This article is part of a larger series on Small Business Websites.
With nearly one in four U.S. internet users participating on forums, it’s easy to understand why forums are a great way to build an engaged community—which can help you build your business. Whether you want to create a user-generated content site like Reddit or Tripadvisor, or simply make your existing website more interactive, here’s how to make a forum website in just eight steps:
1. Choose the Right CMS for Your Forum
To start, you need to choose which content management system (CMS) to build your forum on. A CMS serves as the foundation of your website, and so how you build your forum will be dictated by which CMS you opt to use. While WordPress is the most popular CMS, it’s far from the easiest compared to Wix for web design newbies or building a large community forum website using Vanilla Forums.
Click the tabs below to learn more about the leading CMS platforms for forums:
|The most popular CMS worldwide||Fairly steep learning curve|
|Tons of great forum plugins, some are even free||Entails additional costs for a domain and hosting|
|Nearly limitless capabilities||Plugins and CMS have to be constantly updated and maintained|
WordPress is highly regarded for its seemingly endless capabilities through plugins and design freedom thanks to WordPress website builders and custom code. With thousands of themes and plugins to choose from–including forum themes and plugins, it’s easy to see why it’s a top choice. However, if you’re new to web design, don’t expect building a site on WordPress to be easy or fast. For a much more beginner-friendly CMS, use an all-in-one site builder like Wix.
|Code-free, beginner-friendly site builder with hundreds of third-party app integrations||Fewer niche capabilities than WordPress|
|Affordable plans come with everything you need to make a forum website, starting with the free version||Storage limitations may be insufficient for large forum websites|
|Built-in forum app|
Wix is a super easy-to-use, drag-and-drop website builder that requires no coding or web design experience. It can be used to easily build a forum by adding the free “Wix Forum” app. In fact, it is one of the best options for those looking for a user-friendly way of building and managing a forum, and is affordable with business plans for as little as $16 per month as well as a free-forever version.
|Built specifically to provide a great forum platform||$500+ per month premium plans may be out of reach for small businesses|
|It offers a free open-source software to help you get started||Limited theme and plugin options|
|Geared toward enterprise-level businesses|
Vanilla Forums offers free, open-source software designed specifically for building online community forums. It comes packed with the forum-specific features you need (and then some). However, while it’s free to use it’s open-source version, as your forum grows, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium plan, which skyrockets immediately to at least $500 per month.
Since using the WordPress.org CMS is the most popular way to make a forum website, we’ll use WordPress in the following steps.
2. Get Web Hosting & a Domain Name
For a WordPress website to be live on the web, you need a domain name and web hosting. Choose one of the best web hosting providers for WordPress, such as DreamHost or Bluehost to not only get reliable hosting for as little as $2.95 per month, but to reap the benefits of its feature-packed plans. With either provider, plans come with a free domain and SSL certificate, from five to unlimited free email addresses on your domain, and WordPress installed and managed for you.
With these or other WordPress hosting services, if you choose a plan that includes a free domain, you’ll be prompted to find an available domain name for your forum during the checkout process. When you’re done with creating your new account, you’ll then be able to install WordPress from your account, which connects your web hosting plan and domain to WordPress.
For more guidance, click the tabs below, where we show you how to get web hosting and a free domain through WordPress-recommended web hosting provider Bluehost:
Compare available plans from your preferred hosting provider and select the plan that is right for your forum website needs. Businesses that want to build basic forums will find that most provider’s entry-level plans fit their needs, as you can upgrade at any time. Click the “select” button at the bottom of the plan you wish to purchase.
Many leading web hosting services include a free domain name. For example, all Bluehost web hosting plans include a free domain name. After selecting a plan, you will be prompted to choose a domain name. Enter the one that’s appropriate for your business—often your business name—and click “next” to check if it is available. If so, follow the prompts to complete your purchase by inputting your contact and payment information.
It can be a challenge to find an available domain. To help, check out this article on how to choose a domain name.
After completing your web hosting plan purchase, you will be directed to your Bluehost account dashboard. There are a number of ways to build a forum website, but for versatility and ease of use, we recommend WordPress. From the “Home” tab, click the “Log in to WordPress” button. This will automatically link your new domain name to the WordPress content management system (CMS), where you can build your forum website.
Without reliable web hosting, your forum website risks frequent downtimes and slow load speeds, which can dramatically reduce user engagement. Be sure to choose a quality web host like Bluehost. They offer 99.9% uptime and hosting packages include a free domain, free email, free SSL security, and more—all for $2.95 per month.
3. Select a Forum Theme
WordPress themes are predesigned website templates built with content blocks that make it easy to customize your text, images, and features to make a forum website. You can find free WordPress themes by navigating to Appearance > Themes > Add New and type “forums” into the search bar.
Keep in mind that the more closely a theme matches your desired design, the less customization you will have to do. If the free themes available to you aren’t cutting it, spring for a premium theme from ThemeForest. Chances are, it will be a worthwhile investment that will save you time and ensure your site looks great. Here’s how to install your chosen theme based by theme type:
- Free themes (via WordPress): Simply hover over your desired theme and select “Install.” After it installs, then select the “Activate” button.
- Premium themes (via a third party): After purchasing your desired theme, you will be able to download the installation files. Go ahead and do this, and then go to the WordPress admin dashboard > Appearance > Themes > Add New > Upload > Activate.
Want professional help to make a forum website? Hire a WordPress developer from Fiverr to build and customize your community forum site from around $50.
4. Install a Forum Plugin
WordPress doesn’t come with built-in forum functionality, so you’ll have to choose and install a forum plugin. There are many available, but one of the best is bbPress. It is a free, open-source plugin that is regularly updated, and offers a wealth of features. To find and install this plugin, navigate to the “Plugins” menu on your WordPress dashboard, search for bbPress, and install the plugin.
Once bbPress has finished installing and is activated, you will see three new options in your vertical left-hand menu: “Forums,” “Topics,” and “Replies.”
5. Update Your Forum’s Settings
With a forum plugin installed and activated, you can update the forum plugin settings to suit your needs. For example, bbPress comes with customizable settings for privacy, user logins, and visibility. To update these settings, click on “Forums” in the left-hand menu, then “Settings” in the menu that appears below it. This allows you to control how users interact with forum content.
The forum creator, referred to as the administrator, has the ability to change privacy settings. Here are the seven most common forum settings in bbPress:
- Privacy: Most forums will want to have their forum widely available to the public, so select public visibility. On the other hand, an exclusive forum may choose to have the forum be visible only to members.
- User registration and roles: Every forum user must be registered as one of the following roles: Keymaster, Moderator, Participant (Default), Spectator, or Blocked. As the forum admin (or Keymaster), you can manually choose user roles or set bbPress to automatically set user roles when new members join your forum.
- Anonymous posting: This setting allows any forum visitor to post or reply without having an account on your forum. This can help increase forum activity, as it makes it easier for users to participate. However, it can lead to forum abuse, including trolling and spam, so it is generally not advised.
- Subscriptions: Give users the ability to subscribe to all forum updates or only updates to specific forum pages and categories. Allowing subscriptions helps keep users actively involved in the forum.
- Search: Enable the search option on your forum to allow users to search for specific topics and replies.
- Reply threading: Threading allows users to reply to other replies on your forum. This is common within forums as threads provide more context to a discussion, which is helpful for any user who chooses to enter a discussion after it begins.
- Forum gamification: Some of the top forum plugins come with upvoting, as well as user levels and badges. These help users be more engaged, helping to create a more active forum.
While there are settings almost every forum includes, consider which ones above fit your specific forum. There are also many more settings available to help you create a forum that functions exactly as you want it to.
6. Create Your Forum Page
After updating settings, you need to create a page on your site that will house your forum. To create your new forum page, click the “Forums” option from the left-hand menu and then select “New Forum.” Input your forum name and click “Publish” to save your new forum.
Next, add this forum to a web page by clicking “Pages” and selecting “Add New.” Input your page title, then add the bbPress shortcode “[bbp-forum-index]” in the main content box. Finally, click “Publish” to save. For more detailed information about how you can set up your forum and customize the display, go to bbPress’ new user forum.
7. Customize Your WordPress Site
Even with the best WordPress theme, you still need to customize it to suit your brand and forum. These customizations transform your generic theme into a fully branded site, complete with company history, contact pages, a blog, and more. Start by customizing the styling of your menu, header, footer, and any sitewide elements. Then, add any additional pages and plugins you want.
Every forum will have different needs, but consider including basic website features and sections like an About page, a Contact page, information about your products and services, a page with staff bios, and web forms to get subscriptions or request information. Get all the help you need to fully customize your forum website with these step-by-step instructions on how to make a WordPress website.
8. Publish Your Forum
When you’re ready to go live, simply click the “Launch your site” button from the “Bluehost” tab at the top of the vertical left-hand menu. Confirm that your site is accessible on the web by inputting your domain name in your browser’s address bar.
After making a forum, you need to publicize and promote it so that it gets traffic, new users—and most importantly—actively engaged users. Once you have generated traffic to your forum, you’ll then need to continually moderate it to help ensure it’s a positive community that is free of spammers and trolls.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I build a forum on Weebly?
Yes, Weebly can be used as a forum. While most think of Weebly when they need ultra-easy-to-use interface and ecommerce capabilities, it also offers users the ability to build forums. Add a forum to your Weebly site by going to the “Build” tab, then clicking “More.” Find “Forums” from the list of elements, then drag and drop it onto a site page.
Where can I find someone to make a forum website for me?
There are a number of ways to outsource your forum website build. One of the best options for finding and hiring low-cost freelancer forum builders is through Fiverr. There, you can search for web design and development experts, read freelancers reviews, and hire a freelance WordPress web developer to build your forum website starting from about $50.
How much does it cost to build a forum website?
The cost to build a forum website will vary based on which website building platform you use to build it, and if you do it yourself or hire a professional. The cost can range anywhere from a few dollars a month for web hosting with a DIY forum built on WordPress to $6 per month with Weebly, and upward of thousands of dollars if outsourcing the work for a web design firm. For more information, read our article detailing various website costs.
How do I monetize my forum website?
The main ways to monetize a forum are through on-page ads, memberships, and affiliate sales. For those just starting out, it’s recommended that forum creators monetize with advertisements using Google Ads.
Forums come with tremendous opportunities for small business websites to better engage site visitors and connect with target audiences. Additionally, forums give you the ability to build active communities that have led major forums, like Reddit, estimated to be worth billions. Make a forum website on WordPress for as little $3 per month with Bluehost, and turn your forum idea into a reality.