So you want to build a forum on your WordPress site?
Well, you’re in luck. There are dozens of plugins to choose from. Even better, most are inexpensive, easy to use, and quick to install (even with limited technical experience).
But it’s also important to be cautious when picking a WordPress forum plugin. Not all are of the same quality. And making the wrong choice now can lead to significant amounts of wasted resources further down the line as you attempt to shift to a platform with the features you require.
In this post, we’re going to look at 10 of the top plugins currently available in the WordPress plugin directory and through third-party marketplaces. Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll know exactly which solution is best for you and your community.
Sound good? Let’s dive in.
What Are the Benefits of WordPress Plugins?
You might be asking yourself, “What are the benefits of WordPress plugins over fully-hosted third-party solutions like Facebook groups or more traditional forum software?”
This is a good question. And to answer it properly, we need to look at the main reasons that community-builders opt for plugins over other alternatives.
Here’s a quick rundown of the main benefits of WordPress forum plugins:
- Inexpensive – Generally speaking, WordPress plugins will cost you less than other solutions, in part because hosting and maintenance are your responsibility.
- Easy to install – Installing a WordPress plugin is as simple as clicking a few buttons. Configuration may require a little more effort, but it’s usually minimal
- Integrate into your site’s existing design – Most WordPress forums will integrate seamlessly with your site’s existing design, so you don’t need to worry about changes to branding, navigation, and the overall look and feel.
- Beginner-friendly admin tools – WordPress plugins are usually built with beginners in mind. So while you’ll have access to advanced features if you need them, day-to-day admin tasks are unlikely to be a chore or require technical knowledge.
Why Run a Forum on Your Website?
Let’s assume that you already recognize the value of an engaged audience and you’re sold on the benefits of WordPress forum plugins. You might still be unsure about whether or not running an online community is a good use of your time, especially when compared to other tasks that drive a more explicit return on investment (ROI).
While heading a forum does require work (although many people tend to overestimate the amount of input required), the rewards are significant. And if you’re on the fence about launching a community, it’s helpful to be aware of the main benefits.
Here are the top reasons to run an online forum from a business perspective:
Build engagement with your audience
Forums enable you to build engagement with your audience. When your potential customers repeatedly return to your website to discuss topics that are of interest to them, they will form a deeper connection with your brand.
Even if you don’t account for paid communities, forums offer a myriad of monetization options, from premium sub-groups to in-post advertising to gated content. And if you ever decide to sell your business, your forum will almost certainly increase its value.
“Own” your audience’s online home
If you decide to host your community on a third-party platform like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Reddit, you don’t really “own” your members. Facebook can choose to ban you on a whim. By hosting your forum on your domain, you’re in control.
Easy to outsource day-to-day tasks
Running a forum isn’t as time and resource-intensive as many imagine. Your most active members will do a significant chunk of the work when it comes to contributing to conversations and starting new threads. And it’s always possible to hire somebody to take care of day-to-day admin tasks.
Improve your value proposition
An active online space where your customers can come to engage with topics they care about, solve problems, and meet new people is an excellent addition to your value proposition, especially if you’re selling online products or services.
How Much Do WordPress Forum Plugins Cost?
WordPress plugins are usually more economical when compared to fully hosted solutions and standard software packages.
That said, you should expect to pay for advanced functionality. There are many excellent free options, which will suffice for running a basic community. But if you need access to a full feature kit, as you likely will as your membership grows, you will need to purchase a paid plan.
Developers tend to generate revenue from their plugins in one of three ways:
- Monthly subscriptions – In a subscription model, you pay a monthly fee for access to advanced features and functionality. The benefit of this type of payment plan is that you receive ongoing updates, maintenance, and, often, dedicated customer service.
- Paid add-ons – Some developers opt to monetize their plugins by offering paid add-ons, which extend the core feature-set. If you opt for a plugin in this category, be careful to add up the total cost of all the add-ons you require before parting with your money, as the price can quickly add up.
- Paid “Pro” version – Developers may offer a “Pro” version of their plugin, which will include extra features, for a one-off fee. The downside of this model is that site-owners rarely receive any ongoing additional services.
Top 10 WordPress Forum Plugins: Reviews, Features, and Pricing
Below you’ll find our overview of the top ten WordPress forum plugins for community builders, business owners, web admins, marketers, and anybody else who wants to grow a thriving and engaged audience by providing an online space for discussion.
PeerBoard combines the best components of traditional forum software with a Reddit-style homepage feed and modern features like algorithmic post sorting, upvoting, and rich user profiles. PeerBoard supports both paid and private communities and a “forever free” plan, which allows for unlimited usage, is also available.
The forum plugin has been designed with users with limited or no technical experience in mind, so installation, setup, and ongoing management are straightforward. That said, if you are a developer, you can easily access the developer mode.
If you already have an existing community, PeerBoard offers several for seamlessly migrating your members. You can also take advantage of the option to send regular automated email notifications covering updates to drive engagement.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: PeerBoard is SEO-friendly, with options to make content publicly accessible, set meta tags, control external links, and more.
Pros: Extensive set of features, a large support forum, and arguably the best free plan on the web.
Cons: Advanced features are only available on paid plans, the user community isn’t as large as those of some of the more established plugins, and customer support is limited on the free plan.
Free version: PeerBoard offers a feature-rich, “forever free” plan.
Premium version: Paid plans start at $29/month.
bbPress is the most widely-used WordPress forum free plugin. It was developed and is maintained by Automattic, the original creators of WordPress. As such, it integrates seamlessly with the platform.
bbPress prioritizes ease-of-use, simplicity, and a high degree of extensibility, achieved chiefly by installing third-party plugins. It has a solid feature set and is free to use.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: bbPress doesn’t offer much in the way of dedicated SEO features. You will have to manage SEO using other WordPress tools and plugins like Yoast SEO.
Pros: Easy to set up, software is open-source, free.
Cons: Limited customer support, advanced features often require the installation of third-party plugins, the member-facing interface could be sleeker.
Free version: bbPress is entirely free to use.
Premium version: Third-party developers may charge for plugins that provide additional functionality.
BuddyPress is best-suited to individuals and businesses that want to build social networks rather than forums or community platforms in the strictest sense. Indeed, many site admins use BuddyPress in conjunction with forum plugins like bbPress, with which it is compatible.
BuddyPress enables WordPress users to build a social network similar to Facebook, and community members can connect as friends, publish posts, join discussions, send private messages, form groups, and more.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: BuddyPress offers limited SEO tools. You will have to use third-party plugins to optimize for SEO.
Pros: Arguably the best plugin for building a social network, free to use, extensive set of features.
Cons: Lacks advanced forum functionality (works best with a compatible forum plugin), limited support, and there can be something of a steep learning curve for beginners.
Free version: BuddyPress is free to use.
Premium version: Add-on plugins provide extra functionality. Costs can be high, so be sure to do your research.
WP Discussion Board is a streamlined discussion forum plugin that you can use to build and manage a sleek, minimal forum on your website. It offers a comprehensive set of features, including user registration, profiles, categories and child boards, trending and new topic pages, and anti-spam tools.
It lacks the more advanced functionality of other plugins on this list, but it’s a good option for WordPress admins looking for a solution that’s easy to install and manage. A free version is available, but you will likely have to upgrade to a paid plan sooner rather than later.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: WP Discussion Board comes with few native SEO features. SEO is managed using other WordPress plugins and tools.
Pros: Simple admin dashboard, minimal member-facing design, inexpensive paid options.
Cons: Lacks advanced functionality, the free version is very limited, and subscriptions must be purchased on an annual basis.
Free version: WP Discussion Board offers a limited free version that acts mainly as a demo.
Premium version: The “Basic” plan costs $69/year. A lifetime license is available for $249.
wpForo is a lightweight, easy-to-use plugin that offers four main forum layouts: extended forum, simplified forum, question-and-answer board, and threaded forum. wpForo has all the features you would expect from a plugin of this type, including rich member profiles, admin permissions, hierarchical board organization, user subscription, and more.
While the plugin is free, you’ll have to purchase add-ons through gVectors for some additional features, such as private messaging for users, so be sure to account for extra costs before opting for this WordPress plugin.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: wpForo is SEO-friendly, with tools for setting permalinks, meta data, and search-friendly post titles.
Pros: Free to use, multiple forum layouts, comprehensive feature set.
Cons: Limited customer support, paid add-ons are required for some basic features, initial configuration can be a little tricky.
Free version: The wpForo core plugin is free.
Premium version: Additional features are available through paid add-ons, the total cost of which can quickly add up.
Asgaros Forum lets WordPress users host straightforward forums on their sites. The design follows a standard forum layout and offers a comprehensive selection of features, including user profiles, topic and board hierarchies, ads management, multi-lingual support, and more.
Asgaros Forums is the side project of German developer Thomas Belser, is funded primarily through donations, and lacks the backing of a dedicated tech team. This means that updates and new features are few and far between. As such, it is best suited to people that want to host smaller communities without advanced functionality.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: Asgaros includes several built-in SEO tools.
Pros: Easy to set up and use, traditional forum layout, and a solid set of core features.
Cons: Lack of regular updates, limited customer support, absence of advanced functionality, and few spam controls.
Free version: Asgaros is free.
Premium version: No premium options. Third-party developers may charge for plugins.
Sabai Discuss is a premium WordPress plugin that’s available through Envato Marketplace (CodeCanyon). It follows a question-and-answer format, rather than a typical forum design, and members can ask questions, post responses, leave comments, and upvote their preferred answers.
It’s a simple tool that fulfills its specified aim very well. And if you’re looking for a Quora-style Q&A plugin, it’s well worth considering. At $24 for a lifetime license, with the option of one-on-one support for an extra $7.13, it’s one of the lowest-priced entries on this list.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: Sabai Discuss has very few native SEO features.
Pros: Easy to set up and manage, inexpensive, fits with existing site design.
Cons: Question-and-answer board rather than a forum, few advanced features, slightly cluttered layout.
Free version: No free version.
Premium version: $24 for a lifetime license with additional options for support.
ForumEngine is a premium product sold by EngineThemes, which specializes in WordPress themes. It’s a forum theme rather than a plugin, so you’re essentially purchasing a whole site with a pre-existing design. So if you’re thinking about going with ForumEngine, be sure to check that it fits with your design and branding requirements.
In terms of forum features, you’ll be able to build a simple, functional community platform, but little else.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: ForumEngine comes with a handful of SEO features, including schema markup. It is compatible with Yoast SEO, which you’ll use to take care of most SEO tasks.
Pros: One-off payment for a lifetime license, forum comes as part of a complete theme, minimal design.
Cons: Few advanced features, design options may prove restrictive, and only twelve months of support is provided.
Free version: No free version is available.
Premium version: A license for a single theme, which includes twelve months of support, is $49.
Forym is a premium plugin available on the Envato marketplace (CodeCanyon). It can be used to build a stripped-down forum. Features include user profiles, a traditional forum structure (category, topic, thread, etc.), upvotes, and a clean frontend editor.
It lacks the extended functionality of other plugins on this list, but at $19 for a lifetime license and $5.25 for additional twelve-month support, it’s hard to quibble.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: Schema markup and permalink customization.
Pros: Simple and inexpensive.
Cons: Lacks advanced features, no developer tools, and struggles to compete with free alternatives.
Free version: There is no free version.
Premium version: $19 for a lifetime license with the option to purchase twelve months of support for $5.25.
Simple:Press is a powerful forum plugin aimed at larger companies expecting to cater to thousands of users. It has a high degree of functionality, and features include rich user profiles, private and public modes, admin permissions, user groups and user roles, shortcodes, analytics, CAPTCHA, gamification tools, and more.
Simple:Press offers a limited free version, but you’ll need to purchase an annual subscription to gain access to the full feature set.
Search engine optimization (SEO) features: Permalinks, canonical URLs, custom metadata, and other SEO features.
Pros: Feature-rich platform suitable for running large forums, public and private options, ongoing support.
Cons: Large feature-set can be overwhelming to beginners, virtually no developer tools, annual rather than monthly fees.
Free version: A free version is available.
Premium version: The basic package costs $199/year. Multisite licenses are significantly more.
Picking a WordPress forum plugin is a big task. But it’s also an essential one.
Even though doing so might seem like a chore, thoroughly evaluating all available options will pay off in the long run. And failure to account for all your requirements at this early stage can lead to serious issues further down the line.
You don’t need to take every platform for a test drive, but acquainting yourself with the various plugins’ features will enable you to make an informed choice.
Oh, and don’t forget to give PeerBoard’s free plan a go. You’ll have access to an extensive set of features, and you’ll be full control of your site design. Even better, setup is fast and straightforward, even if you don’t have any tech expertise.
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