A website’s community often serves as its lifeblood, and what would be a better way of fostering a community than through a forum? Forums serve as a venue for discussions among your site’s users, and it’s where they talk about everything from today’s weather to different ways that you can improve your site.
If you run a WordPress site (which is pretty likely, since more than 43% of websites use it), you may be familiar with plugins—these handy little pieces of software simply “plug in” to your site (hence the name) and fulfill a huge variety of functions, such as improving your site’s security, organizing its content, and yes—even creating and moderating a forum.
In this handy article, we’ll list the 8 best plugins for setting up a forum on WordPress, what to consider when choosing a forum plugin, and some very useful tips for running your own forum. If these topics sound like something right up your alley (or you just want to grow your website), then read on!
Why You’d Want a Forum Plugin for WordPress
Signing up with the best web hosting provider might not mean much if you can’t grow a community around your site, and there’s no better way to grow a community than by using a discussion board or forum.
The Benefits of Having a Forum
Having a dedicated forum for your site and its users results in numerous advantages, such as the following:
Everyone wants to be heard, and there’s no better way to be heard on a website than by speaking out on its dedicated forum. Here, they can ask questions about your products or website, or simply have general discussions with other users about how their day went—anything goes, as long as they follow the rules set by the site’s administrator (a.k.a. you).
Your forum can be as relaxed or as strict as you want, and the topics can range from simple question-and-answer posts to knowledge-sharing and product support discussions. As we said, anything goes—it’s your forum, after all.
A forum also helps facilitate user engagement and participation—if your users feel like they’re part of your site and its community, they’ll be more likely to visit your site again, purchase your products (if you have any), as well as endorse your site and its goods to their friends and family.
Finally, having a forum helps with your site’s SEO. Higher Logic, a cloud-based community platform, states that “since posts in online communities are written in the words of your customers, they have a huge impact on SEO.”
By fostering discussions and nurturing your site’s forum and its community, you’ll help your site rise through the search results ladder, which helps bring more visitors to your site and grow its community (and revenue) even further!
Explore an step-by-step guide for creating forum websites.
Why use a plugin?
Using a WordPress plugin saves you both the time and money required to develop a forum on your own. You’ll be able to easily create and moderate your site’s very own forum using the plugins that we’ll list below—what’s more, some of them are even available for free!
8 Best WordPress Forum Plugins For Your Site
Now that we’ve answered why you should use a plugin for your forum, let’s move on to what plugins to use. Without further ado, here are the top 8 plugins that we’ve found for making and managing a forum:
Clocking in at a whopping 200,000+ active installations, bbPress is the uncontested king of forum plugins. Made by the creators of WordPress itself, bbPress is completely free and very easy to set up, letting anyone with even the most basic of WordPress knowledge establish and moderate their very own forum.
It is a simple and fast plugin that lets you create a forum with as little fuss as possible. However, that simplicity is a double-edged sword: it only offers a very basic set of features, which may turn off those that want a bit more control over their discussion board.
This somewhat-anemic feature set can be remedied by downloading one of bbPress’s many extensions and themes, which let you expand its basic features as well as spice up its relatively bland looks.
We’d recommend bbPress for WordPress newbies who just want to dip their toes into developing and moderating their own forum.
For more advanced users, however, you’re better off just installing a plugin that has a more comprehensive catalog of features and themes by default instead of combing through bbPress’s numerous extensions and themes just to find the right one for you.
2. Asgaros Forum
With 10,000+ active installations, Asgaros Forum is a simple, feature-rich, and free alternative to bbPress. It’s also lightweight, which minimizes forum slowdowns and any other associated issues.
Asgaros Forum even lets you view and track forum statistics, manage posting permissions, and set up polls, among plenty of other features. Unfortunately, however, Asgaros Forum doesn’t have any extensions—once you’ve used all of these features, that’s it—you can’t add any additional functionalities.
You can try out Asgaros Forum just to test how it “feels” compared to something like bbPress. It’s quite easy to set up and has a hefty set of features, so why not try it out and see which one you like more?
3. WpForo Forum
WpForo Forum is a free, slightly more advanced alternative to bbPress, allowing you to set up a forum where users can ask questions, vote on polls, subscribe to specific threads or topics (and get notifications), share discussions on social media, and so on.
WpForo offers four different forum layouts to choose from:
- Simplified (a fast, basic, and minimalistic forum layout)
- Extended (a more traditional, detailed forum layout)
- Q&A (pretty self-explanatory: users ask questions, other users answer those questions and upvote or downvote those answers)
- Threaded (topics are sorted into different categories and threads, such as support, product discussions, and so on)
This plugin even works with BuddyPress (which we’ll discuss below), allowing you to have a forum and a social network for your users!
One downside to WpForo Forum, however, is that you’ll need to pay for more advanced features, such as ad management and polls. Also, newer users may feel overwhelmed with WpForo’s more advanced settings.
On the other hand, more advanced WordPress users who find bbPress to be a bit too simple might find themselves right at home with WpForo Forum’s more complex set of features. If this sounds like you, then take WpForo Forum for a spin—you might like what you find.
Simple:Press claims on its WordPress page that it “brings enterprise-class forum capabilities to your WordPress site.” It isn’t kidding—it easily supports thousands of users and comes with a formidable set of free features:
- Unlimited forums, topics, and posts
- Public and private forums
- Forum groups and sub-forums
- Custom user avatars
- User ranks and badges
- Full integration with WordPress registrations and logins
- And much, much more
- A comprehensive suite of administrator abilities, like pinning and locking forums and topics, setting user and group permissions, and moving posts between forums and topics
To make the most of your Simple:Press installation, however, you might need to pay for its premium version ($199 per year for one website), which will let you inspect detailed analytics, run ads, and utilize plenty of other features, such as:
- A private messaging system for your users
- A reputation system
- An image, media, and file uploader (for specific users)
- Profanity filters
- Push notifications via SMS, Pushover, PushBullet, and Slack
- Topic subscriptions
We highly recommend Simple:Press’ premium version for sites that already have a sizable user base, as a large number of users helps spur forum activity and discussions. If you’re just starting off, however, you’ll be better off with a simpler and more lightweight plugin.
5. Discussion Board
Discussion Board is a plugin that greatly simplifies the process of adding a forum to your WordPress site—it boasts a unique, one-click setup option that automatically creates the following pages to help you set your site’s forum up as quickly as possible:
- A login page
- A page with a form for users to post new topics
- A page to view existing topics
You can tweak these pages to your liking, or leave them as they are—either way, your forum has all that it needs with these pages.
The free version comes with a simple yet useful set of features, including:
- User management features that let you set user roles and control who can view and post on your forum
- Anti-spam and post moderation controls
- A registration feature that requires users to activate their accounts before posting, helping minimize spam
- A Customizer that lets you tweak out your forum’s appearance (Discussion Board works with almost all of WordPress’ themes)
- Shortcodes that let you spice up your users’ forum experience (e.g., a login page with no registration option, etc.)
There’s also a Pro version available for $89 per year, which boasts a wider array of functionalities for your site, such as user profiles, media uploads, categories and tags, and widgets!
If you want to set up a basic forum for your site quickly and effortlessly, then Discussion Board might be a pretty solid plugin for you.
Next up is BuddyPress, which offers a pretty unique feature: instead of managing your own forum, what about managing your own social network? BuddyPress—which is totally free, by the way—lets you do exactly that, allowing your users to create their own profiles and groups, add friends, and even send private messages to each other!
If you want a user-focused experience that allows your site’s users to foster their own sub-communities and groups as well as engage with one another on a level that’s quite simply unachievable on a simple forum or discussion board, then look no further than BuddyPress.
7. CM Answers
CM Answers is yet another unique forum plugin: it’s exclusively dedicated to a Q&A format. Think about sites like Stack Exchange or the now-defunct Yahoo! Answers—if you’ve ever wanted to set up a discussion board that’s solely for asking and answering questions, then CM Answers lets you do just that.
It allows your users to post questions and answers, vote on them, leave comments, and even upload files! As an admin, you can customize questions and answers, filter out any unwanted content, add your own answers, and easily keep track of users’ actions in your forum.
You can also purchase add-ons if you want some additional features, such as in-site transactions and an “ask an expert” feature.
We think this goes without saying, but if you want to build a discussion board that’s not just for asking and answering questions, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.
However, if you want a simple forum that’s built for Q&As and nothing else, CM Answers is the plugin for you.
8. Sabai Discuss
Sabai Discuss is a premium alternative to CM Answers and offers an even more comprehensive Q&A-focused feature set for a one-time fee of $24. These features include, but are not limited to, the following:
- An auto-filter option that arranges questions and answers based on their topic or their number of views or votes
- A profile dashboard that lets a user add their name, display their favorite posts, and keep track of the questions and answers that they’ve posted
- A “discussion stream” layout that helps users stay up-to-date with “a macro view of all activities, latest discussions, latest votes, and statistics” in a simple format
- An auto-suggest feature that displays commonly searched terms when users search for answers or type out a question
With all of these features (and plenty of other ones), look no further than Sabai Discuss if you want a highly versatile, dedicated Q&A plugin that’s also very affordable!
What to Consider When Choosing a WordPress Forum Plugin
You might be thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of plugins. Which one should I pick?” Relax, we got you—here are the most important things to consider when picking a forum plugin:
- Its purpose
First, what is the purpose of your forum? Do you want to create a simple forum for asking and answering questions, or do you want a more in-depth community where users can discuss various topics?
- Your community
Second, how many users will be participating in this forum, and how often will it be updated? You’ll find that some plugins offer more features than others depending on whether they’re designed for large communities or small ones.
- The price
And last but certainly not least, how much are you willing to spend? Some plugins are completely free, others are only available once you pay a fee, and some toe the line, offering a basic set of features for free but requiring payment to unlock more advanced ones.
Weigh your options (and wallet) carefully. For example, if your site has recently experienced a rise in users, it may be a good idea to spend on a paid plugin—users old and new will appreciate it, and you’ll have an easier time managing your forum with all of those additional premium features.
Best Practices When Running an Online Community Forum
When running an online forum, there are several best practices to keep in mind to ensure its success, such as the following:
- Sign up with a reliable WordPress host
That shiny new forum won’t mean much if your site keeps going offline and buckling under the weight of all those new users!
- Nurture a community
That’s why you created a forum, after all. Interact with your users on the forum regularly, and help it grow! If people feel welcome, they’ll keep coming back—they might even bring new people with them!
- Keep it simple
A forum that’s hard to navigate is one that’s doomed to fail. If people can easily find the posts and answers that they’re looking for, they’re more likely to stick around and participate in your forum.
- Have a set of rules in place
No one wants spam or rude people in a forum.
- Enforce those rules
Moderate your forum, punish any rule-breakers, and keep it a safe and pleasant environment for your users.
- Don’t let it get to your head!
Nobody wants a ban-happy forum moderator, so only ban and punish the users that have actually broken your forum’s rules. There’s no quicker way to kill a burgeoning community than mass-banning people just because they disagreed with you.
Which Forum Plugin Is for Me?
As we’ve stated, weigh your options carefully! The best forum plugin for you depends on what you want to do with it.
For example, determining the purpose of your forum helps you pick between a dedicated Q&A plugin, like CM Answers, or a plugin with a broader scope of features, such as WpForo Forum.
If your site has a relatively small community, you’ll be fine with a lightweight plugin with a simple feature set, such as bbPress. But for a larger community, you might be better off with a plugin that has a more comprehensive set of functions, such as Simple:Press.
Keep your forum’s purpose and community at heart, and you’ll be able to capitalize on all of the benefits (and potential profits) that a forum brings!
Are you still yearning for more knowledge? Do you want to create (or upgrade) your own ecommerce site to better cater to all your users? Then check out our guide on the best ecommerce plugins for WordPress!