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.