Creating a forum website can be a great way to build an online community around a particular topic or interest. It can be used to connect people with similar interests, share information and ideas, and provide support and advice. It can also become a lucrative way to make money online through various ways, which I will discuss later in this article.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you everything you need to know, step-by-step, about how to create a forum website. I will also be covering some of the best ways to make money with your forum website in 2022.
Is having a forum website still worth it in 2022?
The short answer is YES! While the pandemic has changed the way we interact with each other, online communities are still going strong. In fact, many people have turned to online forums as a way to connect with others and share information during these difficult times.
As we see in Google trends the search term “online forum” is still popular, with a small decline in searches over the past two years, but still high and steady, compared to other terms.
Solid reasons to create a forum website
There are many benefits of having a forum website. Some of these benefits include:
It is a fun experience: A forum is a great way to connect with people who share the same interests as you. It can be a fun and rewarding experience sharing information, ideas, and support with others.
You can make money online: There are various ways you can make money from your forum website through advertising, sponsorships, donations, and selling products or services.
You build an online community: A forum can be used to build an online community around a particular topic, interest, or cause. This can be a great way to connect with like-minded people and make new friends.
It will increase your website’s traffic: A forum can also be used to increase traffic to your website. This is because people who visit your forum are likely to also visit your website and vice versa.
It’s still one of the best ways to provide support: A forum can be used to provide support for a product or service. This is because it allows you to connect with your customers and offer them help and advice.
Best forum software
Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits of having a forum website, let’s look at the best forum software to use. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend using phpBB as it’s popular, open-source, and easy to use. Other popular forum software includes vBulletin, MyBB, Discourse, and bbPress. These are all good options, but my favorite forum software is phpBB, and below I will explain why.
Why use phpBB software?
The reason why I chose phpBB to create a forum website is that it’s popular, open-source forum software that’s easy to use. It also has a wide range of plugins and extensions available, which makes it extendable to meet your specific needs. Plus, it’s free and has a large community of users which makes it easy to find support if you need it.
How to create a forum website in 7 easy steps
This tutorial is a bit techy because we need to install phpBB manually, but do not worry, it is not difficult and I will guide you through the process step-by-step. So here are the main steps you need to follow to create a forum website:
Step 1: Choose your web hosting provider
This is where your forum will live on the internet. I recommend Cloudways or A2Hosting.
- If you’re looking for a scalable, managed cloud hosting platform with great support, and high performance. Cloudways is also the platform this website is hosted on, and I can honestly say that is one of the fastest providers out there.
- If you also have a WordPress website or you are planning to create one in the future. Cloudways is specifically designed for WordPress, with plenty of features and a top-notch security system.
- You don’t mind installing the forum software through SFTP (trust me it’s easy, more details below)
- If you’re on a budget and looking for a good shared web hosting provider
- If you are familiar with or want to use cPanel or Plesk.
- If you want to register your domain name with your hosting provider. (I personally use Namecheap to register my domain names because I like to keep things separate, but this is up to you.)
For more differences and similarities between these two platforms, check out my Cloudways review.
Step 2: Register a domain name
This is the name of your website (i.e., www.example.com). You can register a domain name with your web hosting provider or with a separate domain name registrar like Namecheap. If already have a domain and you want to use the forum as a subdomain (forum.example.com), you can skip this step.
Step 3: Create a new Cloudways account
This part is for those who are new to Cloudways. If you already have an account and created your server on this platform, scroll down and see how to directly create a new application instead.
As I mentioned earlier, A2Hosting provides a quicker way to install phpBB via the Softaculous app. But since is shared hosting, you won’t get the same performance and control over your server as with Cloudways. Therefore, below I will explain only the necessary steps on how to get started with Cloudways, in order to install the phpBB software on this cloud hosting platform.
1. Visit the official Cloudways website and click the “Start Free” button, visible in the top-right corner of the website. On the next page, you will need to type your name, your email address, and a password. To proceed, you need to agree with their terms by clicking that small checkbox at the bottom of that form, and then clicking the big “START FREE” button.
2. Activate your account. After clicking the “START FREE” button, you will receive an activation email. In that email, click the activation link.
3. Create your Cloudways server and application. After clicking the activation link, you will be redirected to create a new server. If not, click on Servers on the top blue navigation bar, then click the “Add Server” button. In the Application & Server details, click the first dropdown field and select PHP > Custom App. Type a name for your app (e.g. My Forum), a name for your server, as well as for your project (see the image below).
Next, choose a server provider between DigitalOcean, Vultr, Linode, AWS, and Google Cloud Platform. My favorite is DigitalOccean because it provides the best performance-price balance. After that choose the size of your server (it can be as low as 1GB, you can always scale up if you need more resources).
Last, select the location of your server. This is also important and you should choose the one that is closer to your target audience, not the one closest to you. When you’re ready, click “Launch Now”.
If you already have a Cloudways server, do this instead:
If you already have a website hosted with Cloudways, sign in, click on “Applications” at the top of the page in the navigation bar, then click the “Add Application” button visible right above your applications/websites list (see the image above). Next, select your server from the dropdown list and click “Add Application”.
Next, click “Select Application”, and choose PHP > Custom App. Ignore the warning where it says that 4GB (or higher) is recommended as you can always scale up your server if you need more resources once your forum receives more traffic. But for a new forum website, 1GB is just fine.
Name your app (e.g. My Forum) and click the “Add Application” button. It will take a few minutes for the application to be created, and once is done, you can proceed to the next step to link your domain name.
Step 4: Link your domain name and activate the SSL
In this step, you’ll need to connect your domain name from Namecheap (or any other domain registrar) with the server from Cloudways. To do this, you need to add what’s called a “CNAME record” in your DNS settings. It is also generally considered best practice to redirect your “www” domain (e.g. www.example.com) to the non-www version (e.g. example.com) or vice-versa. This way, Google will consider both versions of your domain as the same, and you won’t have to worry about duplicate content issues.
For more details on this, as well as how to activate your SSL certificate in a few clicks, see steps 7 and 8 from my Cloudways tutorial.
Step 5: Create new SFTP credentials
In order to upload the phpBB files to your server, you need to create an SFTP account.
First, log in to your Cloudways account and go to the “Applications” page. Then, click on the “Access Details” button next to your phpBB app. On the next page, in the Application Credentials area, create a new profile by typing a username and a strong password, and click on the “Add” button, as you see in the next image below.
Step 6: Upload the phpBB software to your server
- Download the latest stable version of phpBB from the official website.
- Unzip the downloaded file.
- Download and install Filezilla to upload the phpBB files to your server
- Open Filezilla and click the Site Manager icon.
- Click the New Site button to create a new SFTP profile
- On the protocol field select SFTP – SSH File Transfer Protocol
- In the host field paste your Cloudways Public IP. You can find it in the “Access Details” tab, right above the SFTP credentials (see Step 5 above).
- Select Logon Type “Normal” and paste your Username and Password copied from the “Application Credentials” page (again, see Step 5 above).
- Click Connect. If everything is set properly, you will be connected to your server and the public_html folder will appear on the right side of your Filezilla window.
Once you’re connected, navigate to the “public_html” folder on your server (on the right side of the screen). Then, drag and drop the content of the unzipped phpBB folder into the “public_html”.
To make things more clear:
- If you want to install phpBB in a subdirectory: Upload the phpBB3 extracted folder on your server into “public_html” (or rename the phpBB3 folder into something else) if you want to have your URL to look like “example.com/forum”
- If you want to install phpBB in your root folder: After extraction, upload all the content from the phpBB3 folder on your server into “public_html” if you do not use your main domain for another website (e.g. your portfolio or a blog website). By doing this, your URL will be “example.com”.
It will take a few minutes for the files to upload. Once the upload is complete, you’re ready to proceed to the next step.
Step 7: Install the phpBB software
Now that you have uploaded phpBB to your server, it’s time to proceed with the installation process.
Even though Cloudways is a great cloud platform, unfortunately, phpBB is not included in their one-click installers. That means you’ll have to install it manually. But don’t worry, the installation process it’s easy and next, I’ll show you how.
How to install phpBB software on Cloudways in 9 simple steps
1. Access your URL and proceed with the installation process. If you have uploaded the unzipped phpBB3 folder to your server, you can proceed by visiting yourwebsite.com/phpBB3, and if you have uploaded the entire content from your phpBB3 to the public folder on your server, you can access directly your root domain yourwebsite.com, and your installation window will pop-up.
Click the “Install” tab as you see in the above image, and after that, click the “Install” button to begin the installation process.
2. Copy the database details. First, go to the PHP Custom Application you have recently created on your Cloudways account, click Access Details, and copy the DB Name, Username, and Password. In the image below, by “Copy this” I mean to copy the details you see on your Cloudways account, not the text you see in this image. But I’m sure you figured that out already 😉
3. Paste the database details you have copied before. More details are in the next image below. Obviously, replace all the details you see in these images with your own details. Leave “Database server hostname” and “Database server port empty”. When you’re done, click the “Submit” button at the bottom of the page.
4. E-mail configuration. This is where you determine how your server will send e-mails. If you already have an SMTP server, type in the details. This is a very important step because if you don’t configure this properly, your users won’t be able to register or reset their passwords.
If you do not have one, check out my full guide on how to create a free SMTP server with Zoho Mail. The advantage of using Zoho Mail is that it is free for up to 25 users, and you can create a professional email address with your own domain name (e.g. [email protected]). You can then use their mobile app to access your email on the go.
5. Server configuration. Before proceeding with this step, make sure you have already linked your domain name and activated your SSL, as I’ve described in “Step 4: Link your domain name and activate the SSL” above. Then enable the Cookie secure by clicking on “Yes” (see the picture below). Your linked domain name will automatically appear in the domain name field, so you don’t need to change anything.
The script path is basically the folder name where you have uploaded phpBB on your server. In my example below, after I have downloaded and extracted the phpBB archive, I renamed phpBB3 to the forum and uploaded the forum folder on my server inside the “public_html” folder. (more details on this in my previous Step 6). The script path is automatically created, so you don’t need to change it. When you’re ready click the “Submit” button.
6. Board configuration. Type a title for your board, and a short description. Type a title for your board, and a short description. The language for your board can also be changed later if you want to, by downloading different language packs from the phpBB website. Hit the “Submit” button to continue.
7. Congratulations! Your phpBB forum is now installed. Next, take a look at your Administration Control Panel (ACP), by clicking the ACP link as you see in the next image. This takes you to your ACP dashboard where you can manage your board. From here you can change the settings, add users, create forums and categories, install new themes or extensions, and other important settings.
8. Remove the install folder. After visiting the ACP board for the first time, you will be prompted to delete the install folder from your server. The same message is also displayed on your board, while your visitors will see the message “Sorry but this board is currently unavailable.” So you need to delete the “Install” folder, otherwise, your visitors will not be able to use your forum website.
To remove the phpBB install folder, go back to Filezilla, connect to your server, and inside the folder, you have installed PhpBB, you will see a folder called “install”. Right-click on it and hit delete (see the next image). Once you have removed the install folder, is time to proceed to the next step where I describe how to create some content, and share some recommended settings.
9. Visit your board. While on your Administration Control Panel, on the top-right corner of your screen, you will see a link named “Board index”. Righ-click on it and choose to open it in a new tab. There you will see your fresh installed forum, which has a pretty basic design, having the default Prosilver theme installed and some demo content. Now we need to create some content.
Step 8: Configure your forum and create content
After phpBB is installed, you’ll need to configure your forum and start creating content. You will notice that your board is pretty basic and has only one demo category named “Your first category” and a demo forum named “Your first forum”. Below I will guide you on how to create more categories and forums so you can bring some structure to your board. But first, let me explain to you the main structure of phpBB.
The basic forum structure
There are four types of main content that can be created on a phpBB board: Categories, Forums, Topics, and Replies.
- Categories: Used to group forums together. Think of them as the table of contents for your board. Some examples could be Sports, Movies, Music, etc. They can only be created by admins.
- Forums: They need to be created inside a category and allow you to divide the content of each category even further. Some examples could be Football, Boxing, The Lord of the Rings, etc. They can also be created by admins or other users with special permissions that can access the Administration Control Panel.
- Topics: They can only be created inside a forum, either by regular users or by those with special permissions. A topic is basically a thread starter, the first post of that discussion. It can be anything from “What’s your favorite movie?” to “Do you like the new iPhone?” or even “Can somebody help me with this code?”.
- Replies: They can only be created inside a topic, by regular users or those with special permissions. Replies are, as the name suggests, replies to the topic starter. They can be anything from “I love that movie!” to “No, I don’t like the new iPhone” or even “Here’s the code you were looking for”.
1. Create your first category
To create additional categories, on your ACP dashboard, click on the forums tab. Next, near the “Create new forum” tab, you have a text field. Type a name inside this field for your category and click the “Create new forum” button. Next, you will see more details to configure your category, but the most important ones are the ones at the top of your screen inside the “Forum Settings” section:
- Forum type: click and select category
- Parent forum: leave it as is, no parent.
- Copy permissions from: It is recommended to select “Your first category”, otherwise your members will not be able to see or create new topics in it.
- Forum name: the name for your category (or forum).
- Description: For a category, you can leave this field empty.
You can test other settings if you like, or scroll down at the bottom of that page and click Submit. Is worth mentioning that your newly created category is not visible on your board until you create at least a forum in it.
2. Create a new forum
To create new forums inside any of your categories, the process is basically the same, but instead of choosing a category on the forum type field, select forum (see the number one in the image above).
Very important, instead of choosing to copy permissions from “Your first category”, click and select “Your first forum”. Otherwise, it will not allow you, to create new topics in this forum.
After choosing “Forum”, new settings will appear that will allow you to lock your forum, display or hide the subforums, display or hide active topics, enable or disable the quick reply, and set the maximum number of topics per page, and so on.
Step 9: Install a theme or extensions.
If you want to change the look of your phpBB forum or add new features, you can install themes and extensions. Themes change the way your forum looks, while extensions add new features to your forum. While the default phpBB3 theme Prosilver is acceptable in terms of functionality and mobile responsiveness, the design is quite dated, and you may want a unique look for your forum. Otherwise, the Prosilver theme will work just fine.
So, if you want your forum to look more modern, look for a new theme. As for extensions, there are thousands of them available, so it’s really up to you to decide which ones you want to install. However, after years of using the phpBB board, I recommend focusing mostly on those developed by the official phpBB team or by experienced developers as they offer better compatibility, security, and support.
That’s it! You’ve now successfully created a forum website with phpBB.
How to drive traffic to your forum website
After your forum website is up and running, it’s time to start promoting it. After all, what is the point in having a forum website or any kind of website, if nobody knows it exists? There are various ways to promote your forum website, but the one you should focus more on is SEO. With SEO, you can rank your website higher in search engine results, which will make it more visible to potential visitors.
Things you can do to improve your forum’s SEO
- Use relevant keywords in your title and meta tags.
- Optimize your website’s load time.
- Add keyword-rich content to your website.
- Promote your website on social media.
- Use platforms like Semrush or Ahrefs to do keyword research.
More ways to drive traffic to your forum website
- Create social media accounts and post regularly.
- Use forums and other websites to promote your forum.
- Use SEO techniques to make your forum more visible in search engines.
- Use paid advertising to promote your forum to a wider audience.
- Improve your site’s authority by creating high-quality content, building links, and improving your website’s user experience.
- Keep your forum active and engaging by regularly adding new content and features.
- Use social media marketing tools to help promote your forum website.
- Create contests and giveaways using tools like SweepWidget to attract new users.
- Use Google Analytics tools and other rank tracking tools to track your forum’s growth, activity, and competition.
How to make money with your forum website
A forum can be a lucrative business if it’s done right. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme and involves determination and hard work, but it can become a profitable business model if it’s done right. Once you have a decent number of active users, you can start monetizing your website in a number of ways. Here are a few ideas to get you started in making money with your forum website:
- Sell advertising space on your forum. You can contact companies and individuals who are interested in advertising on your forum and sell them ad space.
- Place ads on your forum. If you don’t want to sell advertising space on your forum directly, you can sign up for a service like Ezoic or Google Adsense. These services will place ads on your website and you’ll earn money based on the number of views or clicks the ads receive.
- Start a print on demand business. You can create and sell custom printed products like t-shirts, mugs, and phone cases on your forum website.
- Sell digital products or services on your forum. If you have a digital product such as an e-book, or a service that is relevant to the topic of your website, you can sell it on your forum.
- Offer paid memberships. You can charge users a monthly or annual fee to access exclusive content, either on your forum by installing a related extension, or through a subscription-based service like Patreon.
- Use affiliate links. If you’re promoting products or services that are relevant to the topic of your forum, you can use affiliate links. When someone clicks on one of your affiliate links and makes a purchase, you’ll earn a commission.
Forum websites are still a popular way to build online communities. Managing an online community may require more time and work than starting a blog, as it can be a bit techy in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it’s quite fun. It can also be very rewarding and can contribute to your business or website in many ways. Whichever forum software you choose, the process of creating and configuring your forum website is relatively simple, the more important is to focus on creating quality content and building a loyal community.
If you’re thinking to create a forum website, I hope this guide has given you some helpful tips and advice. So go ahead and give it a try – you might be surprised at how much fun you have!
How to Create a Forum Website FAQs
Do I need a WordPress website to use phpBB?
No, you don't need a WordPress website to use phpBB. phpBB is a standalone software that you can install on any web server. However, if you do have a WordPress website, you can install the phpBB software on a subdomain (forum.example.com) or in a subfolder (example.com/forum).
Why do I get the 'The submitted form was invalid. Try submitting again.' error on my phpBB dashboard?
If you can't log in and you receive the message (The submitted form was invalid. Try submitting again), is probably because of a misconfiguration during the setup process. To avoid this, ensure you activate the SSL before installing phpBB, and before enabling the Cookie secure option in the Server Configuration step (more info in Step 7). Clearing your browser's cache might also help.
I can't create create a new directory in the public_html folder, what can I do?
If you can't create a new folder inside your public_html folder via Filezilla, and you see the error 'received failure with description Failure' is because you probably already have another folder with the same name.