I enjoy answering questions from readers of this blog. Whilst I tend to encourage that these questions be asked within the comments sections of individual articles, at times the question may be unrelated to a specific article and consequently an email is best.
Today I want to answer a question I received by email from a reader looking to start a brand new online community. I believe that the advice I pass on to this reader can be beneficial to others, and that you can all help with your own ideas – hence the reason why I am publicly publishing my response (with permission).
Here is the email I received:
I’m looking to set up an new community website and plan to introduce a Forum and Blog (fresh content via the Blog).
From your experience, for SEO & getting new members to find my site which would you think would be better?
1) Setting up a Google Blogger site and linking my site to it?
2) Setting up a Google Blogger site and provide the content of which to my site via RSS?
3) Setting up my site and providing backend functionality for me to add my own content that is displayed on the frontend?
Any other advice with regards to this topic?
Thanks for you time and efforts – http://www.communityspark.com/ is awesome!
This email was a good start, although I needed more information – namely the subject of the community and the reason why he wants to start one up. Here was the reply:
Thanks for the reply. Yes, by all means please do cover the topic on Community Spark.
I am South African, my wife is Swedish and we have a 3 year old son. We recently (seven months ago) moved to Portugal and as we don’t speak any Portuguese we have found it very difficult at times to track down information and so forth. As a result we rely heavily on our phrase books, dictionary, BabelFish, Google and expat websites.
So in light of this and the fact that my wife likes to Blog (on Swedish sites) about family life in Portugal etc. we decided to set up what we would like to be the BEST community website for expats living in Portugal.
I’m currently developing the website under the domain expatHive.com and hope to launch it (phase one) within two months. The visuals & logo for the website are close to sign of – so hopefully I will be able to get something up ‘soonish’ and factor in what I learn from your article.
Can’t wait to read it!
Thanks and regards,
First, I want to address the initial email. I can’t recommend Blogger for the simple reason that I have never used it. I never recommend anything unless I have experience with it myself. Therefore, I cannot offer any real advice in this area. However, when it comes to blogging software I would recommend WordPress for the simple reason that it has a huge community behind it and has now become the blogging standard.
I would recommend you integrate the community features (blog, forum etc) into your website – don’t link to an external blog or forum. You want to leverage all your existing traffic to best effect – keep everything on the site that people know; ie the one that already exists! Remember – Web users are lazy. Keep everything they need on one site.
You have decided to target a very specific niche. On the one hand, this can be beneficial as you will naturally have less competition. On the other hand, you may struggle to get the right visitors to your website. For a forum to be successful, it needs content, traffic, members and interaction.
Because you have such a targeted niche, I would recommend you start off limiting the community aspect of your site to a blog. Blogs take less work to turn into a success, yet they can create great communities through the commenting system. Once you have built a strong community around your blog and have strong repeat traffic and loyal members, you will be in a better position to launch a forum and ensure it is successful.
My article ‘The best online community: A forum or a blog?‘ should help you decide what direction to take. Developing any online community from scratch is hard work. You have the huge benefit that your wife loves to blog and is used to doing it – therefore use these skills to your advantage. A forum is a whole new kettle of fish and is a big step up.
Plan for a forum, but consider holding off until you have the traffic and time to ensure it is a success. Nothing turns visitors and potential members off more than an empty forum. You may also like to take a look at my article entitled, ‘Should you add a forum to your blog?‘ for further advice.
Community Spark is a great online community, and I want to invite the opinions and thoughts from all the readers as to how Hayden should proceed. How do you think he should develop his site? Do you think he should jump right in with a forum and a blog? What software do you recommend? What advice can you offer him? Leave a comment below with your ideas!