When it comes to forums and websites in general, some things just should not be done. They may be bad ideas, they may ruin your site’s reputation or they may drive away visitors. Either way, here are some things you should not do on your website if you want it to be even remotely successful.
1. Have advertisements mixed in with the text in an awkward way
Or having ads written into the site content in general. I’ve seen this on quite a older websites and it’s so painfully obviously they’re trying to sell you something that they may as well be quoting from a late night informercial. Have a sample:
Mario has been around for so long that he has been used for so many different game styles! Platformers, Online Bingo, racers, roulette, pinball machines, Spin Palace slots, Tetris style games, sport games, space games and many others.
If you enjoy playing video games, you may also be interested in playing online poker. If so, [name removed] offers independent reviews of…
As you can easily see, this is about as believable as a flying pink unicorn. Come off it, no one honestly thinks you wrote the above for any reason other than trying to get money from the gulliable people in society. It also has no real connection to your site’s topic and rather undermines your credibility as an expert in the niche.
What’s worse is that the kind of people who include stuff like the samples above in their site tend to shove them everywhere. This makes them look like a bunch of scam artists to be perfectly honest. Yet while I know they’re usually not (because the three sites I’ve seen stuff like the above on have been long established sites with a huge amount of unique content), ads like these do make them look like the kind of fly by night bandwagon hopping adsense obsessive mentioned in point three.
So don’t use these types of ads. They don’t fool anyone and make your site look shoddy and unprofessional.
On another note, here's a joke a site plagued by this kind of ad made about the above, because it's too memorable not to mock:
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2. Not posting at all
No, you can't just succeed by doing nothing, 'build it and they'll come' hasn't worked for a long, long time.
If your forum isn't doing too well at the moment, then leaving it to rot for the next few months won't help anything. Seriously, 90% of forums I've seen with zero activity got that way because the staff stopped showing up and assumed people would magically fill the site with content whenever they weren't looking.
If you do this, the best case scenario is maybe a small group of members will stick around and talk despite the fact they're in the middle of a virtual ghost town, until the time when the forum software breaks and nobody has access to fix it. Worst case is your site's activity drops to roughly nothing and stays there for eternity, if it even catches on the first place.
So always keep posting at your site to show people you're serious about the whole thing, even if it is just one or two posts a day.
3. Scam/opportunist made for adsense websites
You know these sites from a single glance, they’re covered with ads, have no unique content and look like a three year threw them together. Generally not just the pages of sponsored links any more, but stuff that at a glance looks like a fan site.
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In case you were wondering how easy it is to find spammy looking sites like this, all I had to do is randomly throw in words and change domain extensions around a bit.
You should immediately be able to see what’s wrong. Like how the latter type of site is basically an amazon shop crossed with a bunch of press releases. Or how the former seems to basically be randomly generated text written by some robot.
I don’t know what’s funnier, the fact said site literally name drops every ‘competitor’ on the planet in probably less than a single page or the fact it makes no sense at all to anyone with any grasp of the English language.
I freaking hate these types of websites. Why? Well it means if I want to look for allies or competitors in Google, I have to sift through about three hundred spammy sites with no original content to find the few actually run by human beings. Which is a real pity when there are some fairly obscure websites with interesting content to read buried under god knows how many pages of spam blogs and made for adsense junk sites.
Don’t run this kind of site. It doesn’t attract nor keep visitors, and contrary to the morons on marketing forums who seem obsessed by the promises of easy money, you don’t get either good ad revenue nor any decent placements in search engines because your site has nothing to offer.
No, I’m not wrong about them not doing well in search engines, even though I said garbage like this outranks some good websites. It’s just that the spam sites don’t do well enough to end up on the first ten pages and end up outranking innocent newbies just starting out who need all the traffic they can get. No contradiction there.
4. Desperate usage of illegal/unsavoury content for hits
Like those numerous forums and fan sites I’ve seen which seem to draw in visitors by uploading video game ROMs and talking about piracy and ‘hacking’ (in the stealing sense, not the creative sense). Nothing’s more depressing than looking at an empty forum and noticing how the staff are trying to claw back activity by posting stuff like ‘download this game free’ topics non stop.
Of course it’s not only gaming sites that do this, seems to be pretty common to have general chat forums open up sections for downloading TV shows/films or porn whenever activity gets low.
That's not even going into the gaming forums I've seen open up a section for anime episode downloads the minute activity went down...
It should be pretty obvious why not to do this, namely the trashyness of the whole practice makes your site look unprofessional and drives away users interested in more than free stuff, and you’re probably going to be pretty screwed whenever the game/TV show/film’s owners legal team come a calling. Oh, and your host is probably going to terminate your account if they find out you’re hosting illegal content on it (or in some harsher cases, if you’re hosting pornography or adult content in general).
5. Stupid Affiliate requirements
Not the ‘make money online’ stuff involving referral numbers, but the slightly more common ‘exchange links with every site in your niche’ type that seems to take up most of a fan site admin’s day.
Usually these comes with a list of rules, and nine times out of ten they’re over the top and generally ridiculous. Such as:
1. Requesting a certain visitor/hit/visit count for the site. Possibly the most stupid requirement for affiliation known to man, since the whole aim of the concept is to get more traffic to your website, and the current rules often just cause it to stagnate. The end result is basically a website class system where you can’t find any allies with more traffic than your own site, making the whole thing pointless. Not to mention how many of these sites asking for a certain total probably don’t even get that amount of visitors in the first place.
2. Requiring a certain amount of pages/content. Does anyone really need a reason for why this is a bad idea?
3. Requiring a back link on every page. Actually, this is kind of the norm for proper fan sites, but it's definitely a warning sign whenever say, a website directory does the same thing. That's... kind of not the point of a directory.
6. Not Moderating the forum for spam/fluff posting
This is a huge problem on webmaster forums like Sitepoint and DigitalPoint unfortunately, since the niche in general tends to attract people solely participating for the free link in their signature/profile. Not to mention the worst kind of spammers from various countries you’ve probably never heard of desperate to advertise products all over the place.
Unfortunately, many times when a new owner buys a web design/admin forum, they tend to just leave it and let this kind of junk content build up. And once it gets to the point multiple of these types of topics are being every day, the forum tends to die off pretty fast due to legitimate members giving up on the site.
7. Copying/sourcing content from RSS feeds/Wikipedia
Sometimes ties in with the whole ‘made for adsense’ thing mentioned above, but even when it doesn’t it’s lazy and just makes the site owner look like an overly desperate hack.
The funniest and most blatant example of such a site that I’ve seen yet actually said at the bottom:
Content Sourced from Wikipedia.org
Now call me harsh, but why in God’s name does your site even exist if its sole purpose is to repackage content from other sources? The site I got the content thing from is kind of funny in its own way really, especially as the same content found on said site was also not only once found on Wikipedia and word for word the same, but also on a wiki dedicated to Nintendo. Which also used the exact same content word for word.
Not quite as bad as say Alphascript or Betascript 'Publishing',
About as bad as this though are the sites and forums which just import RSS feeds from elsewhere by the hundred. No I don’t care if this article was just posted on the BBC News website, since I’ll probably be reading it on the original site not your crappy forum. The content is entirely ‘stolen’ so to speak, practically never gets replied to (because face it, no normal member replies to newspaper articles being auto posted every few minutes) and adds no value to any forum.
Even worse is the likely black hat marketing practice of making a forum entirely filled with content taken from Yahoo answers. No that’s not a joke, some people actually seem to think filling the content from stuff taken directly from the Yahoo Answers RSS feed/API/whatever is going to help their forum do well.
Did I mention people are paying $70 for this?
It’s actually rather depressing to see the sites that do this kind of thing just get more and more dead while the forum itself is overtaken by an almost endless amount of auto RSS bot posts.
8. Not editing the default style
Yes I know that there are quite a few big boards who haven’t, but don’t be like the people who buy into that ‘bad web design makes your site popular’ fad, they seem to confuse causation with correlation.
Sites are popular if they’ve got good content. The fact many big boards have barely edited styles says good things about the content (as in, its good enough people are willing to overlook the lack of customisation and still contribute because of it), it doesn’t mean people LIKE an unedited forum style.
And with a new forum, you don’t have the guarantee of enough activity/content to back you up. Yes content is king, but having an original style can help your forum stand out from the big boards in the same niche, the ones which might have most of the content people are currently looking for as well as the same default style.
9. Lacking a reset password option
No, that’s not an inaccurate title, I’ve been on multiple websites which for whatever reason have decided they won’t implement an option to allow users to reset their password. So if you forget what your login details are, better either make a new account or leave forever.
It’s a bad idea for multiple reasons (number one obviously being that plenty of intelligent, useful members lose their password or account login details for various reasons and driving them away is never a good idea), but it also causes quite a few problems with security.
Such as how not letting someone reset their password means they’ve got to either pick one they can easily remember (which means a weak password based on a dictionary word or something you can figure out through careful use of social engineering), or write it down. Neither’s good for security, and such a system practically forces these options on your members.
Because let’s face it, can anyone really remember the likes of:
Without writing it down?
Note: The ‘password’ above is completely fictional and as far as I know, corresponds to no real individual’s user account. If someone does have said password and gets hacked, no responsibility is accepted by CM30 or Admin Talk or any other site this tutorial was posted on by the former.
10. Overly strict rules that go beyond what’s reasonable even for a professional forum
Not saying here that requiring decent spelling and grammar is a bad idea, but keep it reasonable as far as what kind of rules you have. Some bad ideas not to use include:
Three strikes rule. There’s a reason zero tolerance strategies are despised in real life, and that’s because they end up punishing people for extremely minor breaches of the rules in a way that’s completely absurd. Like 25 years for stealing a slice of pizza… Don’t let your forum end up run that way.
Similarly, give a little leeway to people, especially when it’s their first post. Banning people because they forget to put a space in the topic title or don’t capitalise the first letter in a sentence is kind of excessive.
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Above: Yes, that's a real 'rule' on at least one forum. If you don't agree 100% with the owner or give extremely detailed reasons to why he's wrong, you get permabanned with no appeal even if you've been a long time contributor for ten years.
Be reasonable, people aren't perfect and banning them for typos will not get you a popular forum or website.
11. The staff not posting despite a dying forum
I expect to see regular posting, especially from a forum's owner/admin. If I go to a website and it turns out the site hasn't had a post in days or weeks or sections haven't been updated in who knows how long, it looks bad. It also makes the staff look bad because it shows a complete lack of effort in keeping the forum going.
If your forum has a lack of activity and you plan to keep it online, make sure you're at least there daily posting something. Show you haven't given up on the whole thing. It's even worse when the main website has say, hundreds of articles and news being posted daily yet the forums are completely dead, it arguably shows some pretty misplaced priorities.
12. Unreadable Captchas used on sign up
It's especially bad with the hardest forms of the vBulletin captchas and the ones on SMF forums, they seemed to be designed to keep members out and spambots in. If it's tough enough that humans find it difficult to register, the system is way, way too unfair.
Hell, captchas in general. We have things called questions and who knows what other systems now, there's no need for the damn things any more. They're probably easier for bots than people at the moment.
Oh, and don't use multiple verification methods please. One's enough, I don't need five questions, one captcha, one 'are you human box' and email confirmation all included in the same registration form. That's no understatement, there's at least one forum I've seen which has multiple questions, a captcha that's nearly impossible to read, a pointless drop down box and presumably either email or admin validation in one. Hard for bots to beat? Sure. Hard for HUMANS to get past? Definitely.
So those are some things not to do on your website, at least if you want it to be even remotely successful (and by that, I mean get proper human visitors and a real community, not just meaningless spam posts).
Note: I also posted this over at another forum I'm a member of, but I doubt they'll ever approve it or anything.