Parts Marketing Idea – Forum Sponsorship

In the world of automotive enthusiasts, online forums are immensely popular (and have been for over a decade). With their frequent 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 about advertising your parts (or your brand) on forums.

Which Forums Should We Advertise On?

Most forums tend to fit into one of two buckets:

  1. The generic “we like talking about vehicles” forums, which don’t have a niche focus and can be really random in terms of topics/threads.
  2. Specific interest forums that tend to be very focused.

Generally speaking, most companies want to advertise on the second type of forum.

If, for example, your company sells steel bumpers for late-model Toyota trucks – like our client Throttle Down Kustoms (TDK)  – 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 TDK:

All of the forums listed above could offer advertising opportunities for a custom steel bumper company, but every forum must be tested to determine its effective ROI.

How Much Should You Spend On Forum Ads?

The answer to this question is another question: How’s your tracking?

Tracking is really important.

Tracking the ROI of every click is CRITICAL to the success of your advertising.

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.

How To Evaluate Forum Ad Performance

  • 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 (e.g., branded search traffic, direct website traffic, etc.) that corresponds with your forum ads.
  • See if your forum advertising investment has corresponded to an increase in social engagement (e.g., more blog subscribers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc.).

As for ideal forum advertising rates and pricing, it’s tough to say how much to pay or buy. Suffice to say, if you know your metrics, you know what the forum advertising is worth.

Finally, after testing your forum ads for a month (or three), negotiate your rate based on your results. If the forum owner isn’t willing to price ads based on the value to your business, it’s time to move on to other opportunities.

Automotive Forum Advertising/Sponsorship Tips And Advice

Based on our experience purchasing forum advertising, here are some tips:

  1. Don’t bet the farm on forum ads. Forum advertising should be viewed as a minor opportunity to grow sales, as most companies generate only modest returns from forum advertising.
  2. Don’t sign up for a long-term ad commitment unless it’s really 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 three months of ads at a time (three months is enough to know if the ads work or not).
  3. Make sure your ads are nofollowed. Google’s organic search algorithm can penalize your site for forum advertising if you don’t have the links in your ads nofollowed…especially if your ad appears on every page of the site. Plus, you never know when a Google algorithm change is coming and how the search engine will treat those links in the future.
  4. 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. Don’t do that.
  5. Watch out for clever and aggressive ad salespeople. Unfortunately, a lot of automotive forums are owned by a media company that charges top dollar for advertising. This company has some salespeople that have fooled a lot of business owners into making big commitments for ads that don’t work…don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Forum Advertising vs. Free Participation

Some would argue that advertising parts and accessories on an automotive forum is unnecessary. They might say, “Instead of buying ad space, just become an active user and get website visits for free.”

Generally, this advice is correct*. We’ve seen many examples of auto parts websites participating in forums to build their business. However:

  • “Free” participation isn’t really free – it takes time. What’s the ROI of spending four hours a week on a forum vs. spending four 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.  You’ll have to be real careful to provide useful – and not promotional – posts in the forum.
  • Forum participation is hard to scale. If participating in one forum can bring your company business, participating in 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. And if you’re able to get a good deal on ads that are hyper-targeted at potential customers, forums can be a good way to generate some additional revenue. Good luck!

*If you’re wondering about marketing your auto parts website through free participation in forums, check out this blog post.

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