Every single SEO has at least tried to build backlinks through forums. This is one of the easiest methods to do, and to teach for that matter, and that’s why most SEO newbies have mastered this one first and are now having hard time letting it go – at least those who realized that it doesn’t work anymore. Bulk forum linkbuilding hasn’t worked the way it used to for a few years now, but since April 24 (when Google took Penguin for a walk) not only does it not benefit a website’s rankings, it actually hurts them big time.
How it once was
Once upon a time, when Google bots weren’t as smart as they are today, all backlinks were equally important. The website that had the most votes from other websites, i.e. links from them, was regarded as the most relevant result for the search engines, and the number of its backlinks was the single most important factor in its SERP positioning. Forums were among the easiest places to get a link from, so SEOs started exploring the ways to get more backlinks from there.
At one point all you had to do was to configure a script or software and hit a start button, and bump! – you had thousands of forum profiles and posts with your links and anchor text in no time, and your website was ranking No. 1 for the keyword you’ve chosen.
How it is now
Well, those scripts still exist, but using them will get you nowhere. Google bots got a lot smarter in recognizing the so called footprint left by the forum spammers: the tools used for that all follow the same pattern, the forums used for spamming are mostly based on a particular platform (vBulletin, PHPBB, SMF), so once they see the pattern, they will no longer reward your website for being such a hotshot, but instead they will slap it so hard that it may never recover.
That’s how the fairytale ended. Now comes the real life.
Should you abandon forums?
No, by all means no! Obviously, you can’t build thousands of backlinks within minutes and expect to get away with it; no linkbuilding method works that way – too much too soon raises red flags with Google, whatever you do (except when you’re having viral content that spreads naturally). Legitimate use of forums is almost as good for backlinks as any other method, and you surely should incorporate some forum links in your website’s backlink profile, because they also contribute to its diversity – and Google loves diversity in backlinks because that’s what natural looks like.
Use forums the way they were meant to be used: find a few, or a dozen if you can manage them all, with active members who gather there to discuss topics relevant to what your website is about; take active participation in discussions, help other members if you can, provide value to the community. When you’re a legitimate member, the forum administrators will usually allow you to have a link to your website in both your forum profile and your signature, and the more you post, the more links you will have from there. Yes, they will all be coming from the same domain, but this is the only way to make it work.
Also, don’t forget that forums can bring you loads of referral traffic, and getting traffic is the reason why search optimization exists in the first place – if you can get it without Google, all the better. If members start perceiving you as the thought leader, the one who knows a lot about the subject they are interested in, they will want to visit your website in hope to learn more. You can even craft some post on your blog especially for the forum members, if there’s a discussion about the topic you feel you can explain in more detail; then it’s OK to put a link to your blog post, because it will add value to the discussion.
Every linkbuilding technique can be done the spammy way, with the sole purpose of building links without contributing to the community or Internet as a whole, and the right way. Forums are no different. Although forum links are not by far as powerful for SEO as they once were, they still have their place in your overall internet marketing efforts – just don’t misuse them.