark this site so you can visit later (CTRL+D)” and also “Why not support us by linking to us on your site?”

On my new one I’ve decided to experiment to see if the lazy-user theory is correct. I’ve now made a click that says “Click here to bookmark this site” and “Copy/paste the following code onto your website to support us!”

I’ve done away with my sattelite-sites idea, too. Instead, I’m having all different scriptes etc under sub-domains all with a “Back to main site” link in the footer, so even if they originally got to my new site by searching for a free file sharing site and came across my FriendShare, quite a few should still end up on my main site.

It was hard getting GC off the ground, I’m going to see if it’s any easier after learning what I have over the past months and from ideas I’ve adopted from what I’ve read in this blog.

Back to forum categories though, my idea on having many categories was that 90% of forums have just a few standardized forums. “General gossip, serious discussions, polls” and that’s just basically it.

I would have thought offering a wider variety would help? What’s your take on that?

Martin Reed June 5, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Hey Smiley. First off, I think it’s great that you have seen for yourself just how lazy web users can be – make things easy and spoon feed your visitors and you’ll always get better results!

I think it is a good idea to bring all your satellite sites together – you are creating a richer environment for your main site this way. Your sites are all so closely related there is no need to keep them separate.

As for the forum categories, having a wider variety is a good idea – as long as you have the content to justify their presence.

Having a thousand categories on many different subjects has the potential to increase the appeal of your community, but only if those categories contain content and are used by your community’s members!

As your community develops, it will gain its own personality. You will then be in a better position to know what categories to add, and will hopefully already have content for them which can easily be moved across once you create the new category.

Smiley June 5, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Good take! I’ve cut down on a few for now, as thinking of new threads all the time can be a bit of a daunting task. I’ll give it a few weeks and see how it goes, huh??

Perhaps you can do an article sometime on the best times of the year to advertise, and how to keep your visitor numbers up?

I’m not sure if you ever found this when you first started JC, but I’ve noticed during the summer a HUGE drop in visitor numbers.

If this is true, I’ve just created a new site at a very, very bad time.

Who wants to sit in and chat when it’s hot out?? Nobody!

I wonder if you might be interested in making an article about how to get around this little problem in the future? :)

Martin Reed June 5, 2007 at 10:12 pm

I am not sure there is too much you can do to prevent visitor numbers dropping over the summer! I will have a think about it and write an article if some ideas spring to mind.

Smiley June 5, 2007 at 11:24 pm

Did the same happen with JC when it first started?

It must have something to do with less people searching the engines.

Martin Reed June 5, 2007 at 11:27 pm

I think almost all sites notice a downturn with traffic over the summer – people are off on holiday, looking after the kids, or out enjoying the sunshine.

It’s just one of those things!

Smiley June 6, 2007 at 12:42 am

I find it difficult to pass up on good advice when it’s offered openly & free.

Instead of deleting different forums, I’ve merged 3/4 of them together.

I had, for instance, a music forum, a forum for television and a separate one completely for film & cinema. I’ve simply made an “Entertainment” forum now to chuck them all into one, and done the same with all the other forums.

The boards look much smaller, but, a lot less empty already even with very few posts at the moment.

And you’re right, it does look a lot more appealing than scrolling down to see “0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0″

Martin Reed June 6, 2007 at 11:11 am

I think you have made a move for the better by grouping such specific niches into a generalised ‘hold-all’ category.

Good luck with your community.

liam June 10, 2007 at 11:18 pm

Yes, I’ve created many forums, and it not only makes it harder to read when you have 300 different categories but no one will really know where to post what.

Now if you have 30k users and everyone posts regularly, maybe expanding the categories would be useful. It’s probably not a good idea to start with though.

Martin Reed June 10, 2007 at 11:40 pm

Hi liam – Thanks for your comment. I completely agree – there is nothing wrong with having a large number of categories if you have the membership base and interaction to support them.

Having a huge number of categories when you first start only draws attention to the young age and lack of activity on your forum, and should be avoided.

Nauczyciel November 26, 2008 at 8:41 am

I wholeheartedly agree with you but you concentrated only on how to get the things moving when the forum is brand new and shiny but without any contributions. I believe that later on you would stillhave to divide the categories into subcategories or you’ll end up with a complete mess.

The questions is, will you have enough time and commitment to do this once the forum has been populated. It’d involve copying the entries, educating your users, etc.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:46 am

Nauczyciel – Yes, as the site grows you will need to add more categories. I am not saying a large number of forum categories are always a bad thing – they are only to be avoided when your community is new and these new categories are unable to justify their keep.

feamor January 16, 2010 at 11:30 am

It is my biggest problem now. I am developing a tech forum about hardware, software and programming. I have a large friend community who are in this job. I asked their ideas and needs then take feedback about which categories there should be.

After creating all, I face with the question if i should cut down some of the categories or not.

I am worried about moving topics to newly created categories can cause broken links and affect search engine ranking?

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