Published by on January 1, 2020 • 0 Comments • Lire en Français

“I want to be cloned”, “my nose is not centered”, or “my head is shrinking well”. Here is a little selection of hilarious topics found on some forums. I would like to clarify, just in case: in those sentences, the “I” does not refer to me.

Dog laughing

Beyond these existential questions, people don't only have fun on these kinds of platforms. Most of the time, very serious topics are discussed there.

If you've landed on this post, you're probably wondering how to create a forum with WordPress, aren't you?

So let's discover 6 essential WordPress plugins to do so. We'll compare their strengths and weaknesses, and yo'll discover which plugin is best suited to your needs.

But first, let me explain what types of forums you can create. And, above all, the benefits you can get from using them.

What is a forum?

1 – A little trip to Roman times

To begin, look back nearly 2,800 years from now. I don't know about you, but when people say forum, I first think about that:

Forum in Roman times
An overview of the Roman forum as it is currently maintained (Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Wikimedia Commons)

In Roman times, this word designated the large public space where people gathered to exchange ideas. There, they talked talked politics, trade, economics, justice, religion and so on.

I wasn't yet born, and couldn't see it with my own eyes, but it obviously allowed people from all social categories to meet and discuss.

Today, the essence of the word remains the same. But things have changed a lot.

A forum looks more like this:

The forum of the WordPress.org website
WordPress.org's forum

Even behind from behind a screen, the concept is quite similar to the one seen in Roman times: people use this tool to find answers to their questions, and engage in conversations.

On the web, the first major forums were created in the mid-1990s. Since then, they have grown quite a bit. Doctissimo, one of the most famous in France, has for instance nearly 3 million registered users!

2 – What are the different types of forums?

Sports, music, video games, new technologies, politics, fashion: these forum topics are very popular.

But you can address them from different angles, by creating targeted forums. I am thinking, for example, of:

  • A discussion forum. This is the most common type of forum. People use it to talk about a mutual interest in a common passion. For example, Automotive Forums is dedicated… well, you know, to the automotive industry.
  • A Q&A (question and answer) forum. On this type of platform, users ask questions and submit their answers. Messages can often be sorted by vote. Here are two well-know examples: Yahoo Answers or Quora.
An example of an Internet forum
  • A forum dedicated to support. Here, Internet users can ask for help to use a product or service. Example: the WPRocket forum.
  • A forum related to education, to share best practices, connect students with each other, share courses etc. Example: the forum of the well-know French school Sciences Po.
  • A forum to facilitate the sale of a product. If you own a WooCommerce store, you can use a forum to gather your customers' opinions, share your tips and, of course, offer assistance. Example: the Prestashop forum.

Why install a forum on your WordPress website?

If you want to set up a forum, you probably have to ask yourself two questions: what benefits will you get from it? And what are the main cons, which could slow you down?

I suggest that we think about that together without further delay.

1 – The pros of a forum

The first pro of a forum on WordPress (or another platform), is that it can have a positive impact on your SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Since users create and usually publish frequently, this allows you to have “fresh” content uploaded to your site – which Google really likes. And the more content you have, the more you increase your chances of raking on specific keywords.

A forum will also increase your chances of ranking on long-tail keywords (secondary expressions containing several keywords) because users often ask very specific questions. You'll then attract a very targeted, specific audience.

Furthermore, a forum can help you offer really useful content to Internet users. Google takes this criteria into account a lot.

The second pro of a WordPress forum is the customer relationship aspect of it. A forum can act as customer service, and allow you to answer questions related to your product or service.

Imagine that you are frequently asked to solve a well-defined problem. To save yourself time, simply create a topic on the question, and answer it once and for all.

Thanks to this, you will also develop a privileged relationship with your customers. You will benefit from their feedback to improve your offers, and they'll be more likely to talk about you around them. In the end, you have a good chance of retaining them.

Bob Squarepants

The third advantage I see is the community aspect. You give people the opportunity to engage in discussions, help others, and share their ideas. In short, you are creating a kind of life-size social network.

This encourages your visitors to come back to your site, and allows you to create high-value content, that's really useful to your target audience.

2 – The cons of a forum

If you are convinced that a forum can be useful to you, do not forget that this type of platform also has some cons. Among them, we can note:

  • The risk of being spammed. But you'll see a lot of plugins are built by integrating anti-spam. Also remember to activate the anti-spam plugin Akismet as soon as you install a new WordPress.
  • How hard it is to find attract active users. There are so many forums on the Internet, that making yours famous can take quite some time.
  • Forum moderation. If you want to keep a credible and serious exchange platform, you'll definitely have to spend time there. By the way, a lot of people often ask Alex to set up a forum on WPMarmite. He systematically refuses to do so, mostly because it would be too time-consuming.

To avoid any issues, you'll need to apply best practices to your forum.

Consider developing clear operating rules (the behaviour to have, the types of content allowed, how the forum works, etc.), or regularly starting conversations on topics related to your activity to encourage interaction.

3 – Do I really need to install a forum on WordPress?

There's more to life than WordPress. To create a forum, you also have several choices:

  • Set up your own forum yourself. One of the most famous solutions to do so is phpBBB. It's an open-source software, like WordPress. You'll have to have minimum technical knowledge (FTP, PHP) to further customization. You can also go for Discourse, which is a slightly more modern solution. But if you are just starting out in IT, this may not be easy to get started.
  • Use a dedicated creation software that hosts your forum, for example CreateAForum. Even though this might be easier to set up for a beginner, this type of forum will quickly be limited if you want to customize it (you will have to pay to have more options), and your forum's domain name won't be personalized. Plus if, one day, you decide to change services (switch to WordPress for example), you will have to start all over again.
    A “hybrid” solution exists: vBulletin, which allows you to either host your forum yourself or use their service in the cloud. But the entrance ticket is quite expensive: $249.

Besides that, I find that WordPress still has a lot of pros when it comes to creating a forum.

Barack Obama clapping

Here are some of them:

  • If you know a little bit about how WordPress works, you won't waste time discovering the tool.
  • You can manage everything from the same interface.
  • You keep your own design: the forum is a feature that is added to your existing site.
  • You don't have to create a website dedicated only to a forum.
  • A lot of powerful plugins are free of charge. If you have a tight budget, it's not bad.
  • The whole site and forum belong to you: you own of all of their rights.
  • You're not restrained when it comes to changing your site or your forum.

Among the cons, I would first say that a forum on WordPress can make your site heavier. If you have already installed a lot of plugins (for instance WooCommerce), a forum plugin like bbPress, and its additional extensions, may put your hosting to a lot of stress.

Anyway, if you've hosted your website with BlueHost, and have a good cache plugin, everything should be fine 🙂

The 6 best plugins to create a forum with WordPress

To create a forum on WordPress, you'll be confronted with the following choice: use a dedicated plugin, or use a theme.

This article focuses on the first, more flexible solution.

Why so? Because, in most cases, you already have a website, on which you want to add a new feature (a forum). A plugin will be perfect the perfect fit for this.

A theme will transform your site into an entire forum. If that's your goal, that's fine. But remember that you may be limited in your freedom of action.

And if, one day, you want to change the theme, because you no longer like its design? Well you may be blocked, because your forum is linked to your theme.

Ball in the face
That hurts a little, right?

So think carefully. If you are interested in this option (and you're totally free to be), be aware that there is a suitable theme with a fairly modern design: Forum Engine ($49). You can find out more about it here (this is an affiliate link).

But let's get back to our plugins. For this post, I tested about ten of the existing one. In the end, 6 of them caught my attention.

For your information, I only tested plugins that can be found on the official WordPress directory (except for one), and updated less than a year ago.

Of course, my choices remain subjective.

So if you know of a great plugin that I don't mention here, feel free to give me your opinion in the comments.

1. bbPress

bbPress is a great WordPress forum plugin

Active installations: 300,000+

Here's the big player of its category. With 300,000 active installations, bbPress is the most famous plugin to create a forum you can find in the official WordPress directory.

It is developed and maintained by Automattic, WordPress's parent company, which guarantees a certain quality: the code is clean and respects WordPress standards.

bbPress is the plugin used to create the WordPress support forum.

The pros of bbPress

  • A free and open source plugin.
  • Ease of installation and use: the plugin creates 3 custom post types on your Dashboard. They allow you to easily manage its features: forums, topics and answers.
    Tableau de bord de bbPress
  • bbPress is modular: there are more than 230 official features (which are technically plugins) to customize your forum. They're all free, and you can find them here.
  • The Akismet plugin is integrated with bbPress, which allows you to manage spam.
  • Complete documentation.
  • Works on multiple sites (when you manage several sites from the same interface).
  • 7 widgets help you integrate some of the forum's features into your sidebar (for instance, to display the list of recent topics).

I didn't like it so much

  • Its minimalism is cool, but will not allow you to create a forum with an unforgettable design. To do this, you will have to use CSS or one of the many bbPress addons.
  • If you want to create an advanced forum, you will have to go through one or more addons to customize it.

To put it in a nutshell…

bbPress is a good solution if you want to create a traditional discussion forum. Quick to install, it will encourage your readers to talk.

Download bbPress from the official directory

2. BuddyPress

The Buddy Press plugin, to create a forum on WordPress

Active installations: 200,000+

BuddyPress is often associated with bbPress because it's also developed by the official WordPress community.

But it doesn't work the same way, since it is not a forum in itself. BuddyPress is above all a “social network in a box”, as it is described in the official directory.

This plugin adds “community features to WordPress, such as member profiles, workflows, emails, notifications” etc.

The pros of BuddyPress

  • One of BuddyPress' strengths is that it can be easily combined with bbPress (and vice versa). The latter allows you to create a classic forum part, but at the same time, you can take advantage of BuddyPress' community features by combining the two.
  • The interactivity that can be communicated between members: you can make contact requests to add people and chat by private messages, send notifications, allow your users to create groups based on their affinities, customize your profile etc.
Buddy Press' interface
  • As with bbPress, there are multiple plugins to customize it (about 700).
  • It is 100% free and open source.
  • 7 widgets are available to customize your sidebar (display your friends, members, groups, a login link etc.).

I didn't like it so much

  • As with bbPress, you'll need to install one or more addons (free) to get the most out of BuddyPress features.
  • For the plugin to work properly, you'll need a compatible theme. This is the case for the vast majority of them – but be sure to check yours if you plan to use it.
  • The documentation (the codex) is well provided, but not always easy to understand.

To put it in a nutshell…

BuddyPress is a reliable solution if you want to set up a social networking system on your WordPress. Its functionalities will allow to enrich a classic forum created with bbPress.

A note on the go

As an alternative to BuddyPress, I also tested the WP Symposium Pro plugin. I wasn't thrilled, despite the fact that it offers a lot of features.
Many of them are in the paid version ($39.99), which makes the free plugin a little limited. I also found customizing the forum to be not that easy.

Download BuddyPress from the official directory

3. Asgaros Forum

Asgaros Forum plugin

Active installations: 10,000+

After the famous bbPress and BuddyPress, I suggest you discover a less known extension: Asgaros Forum.

I personally think it's great. Indeed, a plugin doesn't need to have hundreds of thousands of active installations to be attractive.

It has an excellent rating (5 stars) with no rating of one or two stars, which is rare enough to be highlighted.

Ok, now that I got your attention, let me show you the results of my test right away.

The pros of Asgaros Forum

  • I was talking about the simplicity of installing bbPress. Asgaros Forum does even better. Just create a page and add the shortcode [forum]… and you're done! Of course, you will then have to customize your forum as you wish.
  • The plugin automatically creates a link to allow your users to log in to the forum before they can publish.
  • You can adjust the forum's look and feel from the plugin menu (colors, font choice and size, icons).
  • A simple and clear menu.
  • The documentation is very well designed. You can also find a lot of information on the plugin's dedicated support forum.
  • This WordPress forum plugin is totally free.
  • Widgets allow you to include certain features on your sidebar (search form, topics and recent messages).
  • Possibility to ban users directly from the plugin's dashboard, in your WordPress administration.
  • A developer-friendly plugin: if you know about development, you can customize your forum with a list of hooks and filters.
  • Multi-site compatibility.

I didn't like it so much

  • The very classic design of the forum.

To put it in a nutshell…

An excellent plugin to set up a traditional static forum. It's simple, but does the job rather well. Personally, I prefer it to bbPress which, although more complete, is also more complex to use.

Download Asgaros Forum on the official directory

4. wpForo Forum

wpForo Forum

Active installations: 10,000+

Let's move on to the 4th extension of this test: wpForo Forum. Like Asgaros Forum, it has more than 10,000 active installations.

The two plugins are quite similar but, you will see that wpForo Forum also has its own specificities.

The pros of wpForo Forum

  • An easy-to-use extension.
  • The presence of 8 extensions (for a fee) to make the forum more complete.
  • Flexibility through a choice of 3 types of formatting: extended, simplified and Q&A.
  • Anti-spam and Akismet are directly integrated with the plugin.
  • The drag-and-drop interface to manage the sections of your forum.
    wpForo Forum possède une interface en drag and drop
  • The many customization options: adding icons using the Font Awesome library, choosing from 6 color styles for the appearance of the forum, customizable font size, etc.
  • 4 widgets (connected members, recent topics and articles, search) to add options to your sidebar.
  • The profile management system: members can be assigned scores and badges.

I didn't like it so much

  • A very wide menu of settings in which you get lost a little when you discover the plugin. If you want to review all the possible settings, it'll take time.
  • wp-forum is not 100% free. If you want to customize your forum, you'll have to go through a paid extension (prices start at 11$).

To put it in a nutshell…

wpForo Forum allows a lot of things, thanks to a wide choice of options. It's an effective plugin to create a forum. If I had to compare, I would say that it is quite similar to Asgaros Forum, but a little more complete. On the other hand, it is longer and more complex to set up.

Download wpForo Forum on the official directory

5. DW Question & Answer

DW Question and Answer helps you create a forum on WordPress

Active installations: 10,000+

If I tell you “Stack Overflow”, does that ring a bell? This site offers a panel of questions and answers on many topics related to computer programming.

I'm telling you about this website because DW Question & Answer is very similar to it, especially in terms of appearance.

If you want to set up a question-and-answer system, a little like Quora also does, you'll have to turn to this plugin.

The pros of DW Question & Answer

  • The extension is easy to handle and install. The settings menu is concise and easy to find.
  • The instant search function is very useful to find a topic, if your forum has many questions.
  • Possibility to configure the roles of each WordPress user in 4 ways (Read, Post, Edit, Delete).
    Questions DW
  • A voting system makes it possible to bring up the most interesting topics at the top of the question-and-answer forum.
  • Shortcodes to create your forum easily, and presence of a captcha to limit spam.
  • Possibility to be notified by email (for users and administrators) when someone asks a question, writes a reply, or posts a comment.
  • Users can answer a question in a public or private way.

I didn't like it so much

  • The forum is limited to a question-and-answer format. You won't be able to install a traditional forum.
  • It's not possible to customize the appearance of your forum via the settings. To do this, it will absolutely have to go through the CSS. 
  • 5 extensions available to customize the plugin a little more… but they're not free and are included in the pro version of the extension (39$).

Alternatives to DW Question & Answer

There are three plugins that I have also tested, that look like this one. Among them are:

  • AnsPress – Question and Answer (4,000 active installations – free). It offers almost the same options as DW but, unlike DW, its addons are free. I also liked its point system, to highlight the most frequent users.
  • CM Answers (1,000 active installations – freemium). All the major options of this plugin are in its premium version ($39.99), which makes the free version limited.
  • Sabai Discuss (premium, $24). If you are used to shopping on Code Canyon, a famous marketplace where you can buy plugins, you'll notice the small number of plugins to create a forum. In fact, most of them are plugin extensions such as bbPress. For the record, the best-selling forum plugin on Code Canyon (2,700 sales at the time of writing) is called Sabai Discuss. It's very pleasant to use, quite easy to configure, and I really liked the possibility for users to vote for publications, the sharing on social networks functionality, or even the profile pages of each member.

Among these 4 plugins to create a Q&A forum, I preferred DW Question and Answer, even if, for free, AnsPress is also quite cool. I found DW easier to set up and more intuitive.

Another pro of DW: even without using its paid extensions, you can already set up a forum without being too limited.

As a premium, Sabai Discuss is a good plugin. But to use it, you will have to be willing to spend some money on your forum. If the free solutions do not suit you, you can turn to him with your eyes closed. The advantage of the premium version is that you have 6 months of support. This is also an argument to be taken into account.

To put it in a nutshell…

Simple to use, DW Question & Answer will be the right tool if you want to set up a support forum dedicated to products or services. Even if it cannot be considered as a traditional forum, it still allows for interaction between users.

Download DW Question & Answer on the official directory

6. Discussion Board – WordPress Forum Plugin

Discussion Board

Active installations: 2,000+

Although it's not very confidential (2,000 active installations) compared to some of the plugins presented above, Discussion Board has excellent user feedback.

His total rating is 5 stars and he does not have any 1 or 2 stars ratings.

During my research, it was presented as a plugin that was easy to learn to manage, and quick to use.

I was curious to see how it turned out.

The pros of Discussion Board

  • The plugin is easily configured thanks to a very simple menu, containing 4 sections to customize the entire extension. As soon as it is activated, it's already ready to work: just add your discussion topics.
  • The big pro of the extension? The ability for users to register and log in from the front-end interface – without having to go through the WordPress administration, if you prefer.
    Discussion Board
  • Possibility to define the roles that new users will have on the forum.
  • Email notifications to notify when a new user posts a message or when a comment is posted.
  • The plugin gives you the choice among 3 types of formatting for your forum.
  • The presence of several shortcodes and anti-spam functionalities integrated in the plugin (for instance, obligation for all new users to activate their account before they can publish on the forum).

I didn't like it so much

  • The front-end interface of the forum is quite minimalist. It's not a flaw in itself, but if you're looking for an original design, you won't get it here. That said, almost all forum plugins are not specifically known for being graphically distinctive.
  • You cannot create subtopics within your forum (you must create a new discussion topic each time), which is not very practical. If you wish to include this option, you must upgrade to the Pro version (29$/year for 1 use on 1 site). The latter also offers, among other things, a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) front-end editor.

To put it in a nutshell…

An efficient and user-friendly plugin. The free version will be enough to create any type of forum, but it is still a little light compared to other free plugins of the same type, such as bbPress or Asgaros Forum.

Download Discussion Board – WordPress Forum Plugin

Bonus

Apart from these 6 plugins, there are also a few that have sometimes come up during my research.

I haven't tested them, but I'll introduce them here if you want to explore them, and make your own opinion.

As a premium, I found WP Pro Forum System.

On the free extensions side, I didn't mention Mingle forum (WP Mingle), because it hasn't been updated for more than two years.

Among the plugins with less than 1,000 active installations, I was able to note:

Our final opinion

After this complete overview of the best plugins to create a forum on WordPress, I'll sum it all up for you.

Throughout this article, I told you:

  • What a forum was
  • The pros and cons of installing one
  • The 6 best forum plugins in the official directory

If you are still unsure about what plugin you should choose, here is something to help you, depending on your needs:

  • To create a “classic” forum: bbPress, Asgaros Forum, WPForo Forum and Discussion Board.
  • To set up a Q&A forum: DW Question & Answer, or even Discussion Board.
  • To implement a social network type forum: buddyPress.
Fireworks

Totally free, complete, quick to configure, well maintained, it is also one of the simplest plugins I have used.

From now on, it's up to you to take action. What plugin have you installed on your site, or which one do you plan to test out soon?

Tell me about it in the comments. Your opinions and comments are welcome.

And if you think this article may be useful to others, share it on social networks.