In the world of automotive enthusiasts, online forums are immensely popular. With their frequently niche focus and affordable advertising rates, they can be a great auto parts marketing tool.
However, if you’re not up to speed on forum advertising best practices, they can also be a huge waste of money. Here’s what you need to know.
Which Forums Should We Advertise On?
Sites like Edmunds.com and Motortrend.com offer forums, and while these sites tend to have a lot of users, they’re not necessarily what a part retailer is looking for. Forums that serve a specific consumer niche are a better investment than general-interest auto forums.
If, for example, your company sells steel bumpers for late-model Toyota trucks, you want to look for forums that are focused on that vehicle type. To give you a sense of the opportunity that forum advertising can offer, here’s a list of sites that might be a good advertising opportunity for this hypothetical steel bumper company:
- Toyota Nation Forum
- Tacoma World
- YotaTech Forums
- Toyota 4Runner Forum
- Toyota Tundra Forum
- Toyota Forum
- Forums – Toyota Owners Club
- Tundra Solutions Forum
- TTORA Forum
- Toyota FJ Cruiser Forum
- Toyota Off-Road Forums
- Toyota 4Runner Enthusiasts Forum
- Toyota Truck Forum
- Tundra Geeks Forum
- Toyota Trail Riders Forum
- Toyota Tundra Forum
- RockSolidToys Toyota Solid Axle & 4X4 Forum
- Toyota Minis
All of these forums offer advertising opportunities, but all of them must be tested to determine their effective ROI.
How Much Should We Spend On Forum Ads?
The answer to this question is another question: How’s your tracking?
Without an ounce of exaggeration, you can’t afford to spend one single penny on forum ads if you don’t have revenue tracking systems in place first.
To evaluate the performance of forum advertising:
- Measure average revenue per click on your forum ads and compare it to any other advertising you’re doing.
- Ideally, you’re able to track click revenue AND call revenue for your forum ads.
- Ideally, you’re also able to assess the lifetime value of new customers via your forum ads.
- Look for an increase in calls or website visits that aren’t easily attributable (i.e. branded search traffic, direct website traffic, etc.) that corresponds with your forum ads.
- See if your forum advertising investment has corresponded to any increase in social engagement (i.e. more blog subscribers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc.).
As for ideal forum advertising rates and pricing, there’s no such thing as a “rule of thumb” for how much to pay or buy. Suffice to say, if you know your metrics, you know what the forum advertising is really worth.
Finally, after testing your forum ads for a month (or three), it’s time to negotiate your rate based on your results. If the forum owner isn’t willing to price their ads based on their value to your business, it’s time to move on to other opportunities.
Forum Advertising Tips and Advice
Based on our experience purchasing forum advertising, here are some tips:
- Don’t sign up for a long-term ad commitment unless it’s cheap. Some forums will offer you a year’s worth of ads for $200-$300. The risk here is that the ads won’t bring hardly any traffic, but the price is low enough that it’s probably worth taking that risk. Otherwise, don’t buy more than 3 months of advertising at a time (at least for your initial investment).
- Nofollow your ad links. Google’s algorithm can penalize you for forum advertising if you don’t have your links nofollowed…especially if you ad appears on every page of the site.
- Invest in professional banner design. Forums are often lax about the quality of ads they’ll place, which means you often see some REALLY ugly forum banners. RightBanners.com is cheap, easy, and fast…there’s no excuse for using an amateur-looking ad banner.
Forum Advertising vs. “Free” Participation
Some would argue that advertising on a forum is unnecessary. Instead of buying ad space, just become an active user and get website visits for free. Get involved, tell forum users about your product when you can, place a link to your site in your signature, etc. and you’ll get results. Easy-peasy and no dollars out of pocket.
Generally, this advice is correct. We’ve seen many examples of auto parts websites participating on forums to build their business. However:
- “Free” participation isn’t free – it takes time. What’s the ROI of spending 4 hours a week on a forum vs. spending 4 hours a week on some other useful marketing task?
- Most forum owners are going to demand advertising dollars from businesses that promote themselves on the site. Often times, free isn’t really free.
- Forum participation is hard to scale. If participating on one forum can bring your company business, participating on two forums is twice as good. Three forums? Three times the traffic. But every forum takes time, and at some point there isn’t enough time to go around. Unless your company can hire a team of forum posters, it’s probably better to focus on cost-effective advertising for the future.
Still, if your company is just getting started, forum participation is a great place to learn about your customers and grow.