Forums have been of central importance to the internet for decades. Internet users flock to forums to gather information for professional- or hobby-related guidance, or to seek advice for gardening, automotive care, and all things in-between. Studies have shown that viable online communities increase online business revenue by an average of 25%.
Choosing a forum hosting package needs as much attention as picking hosting for a regular website, if not more. After all, there’s often a lot more going on behind the scenes with an online forum compared to a traditional website.
To help you find the best forum hosting, we will try to will answer your questions, covering the pros, cons, and specifics on choosing the best host for your project. By the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to make a decision and select the best forum hosting service according to your needs.
What is Forum Hosting?
Forum hosting is a service that’s optimized for hosting online forums. Many forum owners prefer to host their forums with services that are designed specifically for this type of project.
As forums are message boards where multiple users can be interacting with each other at any one time — creating content and communicating — these types of websites can be very resource-intensive.
Due to this increased activity, busy forums can easily consume much more server resources than a regular website. Therefore, it’s nearly always better to choose a company that offers forum specific hosting services optimized for this type of website.
Some of the recommended forum hosting services include Forumotion, ProphpBB, and Lefora.
Most regular website hosts, such as SiteGround, now offer specialized forum hosting, while companies like ProBoards offer free forum hosting options. If you prefer, you can choose forum cloud hosting from a company like Cloudways.
Who Is Forum Hosting For?
As the name suggests, forum hosting is aimed at people looking for a way to get their discussion board online. If you’re running a forum, this isn’t the only hosting option available to you, but it’s definitely worth considering.
If you are in the planning stages of launching your forum, you might also be considering using an existing service like Facebook Groups. However, as active forums have the potential to boost user engagement, improve the search rankings, and grow the revenue of your own website, there are many reasons to own and host your own forum.
Among the many benefits of running your own forum, one is that your website’s community is yours and can fully represent your brand. Unlike Facebook Groups, hosted forums are more navigable, offer better topic categorization, and customization options to suit your needs.
Adding a forum to your website can have many search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, helping to bring more traffic to your site. Each new piece of content that’s added to your forum gives you another chance to get found by your target audience. In fact, for this reason alone investing the effort in hosting and running your own forum versus using Facebook Groups or a similar third-party service can be worthwhile.
So now we know why you should host your own forum, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of choosing forum specific hosting.
Pros of Forum Hosting
Some of the benefits of choosing forum hosting over regular website hosting include the use of servers optimized for handling this type of website. You should also get access to a team of support staff experienced in looking after the technical aspects of hosting busy forums.
However, there are other advantages to choosing forum web hosting.
Making the decision to host your own forum rather than relying on a service hosted elsewhere, such as Facebook Groups, opens up a world of customization possibilities.
Choosing to use the best forum software combined with a high-quality forum hosting provider makes it easy to select from a library of pre-built designs or skins. You can also customize these skins to create a unique design for your forum that’s instantly recognizable to your audience.
As you are managing your own forum, rather than piggybacking off a third-party service, you’re also free to add your own branding without having to also promote someone else’s platform.
As well as being able to design your own forums skins, some of the best forum hosting services also offer themes. These themes can be installed and will immediately transform the appearance of your forum. Forumotion is one such example, offering themes covering a wide range of topics.
Support for the Best Forum Software
Your options can be limited when working with traditional web hosting services. However, by choosing a good quality forum hosting provider, you should be able to install any type of reputable forum software on your server space.
The best forum hosts, such as A2 Hosting, support dozens of forum software options. Best of all, they can usually be installed in just a few clicks, directly from your account control panel through its graphical user interface.
This is one of the most popular forum software programs presently available. It is used by entities of all kinds, from the Electronic Arts (EA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Sony Pictures. It is amazingly powerful software, characterized by highly responsive web design, incomparable security features, and built-in SEO. You can customize your forum in a way that few web developers can, specifically in the form of constructing a hierarchy of forum discussions, and the inclusion of private forums as well.
Keep in mind the following benefits and drawbacks of VBulletin as you make the final decision on what software you will use for the construction of your forum:
- The user experience will be incomparably enhanced since your forum visitors will be able to curate friends lists and private message one another. They can even see each others’ birthdays.
- You will be able to improve visitors’ experience with your forum and assist in real-time communications with the implementation of online/offline indicators.
- It is not a fast-performing software, so you and your users must come to terms with the fact that your forum may be a tad bit slow.
This software will give your forum a rejuvenated, modern look, specifically by providing a clean, sharp-looking user interface (UI). This is another software program built with the programming language, PHP, with cutting-edge coding patterns. It is also fully compliant with current PHP standard recommendations (PSR) standards, meaning your forum will be characterized by top-notch interoperability.
If you’re thinking about using this free software as the foundation of your forum, be aware of the following benefits and drawbacks:
- Your forum will be incredibly responsive to visitors on both mobile and desktop.
- This software will provide your forum with single sign-on (SSO) and other security integrations.
- Visitors will experience enhanced communications between one another, especially since they will have the ability to receive notifications concerning other users.
- Your forum will include a “powered by” watermark.
- Paid plans can be quite expensive.
Simple Machines Forum
This software is distinguished by the flexibility of the module and a wide variety of theming systems. Installing and updating this module is made incredibly easy due to the ease of use of the package manager. For those who wish to extensively customize their forums, the Simple Machines Forum would be the best choice. It offers a range of plugins and themes, all available as open-source forum software. If you would like for your forum to be exclusive, to an extent, this software can also accommodate member subscriptions.
When deciding whether or not you should choose this software, consider the following pros and cons:
- Switching between languages is quite easy. This setting can be changed with only one click.
- Premium and standard subscription settings are user-friendly.
- This is known to have one of the most expansive selections of themes and modules when compared to many other types of forum software.
- Themes may look a bit old and outdated.
- Users will not have as many options for customizing their profiles.
This is one of the most widely used forum software types – utilized by more several million people each day. Web developers are given incomparable freedom with phpBB, as they are given the ability to edit the code as they see fit, without restriction. As you may assume from the name, phpBB is constructed with the programming language, PHP, along with the Symphony framework.It is also distinguished by a very user-friendly interface, allowing web managers to control forums via a comprehensive administration panel. Even those with little to no web development experience can use phpBB relatively easily.
As you come to a decision on whether or not you should choose to integrate phpBB in your website, consider the following pros and cons:
- Your forum will be both responsive and modern in design, great for users across multiple browsers.
- The provided administration panel allows users to exercise greater control over their forums.
- Forum visitors will be able to send private messages directly to other participants through the message board.
- You will only be able to create and run a forum through with this software (as opposed to additional web project capabilities, such as website development or content creation).
This is one of the best options for sharpening the functionality of online forums. Through MyBB, you will be able to set up the option for user registration, design message boards, and incorporate moderation functionality. This software is quite easy for all sorts of web developers to use and comes equipped with a robust inventory of plugins, again, allowing for maximum customization. (Unfortunately, it does not have as many extensions to offer as other software currently available on the market.)
MyBB is known to have the benefits and disadvantages described below:
- Forum users will be given the ability to vet each other and experience higher levels of trust due to the inclusion of user reputation systems upon installation of the software.
- Not only does the software have all the essential features needed for building a functional forum, but it is also equipped with numerous plugins and themes for further customization.
- Users can make use of calendars to enhance communication and interaction by scheduling events with one another.
- It is not an especially powerful software program, especially when compared to similar products such as phpBB.
Another free software option, Thredded is built with the Ruby on Rails program and is free of the expected dependencies on infrastructure. Relational databases of PostgreSQL, SQLite, and MySQL are all supported by this software as well. The goal of this software is to be as simple as possible to control and manage, while also providing a vast array of convenience and communication features for both web developers and forum visitors.
Distinguishing positive and negative aspects of this software are described below:
- Forum visitors will experience the most exceptional ease of use with features such as @-mention notifications and tracking of unread posts.
- The minimalist themes allow the forum to be operated on both small and large devices with equal efficiency.
- This is not a widely used software, so it may be challenging to find support upon malfunctions or coding issues.
Phorum is regarded as one of the best forum software types in use right now. It was developed back in 1998 has maintained its place as a leader in this field over the decades. It is an open-source platform, again, written in the programming language, PHP, yet incorporating database management capabilities using MySQL. Phorum is incredibly powerful, allowing users to operate forums with over 2,000 new posts daily. Web developers will be able to integrate message boards onto their website and utilize the provided templates, constructed with pure HTML.
The advantages and disadvantages of Phorum are as follows:
- This offers an incredibly robust platform for online communications, allowing more than 200,000 messages daily (all while maintaining a strong server performance!).
- The forum’s language, time zone, and file storage location can be chosen freely.
- Plain text, BBCode, and HTML are all supported.
- There is no WYSIWYG editor, which can be quite frustrating for content creators.
- Key forum features, such as polls, seem to be excluded from the software.
This software is specifically geared toward web developers looking to improve site advocacy and the engagement levels of both the forum and general website. The ability for online business owners to gather feedback concerning their available products will also be enhanced upon implementation of inSided. This program is known for providing highly commendable in-app support with a reliable wealth of knowledge, and for providing incredible support for their large community of customers.
Web managers and online business owners will be given an all-encompassing perspective of their customers with the integration of platforms such as Mixpanel, Zendesk, Gainsight, and Salesforce. If you’re building a forum to support communications between your customers and public relations staff, this is the perfect software for you. Here are some positive and negative factors to keep in mind when making this decision:
- Your forum can be matched precisely to the aesthetics and intent of your brand.
- Support staff will provide users of this software with business strategy and consultation, along with general expertise regarding customer success.
- The option of integrating on-boarding features and automatic updates is available without the need for development resources.
- This is specifically geared toward online business owners, so casual forums may not be able to fully utilize the services and options available with inSided.
Multiple Language Options
Whether you want to create a forum in a language other than English or you’d like to run a multilingual discussion board, the best forum hosting services are more than happy to accommodate your needs.
Specialized Technical Support
Online forums have the potential to present you with more technical issues than a regular website. As mentioned earlier, even moderately busy forums have a lot of moving parts. New content is being created at a rapid rate, with countless interactions taking place at any one time.
Due to this, it’s highly recommended that you choose a web host that’s experienced in hosting and supporting forums. You really do want someone to turn to should a problem arise with your website. When it comes to finding a company to trust with your project, often choosing forum web hosting is the best option.
Able to Scale with Growth
As your forum grows, it will consume more server resources which can cause you to outgrow your current plan. However, forum traffic patterns are unpredictable — user activities can peak and trough rapidly, and often irregularly.
The best forum web hosts understand this and will be able to meet the demands of your situation. They will be able to increase or scale the resources available to you to accommodate any growth.
Cons of Forum Hosting
As we’ve just seen there are many benefits to running your own forum and choosing a dedicated forum hosting plan over regular web hosting. However, there are challenges in taking this approach.
Setting Up a Forum Can Be Difficult
The basic forum software can be easy to setup. Also, the best forum hosting services often offer software installers that take care of most of the work for you when it comes to setting up your forum.
However, there are a lot of decisions to be made regarding how you will run, configure, and manage your forum. The best forum web hosts should be able to help you in this regard or at least point you in the right direction.
Nevertheless, this is definitely something to be aware of before deciding to run and manage your own online forum.
Regular Technical Challenges
Busy forums can generate technical issues. Problems like login errors, page-load issues, location-specific errors (users from a particular location may have issues entering the forum), forum freezes, and other technical challenges may arise.
Even if these issues stem from the user’s end rather than being a problem with the forum, it’s likely they will turn to you for support. Due to this, you’ll either need a good set of technical skills to resolve these issues or a responsive support team you can turn to.
What to Look For When Choosing Forum Hosting
Once you’ve decided that hosting your own forum is the right choice for your project, here are some points to consider to ensure you find the best solution:
- Does the web host offer good technical support?
- How much does the forum hosting cost?
- Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
- Is a control panel available and if so which one?
- What do other customers think of the service?
- Which forum software is supported?
- What level of management is provided? Does this include backups and updates?
- Do you have full data ownership with the ability to export to another service in the future?
- What uptime is guaranteed and is there an SLA in place?
- Can the service be quickly scaled and upgraded?
Getting answers to these questions before choosing a forum hosting service could save you a lot of problems down the line.
What to Pay Attention To
When making a final decision be sure to choose a forum hosting solution with a focus on performance and scalability. This should ensure your forum stays online no matter how popular it gets.
Also, do not compromise on technical support. Chances are you will need it at some point — if a forum provider trivializes technical assistance look elsewhere.
Deciding to host your own forum is well worth the effort and choosing a forum hosting plan over a regular web hosting package has many benefits.
There are plenty of options to choose from, including companies that are focused on hosting forums as well as more general-purpose hosting companies that offer forum-specific plans.
Just be sure to get answers to your questions before signing up and you’ll increase your chances of finding the best forum hosting for your project.