Have a forum you can be proud of

by Martin Reed on 26 September 2007 in Articles

Keep your members aware they are under the same umbrella

By adding a forum to your website you can enjoy enormous benefits but you can also make your site instantly appear amateur. How? By failing to properly integrate the forum into your website.

Integration not segregation

Your site looks professional when all your features are integrated. Visitors do not want new windows to open when they surf around your site. They do not want to be greeted with different designs and layouts as they browse, and they do not want to get the impression that any part of your site has been ‘tacked on’.

For a community to work, your visitors need to be convinced that it is worth their time and effort to register and get involved. If you can’t be bothered to fully integrate your forum into your site, a visitor may not bother to register. If your forum looks completely different to the rest of your site, you may confuse a visitor to the point where they think they are on a different website altogether!

All sections of your site should complement each other. They should all feed off the same basic design, layout and navigation. Don’t run a basic forum install then throw up a link. Take the time to fully integrate the forum and allow it to add value to the rest of your site and allow the rest of your site to add value to your forum.

Four ways to integrate a forum into your website

1 – Share the same CSS file with the rest of your site – this will ensure a consistent approach when it comes to fonts, link colours, layouts etc.

2 – Carry over the same navigation structure from the rest of your site. Don’t allow your forum to only have navigation links for the forum alone. Include your ‘parent’ navigation as well as the forum navigation throughout.

3 – Customise the header and footer files. It may take time, but it is more than worth it. Keep the header and footer for your forum identical to the rest of your site. When people arrive at your forum they should have no doubt whatsoever that they are still on your site.

4 – Never have your forum open in a new window. Not only can you annoy users by forcing a new window to open, but most sites only do this when they are sending a visitor to an external website. Don’t make your visitors think they are leaving or they may do just that!

Don’t skimp on the details

You have already spent time building your site and creating content. You are building a relationship with every visitor that arrives – the last thing you want to do is ruin this by confusing a visitor with what appears to be a segregated forum.

Show your visitors just how important and integral a part of your website the forum is. Integrate it as much as possible – keep your forum under your site’s umbrella and make sure it looks like it belongs there.

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Leonid Shalimov September 26, 2007 at 7:10 pm

Awesome article, definitely some great points. I use the same stylesheet across any ‘extensions’ of my main website that I might do (like forums, chatting, etc).

Smiley September 27, 2007 at 6:38 pm

I’m still learning all this web designing stuff, I’m afraid I don’t know how to integrate yet.

But I kind of like keeping the forums and the chat separate. People who chat in the room rarely go to the forums, and people who like the forums rarely go to the chat.

So the chat client members have their community; while the forum members, in turn, have their own community, too.

They’re both doing well, so I think I’ll keep them as they are for now.

Martin Reed - Blog Author September 28, 2007 at 6:42 pm

Leonid – I think it’s definitely a good thing to use the same stylesheet throughout a website; it ensures you have a degree of consistency from the outset.

Smiley – If you are happy segregating your forum, then stick with your current setup. I always think it is better to have all sections of your site sharing the value inferred on them from the others, though.

Siddha September 30, 2007 at 1:24 pm

I agree. I used to have a website, and I put up a forum to keep the people who liked to come around and comment on my articles and the like. It really does work.
Good article. Thank you.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 1, 2007 at 6:03 pm

Siddha – Forums can be a great way of adding stickiness to your site, just as long as you have the time needed to make it successful!

Chris October 2, 2007 at 5:21 pm

Great points. One thing to keep in mind is how hard keeping a forum running can be.

For example, since spammers/hackers are always running about, you have to constantly keep the forum updated. This is not always easy. Once you integrate the forum into your site and customize it (logo, colors, etc) and have to upgrade, many times you have to start all over because skins from previous versions of the forum are not compatible!

Forums are great though because in my opinion they are a bit more interactive…

They just take work! Like anything else.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 3, 2007 at 8:18 pm

Chris – I couldn’t agree more. Developing a successful forum is a huge challenge, and one that many people just do not seem to recognise.

Just because they are easy to set up software wise, it doesn’t mean people will immediately flock to your site and form a community without any effort on your part.

Nicole October 19, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Great site and i love reading all your articles. I am setting up a site (saveshankill.com) for my town in Ireland. I added on fireboard forum and I was wondering if you have any advice on how to manage the users? Community Builder, GroupJive, YaNC newsletters…I want it all to be integrated and I am getting confused!
Many thanks for your help!

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 23, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Nicole – Thanks for your kind comment. What exactly do you mean when you ask for advice on how to ‘manage’ users? Do you mean attract them to your forum? Retain them? Keep them happy? If you provide some more information about your aims and long term vision, I will try to offer you some advice.

Michelle from the Coulee Region October 26, 2007 at 2:45 am

Taking a guess… Nicole might mean managing keeping the user logins in synch between the programs she’s using.


Martin Reed - Blog Author October 26, 2007 at 5:50 pm

Michelle – I think that may well be the case, let’s hope Nicole replies and clarifies things so I can offer some advice.

Nicole LE Saout October 27, 2007 at 10:52 am

Hi, Sorry for the delay in responding. I am looking for a technical solution to manage users, their information, their profile, the articles/content they contribute, their forum entries and newsletters they are subscribed to. I am building a joomla site and there are so many components to chose from (groupjive, community builder, etc…)I have played with them all and can’t get it working all together…
Many thanks,

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 29, 2007 at 9:43 pm

Nicole – I have to admit, I am no programming whiz. Your best bet will be to contact the support team or forums of the actual software you are struggling to implement. Very often you will find the members there will be more than happy to help you out.

Bruno November 2, 2009 at 2:11 am

Great article, I especially like the sharing the same .css file, great idea!

Another way to get this done with relative ease is to use Joomla CMS with an outside forum installation.

With the wrapper component you can have the forum stand on it’s own in the main content area and then the site matches perfectly and then you also have access to over 4000 free Joomla extensions ;)

Vincent November 22, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Another great way to customize things is to use the Firefox Web Developer extension, you can then view the CSS and edit in real time. Then save the code and paste it into the live template.

Only problem with that is that you REALLY need to know what you are doing…!