How To Spruce Up Your Simple Machines Forums

So You’ve Installed SMF on Your Site. What Now?

First off, congrats! We’re always glad to add new members to our tribe of open-source forum websites. Installing SMF is pretty straightforward, but once you install in on your website…what next?

Use Professional Images and Iconography on your Homepage.

woman running stock photo

Image Credit: iStockphoto.com

This is the most effective and simplest way to make your forums look clean, professional and respected. You can use your high-quality website logo at the top of your forums to give your website’s visitors a sense of continuity between your main website the forums.

Another great way is to add high-quality stock photography. Not just mindless photos of guys in business suits laughing, but instead you can add high quality patterns and imagery for the ‘wallpaper’ of your site.

And if doesn’t even have to be all that expensive, either. Stock photo site’s prices are jacked up because they deal with professional companies that buy thousands of images each month with their ‘purchasing department’. If you’re an independent publisher, search for an iStock promo code, which focus on independent publishers like you.

Create (or Upgrade) Your Website Logo:

Having an clean, pleasant and effective website logo can do absolute wonders for your website.

For Those Who Need To Create a Logo From Scratch:

There are two main ways to go about this: hire a professional (highly recommended) for your site, or you can create one yourself.
Option #1: Hire a professional logo design company like Logogarden.com. These are professional graphic artists that can design dozens of variations on a logo and then narrow down the options based on your feedback. If you want the highest quality logo, this is the way to go, but it’ll cost you at least $1,000.
Option #2: Use 99Designs.com. This is a ‘middle of the road’ alternative, where it doesn’t cost as much as a professional agency, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get an amazing logo.
The way 99designs works is like this: you make a request for a logo, along with your guidelines. Then, 100 graphic artists will create logos based on your requests. If you don’t like any of the options, you can walk away and not pay a penny. If you do, it’ll cost anywhere from $200-$700, depending on which plan you sign up for.
Option #3: – Design it yourself with free logo makers. This is the riskiest, but also ‘free-est’, option out there. Site like graphicsprings.com have free logo makers on their website where you can quickly try a few different ideas and designs to see which one you like.
If anything, you can get an idea of what you want before you approach a graphic artist.

Whoo! That logo design advice ended up becoming a whole lot longer than we had anticipated. But it does make a huge difference in visitor experience.

Other than that, you can install new themes on your forums, and try a few different ones until you find one you like. But if the background wallpaper and logo are unprofessional, then the themes can only do so much…

Your Website’s Forums Could Attract Internet Trolls

The Bane of the Internet. Here’s How to Avoid Attracting Them.

A few years ago I had a travel site that discussed all things to do with Hawaii. The forums were specifically focused on sharing Hawaii travel tips (that’s coffee grown in Hawaii). But the website attracted all sorts of Hawaii-loving people from all over the world. Our most popular thread was where we shared coupons for travel sites like Hotels.com and Expedia.

The forums went along swimmingly, until one days there was an unusually high number of registrations. I didn’t think much of it, but then I started seeing what was being posted. The new members would join every thread and say ever sexist, racist and insensitive thing possible. People sharing pictures of their kids were insulted, and my community started to leave.
I banned as many of them as I could, but they would only make more accounts and post even more terrible things. My community stopped posting about themselves (for fear of attach). I restricted new registrations to ‘only under my approval’, which helped stem the tide of harassment. But the damage was done. People in the community left and the forums were soon shut down.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Image Credit: Wikimedia


We laugh at internet trolls, but they can be devastating to a business that relies on a community of people interacting for their business. Even massive sites like Reddit have been hit by internet trolls. Here’s how to make sure that you don’t end up being attacked by trolls.

1. No-Index Your Forums

This is tough pill to swallow for many web-masters. Forums create more content for your website, which presumably helps you to rank better in Google, right? Well, there is no direct evidence of such a thing. But if you no-index your forums, which means that you prevent search engines from crawling your forums, you’ll be more likely to escape the detection of internet trolls. If you already have a robust community, this can help you to preserve it. If your community is just starting out, it may harm your ability to grow it.

2. Restrict Registrations to Manual Approval

If your community is small, then there won’t be that many registrations for you to deal with anyway. Manual registrations will scare away trolls, because they will almost certainly be denied, and it ends up being much more trouble than it’s worth.
If your community is growing and you need to manually approve dozens per day, then this may not work for you.

3. Use only Facebook Registration

It isn’t foolproof, but many internet trolls have trouble getting Facebook accounts because they get kicked off of the social network so often. Again, it’s not foolproof, but you could limit their ability to troll.

4. Empower Your Community:

Giving your community some tips on dealing with trolls is a great way to ‘starve’ them out of your website. If you don’t react to the trolls, they see no reason to keep creating havoc on your site. Also telling your members to report any troll like activity right away is the best way to stay on top of banning trolls.

SMF vs Vanilla Forums

SMF vs. Vanilla Forums: Which is Better?

One of the absolute best ways to build a loyal online community is to add a forum to your website. Their passionate people in your niche can gather together and communicate with other passionate people.
There are numerous benefits to having a forum:

  • you can generate ideas for your website based on recurring questions or concerns,
  • it increases the amount of website engagement (i.e. time spent on site, number of pages read, etc.)
  • you can learn things from other people.
  • and perhaps best of all: the community generates content without you having to lift a finger!

There are numerous forums, but the two that we recommend are vanilla forums and SMF (Simple Machines forums). Here we’ll compare each of the forums and give recommendations on when each particular type of forum application is best for you.

Contender #1: Simple Machines Forums

simple machines forums -smf vs vanilla

About Simple Machines:

What we know now as Simple Machines Forums grew out of an old forum-software application called YaBB SE, which had problems with resource application. It’s current form came about in 2006 when the developers all met and created a mission for a free and open-source application that was free from corporate influence.

Best Feature:

Lots of features. Anything you can think of can be added to your website. If you know have the technical know-how, you can add whatever you like to your website.

Worst Feature:

The steep learning curve. As we will mention later, vanilla forums offers a pretty powerful support system for a price. Although if you go with a developer-oriented hosting company like Mediatemple, they can help you get your Simple Machines Forum up and running with minimal effort. (if you use them, use a promo code! Here’s a place with some good updated ones:
http://couponcodehoster.org/mediatemple-coupon/

Big Websites that use SMF:

Avast; Red Hot Chili Peppers; Comodo Security

Quick Facts about SMF:

  • Latest release: SMF 2.1 November 2014
  • Large Community of users.

Contender #2: Vanilla Forums:

vanilla forums

About Vanilla Forums:

The original version of Vanilla Forums was created by Mark O’Sullivan as a way to manage his growing graphic design community. It has since grown to become a user-friendly, free, open-source application. And while it is free, there is a cloud-hosted version you can purchase from vanilla forums that includes pre-moderation, reactions, polls, as well as support if something breaks.

Best Feature:

Social sign-in. Instead of going through the tedious forum registration process (create a username, click on a verification email, wait for moderator approval, etc.), users can use their Facebook or Twitter accounts when logged in to vanilla forums.
The second best feature is the clean-looking, customizable interface. Even the most novice of users are able to interact with your community.

Worst Feature:

The best stuff is held back. You can add the forums, but if you want extra features like emoticons, reactions, and all the fun, unique stuff that really makes forums fun, you have to pay.

Big Websites that use Vanilla Forums:

Penny Arcade, 9to5Mac, Hubspot; (These links take you directly to the forums sections of each website).

Some Quick Stats About Vanilla Forums:

  • Latest Release: Version 2.1.6 (November 2014)
  • Medium-sized community of users and developers.