SEO and phpBB

Board administrators typically want their board’s content to rank highly in search engines. It can help attract traffic and new members. That said, for the most part your users determine your board’s content, based on what they post. So it would seem kind of pointless to make your board search engine optimization (SEO) friendly. So is SEO a lost cause and waste of time on phpBB boards?

Not really. But remember that bulletin boards are structurally different than most web content, in that the contents changes frequently as users make posts. And you can’t do much to control what users post.

Moderators can remove offensive or off-topic posts. Moderators can also change topic titles, which might help in a topic’s ranking in a search engine. Most won’t because there are too many topics to deal with, the topic poster may feel offended and there is no guarantee that a moderator’s title topic will be more SEO-friendly than the poster’s topic title.

Also, phpBB does most of the deciding for you. The <title> tag for a page is usually a mash up of the board’s name and the topic name. This is not easily changed as it’s built into phpBB’s templating system.

Most phpBB boards fill niche areas. It’s hard to find a phpBB board that discusses general politics, for example, as it is done in so many other mediums. A board that discusses classic Mickey Mouse cartoons is more likely to be a board because it’s more granular. But because it’s more granular, it’s likely to get fewer views. Consequently, I see many more boards with 10,000 posts than 1,000,000 posts. In a way, this is good. This is where phpBB excels.

If you buy my book I go into a lot more detail on SEO and phpBB, so you might want to buy it. But here are a few points you may find useful:

  • Your board’s title and description are the most important factor you can control to influence search engines. The board’s title appears on almost all pages. So if SEO is important, you might want to work with a SEO expert to find an optimal title for your board. This often involves trying various board title’s over time to see which one has the most impact. You can set the title in the ACP: ACP > General > Board settings. The board title is more important than the board description, which can be left blank if it adds no value.
  • Analyze who is using your site and what they are reading. You can’t measure what you don’t track. So if you are not tracking your board’s traffic, you should, and you should be regularly reviewing the analytics for your board. There is a Google Analytics extension for phpBB that is easily installed. You first need to create a site in Google Analytics. Enter the tracking key on the board settings page after the extension is installed. Other analytics sites will require entering HTML or Javascript code into the overall_header.html and/or overall_footer.html templates for your style. Purge the cache after making these changes for them to take effect.
  • Actively moderate your board. Remove clearly irrelevant or off-topic posts if you have the energy. Search engines are trying to connect searchers with answers to specific questions, so the more concise a topic is in answering a question, the higher the page is likely to rank. Ideally you will empower your moderators to do this for you. Give forum users clear guidance on the forum’s moderation criteria in a sticky post. And make sure users know how to flag off-topic or spam posts for moderator review. The icon is easy to miss on the view topic page.
  • Using the SEO Sitemap extension doesn’t hurt. While it won’t make your board rank higher, it does provide a definitive list of your topics and posts for search engines, hopefully ensuring all your content gets indexed.
  • Encourage relevant pictures. Pictures make a topic and a post more engaging, providing the pictures are relevant. so all things being equal should make the topic rank higher than similar page. Encourage your posters to add a relevant attachment comment to each picture. This markup will be studied by search engines and helps identify the picture.

I also found this article online today that you may find useful.

If you administer a phpBB board, you should find my book Mastering phpBB Administration invaluable. Learn lots of tips, tricks and secrets I learned from serving over 400 clients. Paper and Kindle versions available.

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