Forum is extremely unsuccessful due to rival site

thesignalman

Active member
I run a site that's based on transportation (mainly traffic signals). Sadly, a lot of people have registered and only about 6 people actively post out of the 150 or so members on the forum. This is due to the fact that my rival forum (which launched in 2013) is very similar to mine in it's theme. Long story short, I was a member of the rival site, and I got banned from there due to breaking several rules, as I was very immature on there. I even went as far as attempting to get back in using several pseudo accounts. It's been years since I've been on there and the admin of the website refuses to forgive me. He even treats me poorly on other platforms. Everyone else has seemed to move on and has forgiven me. When my forum launched, the rival site admin decided to upgrade the software of his site (from pvbulliten to discourse), which caused a huge blow to the growth of my forum. People claim I'm too pushy when it comes to having them post on my forum. I've tried being patient and giving people the benefit of the doubt too. The Facebook groups don't feel the same and don't have the same features as the forum do. Nor does it contain the uniqueness of it either. I've tried everything, and now I'm considering shutting down my forum. Despite people that have been saying there's no need to. The people who said they were gonna help me with my forum have turned their backs on me by completely giving up moderating it or they just use the rival site. I guess I was not meant to be a forum admin. Out of all the plug ins I've installed, all the special features, I don't know if it's even worth wasting the money to host it anymore. It's bad enough the facebook groups are killing the concept of my forums. People even treat joining my forum like it's a committed relationship, saying they don't want to join it because they've been a member of the rival site for so long. I feel so left out from being banned from the rival site and I still feel horrible about the admin holding a grudge against me, even after years and years have gone by. It feels empty knowing that Instagram chats and Facebook groups are the only alternative. I've reached a point where I can't take the pressure anymore. I post a thread, nobody responds for months, only to have a single reply to the thread. I'm done. I can't take it anymore. People get annoyed when I even mention it, and there's almost no sympathy for all my hard work. Meanwhile people roll out the red carpet for the admin of the rival site.
 

sbj

Well-known member
Well, I wish I could cheer you up but I just have bad news for you.

You are not the only one with no user engagement. We all struggle with that. This site has a forum showcase section and it is filled with domains which don't exist anymore or if they do, which are just dead forums. Just a small portion of new forum owners make it. So, if it gives you any comfort, it is basically the norm that your forum is like that.

Can't comment on the stuff between you and the rival forum. It sounds like you wish you could turn back time and not do your mistakes. It looks like you miss being a part of that forum and as a last resort you opened your own. Not sure if that will make you happy. Accepting it and moving on should be the better option.

About forums in general. In the 2000s you could have a forum opened and people would come and populate it for you. This doesn't work anymore for more than a decade now. You need a strategy about providing content now. You have to do the dirty work now, nobody else will.

To understand the situation, 100% of people use the same daily websites they always use. Mostly through apps now. The only time they step away from their own comfort zones are when they are using Google. Through search they land on new websites they never have seen before because whatever they are looking for is on that website. That means you have to have content on your forum first, so Google can index you and when people hit search, some keywords will make them land on your site.

This is the only reliable way of gaining new users and engagement. The other important key is to have a good domain name. That alone is also a keyword which attracts users.
And if they like your stuff, they will stay or remember your site and come back when they need it again.

So having some forum categories about something will not cut it. Ask the question why somebody should use your site. For what purpose. What can they find on your site they can't find elsewhere? I am not sure what kind of content can be created about transportation. But there must be something. The problem is you have to do it yourself, create a database of traffic signals for each country maybe? Have manuals, stuff to download, image gallery, etc. But filled with stuff. Otherwise nobody will populate it for you. In the time of smartphones nobody does, as I said, we all struggle with user engagement (or at least I do).

Have a nice week.
 

bzcomputers

Well-known member
People will never leave what feels comfortable for them (those already invested in the other forum), unless there is a good reason to do it.

Mimicking another already established site will not give you the bones you need to grow on. You need to have unique, original content that users will want to join in on the discussion of. If you are not creating that unique content, you need to find someone who will create it on your site.

You also shouldn't look at the other site as your source of new users. You should be looking at the other 99% of the public not associated with that other site as your best source of new members. Most likely the active members on the other site are not the exact same active members that were there when you left it. If the other site wasn't continually bringing in new members it would not survive either.

You should be creating new interesting article content, questions for discussion, etc. on your forum multiple times a week if not daily - even if there isn't anyone there to comment on it. Make sure the content gets ranked well in search engines and it will likely start to bring you the new members you're looking for. It will not happen tomorrow or next week but over time they will come.

Don't waste any more time on plug-ins, add-ons, fancy themes while your site it trying to get established - this is not what brings you new members. What brings you new members is search engine results. All your time should be spent on creating new, unigue, relevant content.
 

thesignalman

Active member
People will never leave what feels comfortable for them (those already invested in the other forum), unless there is a good reason to do it.

Mimicking another already established site will not give you the bones you need to grow on. You need to have unique, original content that users will want to join in on the discussion of. If you are not creating that unique content, you need to find someone who will create it on your site.

You also shouldn't look at the other site as your source of new users. You should be looking at the other 99% of the public not associated with that other site as your best source of new members. Most likely the active members on the other site are not the exact same active members that were there when you left it. If the other site wasn't continually bringing in new members it would not survive either.

You should be creating new interesting article content, questions for discussion, etc. on your forum multiple times a week if not daily - even if there isn't anyone there to comment on it. Make sure the content gets ranked well in search engines and it will likely start to bring you the new members you're looking for. It will not happen tomorrow or next week but over time they will come.

Don't waste any more time on plug-ins, add-ons, fancy themes while your site it trying to get established - this is not what brings you new members. What brings you new members is search engine results. All your time should be spent on creating new, unigue, relevant content.

My rival site, along with the one I got banned from are hidden from public view due to the privacy of the users. Traffic Signal collectors exchange a lot of back and forth information about where they live. This is why it's kept private. So google search engine related stuff is out of the window. I also asked members what they think about

As for interesting content, my forum does have content that the rival website doesn't provide. The rival site only has subforums related to signals and signs for the most part. My site has more subforums as well as a live chat. My rival site already contains a wiki, I'm thinking of starting up my own wiki. But I'm not quite sure if having a wiki would defeat the purpose of having a discussion forum as all the questions could be answered on the wiki.

My site was quickly growing when it first launched during the first year of the pandemic. What stopped it unfortunately was the admin of my rival forum upgrading his software to discourse, that gave my forum the death sentence. I feel like he did it on purpose too as he was scared of the future of his forum. The Facebook groups took a toll on the success of my rival site, but it only came out with a few batches and bruises and quickly bounced back. New people to the hobby are still commuting to my rival site as opposed to my forum.
 

motowebmaster

Well-known member
@thesignalman, It's up to you, but don't completely agree.

My rival forum started before mine, because I banned it's founders from a larger site I used to own. Today, my rival is gone and I own the rival domain (that I didn't pay anything for).

Success didn't happen overnight, took a few years. My site is visual eye candy today, and does use all of XF's available software, but it's still kept simple with very little off-topic posts. It has over 15 years of useful content and experiences today.
 

Mr Lucky

Well-known member
and there's almost no sympathy for all my hard work.
Welcome to the world of running a forum, or any website. I notice you aren’t actually asking for a critique or advice. I would do so before giving up, which seems to be the main theme of your post.

Assuming it’s the site in your profile and you may be open to advice:

You obviously have spent money (premium addons and xenForo branding removal) but maybe it’s time to learn realise this is not what makes a successful forum. People first of all want interesting discussion, and no addons or special features are needed for that.

How would you get members if the site is private? This seems to be a crazy strategy if you want a popular site, ie if it looks like there is no content who would (a) sign and (b) even know it exists as Google is not aware of any content to list?

If a rival site is long established, then ignore it.

What stopped it unfortunately was the admin of my rival forum upgrading his software to discourse, that gave my forum the death sentence. I feel like he did it on purpose too as he was scared of the future of his forum
Obviously he did it on purpose, many sites switched from vBulletin. You certainly cannot blame the rival’s success on changing software to Discourse (which I’m sure would put a lot of people off anyway, I’ve abandoned being a member of discourse sites as it is so off putting to use for me)

Best thing to do is get good unique content. If you say it has unique content, how would anybody (and Google) know that? Currently the site appears to actually have no content, every forum you click on there says “no threads” so this is probably why so few people are signing up.

Honestly, try something positive before giving up. Ask for advice and experiment with things that will help get people on board. It seems (from the titile of the thread) you've already diagnosed the issue as being due to the rival forum, not due to anything you have (or haven't) done. Needs looking at from another perspective IMO.
 
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briansol

Well-known member
How many members, and how active is the rival forum?

It really sounds like this niche is super small (based on my opinion) and if your competing for 200 people in the world, it's just never going to happen.

Perhaps, you need to branch out, expand the niche. If traffic lights and signs isn't enough, what's next? Add Guardrails, street lamps, crosswalks, or whatever that can grow your niche audience to 300 people that is the next most related element.


I'm not trying to be condescending, but i can't fathom there's a lot of folks interested in this stuff so you need to go a bit broader to get more people in and share some partial interests in the larger niche space of 'civil engineering: transportation infrastructure'

I also recommend having more public sections. Understanably, it needs opsec around location details sometimes, but perhaps more generic question forums should be public for search hits.

"I have this 5 light yellow fixture from Acme company, can anyone help me date it"? and things like that can be public.
 
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Mr Lucky

Well-known member
it needs opsec around location details sometimes
All you need is to make sure people know, in the terms and conditions, that whatever they put in their profile for location (which need not be compulsory anyway) may be publically visible.

Then it's up to them whether they put their street address, town, county, state, name of first pet, great aunt's maiden name, date of birth or whatever. If they divulge something so top secret, why then are they trusting you and other members with it - any of whom could be fraudsters.
 
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imno007

Well-known member
Traffic Signal collectors exchange a lot of back and forth information about where they live. This is why it's kept private.
Yes, but is there some reason you couldn't have forums that are open to the public, displaying some latest news and articles, whatever? You could then have a private members-only forum(s)?
 

Lee

Well-known member
I would make the suggestion that, along side all the other great suggestions made above - you look at the style.

I mean no disrespect by this comment, but it actually hurts my eyes to look at the website in your profile.

I agree, you need some public content. The wall of "private" is very off putting.
 

VBX Co

Active member
If you're going to continue to have everything hidden/private you're never going to get visitors signing up. There's literally nothing to see. Nothing to talk about! Nothing to register for! You may as well close it.

Alternatively, try opening up some of the general chat forums so there is something for people (and Google) to read.

EXPLAIN TO VISITORS WHY ALL THE PRIVATE FORUMS ARE PRIVATE!!! Once they understand why some forums are members-only, then there is some reason to register and some incentive to read the private stuff.

You could also tease the private content in PUBLIC - for example, have an open "Notices" forum where you post regular updates about member-only content without giving away the important/private information. A sort of "Hey we've got this great content about so-and-so (insert headline) in our members-only Pedestrian Signals forum, come take a look ... <link>" which will prompt them to register.

Create an about forum/page to explain what people can find on the site when they register. Tell them about the things they may find of interest and encourage them to jump in with a link to your registration page.

Shorten your registration page! How may required fields? Get their username, email and password - that's it - let them fill the rest out later, or not, it doesn't matter - what matters is that they can register nice and easy and get chatting.

Post some of the public notices on social media to try and help capture a broader audience. Link your social media pages to your about page too so people get an idea of what to expect instead of a wall of private (CLOSED!!!!) forums.

Stop comparing your site to your rival - leave them to it - they're happy doing their thing, you do yours. Try to do things a bit different too so you offer people an alternative instead of just more of the same!

Good luck - and don't be afraid to call it a day if you've tried everything you can think of and you've had enough. Many of us here have had to do it before when we've had great ideas but no matter what we try they just don't get enough traction - it happens. :)
 

RobParker

Well-known member
Forums are successful because they're communities. A key to a good community is pruning the idiots out. Unfortunately you were one of the idiots who got cut out.

I've lost amount of the number of times someone banned from our site proclaimed they'd start their own forum instead. None of them ever got anywhere.

I think the answer is really for you to just give up. You don't have a community, you don't have content, you presumably have a bad reputation with the majority of the other forum users in your niche. I don't really see how you recover from that.
 

Mr Lucky

Well-known member
I think the answer is really for you to just give up. You don't have a community, you don't have content, you presumably have a bad reputation with the majority of the other forum users in your niche. I don't really see how you recover from that.
There’s also a negative side…
 

thesignalman

Active member
How many members, and how active is the rival forum?

Rival forum is very active. Has about 600 members.

If you're going to continue to have everything hidden/private you're never going to get visitors signing up. There's literally nothing to see. Nothing to talk about! Nothing to register for! You may as well close it.

The rival forum is private, but still successful. The forum itself is private but the wiki is public.


You don't have a community, you don't have content, you presumably have a bad reputation with the majority of the other forum users in your niche. I don't really see how you recover from that.
Everyone else has moved on. Only the admin still has a grudge against me.


You could also tease the private content in PUBLIC - for example, have an open "Notices" forum where you post regular updates about member-only content without giving away the important/private information. A sort of "Hey we've got this great content about so-and-so (insert headline) in our members-only Pedestrian Signals forum, come take a look ... <link>" which will prompt them to register.

Create an about forum/page to explain what people can find on the site when they register. Tell them about the things they may find of interest and encourage them to jump in with a link to your registration page.

Yeah I guess that does sound like a better idea.
 

sbj

Well-known member
That signal green tone is unpleasant to the eyes. Never ever use screamingly harsh and glassy colors like that for website colors. Use unsaturated colors.

Also the combination of green, gray and white is not welcoming.

The good news is that for websites 600 members is basically nothing. When you talked about the rival site, I expected an established one with 10k members at least. 600 members is nothing.

So, with the right strategy and content, you can easily pass that number within this year. Also you should make the forum open to the public. Listen to the experienced people on here, don't take that rival site as your role model.
 

Brogan

XenForo moderator
Staff member
@thesignalman you will need to change the colour of the copyright text to make it clearly visible.

Currently it is the same colour as the background.
 
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