Visitors to your web site by way of forums are worth two to six times the average visitor. Why? Well, I’ve found that forum visitors are proactive information seekers, community-minded participants, and engaged users. They do more everything.

The evidence: traffic to my own blog.

In this article, I’m going to show you why you should use forums to drive traffic to your web site, and then give you ten rules for how to go about doing so. As an example, I’ll discuss a forum that I participate in that is SitePoint Forums.

I use this forum for three reasons:

  1. It’s a forum largely for web developers, and I have experience in this field, so I can have thoughtful discussions with my peers.

  2. My expertise as an online marketer complements the typical forum member: web designers and developers.

  3. My site’s target audience overlaps with the forum’s audience.

Although the SitePoint forum does not deliver thousands of visitors to my blog each month, the forum traffic is of the highest quality. They read more, participate more, and come back for more.

The Evidence

Here is some of my analytics data from the past two months. We’ll compare average metrics for visitors coming from the SitePoint forum to the averages for all site visitors.

Note: This is a useful exercise for you to conduct with your own site. Once you’ve established which sites are referring the most high quality traffic, redouble your efforts at those sites.

Bounce Rate 30%

Normally, 71% of my visitors leave without viewing a second page (they were expecting someone taller). Only 30% of my visitors from the forum leave immediately.

New Visits 25%

83% of my visitors are new to the site. But when they come from the forum, 75% are returning for a second time (or more).

9.25 Pages/Visit

The average visitor only looks at 2.5 pages on my site. Visitors from the forum look at over 9.

17:55 Minutes Spent on Site

When someone from the forums comes to my web site, they spend an average of 18 minutes on my site. That’s 532% of the average for all of my visitors, who visit for 3 minutes on average.

These numbers demonstrate that visitors from SitePoint are more engaged with my site, more interested in what I have to say, and more likely to return. The average visitor from the forum appears to be worth 2 to 6 times an average visitor.

This is important whether your visitor’s intended action is to read your content, or to buy your product. Engaged visitors are more easily reached with your message.

Why Forum Users Are Qualified

Forum visitors are interested in self-education and connecting with like-minded people. They’ve already sampled some of your writing, since they followed a link associated with something you said in the forum. And by clicking on that link, these visitors are saying, “tell me more!”

Even if it seems impossible to drive forum traffic to your site, you should participate. Forums are a great place to learn about the topics that interest you, and you can also use them to build networks of contacts—, professional and personal.

This inherent value in forums is exactly why they produce quality visitors. People who click are already qualified visitors.

Forums Are for Humans, Not Search Engines

It’s important that my web site isn’t a rehash of the information forum visitors already know. Most SitePoint readers are web designers and developers first, marketers second, so I have something to offer them.

Remember, forums are for driving human traffic to your site, not for boosting your search engine rankings. Some SEO bloggers suggest posting on forums as a way to build links pointing to your domain. Creating a link in your signature means that every post you make on the forum will refer to your site.

However, these links aren’t as useful for SEO as you might expect. Forum threads are rarely considered authoritative by engines, since they’re not used to link to. Forum pages also have hundreds of outbound links, well over the number recommended by the official Google guidelines. Whatever authority the page has is diminished by the abundance of links.

But make no mistake: a signature link is best practice. It’s a way of promoting yourself in a valuable way without being brash. People reading your comments need a way to learn more about who you are and what you do, so a link to your site is value-added content.

Signature links aren’t for search engines, they’re for people. Any SEO benefit is peripheral.