At VigLink, we obviously love forums. We operate ForumCon, the largest conference for forum owners. Part of why we love forums is, plainly put, they deliver. In our Q4 Content-Commerce Report we found the only type of content site that outperformed forums in terms of EPC (earnings per click) was deals and coupon sites. Forums outperformed blogs and editorial sites by more than 50%. They even beat out pin boards, which is one of the fastest growing content categories and highly focused on shopping.
As people who have spent a lot of time with forums, we weren’t surprised by these numbers. Forums consistently deliver clicks from users who have sought out a recommendation for a product or who trust the posters to provide unbiased, relevant product guidance.
What makes us even more excited about forums is that we see a huge transformation taking shape in the space. The general (and somewhat correct) view of forums is that they are something of an Internet dinosaur, well-loved but a bit crusty. Many forums are running on archaic software. Too many forums in the past have opted for saturation-style advertising that overwhelms the discussion threads.
Many of our savvy forum customers have been reducing the display ad pollution to make their sites more friendly. Some have stopped subjecting registered users to display ads of any shape or form, opting to monetize those loyal visitors only through affiliate links on products mentioned in native content. That behavior is actually being echoed by large publishers who have steadily reduced the number of impressions and ad units available on their sites after remnant firesales made it hard to sell ad inventory at premium rates.
The forum category itself is enjoying an exciting wave of innovation. NextDoor, the red-hot hyper-local online community and social network, is growing like crazy. Quibb, Quora and other modern QA sites are reinventing the old forum as something more general yet more interesting.
You also have Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Exchange and founder of the new startup Discourse. His new company is about to release its 1.0 version of a new type of open source software designed to power forums. Discourse aims to radically improve the user experience and social interactions by allowing forum visitors and posters to focus on what’s most important – civility, participation and high quality discourse. Atwood is explicitly aiming to replicate the success of WordPress by creating a vibrant ecosystem of services and tools around open source forum software. Then there’s Huddler, which truly represents the next generation of forums with a compelling mix of expert editorial and community engagement.
In fact, we think forums will perform even stronger as a category as we route more traffic through the VigLink Exchange via broader product and merchant coverage. Since we launched our link optimizer technology (which allows merchants to bid for traffic on links to product mentions), EPCs for these exchange-priced clicks have roughly doubled.
As we continue to invest in the platform, we are connecting more merchants to more publishers more often. The total number of optimized and auctioned links is growing. Total revenue is rising for our forum owner customers, even though they already generate some of the most valuable clicks on the web. That’s great for forum giants like Internet Brands, ProBoards and Huddler as well as smaller but vibrant online communities like AskAndyAboutClothes. We can’t wait to see what the next quarter and next year brings for our friends in the forums.
Posted by Oliver Deighton, VP Marketing