How do you make your forum big?


Active member
Perhaps a stupid question, but I was just wondering. I've seen lots of people with forums with over 100k threads here. What's your secret?

I've started several sites, both forums and general blogs, about different subjects, but they never grow large.

I've started the forum, added a nice title for my forum and a good ~150 character meta description. Added my site on Google Webmaster Tools. Uploaded a sitemap. All that jazz. Added a site on facebook. Added it on a few link sites.

... Then what? You just populate it with content, or do you have another suggestion on what you do to get those first members. That's where I fail, every time.

Sorry if this has been posted before.
Start small, don't overwhelm newcomers with 20 empty categories. That just looks bad anyways. Just have a couple.

If you're actually into your niche you shouldn't have much trouble finding a couple friends who would be interested. Invite them and create a view discussions that people will want to give their 2 cents on. Get those friends to invite their friends and so on.

If you're not fulfilling a certain missing "need" or "want" for your target demographic it's probably not going to take off. There are a million forums for lots of topics, what makes yours so special?
As said content. Also I feel a good domain is important too, it shows new members it will be worth the time to contribute content because you will be around vs using one of the free extensions like .tk or hosts like freewebs.
You pretty much need to study the subject and not start a forum where there are already more than a few - especially if the few are successful.

It has to be a subject you like.

You may want to read my series of 4 posts on starting my new hobby site and blog:
My first site was in 1995. The traffic was zero for the first 5 months then simple changes were made and there were 1/4 million visitors a month. After running five other successful sites (and ruining many others!), there are a few concepts which remain constant.

  • Do what you want and not what you think others will like
  • Have fun
  • Go to the edge and step over it
  • Be creative
  • Be helpful
  • Never EVER copy another website - ignore the competition - YOU are the leader.
  • Feel free to make mistakes
  • Listen to member feedback but don't rely on it
  • Do not worry about making changes
  • Keep track of what you think is important (inspect what you expect)
  • Do not expect to get rich.
  • Be satisfied with your site today but try to make it better for tomorrow
  • Do not be fake (it'll catch up to you)
  • Never pay for traffic - NEVER EVER EVER. It's garbage and people will know it
  • Do not go negative (it's too easy and while fast traffic will happen, it will ruin your reputation)
    • This is contrary to many who think emotive language is good. It ain't !
    • Be careful with headlines
  • Do not expect anything from anyone; Instead ask.

Those truisms will keep your heads out of the clouds, your ego small enough to fit through the door, and most people will respect you.

Best of luck on growing your site.
Think like this: What would make you want to visit a forum again? :)

I love a community when there's great content, excitement, positiveness and is active. Invite more people over and keep it rolling. In time you will see a growing and active community. (y)
I'll tell you my story. I created CrazyEngineers back in 2005 because I couldn't find a place where engineers working on mega engineering projects discussed problems and shared ideas. I thought maybe I'd create one. In the initial days, there was absolutely no one except me having fun replying to my own threads.

Slightly, Google picked few of the posts and drove a few crazy engineers to the site. They pulled in their friends and the site grew. Today we've 145k engineers signed up from over 180 countries. Not all of them are active; because we only had just the discussions. But those who're there have been with us for 5+ years.

Building a forum requires patience & passion, IMHO.

All the best!
Didn't know this was stand up comedy night. ;P

Anyway; a huge thanks for your great answers!

Can I ask how old your site is? It can take months, sometimes years to really build up activity. The big boards, for the most part, didn't become so overnight :)
It's like any type of site... give users something they want that they can't get somewhere else. If it's just a standard forum with nothing unique, why would *you* become a user of it?

I mean just today I rolled out something that as far as I know doesn't exist anywhere... a search engine that lets you search cookies that websites set.

Nothing to do with a forum itself, but it's the unique things you offer that draw people into your community.
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Results will vary....

I've seen sites do everything right and go no where. And I've seen sites do everything wrong and go everywhere.

There is no magic bullet or smoking gun that will guarantee your site or any site for that matter, will be successful.

You can spends hours each day promoting your site, giving them in depth content, and inviting everyone from all over and go no place. And you could also just build it, leave there, and tell no one, and suddenly become a house hold name.

Luck I think is sometimes is a big factor.

It happens enough times to not just call it an exception to the rule, but not exactly enough times to say it is one either.

Results do vary....
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And you could also just build it, leave there, and tell no one, and suddenly become a house hold name.

Adam, I highly doubt that you can create a site, throw some forums relating to the site up, have absolutely ZERO content, and it become a household name. I just cannot see that happening.
We had a saying in the Army: There's no such thing as a stupid question just a stupid person if you don't ask it...

I do think luck has a little bit to do with becoming a successful forum/blog owner. Here's my best effort:
  • Luck - Right subject/niche, first to do it, right time, initially the right people see the site and share it, etc.
  • Subject knowledge - It's helpful to know lots about the subject/s centred around your forum with the view to becoming an online "authority" (whether it be fun, selling, gossip, or answers, try to become one of the best).
  • Technical knowledge - If you don't have the money to spend on an IT team then knowing how to get the most out of software and online tools is a must.
  • Time - You must dedicate sufficient time to manage your site in most cases this means LOTS of time for content creation, self-promotion, and positive interaction with others.
  • Love - You have to have a passion for what your are promoting or love what you do.
  • Patience - Apparently, it takes most good blogs/forums about 2 years to see rewards for their hard work and on average most bloggers/forum owners give up after just 18 months. Keep at it!
Honestly, I know all the above points but I have got only one right so far... "Love."

You're supposed to talk yourself up in business - never down - (just ask any real-estate agent); but personally, you can know all the above from everyone here and still struggle, like me, to attract hordes of visitors/members. But if you love what you do, keep trying, keep learning, and have the desire to be a successful online publisher, you will get there and so will I. :)
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