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Forum Usability – Make member’s life easier

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  • [Any Version] Forum Usability – Make member’s life easier

    Forum Usability – Make member’s life easier

    Although this guide focuses primarily on vBulletin usability and using example directly from the vBulletin forum software, it can be applied to most forum software.

    Ask yourself...

    When setting up your forum, you need to ask yourself, what is it purposes and who’s the target audience. Determine the goals of your forum/community.
    It doesn’t matter how cool your site looks, if users find it impractical they will head to your competitors site, which is only one click away.

    Help your users

    Users are impatient. They hate having to learn new site navigation. Make your navigation obvious and consistent throughout your site. For usability, it’s usually best to follow conventions rather than great new problems for your visitors to work around.

    In the life of your website, some pages will be moved, disappear etc. And as your pages will still be indexed by search engines, a visitor may land on the page. Giving a well design 404 page will assist the visitor in finding what they were looking for. Including a search option, link to a user sitemap or links to popular parts of your site will give them an indication of where else they might be able to find what they’re looking for.

    Cut down features, don’t add them.

    One of the most common mistakes made by forum administrators is overwhelming their forums with features. More is not better in the instance.

    Asking yourself the purpose and audience of the site will greatly help you filter useful features, from detrimental feature noise.

    Reducing noise

    By reducing feature noise not only are use helping your users by optimising their browsing experience, but you are also helping to reduce the amount of HTML you generate which will not only help improve performance and loading times it will also help your SEO by increasing the relevant keyword ratio for your pages.

    Display Modes

    Probably the most underused feature of vBulletin is the Hybrid and Threaded display modes. Most administrators choose to keep the feature active regardless that it will lie dormant and probably unused.

    How to turn it off

    AdminCP -> vBulletin Options ->Threaded / Hybrid Mode Options (showthread) -> Enable Threaded / Hybrid Mode

    Posting Rules

    The forum rules collapsible box that appears on all forum display pages is a commonly overlooked feature. In my experience most users never notice it. If we look at the information the box actually displays, you have to ask yourself. Is this information important to my users? In my opinion users don’t need to know (and most likely don’t care) if HTML is enabled or not. If they’re new to forums they probably have no idea what BB codes are either.

    How to turn it off

    To remove this you must edit the “forumrules” template and remove its entire contents.

    AdminCP -> stylemanager -> yourstyle -> Edit Templates -> forumrules

    Reputation System

    There are a great many instances where the reputation system can be beneficial to a community. But, as with all features, if they don’t provide a purpose to your niche, drop them. For example, the reputation system works ideal for forums exchanging problems and solutions but for forums function is for general chat, it usually isn’t a valuable asset. This feature probably more than any needs to be assessed against your community as there is no cut and dry answer to if you should use this feature.

    How to turn it off

    AdminCP -> vBulletin Options -> User Reputation Options -> Enable User Reputation system

    Forum Statistics

    Unless your forum is highly popular and you want to show off your statistics, then I would recommend, disabling this feature.

    How to turn it off

    AdminCP -> stylemanager -> yourstyle -> Edit Templates -> FORUMHOME


      <td class="thead" colspan="2">
       <a style="float:$stylevar[right]" href="#top" onclick="return toggle_collapse('forumhome_stats')"><img id="collapseimg_forumhome_stats" src="$stylevar[imgdir_button]/collapse_thead$vbcollapse[collapseimg_forumhome_stats].gif" alt="" border="0" /></a>
       <phrase 1="$vboptions[bbtitle]">$vbphrase[x_statistics]</phrase>
    <tbody id="collapseobj_forumhome_stats" style="$vbcollapse[collapseobj_forumhome_stats]">
      <td class="alt2"><img src="$stylevar[imgdir_misc]/stats.gif" alt="<phrase 1="$vboptions[bbtitle]">$vbphrase[x_statistics]</phrase>" border="0" /></td>
      <td class="alt1" width="100%">
      <div class="smallfont">
        $vbphrase[threads]: $totalthreads,
        $vbphrase[posts]: $totalposts,
        $vbphrase[members]: $numbermembers<if condition="$show['activemembers']">,
         <span title="<phrase 1="$vboptions[activememberdays]">$vbphrase[within_the_last_x_days]</phrase>">$vbphrase[active_members]: $activemembers</span>
       <div><phrase 1="member.php?$session[sessionurl]u=$newuserid" 2="$newusername">$vbphrase[welcome_to_our_newest_member_x]</phrase></div>
    vBulletin Archive

    vBulletin’s archive is probably the most useless vBulletin feature to date. It doesn’t help SEO, and in my experience it confuses visitors.

    How to turn it off

    AdminCP -> vBulletin Options -> Search Engine Friendly Archive ->
    Forum Archive Enabled

    Calendar, Member List

    The calendar in most forums in underused if at all. The member list is only helpful for more adept members but generally also goes under used.

    As with all features, if you don’t use it, turn it off.

    How to turn it off

    AdminCP -> stylemanager -> yourstyle -> Edit Templates -> navbar

    For calendar find and remove:

    <td class="vbmenu_control"><a href="calendar.php$session[sessionurl_q]">$vbphrase[calendar]</a></td>
    For member list:

    AdminCP -> vBulletin Options -> User Listing Options -> Members List Enabled

    Misc Tips
    • Rewrite and restyle your guest message. If you’ve browsed more than a couple of forums you’ll notice the same default guest message time and time again. Make it interesting, short and sweet. Also for added SEO benefit, try using your targeted keywords within this area.
    • Don’t lock out guests from your forums. Not only does this annoy visitors, it also prevents search engine spiders from indexing your site.
    Closing Comments

    As forum administrators it’s often easy to overlook basic principles of user centred design. What we must always remember is that in the ever increasing population of online surfers, many have never used a forum. It’s our job to help and guide them to use our sites as easily as possible. If you don’t someone else will.


    This article has been constructed from my research and experience. It is intended as a guide only, and I encourage all readers to conduct their own research to support their decisions and further optimize their forum. As of writing all examples were tested and working on vBulletin 3.6.x and 3.7.x.

    Permission required for reprint. Produced by vBulletin Skins Zone.
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