As an online business owner, it’s always a good idea to listen to your visitors, leads, and customers. There are many ways to do this, including social media, email surveys, and contact forms with a CRM plugin — but have you also considered adding forums to your website?
Forums might seem like an outdated concept to some, but they’re still quite relevant today. Websites use discussion forms for a variety of customer-centric purposes, including feedback, support, product reviews, and generally fostering a community around a product or service.
Online forums have grown more sophisticated as well, incorporating tools like ranking systems, polls, and ways to more efficiently moderate users and prevent spam. Plus, forums are a great source of indexable content, which helps you rank in search results for highly specific keywords.
If you run a website on the WordPress platform, the quickest and easiest way to add a forum is, as you might guess, with a WordPress plugin. These tools take the complex requirements of a forum and make them easy for any site owner to implement across their site. Many such plugins are free or freemium, meaning there’s little risk in trying them out.
So, let's have a look at the seven best forum plugin options for the WordPress CMS.
For many WordPress users, the search for a basic forum tool starts and ends with bbPress — with over 300,000 downloads, it’s the most popular plugin for this feature.
The goal of bbPress is to make a simple but effective forum area on any WordPress site, regardless of experience level or budget. It’s maintained by the same developers who work on WordPress core — as a result, the plugin blends seamlessly into your administrator dashboard, and won’t cause issues with your theme or most other plugins you install.
bbPress is free and there is no premium version, so you won’t be upsold after download. Still, it can handle all essential forum-related requirements with ease. bbPress includes tools to make a user account for posting, moderate the forum, make multiple discussion threads, change style aspects of the forum, and a lot more.
Out-of-the-box, bbPress comprises lightweight, well-written code that keeps your site high-performing. For additional functionality, you can download free extensions from its library. There are hundreds of extensions available to manage everything from private groups to uploading multiple images to adding a CAPTCHA.
BuddyPress is another plugin developed by WordPress contributors. However, BuddyPress is more than a simple forum plugin — it’s software that turns your WordPress website into a social network, like Facebook, for free. BuddyPress is great for business owners and bloggers who want to form a community around their content and/or product.
Like bbPress, BuddyPress is quick and easy to add to your site and configure. With the plugin installed, visitors can create profiles, make friends with other users, post their activity, share photos, form public and private groups, and send private messages to each other.
In addition, there are a myriad of BuddyPress plugins to handle anything that BuddyPress doesn’t do itself, and BuddyPress themes that work especially well with the plugin. You can even use bbPress with BuddyPress to place forums on your social networking site.
bbPress and BuddyPress may be popular, but they’re not the only options out there for adding discussion boards to WordPress. Consider Asgaros Forum, a free and lightweight plugin for simple WordPress forums.
Asgaros Forum prioritizes speed and ease-of-use, making it perfect for new WordPress users just looking for basic forum functionality. The plugin also benefits your website with built-in SEO optimization, file uploads, reactions, posting permission controls, statistics, forum search, and polls — many of these features you’ll only see in premium plugins, but Asgaros provides them for free.
The Discussion Board plugin offers another easy way to place a forum on your WordPress website. After installation, this free tool adds three new pages: a login page, a page for existing forum topics, and a page where users can submit new topics via a form. This setup makes Discussion Board simple and intuitive for visitors and admins alike.
Aesthetically, Discussion Board’s forms are minimal. This is to make the plugin function with any theme, and you can change its colors through the Customizer. Admins can place new topic forms, login forms, and topic lists via shortcodes. To control spam and abuse, Discussion Board also lets you set limits on how many times users can re-post, approve or deny new topics, and block certain email addresses and domains from creating accounts on your site.
All of the above features are included in the free version of this plugin. Upgrading to the pro version (starting at $49 per year for one website) gives you multiple discussion boards, image uploads, advanced board permissions, user profiles, and a WYSIWYG editor for easier formatting.
WordPress admins looking for a more advanced form plugin can try wpForo Forum. This feature-packed option comes with three forum layouts: simplified (a basic, minimal forum), extended (a more traditional look), and a question-and-answer format. All layouts are mobile-friendly and notably more modern-looking than other plugins here — see wpForo’s community page to get a better sense of the design.
Beyond appearance, wpForo forums allow essential forum functionality, plus extra features like member ratings, badges, topic tags, social sharing, and a drag-and-drop interface for forum management. wpForo also integrates with BuddyPress to enhance your community site.
wpForo offers several paid add-ons to extend your forum with extras like polls, private messaging, and an ad manager. Pricing per add-on ranges from $11 to $35.
While less established than other plugins on this list, Simple:Press is a powerful alternative and boasts perhaps the best-looking forums out of any option on this list. Its threads are clean and customizable, with simple colors that complement your content.
Simple:Press is a freemium plugin — there’s a free-to-download lite version that includes unlimited forums and posts, forum groups, private forums, breadcrumbs, and the ability for moderators to lock and pin forums. You also have tight control over permissions and forum members, and many other perks you can find on the download page.
However, Simple:Press is really made to be a premium tool. It offers over 70 premium add-ons for virtually anything you’d want on your forum, like warnings and suspensions, topic redirects, tagging threads, and upvotes/downvotes. You can purchase premium add-ons individually or subscribe to an annual plan (starting at $199 per year for one site) to access all add-ons.
Closing out our list is Sabai Discuss, a premium forum plugin designed for question-and-answer boards. This is a responsive and highly flexible Q&A plugin — for $23, you’ll have the ability to group threads into categories, close and reopen questions, enable voting on questions, site search with suggestions, and let users report malicious posts and comments.
These features make Sabai Discuss ideal for support sections of your product website, or as a knowledge base in which the best answers are voted to the top. Plus, responses to common questions will be indexed by search engines — when your product users search for a solution in Google, for example, your support pages are more likely to rank.
Get Your Visitors Talking
Whether you’re looking to answer questions about your product or promote general discussion on your website, you’ll have plenty of options for implementing a forum in WordPress. We’ve listed some free and basic options for smaller organizations, as well as premium choices for those in need of more customization.
You may find that bbPress works perfect for you right away, or you might shop around a bit more. Either way, forms are another excellent channel for your visitors to share their thoughts, and, in turn, improve your engagement and your product.
This post was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 30, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated March 30 2021