Let’s face it, the built-in community aspect in WordPress is lackluster.
Sure, registered users and guests – depending on your settings – can leave comments on posts. But this is not even close to a captivating community experience that users want to be a part of.
This is where forum plugins step in.
Why Add a Forum Section to Your Website?
Adding a forum section to your website offers a host of benefits. It is a great way to engage your audience and give them a sense of belongingness. Furthermore, it can provide your website with a daily stream of community-driven content for free.
As participation in your online community grows, users are more compelled to come back and respond or react to what everyone else is saying.
Fortunately for WordPress users, most of the best plugins are already accessible from the official WordPress library. It’s only a matter of determining which one adequately matches your needs and perfectly suits your brand.
To help you make the best decision, here is a closer look at the best forum plugins you can use in your WordPress site:
BuddyPress is a simple forum plugin with social media features. Its plug-and-play nature allows you to start building your online community in minutes.
The setup process is divided into three major steps: setting up the components, assigning components to pages, and customizing your settings.
The Components page allows you to select which features are to be used. This includes user profiles, private messaging, activity streams, and notifications.
If you want your forum to function more like a social media network, you can also enable users to form friend connections in your site.
Next, you can specify which pages get treated as the Activity Stream and Members Page. Basically, the Activity Stream is where users can post updates while the Members page is where they can browse for other user profiles.
Of course, you have the option to associate BuddyPress to custom pages, but the pre-built pages should do just fine especially for users who don’t know how to code.
Finally, the Options page is where you can modify advanced settings such as the visibility of the BuddyPress toolbar, profile syncing, and activity auto-refresh. You can enable all these features without causing a dip in your website’s performance.
Ease of Use – As far as forum plugins go, BuddyPress is as easy can be. Despite this, the plugin is more than capable enough to create robust communities that members will enjoy using.
Groups – BuddyPress allows the creation of groups between registered members. All you need to do is tick the User Groups option in the Components
Custom Email Messages – Lastly, BuddyPress allows you to create and modify email notifications for group membership requests, mentions, comment replies, and so on.
If your community goal is to allow users to find solutions to unique problems, then DW Question & Answer is the plugin for you. As the name suggests, it allows you to quickly integrate a Q&A section within your site.
Upon activation, you are automatically supplied with a Questions List Page and Ask Question Page where users can browse for questions or post their own. It’s also easy to change the settings for these pages such as enabling manual question approval, status icons, and the default permalink structure.
From a user’s perspective, another advantage of DWQA is its usability. Not only does the Ask Question page load fast, it also blends well with any theme. It also allows users to insert images and quotations.
Extensions – DWQA comes with a variety of extensions you can use to implement neat features. This includes a leaderboard, embeddable questions, captcha, and plenty of other custom widgets.
Categories – Organizing questions into categories will make things easier for you and your users. With DWQA, you can create as many categories as you need – as well as sub-categories for related topics.
Branded Emails – For branding purposes, you can add a custom logo and address for email notifications. Simply go to ‘Questions’ > ‘Settings’ > ‘Emails’ to access these features.
The main difference between DWQA and CM Answers are the Q&A pages. While DWQA provides you with two separate pages for asking and browsing questions, CM Answers only uses a single, fluid Q&A page.
In other words, users no longer need to switch between pages when browsing for existing questions and posting their own.
On the flip side, CM Answers doesn’t allow you to modify the link to your questions page. For example, if the name of your site is “abc123.com”, then you’re stuck with the URL “http://abc123.com/answers/”.
Streamlined Interface – Using a single page for questions and answers is a great way to make the Q&A experience more intuitive.
Question Ratings – CM Answers allows users to rate each other’s answers. This makes it easier to spot the best solution and improves the overall experience of your users.
Comprehensive Add-Ons – Creative Minds – the company behind CM Answers – occasionally adds useful add-ons for their plugins on their store. This allows you to leverage extra features such as backups, payment support, and third-party integrations.
bbPress is a straightforward plugin that focuses on discussions instead of social networking. It lets you publish forum sections with attributes such as parent categories, visibility, and open status.
A rule of thumb is to create dedicated discussion boards for each content category in your site. Once your forums are all set, users can then post topics and replies. You can then monitor their activities in the Topics and Replies sections from the main dashboard.
In-Depth Settings – To access the advanced settings available for bbPress, go to the WordPress dashboard and head to ‘Settings’ > ‘Forums’. Here, you can enable certain features such as anonymous posting, revisions, subscriptions, and many more.
Seamless Integration – bbPress is a lightweight plugin designed to integrate quickly and seamlessly with your WordPress installation. The only downside to this approach is that it can be difficult to personalize, especially for inexperienced site owners.
Design-wise, wpForo is probably the most advanced forum plugin you can use for WordPress. It can help you create beautiful, mobile-friendly forum sections without writing a single line of code.
This is all thanks to the availability of customizable themes. You can find them by going to your WordPress dashboard and clicking ‘Forums’ > ‘Themes’.
With wpForo, it’s also easy to change settings that are, sadly, inaccessible to most other forum plugins.
Additional Tools – wpForo also comes with a handful of maintenance tools – namely Antispam and These prevents bots from invading your forums and ensures a legitimate experience to users.
Custom Styles – The best thing about wpForo is its customizability. Apart from switching themes, you can also use custom CSS codes, font sizes, and color styles.
All-Around Community Experience – Finally, wpForo also excels at other community features such as user profiles, groups, and rankings.
In terms of flexibility, wpForo is the clear winner due to its extensive features. However, this heavy-duty plugin may not suit certain WordPress users, particularly those who’d rather keep the audience’s attention to their content. In which case, either BuddyPress or bbPress can get the job done.
When it comes to Q&A plugins, however, the feature differences between DWQA and CM Answers are negligible. That said, it all boils down to your visual preferences.
Article by Christopher Jan Benitez
Christopher Jan Benitez is a professional freelance writer who provides small businesses with content that engages their audience and increases conversion. If you are looking for high-quality articles about anything related to digital marketing, then he's your guy! Feel free to say "hi" to him on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.