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online communities promotion

This is the ninth article in what I hope will be an indefinite series about the processes involved in developing a new online community from scratch. I am currently developing a brand new online community and will detail its development on this blog. As I have said before, I think it is far easier to learn by example rather than simply reading another person’s theories and ideas.

Promoting an online community

Female Forum launched on 4 September 2008. Since then, the site has had a total of:

  • 13,258 visits
  • 60,060 pageviews
  • 194 forum members
  • 3,048 forum posts

You shouldn’t judge your success based on figures like those I have shared above. Your online community should be unique – therefore you can’t compare your stats to others as a determinant of your success. If you are meeting your own goals, then you are enjoying success.

In this article, I will tell you the promotion methods I have employed to reach the milestones stated above.

1. Leverage existing traffic

I added links to Female Forum on my existing websites, however I didn’t go ‘all out’ and blanket my current sites with links and banners. You want to start your external promotion efforts slowly – you want to build traffic and increase it day after day. You don’t want to open the floodgates on a new community that has minimal content. By promoting your community slowly, you will also allow yourself time to fix any bugs or errors that crop up.

2. Ensure pages are search engine friendly

Firstly, let me state that I am not an expert when it comes to search engine optimisation – I simply put strategies into practice that I have picked up in my experience with developing websites. All pages on your website should have relevant titles that include the keywords relevant to the content on that page. There is debate over whether META tags (keywords and descriptions) are still relevant. I say they can’t hurt, and always work to include them. I also ensured that all images had relevant ‘ALT’ tags.

3. Drop your link whenever possible

Every day I try to add at least one external link to Female Forum. Not only do links help bring in more direct traffic, they can benefit your existing search engine rankings. I get royalty free images for this blog and Female Forum from sxc.hu. On each image page there is a box for comments. Users who upload their photos love to know where they are being used – so every time I use an image, I thank them and include a link to where their image is appearing. Not only is this appreciated by the owner of the image, I also get myself an additional easy backlink.

Make sure you do not spam other sites. Joining forums or sites just so you can drop your link is never a good idea. Some forums allow links in signatures, others don’t. If in doubt, always ask first. You don’t want people to spam your online community, so don’t spam those that belong to others.

ExpressionEngine is the software behind Female Forum. They have a forum category where you can announce your EE based website. I made a post there, and also submitted the site to the EE Showcase (it was accepted and sent some good traffic).

I also use Article Marketer to build links to Female Forum. Every now and then I will rewrite an article and post it to Article Marketer, with links to the site in the author bio box. Typically this will then be distributed and earn a good number of additional links to your site. Thanks to the help of Article Marketer, Female Forum currently has 2,613 external links pointing to the site (according to Google Webmaster Tools). When it comes to Yahoo!, there are 3,414 inlinks.

4. Paid Advertising

I rarely undertake paid advertising, so this area was pretty new to me. Before I began advertising, I ensured I set up a ‘Goal’ in Google Analytics. The goal I set was for visitors to reach the forum registration page – this would allow me to determine what advertising was the most effective (ie which sites sent traffic that converted into members). Ideally, I would have placed the goal page on the ‘Registration Success’ page, but EE doesn’t have a standalone page of this nature.

I advertised Female Forum using the following sites:

AdBrite – What attracted me to AdBrite was the fact I could target specific websites and niches, however I found the traffic converted pretty poorly. Female Forum appeared as an interstitial and consequently few people clicked around – they just skipped it and continued on the site they were visiting. It was definitely the cheapest option I tried, though.

Google AdWords – I haven’t fully explored Google AdWords with Female Forum yet, however I did try placing a few video ads (click here to see a low-quality example). I found the videos had a disappointing play rate, however I still need to play around and find a more enticing ‘teaser image’ that appears before a viewer clicks the play button and then move onto text ads.

StumbleUpon Ads – Advertising on StumbleUpon can be a good way of getting a new site ‘out there’ and generating some awareness. I can target those interested specifically in ‘Womens Issues’, and each click is a real visitor to the site. What’s more, you can see how well your site is perceived by the StumbleUpon community. On my last check, Female Forum achieved an 81% approval rating.

Facebook Ads – This is without doubt my favourite advertising method so far. The amount of control you have when it comes to targeting your traffic is fantastic. If you play around with your titles and advertising copy, you can come up with a highly effective ad. Without doubt, Facebook Ads is the most cost-effective method I have tried and brings me the best converting traffic.

5. Networking

Find blogs that are relevant to your niche and get involved. Don’t comment just to add your link; rather, add informative and well thought-out comments. After you have done this a few times, contact the blogger and introduce yourself. Establish a dialogue with them and ask them what they think of your new site. Ask them if they would be interested in interviewing you. Ask them if they would be interested in you writing a guest blog post.

Join Twitter and get involved. My Twitter page can be found at: http://twitter.com/martinreed. Do some searching and find other Twitterers who are involved in the same niche as your online community. Follow them. My involvement in Twitter started off as an experiement so I could see what it was all about. It has given me great additional exposure and sent traffic to both my blog and Female Forum. Twitter was responsible for me getting an interview at BabeofBusiness.

Interviews on blogs are far more effective than paid reviews. To find blogs that interview readers, do a blog search on Google. Run something like following query: inurl:blog

For example, let’s say your new online community is about Coi Carp. You want to find blogs that interview people in the Coi Carp field. Your query would be something like: coi carp interview inrul:blog

Play around with some search strings and you will soon find relevant blogs that conduct interviews. Get involved in the blogs by adding constructive comments, and after a while reach out by contacting the blogger and requesting an interview. Even if you don’t generate much additional direct traffic, you are getting additional links to your site and are establishing your credentials as an authority in your niche.

I have also started promoting the site within social networks – I recently put up a Facebook page for Female Forum and will soon be running a competition to encourage members to become ‘fans’. I will then build and strengthen the relationship the site has with new and potential members though the Facebook page.

Effective promotion and marketing begins at home

As I stated in my interview at Babeofbusiness, good marketing starts at home. Inbound links, visitor numbers and even Google PageRank mean nothing if your online community is not engaging, fun, and filled with high quality, unique content. Make your members feel welcome and valued. Get involved in the community yourself. Run some interesting competitions. Develop a personality for your community.

If you don’t have solid foundations, then external promotion is worthless. You need to have something that people want, so always focus on your community first and its promotion second.

Your thoughts

How do you promote your online community? Perhaps I have missed out a strategy you find effective – if so, share it! Do you disagree with some of the steps I have taken? Share your thoughts, experience and ideas by leaving a comment below.

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