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Boosting Traffic & Engagement On Forums


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#1 tam


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Posted 04 October 2014 - 12:16 PM

I don't have a specific question, but I'm working on my forums at the moment and I thought it might be helpful to track what I'm doing and what works. As this is the only place I talk web development, you get stuck with it. Maybe they'll be something useful for other people with forum or you've got ideas...


I've got a big forum (over 5 million posts) but I've been neglecting it, it's ticking over but posts/registrations are gradually declining, and my goal is to reverse the trend.


Increasing Registrations


I'm starting by looking at registrations.


First I compared the number of registrations to the number of people reaching a minimum of 5 posts over the last four years. Good news is that's remained fairly constant at around 22%, implying there isn't a big unnoticed issue after registration. Bad news is the number of registrations is down around 50% - part less general traffic/part less registrations.


I'm going to start by optimising what I've got i.e. increasing conversion rate of people viewing the site and registering, and also try increasing the conversion rate from registration to active posting. Then when I work on increasing traffic to the site, I'll be ready to get the maximum benefit from it.


So far I've:

  • Asked nicely: I swapped the default message "If this is your first visit, be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above. You may have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed..." to a friendlier "We welcome new members, please [create an account] and say hello, tell us about your pet or ask for advice." (call to action with a nice big button and a line underneath on what do do if you get stuck).
  • Resent activation messages to 'awaiting email confirmation users' - we've years of accounts (about 4k) that were never activated - many were spammers but I'll send a last message and display an onscreen message with instructions and then delete them to free up usernames.

Next, I'm going to try out turning off email activation... spammers are pretty smart now, is that really what's holding them back? I get a half dozen or so emails a month from people having trouble activating their accounts, and that's just the ones that are keen enough to email. Will it mean an influx of spam or more users being active because they don't have to wait on an email/swap phone apps to activate etc.?



#2 tam


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Posted 11 October 2014 - 04:23 PM

So a week on, have we been flooded by spam... surprisingly the answer is no. Banned 11 spammers over the week, exactly the same amount as the same duration a month ago.


Of the 43 registrations in the last week, 29 (67%) have made at least one post, up from 61% previously. Obviously need to wait to see if they turn in to long term active users, but even if not I don't mind if some of our traffic/userbase is new people that only need one or two questions answered.


Interesting that email activation isn't acting as a barrier to hoards of spammers. I think I'll leave it switched off.

#3 Grumpus


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Posted 12 October 2014 - 03:38 AM

In the grand scheme of things - those numbers are really good. The 90-9-1 variation of the 1% rule remains fairly typical even 20-something years after it first was postulated. It's hard to say exactly since we don't have your un-registered traffic, but 5 posts in 4 years puts that 22% in the "1" slot. (Though, the rule says that it would be 1/10th of that as 90-8-2 - that's still double the expected number).


Your spam situation will likely change. Typically spammers share lists (or sell them). Since your site has had email verification for a long time, the bots that go out and try to register have put your site on the "do not call" list. Over time, those few that do register will add you to the "Can Register" list and that will get shared. Over time, your bad registration numbers will go up geometrically until they get out of hand. The longer you go without prevention measures, the longer it takes to work your way back onto the do not call list. Sometimes, it's best to switch it back and forth every few months to leave confusion.


Though I've never tried to convert this - the best anti-spam system I've seen is the notCaptcha system for Wordpress. Most CAPTCHA systems are based upon typing characters that you see. OCR is getting pretty good nowadays because of efforts to be able to translate handwritten documents to digital. 90% of the spammers aren't going to invest in this tech, so a regular captcha will block out all but 10%, but those 10% are the big players and can actually account for 100s of logins - especially if they manage to find a way to post automatically once registered.


The notCaptcha http://notcaptcha.webjema.com/?p=1 (or something similar - I haven't looked around) is a little different because it does some spacial logic. You aren't typing characters that you see, you are taking little pictures and then using a slider to rotate the picture to the point where it is right side up. By making the "relative up" position random on the slider and a variety of images, it does an excellent job of keeping the bots out. On the Wordpress sites I've put it on, it has worked with 100% accuracy. The only time any of those sites ended up with registration or comment spam is at times where wordpress itself had some sort of backdoor vulnerability to let the bots in - no one ever gets through the front door. (And probably won't unless that were to become the industry standard). Usability people may say that this isn't a perfect solution because the user has never seen something like this before and they may not be able to complete the "test" without thinking about it for a few moments - moments during which they might abandon it. I've always thought that it was easy enough that if they can't figure it out right away, they probably can't or won't figure out how to post or reply anyway.


So... it may be worth taking a quick look at that code and making a version that works with your system. (I'm saying this based on my memory that says you do at least do some basic coding changes to your forum anyway - yeah? If not, I apologize). I can't imagine it taking more than a few hours to grab out the relevant bits and put them into your forum software's plugin shell instead of the Wordpress one. Since you have a pet site, you might even create a "Guard Dogs (and cats and hamsters and fish)" thread where people can post pictures of their pets that can scale down to icons for inclusion in the icon set used for this instead of using the set of icons that comes with it. As long as the picture scales down so that it's easy to see which way is "up" - it should work in there.


Or - just keep going as you are, but in a few months, be ready for the spam registrations to double, and then double again in another month, double again the next, and so on. That's typically how it goes. If you switch back or change to some other way after the first doubling, you can stem the tide and a few months later, open it back up again for a few months.



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