6 Tools for Adding a Forum to Your Blog or Website

Easy ways to build a community and engagement

Two bloggers working in a cafe

Maskot / Getty Images 

If you have a blog or website, adding an online forum is a great way to foster community and build visitor loyalty. A forum is a type of message board, sometimes divided into subjects, where members can post comments and reply to posts from other members. It's easy to add a forum to your blog with a number of free or low-priced tools that offer a variety of features.

Forums are often referred to as bulletin boards or message boards.

vBulletin

Screenshot of vBulletin software for adding forums to a website or blog
What We Like
  • Available in mobile version.

  • Established company.

  • Runs lean, without much bloat.

  • Add-ons available to extend functionality.

What We Don't Like
  • Complicated to install and manage.

  • Can be buggy.

  • Technical support spotty.

vBulletin is one of the most popular forum tools because it's chock-full of features and functionality. It's not free, but if you want a top-notch forum, you can get it with vBulletin, which also offers a mobile app. Spend some time on a site that has a forum powered by vBulletin, such as the vBulletin support forum or the StudioPress forum, to see how it works.

vBulletin pricing options range from a $19.95 monthly license to a $399 license that includes free forum support for life.

phpBB

phpBB free forum software for your blog or website
What We Like
  • Free and open source.

  • Demo version allows users to try before committing to installation.

  • Lots of customization options.

  • Forum users can send private messages.

What We Don't Like
  • Infrequent updates.

  • No social media integration options.

phpBB is one of the most popular forum tools around because it offers a wide variety of features and customization options, and is completely free to use. Visit the phpBB forum or the Elegant Themes forum to see how the tool works.

bbPress

Screenshot of bbPress free online forum tool
What We Like
  • Free.

  • Large support community, with more than 300,000 active installs.

  • Small footprint.

  • Third-party plugins add more features.

What We Don't Like
  • Rather sparse out of the box.

  • Forum appearance can’t be customized without changing code.

Even though the free bbPress forum tool was created by the makers of WordPress and Akismet, you don't have to have WordPress to use it. It's a standalone forum tool that can be added to any blog or website. However, if you do use WordPress, bbPress integrates seamlessly into your blog or website.

The bbPress tool isn't as feature-rich as vBulletin, but it's a great option if you want to use a simple, free forum tool. See it in action in the bbPress forum or the U.K. Nissan Cube Owners Club Forum.

Vanilla Forums

Screenshot of Vanilla Forums forum tool for blog or website
What We Like
  • Free.

  • Easy to use.

  • Add-ons available.

  • Excellent support.

  • Large user community.

What We Don't Like
  • Not as customizable as most other options.

  • Analytics not very comprehensive.

  • No dedicated mobile app.

Vanilla Forums is a free, open-source forum tool that offers some customization options, but not as many as some of the other tools in this list. However, Vanilla Forums is extremely easy to use. Simply copy a single line of code from the Vanilla Forums website into your blog, and a bare-bones forum is instantly added. Add-ons are available to enhance your Vanilla Forums discussion board.

Check out Vanilla Forums by going to the product's Showcase page to see forum examples in action.

While the open-source version is free to download and use, there are also Business, Corporate, and Enterprise plans available from $689 per month.

Simple:Press

Screenshot of Simple:Press forum tool for blogs and websites
What We Like
  • Free.

  • Clean, pleasing appearance.

  • Fully responsive.

  • More than 12 years of continuous development.

  • Long list of features.

  • SEO-optimized.

What We Don't Like
  • WordPress plugin only.

  • Limited customization options.

  • Lacks extensive documentation.

Simple:Press is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to add a customizable forum to your self-hosted WordPress.org blog or website. Choose your Simple:Press forum skin (design), icons, and more. It's very easy to use once you've installed the plugin.

Take a look at forums built from the Simple:Press tool by visiting the iThemes forum or the Simple:Press support forum.

XenForo

Screenshot of XenForo forum tool for blogs and websites
What We Like
  • Good customer service.

  • Highly customizable.

  • Easy setup.

  • Regularly updated.

  • Lots of add-ons.

  • Monetization options built in.

What We Don't Like
  • Can be slow on some installations.

  • Many add-ons are pricey.

XenForo offers easy styling, built-in search engine optimization, recent activity streams, alerts, and many add-ons to customize the forum experience. Social engagement is included with Facebook integration and a way to reward member participation using a trophy system.

A 12-month license, including ticket support and upgrades, starts at $160. A free demo is available on the XenForo website, and you can find a showcase of links to live sites using XenForo in the XenForo Community.