SEO/Webmaster Forums and the dreaded bell-shaped curve

Thread Title:
SEO/Webmaster Forums and the dreaded bell-shaped curve
Thread Description:

"Did you ever launch a forum only to watch it die a prompt or slow, agonizing death?"

It's a familiar story to the old forum refugees. Having pointed many times to Clay Shirky's "own worst enemy" article (you can search, find it youself), I'm not sure if the death spiral can be broken --extended perhaps.

Alexa graphs and the big bad bell curve:








A group is its own worst enemy

Ever since you posted that at wmw i too have been referencing it left right and center, it's a facinating read... NOW i go check those graphs.. thanks RC

What's cooler is plotting a f

What's cooler is plotting a few forums on the same graph and comparing. I often do that when I'm really bored!

Help a brother out

>What's cooler is plotting a few forums on the same graph and comparing.

And what is your conclusion?


..seems to be the steadiest of the bunch.


I've tried that, just dont have the eyesight to follow the all those squiggly colored lines lol!

>>familiar story

Yes, i've heard it. More like a horror story by some accounts. We seem to be (i rather presumptuously include myself in the esteemed company above) a fickle bunch.

I tend to be loyal to the teeth, but when somthing makes me crack, i crack bad, and have left more than one email list and forum in an absolute storm of righteous indignation when i feel my loyalty has been betrayed and belittled - but then that's just me, i have a temper i have to work very hard to control lol!

old forum refugees

I'm not referencing any specific forum, I just happen to know that there is a rather large, semi-nomadic group out there dating back to SEF.


I'm not that smart. Technology overwhelms me, you know.


and more nomadic these days..

now there is a whole slew of other forums worthy of the occasional visit. I have semi hung my hat at SEW but i roam quite a bit these days and enjoy it immensly. The bigger blogs also are a good place to shoot the breeze...

I think the fact that so many

I think the fact that so many forums are dropping off is an indication of

  • the greater variety of choices amongst forums
  • the problems most forums face with scaling
  • other SEO info sources like blogs and rss subscriptions
  • and seasonal factors...I am told summer is naturally a slow period for SEO forums

also, props out to my buddies at SearchGuild whos chart has probably bounced around more than anyone elses has :)


The "Yo Yo" of SEO fora? ;-)

That graph's amazing....


Here's a fast growing forum that im fond of. Little slump right at the end but that could well be a blip, who knows...

Sitepoint doing well

Your digitalpoint post reminded me to check another fairly old forum; sitepoint. Wow! What happened in early 2004 there?


Yeah, but look at the general trend over the 2 year period.

>other SEO info sources like blogs

Absolutely agree. Note that some of these forums have branched out into general webmaster- and forum-maintenance topics, that should have increased their base considerably --but instead, something is eating away at them. Some of that, strictly from the SEO perspective, is the lack of blackhats (and to a certain extent, affiliates) doing anything significant in public. Forum owners say can what they will, but I know for a fact that it's the allure of the "smoke-filled room" that draws and -more importantly- KEEPS the crowd.


Yep, agree wholeheartedly...

You're up early RC, not been to bed yet? heh!

I hope TW can maintain a nice mix of everything. Ideally id like us to be hat neutral, but of course the things tht interest me give the site a bit of a dark slant from time to time.

Nice stuff coming out of HR these days though, they have quite a few threads listed in here...

Possibly the fact that some of the above forums have (IMV) attempted to please too larger audience has somthing to do with it? like american box office films, if you try to please the common denominator and are afraid to offend anyone, then it just becomes banal and somewhat mediocre fayre for the core group.

And a core group is key to sustained success IMO

Smokefilled rooms

Absolutely correct. I remember when WmW (might have been SmW then) was just BT, RC maybe Xoc and a few others talking to each other. All way over my head so I just bookmarked it and went back to SEF to learn more basic stuff so I could even lurk. But eventually it was the lure of that smoke filled room that drew me back. That and cutting through the noise. It works.

I think that is the attraction to SEW now, the blackhats and affiliate guys are circling, but it is still up in the air if it will go to the next level. But I think nearly any forum could achive the same boost if it became a smoke-filled room type stuff.

I do think the blogs have cut into things, every blog post would have been a forum thread in the old days and heck anyone can start a blog these days. :D

awash in newbies, wannabes, client-trollers, and megalomaniacs

>it just becomes banal and somewhat mediocre fayre for the core group.

Shirky went into some of that dynamic, but the onset of forum decay starts almost from the very minute it achieves critical mass. I think the subject line of this post pretty much covers it.

(Megalomaniac: mea culpa)

Smoke-filled rooms

Great thread guys. I think there's definitely an attraction to the "dark arts" for most SEO's regardless the color of their hat. You have to know what you are up against to be competitive. You definitely have to know (it's been said plenty before), that seo copywriting and title optimization is sure as hell not gonna cut it in a space run by seo ninjas.

There's an attraction to be a part of the cutting edge information, and to be privy to it before that information degrades. It's valuable both financially, and for the purposes of obtaining more information. You definitely need to know who to pay attention to and the validity of what they're saying in SEO. As in life, it's often the folks who aren't in a BIG hurry to open their mouths just to hear themselves talk who are most worth listening to.

>Megalomaniacs least they are much more entertaining than newbies, client-trollers, and wannabes.

If I might interject with a Question for RC?

RC, you've been around on forums for longer than i've had a PC I think..

How long have you been in forums exactly?

blogs have cut into things

>blogs have cut into things, every blog post would have been a forum thread in the old days

Absolutely. I know I'm using them to lighten my reading/research load. Looking at my 'daily' tab, there is Andy Beal's searchenginelowdown, Danny's/Chris'/Gary's searchenginewatch, Barry's seroundtable, Aaron's seobook, and Peter's searchengineblog --and that's just at the top.

>There's an attraction to be a part of the cutting edge information, and to be privy to it before that information degrades.

Well-put. But those that work on the cutting edge stuff aren't sharing much at all now --nothing really sees the light of day. This includes paid newsletters and forums, though I do admit that they may help with some just-above-basic-level topics.

victims of their own success

I find the more popular a forum becomes the less I like it. When I started out the bigger forums were helpful for learning the basics. After a while i wanted to pick the brains of those in the know so looked for forums that had a small knowledgeable user base.

Some of the forums i really liked 12 months ago no longer appeal, too many posts asking the same questions, often within 5 minutes of each other, “when’s the next update” “backlink update?” etc. Nothing against new people asking questions, i just don’t have the time to wade through post after post about PageRank.

This is why i like thredwatch so much.

How long have you been in forums

>How long have you been in forums exactly?

Uumm, not sure exactly, Nick. I think my first involvement was at Jim's SEF circa 1996-97 (ish?). I was a regular there (twice), with probably 1500 posts total.

I moved over to what became WmW in '99 (I think, but I do know for certain that the join dates are not correct, so that's no help) --Oilman and I had been regulars together at SEF. He actually joined Wmw first, I didn't much care for it and was a nomad for a while, but eventually joined up because Fanto and Littleman were so damn good at cloaking and they were discussing it there. I had somewhere above 9000 public posts there and probably another few thousand private posts. During my tenure as first (I think I was first) admin, I oversaw somewhere north of a half-million posts.

There is a lot of overlap here, I recall I was in and out of geekvillage for a while along with a few others that didn't make it.

Heard you woz a bad boy...

I hear you were banned from several of them, why?.

(just curious, hope u dont mind me asking...)



I'm banned from a few, yes. But not for violating a TOS. There's never been a "THIS FORUM SUCKS AND I QUIT" post, either. Let's just say that I get banned because of competitive reasons --I guess I should make it clear that it's forum competition issues, not clients (I have none) nor any sort of affiliate/merchant problems.

I'm also pre-banned in one or two that don't want any views about SEO but their own.


Now that is just plain impressive when your reputation proceeds you that well. :)

SEW Traffic Should Be Higher?

You need to remember when viewing these graphs that they are for the entire domain, not just the forum.

Since the SEW forum just opened last June, I would expect there to be a big spike in their traffic but their traffic was already so high, it looks fairly even.

Small fishes and big ponds


Welcome Scottie ;-) thats a good point, i thought you could use the subdomains but i just tried it and it dont work..


Thanks for the welcome! Some interesting discussions here. Kudos!

Heard you woz a bad boy???????????????????????

Hrmph! I'll thank you to NOT take my nic in vane Mr Nick_W! ;-)


oh dear...

hehe! my apologies Woz....

That should be vain Woz!

The grammar here is just appaling

> appaling And our spellin

> appaling

And our spelling, too, hhh!

Yeah, but our websites suffer from the same, so it all evens out in the wash.

Damn sussed

What would a good website be without references to Gogle, Yahwho, Emessen and Ask Geeves.

So what you're saying is we need to be entertained, right?

Wish I had something brilliant to say about the apparent demise of Cre8asite, but all that I'm getting is this image of a smoke filled room with a bunch of SEO guys in different colored hats staring at the possibly naked pole dancer on stage ...

That's it! We'll get pole! And naked people! Start naughty threads!

(Being a forums Admin does weird shit to one's head.)


Inspired, motivated, challenged. The longer the core constituency is there, the harder it is to do that for them.

>watch it die
From Andy Beal's write-up: "Are search engine forums, that start with a bang, doomed to follow a pattern of decreasing traffic?"

Personally, I did not equate forum death with decreasing traffic until I was presented with all the bell curves. I think it's entirely possible for a forum to have increasing traffic and/or active members and still have the culture there die off.

Scottie posted upstream: "Since the SEW forum just opened last June"
Look at the timeframe of the drop on C8's chart. Coincidence? Or cannibalization? As already mentioned, there is increasing competition for SEO/webmaster eyeballs.


Its good to see so many different colors in here!


Yeah! - maybe we can find a corny looking animated gif to tack onto the logo in this place? heh..

I've not looked but i bet all the fora took at least a small hit around june/july this year that wasnt the normal summer drop off...

Welcome cre8pc!

SEO Forum Growth, Google Posts AdWords Content Policy

SMA UK releases membership rates. Uncover the Net directory joins the W3C and launches a free site submission promotion. Google posts AdWords content policy. Comment spam gets smarter. Information about the lifecycle of SEO forum communities.

SEO/Webmaster forum trends

Here's some other factors...

For webmaster forums...

A lot of people that 5 years ago would have started building a conventional website now just go to Blogger and start a blog, or go to Live Journal. Even for conventional sites WYSIWYG editors have improved immensely. Those factors and more mean less of a learning curve - less need for long discussions about HTML esoterica.

For SEO forums ...

Heck there is a glut of forums and far fewer engines to talk about. At SEF, it used to take forever just to work your way down the list of forums devoted to different engines - much fodder for endless discussions. Like the Library of Alexandria for SE spammers. Now, on most forums, only the Google board is ever taxed and that is mostly with "Sergy burped" typed posts, so we've gone from that Library to a grocery store book rack.

Again the webmaster does not have to stay as long or explore as deeply as they once did.

I'd say these are some things to consider in addition to all the comments above.

Darwinism at its finest

I see the death or growth of boards part of the natural selection process. The strong survive and the weak sign off.

Most forums take on the personality of its core base. WMW has become cloistered. A newbie is quickly cornered into the prevailing philosophy by the myriad of senior members. If they don't like the subject they trounce discussion. No new blood-- inbreeding and then a slow death. (or worse, stagnation)

SEW is brilliantly organized and the membership is not quick to denounce or condemn. Plus you have Danny Sullivan commenting on many threads. New blood coming in and accepted, new ideas accepted. a survivor and thrivor.

Jills boards are so full of sarcasm that it is sometimes painfull to read. Her club is full. (read WMW fate)

Threadwatch, very cool diverse and well respected. No overriding editorialism blocking free expression

>> overriding editorialism bl

>> No overriding editorialism blocking free expression

try spamming it and see if that holds lol! ;-) welcome Marvin!

>> sergey burped

heh! yeah, that just bores the crap out of me Brad...

hey, i found out what happend to sitepoint in early 2004:

They used to have and, they then merged it to and, effectively making it look like SP has all the traffic combined.

Money stops people talking....

Back in the "good old days" everyone was an "amateur" and we all learnt together from the boards.

When Adsense came out, for example, we all learnt from each other. Now those that know, want to keep the knowledge because we don't want to loose the earning power that knowledge gives.

You try to get a meaningful discussion on affiliates, and there is no input of information. Again what we have we hold.

Forums, by and large, have come down to social centres, to drop into when one wants a break from the real work.

In today's "professional" world, money has stopped the talk!

banned.. yea, but then you show up on MyYahoo

there is some irony in that.

so here you guys are.

Confused Nick W

Welcome Chicago!

Im afraid you've lost me there entirely, can you fill me in?

Hey Nick

It has been awhile.

I was just looking for an excuse to say hi to you and rc.

Seriously, I find it ironic how in talking about being banned from forums, (I also know of similar 'bad' experiences with other members of forums), I found rcjordans thread and your forum, on MyYahoo. As you know, you can pull RSS feeds into MyYahoo on many topics, and right next to Yassir Arafat is on his death bed, is a link to this thread from a blog.

This thread talks about the rise and fall of forums and the proliferation (horizontal nature) of today's information sources. I find it ironic that the two of you, who have been MIA from the forum I regular, pop up on 'My'Yahoo. It is indicative of the points made in this thread, indicative of the horizontal nature of community, and indicative of the re-emergence of great minds through great channels, even when those who 'think' they are great try to mute their voices.

Anyway. I am glad I found you.


Slowly but surely word is getting round about this little place :)

Do introduce yourself Chicago, and throw any of the "good stuff" this way!

Good to see you again, been tooo long heh!


A friend and I were actually looking at these traffic graphs a few weeks ago, but not for this many forums. I think part of it is simply quality = popular = noise = unpopular. I've seen it happen to forums outside of this realm as well. Its really a shame to be honest. Also agree with seobook - I think more choices also has a bit to do with it.

please... don't tell anyone else about TW!

Well, now that I've found ThreadWatch I won't have to take that dreaded trip to WMW anymore. I still find SEW entertaining.

Is it just me, or, after you know a certain (decent) amount about SEO, the repeated questions and arguments of all these forums become excruciating?

I am already dreading the day when this site "attracts the masses" :(

you've pretty much plotted the curve

>Is it just me, or, after you know a certain (decent) amount about SEO, the repeated questions and arguments of all these forums become excruciating?

Allow me...

to put your mind at rest...

Is it just me, or, after you know a certain (decent) amount about SEO, the repeated questions and arguments of all these forums become excruciating?

No, it's a lot of people dude, including me. This is one of the reasons TW was started, not the only reason of course but it's right up there at the top.

>>I am already dreading the day when this site "attracts the masses" :(

If this site does ever "attract the masses" then it really shouldnt be a problem. Let me take this opportunity to explain a little about the thoughts behind TW and some of the rough goals and ideals.

  • TW was built for professional seos not those new to the game
  • Its content is targeted directly at the high end knowledge level, there will not be "what is page rank" or "Gmail invites!" posts published here - (comments on posts may be slightly different, i'll come to that..)
  • Attracting the masses is not a goal for TW, if fact, it's to be avoided if possible (though maybe that's unlikely)
  • If this place EVER starts to feel to noisey, we will close the sign up page down and work on ways to deal with it before re-opening.
  • Saying that, it shouldnt feel to noisey because there are a limited amount of good threads and stories out there so only 10 or so are being published a day right now and I cant see that increasing much.
  • Commenting could get noisey, sure, but I think that's okay. Any member doing "what is pagerank" comments would likely be asked very nicely and respectfully to pipe down and lurk for a while. Im not, and I know TW members for the most part are not, anti-newbie but we are anti newbie posts. Newbies are very welcome to read here, but if it ever feels like we are drifting from the ideals set out above, swift and decisive action will be taken to ensure we get back on track without hitch.

Having said all of that, it's all a bit academic right now isnt it? heh! It would be nice to have to make those kind of tough calls as it would mean that the work TW members put into finding quality professional grade material to publish and link is being recognized for huge value I at least place on it.

However, like I said, it's all a bit academic right now.

On the subject of posting, and newbies. I'd hate anyone to feel they couldnt post, or that they shouldnt post. The way it works right now is that all posts are published, but not all posts are promoted to the front page and the rss feed. I've not had to remove any posts yet, but i have chosen to not promote a few. If a post does get removed it really isnt such a big deal I hope, im happy to talk about it, explain it and help the poster understand why it wasnt suitable for threadwatch and help them work out what is suitable.

Essentially what is suitable is simple: professional grede threads, posts, articles and blog posts

Giving the pro's good info is what TW is all about, If those new to seo want to read about what TW members think is interesting then cool, but this aint wmw, it aint seochat and it aint sew. We do not consider newbs as part of the target audience

A last note on repetition. As far as I can see, it's unavoidable, and im not sure we would want to avoid it anyway. We've already covered directories about 4 times so far lol! - IMV this is okay, these things do need revisiting and we'd very soon run out of things to talk about and learn from if we didnt go back and visit old ground looking for new insight/material now and again...

Phew... did that come out right?

I just find it odd the linkin

I just find it odd the linking from quality webmaster gathering spots to what I would call "destructive forums!"
Never got that! Still don't, and ya know who I speak of Nick!

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