SEO Forums: The Voice of the Industry

SEO has grown to the point that nobody can know everything, and those new to the game can become easily confused. Where do you turn for advice? Fortunately, there are a variety of online SEO forums where experts share their hard won knowledge, often for free. This article discusses some of the best SEO forums.

SEO forums provide a wealth of information about the search industry directly from industry leaders such as professional SEOs, programmers and webmasters, who have their own unique experiences to share. Posting to SEO forums is a great way to network with the various players in the SEO industry, and reassure your clients that you are keeping abreast of industry trends and techniques.

Forums are particularly helpful to website owners who do their own search engine positioning and need to keep up with the quick shifts in the industry. Questions posed by novices and non-SEOs help industry professionals stay in touch with the basics of SEO and provide them with an understanding of what types of services and education are needed. Many businesses rely on Google and other top search engines for the majority of their traffic, leads and sales. It is important to understand not only the industry best practices in terms of SEO, but major industry news and events that could have an impact on a site’s traffic.

The Basics of Online Forums

Online forums, sometimes called message boards, are group discussions that take place on an online platform and enable people to start and maintain threads about various topics. Forum users enter into these online discussions with the knowledge that this is an open exchange of ideas shared among users as publicly-displayed text messages. Most forums have one main overarching topic (e.g., Online Marketing) with a series of subtopics (e.g., SEO, PPC, Banner advertising, etc.). Forums are moderated by industry experts and/or knowledgeable parties who are given the difficult task of making sure posts stay on topic and people abide by the forum guidelines. Moderators have a wealth of knowledge to bestow and hands on experience with niche topics in the industry. Their contribution is what makes these forums work.

Most forums enable you to view messages without registering, but require you to be a registered member before you can post. This generally avoids forum abuses such as posting spam or other offensive material.

SEO forums serve the industry in a few different ways. They enable SEO professionals to stay connected to industry trends, help website owners learn how to optimize their websites, and serve as a focal point for industry experts and novices alike to network and share each other’s experiences. Forums can also contain rumors, speculation and just plain false information about what’s happening in the SEO universe. Take what you read in a forum with a grain of salt, and always research theories thoroughly before implementing them. It’s a good idea to test SEO tips and strategies on a page by page basis, then monitor the results closely.

It can certainly be overwhelming to enter a forum and encounter a wide range of topics and threads. My advice is to lurk a while, get a feel for where you want to be in terms of subject matter, and then begin posting as you are more comfortable. Always read the pinned threads at the top of the subcategories. They contain tips and information for newbies, and will help you avoid the embarrassment of asking basic questions that have been asked and answered a dozen times before.

Let’s take a look at some of the phenomenal SEO forums that are available.


Jill Whalen has been an SEO professional for ten years, which is forever in this business. Jill’s HighRankings.com forum attracts the most knowledgeable people in the SEO industry and is moderated by many experienced industry professionals, including Jill herself, who volunteer their time to interact with other industry pros and help newbies understand the details of SEO. Overseeing all activity on the forum are the administrators, who make sure the forums run smoothly and that everyone plays nice. Scottie Claiborne, a High Rankings forum administrator, says, “We set the tone and do the actual work in maintaining the forum as well as the final decision-making.” The High Rankings Administrators are Jill Whalen, Scottie Claiborne, and Alan Perkins; they form a strong team with similar beliefs and viewpoints.

The moderators’ presence can be felt throughout the forum, with solid, down-to-earth responses that guide newbies and experienced SEOs in the right direction. The HighRankings.com philosophy focuses on marketing-based, site-enhancing natural search optimization with an emphasis on providing great content to site visitors. Says Claiborne, “Moderators are selected from the members when the need arises and when a person seems to be a really good fit. For High Rankings, usually that means a sense of humor! We like to have original thinkers and smart, entertaining people as moderators… because it’s just more fun that way. We don’t take things too seriously.”

The forum is broken out into six main topics with a collection of subtopics assigned to each. Topics include the expected SEO areas such as SEM and PPC, but you’ll also find advice on Running your Business, Branding Yourself and Becoming an Expert, and The Pub, among others. The latter area is a great place for SEOs to meet, greet and even find some business. There are over 6,000 registered users of HighRankings.com’s SEO forum, and over 130,000 total posts. If you really want to get a feel for the forum, try reading The Thread that Wouldn’t Die, a 160-page tribute to nothing in particular.

The High Rankings folks dish out lots of great advice while having a lot of fun!

SearchEngineWatch.com (SEW) has been around forever, and was owned independently by Danny Sullivan (one of the leading pioneers of SEO) before being swept into Mecklermedia’s Internet.com network of sites back in November 1997. The SEW forums are frequented by some of the best SEO minds in the business.

Elisabeth Osmeloski is the Forum Editor and oversees the many moderators who volunteer their time to make the SEW forums a great online resource. Moderators include industry leaders such as Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman. When asked about the value of SEW’s forums, Ms. Osmeloski said, “The SEW forums really are a natural extension of Search Engine Strategies (SES) conferences, where people can network with other SEM professionals, discuss specific issues and get official answers from Search Engine reps. At SEW, we’re certainly lucky to have many of the industry’s thought leaders and experts participating on a daily basis.”

The SEW forums are structured differently from HighRankings.com. The most popular main category is simply titled “Search Engines & Directories” and subcategories focus on individual search engines with Google naturally being the top-visited subcategory. The structure of the forum topics is a great way to gauge the current structure of the SEO industry. Google is the number one name in search, and holds a hallowed position at the top of the page. Subsequent topics include Yahoo, MSN Search, AskJeeves & Teoma and “Other SEs and Directories.”

There are special topic areas for search engine marketing, general search issues such as trends, technology and current events, and a miscellaneous “lounge” area where you can post complaints and look for jobs, among other things. Advice is straightforward and favors a no-nonsense approach to SEO and SEM questions.

SEW knows the value of their forum, and is introducing their first live forum event on June 28th in Atlanta. Osmeloski describes the event as follows. “We’re bringing the casual environment of forum discussion to an organized networking breakfast seminar. We’ll be looking to have these in cities that SES isn’t normally held, so people can get a taste of what happens at the conferences and the forums.” Registration information is not currently available, but we will post more information in the Discussion section of this article when it is.

If you post on the SEW forums, you’ll be in good company. Says Osmeloski, “While no forum can guarantee the accuracy of claims and comments made by members, we feel we make a concerted effort to allow a balanced view of the industry and discuss all aspects of SEM, including techniques labeled both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ We’ve already hit the 4,000 member mark, and will likely hit 5,000 by the time [our one year anniversary] comes around, and we consider that successful.”

WebMasterWorld.com is more than an SEO forum. Its topics include all facets of website design and development, and it is an industry-leading resource about how to create, maintain and promote your website. Their mission states, “design, coding, maintenance, promotion, marketing, and management of a website is almost an impossible task for one person alone without extensive training. We are here as a forum for the members to share and gain knowledge in operating and promoting a website.”

WebMasterWorld.com is one of the few forums that is not free to join. It costs $89 for a six-month membership and $149 for a year. Most industry professionals would agree that membership is well worth it. Some discussion threads are free and some are only accessible to members. You’ll get the most benefit from this (or any) forum by submitting your own posts and becoming part of the community.

SEOChat.com’s forum is heavily moderated and rife with industry expertise and advice. Full privileges such as posting signatures, rating another user’s post, uploading an avatar and other perks are suspended until you’ve been an active member for 90 days and made 100 posts. The layout of the forums is similar to SEW, with particular attention paid to Google, which has four topics devoted to it. The other top engines all get a piece of the action, with sections on optimization in Yahoo, MSN and AskJeeves. SEOChat.com is an extremely active forum with over 15,000 members, 26,000 threads and nearly 200,000 posts.

“I personally think we have an incredible group of moderators on SEOchat, people I have known since this forum was started little over two years ago,” says Ben Pfeiffer, SEOChat Moderator. There are many topics to choose from and moderators take their jobs seriously, so stay on topic and be sure to read the pinned threads before putting yourself in their line of fire.

Conclusion

SEO forums have enabled the search industry to grow exponentially since the time Danny Sullivan launched SearchEngineWatch.com back in 1996. SEO professionals, novices and webmasters can all coalesce in one place and freely exchange ideas and information. This has helped create standards of practice throughout the industry and raised the bar in terms of the quality of service expected by clients, and delivered by professional SEOs. Elisabeth Osmeloski, Forums Editor for SearchEngineWatch.com, says it best.

“SEO is largely a self-taught skill, and particularly before SEM conferences and seminars came along, you relied on the experience of others and knowledge sharing that happened within these outlets to learn how to maximize site performance on the SEs. Now, forums are the day to day venue for discussion between conference dates.”

What are you waiting for? Go forth and post.

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