5 Ways To Use In-Text Advertising On Your Forum

Recently, we examined Three E-Commerce Integration Techniques For Your Forum. The second item on that list is In-Text Advertising. The concept is that certain keywords automatically hyperlink to a relevant page where users can make an eCommerce transaction. This page could link to a page on an advertiser or affiliate site (e.g., Amazon, eBay, etc.) or it could link to an internal page in your own eCommerce store.

We wanted to offer a few suggestions when utilizing this approach:

  1. Make the links obvious so regular users can know the difference between a normal link and an automated link.
  2. Make a direct link to a page that opens in a new window instead of a pop up bubble that shows on hover.
  3. Limit the use of such links and consider only displaying them to users who are not logged in.
  4. Keep the site running fast by ensuring the links non-invasive and do not slow down performance.
  5. Track the results to confirm the links are generating revenue.

We dislike forums with too many banner ads and typical CPC banner ads are not particularly effective. (It’s better to do a direct sponsorship/partnership, if possible.) However, a judicious approach to In-Text Advertising allows site owners to generate revenue without impeding the user experience by cluttering the site with too many ads.

Some key players in this space include Viglink, Infolinks, and Vibrant Media. These services typically produce a “thought bubble” with a second link the user must click on to connect to an affiliate site.

As noted above (see #2), we prefer to implement a direct link to a new page, instead of the bubble approach which is illustrated in the picture below. And ideally, we’ll link to a catalog page on your own site. So if you need a custom in-text advertising solution for your forum, please talk to us!

in-text ad bubble example

Above: In-text add example with “pop up” bubble. We prefer a direct link to a page in your catalog instead of a link to an affiliate site and we can help you implement this solution.

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Three E-Commerce Integration Techniques For Your Forum

Building a forum community on your site gives you a home field advantage. It brings the conversation to your turf, and this allows you to monitor and analyze what users are saying. This knowledge is valuable but it does not have immediate impact on your bottom line.

Sure, the user generated content itself – that is, the stuff users are posting to your forum – can be capitalized on through advertisements, sponsorships, and brand equity but it takes time to develop this revenue stream and it may not be ideal for eCommerce sites.

We believe there is a massive opportunity for eCommerce sites to integrate their catalogs with their forum community to galvanize sales. When users are talking about subjects relevant to the products you sell, it should be convenient for them to shop in your store. Therefore, we present three techniques for eCommerce integration within your forum community:

  1. Intelligent banner ads. Display a banner ad for products in your catalog relevant to the user generated content within a particular thread.
  2. In-text advertising. In this case, keywords in the text automatically hyperlink certain to a search result in your product catalog. For example, a hardware store that sells hammers would allow users to easily search for that keyword. Example pictured below.
  3. Discounts and specials. Provide sales, discounts, or other perks to forum users. The site owner can make these special deals part of the regular newsletter for the forum or announce them via the forum directly. Perhaps the perks can be used to entice new members to join and participate in the forum.

forum community ecommerce integration

The above image shows a fancy hyperlink to a search result because a product was mentioned in a post.

Posted in Marketing Your Forum | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

4 Ways To Advertise On Your Forum (Besides Banner Ads!)

We recently examined the types of banner ads that your forum needs. But that leads us to another popular question: what are some other ways to generate advertising revenue from your forum?

After all, banner ads are notorious for their low click-through rate and many users find them annoying because they distract the user’s attention from the page’s actual content.

Some additional options include:

  1. Sponsored threads. The sponsor pays to post a “sticky” thread on the forum. The sponsor may run a contest or giveaway as part of their promotional thread and the sponsor can ask for feedback from users.
  2. Board takeover. The sponsor receives a dedicated background image advertising their service or event.
  3. Newsletter sponsorship. The sponsor is featured as the sponsor in the forum’s weekly or monthly newsletter.
  4. Inter-text ads. The sponsor pays for certain keywords which are hyperlinked to the sponsor’s site on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis or for a monthly fee.

No matter what method of advertising is used, we strive to create a win-win-win scneraio where the forum owner generates revenue, the user gets something of value (e.g., free swag from a sponsored thread), and the advertiser gains the exposure they desire.

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The 4 Types Of Banner Ads Your Forum Needs

One question we get is about inserting banner ads on your forum. How does a community manager strike the right balance? Too many ads will antagonize users and muddle your forum’s content. But fail to include any ads and your forum may not generate enough revenue to keep going.

While we recommend showing fewer ads to users who are logged in, we have found these four types of banner ads are useful. In order of effectiveness:

  1. Header (all pages): 728px x 90px
  2. Mobile header (home page only): 320×50
  3. In between post content (display thread page only): Two ads side by side at 300×250
  4. Footer (all pages): 728px x 90px

This image shows banner ads in the header (#1) and footer (#4) on your forum.


The mobile header (#2) is an important ad because so much traffic comes from users on mobile devices.


This image shows two 300×250 advertisements inserted in between posts (#3) on the display thread page.


With Ninja Post, site owners can customize the display of banner ads to meet their needs. Advertisements can be tailored to certain locations and shown to certain types of users. (E.g., only show to users who are not logged in.)

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5 Strategies For Forums With Paid Memberships

Regardless if your forum is public or private, you might decide to generate revenue through membership fees. Five strategies are generally available:

  • Supporter Badge. Allow members to join and participate in your forum for free. Encourage users to show off their community pride and donate money to the site in exchange for a “Forum Supporter” badge next to their user name.
  • Exclusive Content For VIPs. Encourage users to to upgrade to paid, VIP memberships in exchange for access to exclusive content, areas of the forum or site, and other benefits.
  • One-Time Fee. Charge a one-time admission fee for forum access, creating a lifetime membership group.
  • Recurring Fee. Charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee for access to the forum.
  • Lurkers Pay. Regular participants (e.g., those who make at least 10 posts per month) are exempt from paying a monthly fee but lurkers are not.

Allowing basic memberships for free is advantageous because it helps grow your user base, and growing participation in your forum may encourage users to upgrade by increasing their involvement in the community. However, not all users will upgrade, so your subscription fees must support the cost of non-paying users.

One-time application fees may limit initial participation in your forum, but will create a group of committed members who are strongly disposed to participate in the forum by virtue of their investment. Renewable subscription fees provide a happy medium, but renewals should be automatically recurring to encourage continued membership.

Many options exist for forums with paid memberships. The biggest strategic question is whether to make your forum’s content public or private. In turn, this decision dictates the optimal solution for your community.

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Why Does The Participation Rate Matter? (Hint: It’s All About The Network Effect)

They say “excellence” can be defined as a lot of little things done right. You could say the same thing about achieving a high Participation Rate. There are countless “little things” that draw users into a community. Some are obvious, like making the “sign up” button front and center. Some are more subtle, like making the user interface easy to grasp. Some are more meaningful, like concentrating activity so that prospective users can be assured of a reply. Countless little things just like those mentioned add up over time and make a big difference. But aside from sheer embarrassment, why does the Participation Rate matter?

The Participation Rate matters because of the “network effect”: the bigger the network, the more valuable it becomes. But the kicker is that the value doesn’t increase linearly; it increases exponentially. To understand this concept, it makes sense to examine the value of each registered user. To quickly determine the value of a registered user, we can use the following formula:

Average Revenue Per User = Monthly Revenue / Monthly Active Users

For a forum with 500 Active Registered Users, it is reasonable to expect revenue of $200 per month. This makes the Average Revenue Per Active User $0.40.

For a forum with 1,000 Active Registered Users, it is reasonable to expect revenue of $500 per month. This makes the Average Revenue Per Active User $0.50.

For a forum with 2,000 Active Registered Users, it is reasonable to expect revenue of $1,500 per month. In this case the Average Revenue Per Active User is $0.75.

The value of each Active Registered User increases as the network grows in size. In other words, each time a user registers, the Average Revenue Per User goes up. Thus, a new user today who stays engaged long term is significantly more valuable than a user that registers later on. For starters, it makes it easier to attract more users. Plus, it enhances the value of every user who came before.

These are just “back of the envelope” calculations but they’re important because they demonstrate how improving your forum’s Participation Rate (i.e., enticing more users to register, and keeping them engaged) can lead to exponential growth fueled by the power of the network effect.

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Forum Monetization And Mobile Traffic

Ninja Post was very pleased to be among the sponsors at ForumCon this year. The event—organized by VigLink—was well attended and expertly run.

The panel on Forum Monetization was particularly noteworthy. This panel was led by Raymond Lyle of Topify and featured Crista Bailey of Texture Media, Vlad Dusil of Purse Blog, Joey DeTomaso of Plum Krazy Media, Ted Gill of Huddler, and Jerry Orban of Vertical Scope. Much of the discussion focused on the increasing trend among users to access forum communities from mobile devices. Monetizing forum traffic is a challenge in and of itself but mobile traffic creates a new and unique set of challenges.

First, panelists noted that mobile traffic is especially difficult to monetize. Even Facebook, Twitter, and other social media titans have not cracked the code to generate revenue from mobile users in the same way that Google Adsense disrupted the advertising landscape in the early 2000s.

Secondly, a small keyboard, screen, and user interface controls make it difficult for mobile users to contribute since forum software is primarily a text-based medium. Nowadays, users are more primed to post photos than long-winded manifestos. Forums are desktop applications in a mobile age.

These two challenges—monetizing mobile forum traffic and optimizing forum software for mobile—promise to be formidable obstacles for forum software developers and forum owners. Despite the changing landscape, panelists suggested revenue can still be generated using well-proven techniques no matter how users access the forum. For example:

  • Building communities focused on high margin items (fashion, electronics, etc.).
  • Instituting a three-tiered membership hierarchy: user is not logged in, user is logged in, and user is a “gold” member. Show ads to users if they’re not logged in.
  • Reselling aggregate user data to other companies.

Likewise, newsletter sponsorships, classified ads, sponsored threads, and other tried-and-true monetization strategies remain applicable. That being said, changing habits among users (i.e., the shift to mobile) could cause forum users to become less engaged. A smaller, less active user base could threaten revenue for forum owners. Therefore, we believe forum owners should focus on providing users with an outstanding mobile experience to ensure revenue does not decline.

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Forum Analytics: Influence Content Decisions And Enhance Revenue

Ninja Post is unique because we are focused on (1) getting users to participate; and (2) analyzing user generated content. We previously discussed the importance of achieving a high participation rate. In this post, we discuss the benefits of analyzing user generated content.

Ninja Post’s Statistics page and Trending Content Dashboard summarize the most popular topics, aggregate the most popular search terms drawing traffic to the forum, and graph visitation trends. We believe that a site’s forum analytics reveal trends that show what users are really interested in. This information can be used in turn to inform content decisions for the main site.

Forum analytics such as those provided by Ninja Post have a significant impact on a forum’s ability to generate revenue. Site owners can identify advertising opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed. Advertising partners can rest assured they’re reaching their target audience. Finally, forum analytics are necessary to craft the community newsletter, which is a lucrative and often overlooked tool to generate revenue from a forum community.

A snippet from the Trending Content Dashboard

Above: A snippet from the forum statistics page.

A snippet from the Trending Content Dashboard

Above: A snippet from the Trending Content Dashboard.

Posted in Marketing Your Forum | Tagged , , | 1 Comment
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