In this post I’m going to share a big new idea I’ve been working on.
tl;dr: Don’t Make a Store or a Forum, Make a Storum!
Basically in January 2017 I bought a domain name with the idea of turning it into an affiliate store.
Then I looked around at my competition and the stand out thing about the sites thriving in this niche is the fact that they have thriving FORUMS.
We’re Aiming for Close Integration of Store and Forum
Sure, many stores already have forums. But the idea of a Storum is to more closely integrate the two. This is different to the usual situation where the store and forum are completely separate. In many cases they could even exist on two different domains.
My work on the Storum idea is still ongoing. But here’s what I have done so far to make them much more integrated than normal:
- If you read a forum topic or post, then you see products related to that post. I suppose I could add related posts/topics if you’re looking at a product. This would be nice in a cars niche for example. However, I’d be wary of putting purchasers off due to negative post topics. And of course you don’t want to distract people who are trying to buy something.
- Because I’m discreetly monetising my forum using my own products, I don’t have to put in obtrusive banner advertising.
I’ve not yet built the login facility, but obviously when people log into site then they won’t have to register again to use the forum.
From spying on other peoples’ forums, I’ve also seen these ideas:
- Want to add new products to your store? Ask your forum members what they would buy!
- Need photos or reviews? Reward forum members by sending out samples in return for photos + reviews.
One final tip I can give you is that inline text links convert extremely well in forums. Why does this work? The simple answer is that people who are reading text are much more committed buyers than those who just click on ads.
I’ve done this on one of my other forums and around 80% of the revenue from that site comes from text links, and the other 20% from banners. Basically what I’ve done is do an automatic find/replace so that the word RedWidget is changed into an affiliate link to RedWidget.com.
If you run phpBB then you can do this quite easily by editing viewtopic.php (get somebody to do this for you if you don’t know what you’re doing!). In WordPress you can also get various affiliate links plug-ins that do much the same.
Subdomain or Sub-Folder?
Once you get the idea of adding a forum, do you make the URL forum.nichelaboratory.com or www.nichelaboratory.com/forum?
A lot depends on whether the forum software you’re using has the same underlying tech stack as your store.
Personally I prefer sub domains. They make it easy to host blogs or forums on other hosting accounts. This is great if you have a .NET or Java based store but want a PHP forum. There’s no really difference when it comes to SEO and your site is well established. I started nichelaboratory.com in 2013. When I added blog.nichelaboratory.com in 2017 it started getting traffic from Google Search pretty much overnight.
Launching a Forum
Well I’ve tried forums before and they’re kind of hard to get off the ground. If your store is already successful and you have some loyal, devoted followers then it will be a lot easier of course. You might even pursuade some users to act as moderators.
They will often work for free if they’re passionate about their niche and want somewhere to hang out with like minded people.
But what if your site is brand new like mine is?
I’ve found that one way to start a forum is to set up around a dozen different users and just get the conversation going. Yes you’ll be writing it all and talking to yourself. However, you can get inspiration from elsewhere, not just inside your head.
I’ve “stolen” thread ideas from looking on Quora. I’ve also found inspiration from other forums in my niche. These are actually way better than using keyword tools, because you come across such great ideas for posts. Lists of FAQ’s are also good – find them in sub-Reddits or other sites about specific topics.
I’ve also used the Niche Laboratory of course. Where it has been particularly useful is in pointing out to me what sub-forums my forum needs to include. It’s also been useful to kind of gauge the relative popularity of each main topic in my niche.
Anyway, I hope you’ve found my Storum brain dump useful. I’ll post some more info once I develop the idea further. Sadly at the time of writing my new site is still in the Google Sandbox and I guess it will be there for some time.