Adding a forum to your WordPress website is a great way to encourage user interaction and extend the conversation beyond your comments section. It’s also a great and easy way to provide support for your product or service instead of sorting through a mile-long email thread.

Luckily, WordPress makes it easy to add a forum to your website. As you might have guessed, the solution comes in the form of a plugin called bbPress.

It’s one of the most popular forum plugins because it’s developed by the same team behind WordPress and integrates with your website seamlessly.

What you will learn in this tutorial

  • How to add forums to your website using bbPress
Tutorial information

Difficulty: Beginner / Intermediate

Time Required: 30 minutes – 1 hour

Content Management System: WordPress (self-hosted)

Tools Required: bbPress

Alternatives: Forum – wpForo

Other Requirements: A theme that supports a forum

Summary of steps:

  • Step 1 – Getting started: Install bbPress
  • Step 2 – Create the main forum page
  • Step 3 – Add forums to your main menu
  • Step 4 – Creating forums with bbPress
  • Step 5 – User registration, lost password & WordPress login pages for bbPress
  • Customizing a bbPress forum and theme examples

Step 1 – Getting started: Install bbPress

First things first, we need to install and activate the bbPress plugin.

Navigate to your dashboard and click on Plugins > Add New. Chances are you will immediately see it on your screen as the Add New screen shows the most popular plugins first. If it’s not there, search for it and the click on Install and then Activate.

After you install the plugin, you’ll see a new section in the sidebar menu called Forums. This is where the fun begins.

bbPress Install

Step 2 – Create the main forum page

The first step after the plugin has been activated is to create the main page where your visitors will be able to access the forums. You can do this in two ways and I’ll walk you through both of them.

The first method involves creating a parent forum called Forums or whatever name you prefer, and then adding it to your main navigation menu.

The second method is to create a new page and insert a shortcode which will add your forum’s main index to that page.

There is no right or wrong way of doing, it boils down to your own preference, so let’s get started.

Method 1: Creating a parent forum

There are three new sections in the sidebar menu:

  • Forums
  • Topics
  • Replies

We want the Forums section so click on it and select New Forum.

Give your forum a name and enter a short description in the text editor. Set the status to Closed to ensure nobody can post a new topic to your main forum. Since this will only serve as the index to various sections of your forum, you don’t want anyone posting there. When that’s done, click on Publish to create your main forum.

Method 2: Creating a forum index page

Create a new page, and name it whatever you’d like. In the text editor below, insert the following shortcode:

[bbp-forum-index]

Method 2 Adding New Forum

After that, click Publish.

Step 3 – Add forums to your main menu

The next step is adding forums to your main menu.

Click on Appearance > Menu and select your main navigation menu. bbPress will automatically create menu item called Forums so if you used the first method, add your main forum to your menu. If you used the second method, then you’ll need to add the page you just created.

Once your forum has been added to the menu, click on Save.

Step 4 – Creating forums with bbPress

If you were to look at your forum now, you’d see there is not much there. We actually need to create some forums. How many forums you create is entirely up to you and you can get as specific as you’d like.

In my example, I’m using the forums to provide help and support for my clients so my forum setup will include an FAQ section, as well as individual forums for the WordPress themes.

Forum Setup

Let’s say you’re creating a forum for movie buffs. You could create a separate forum for each specific genre and then you could create child forums for specific time periods or subgenres. So your forum structure might look something like:

Main Forum/ Comedy/Action Comedy

                                       /Romance Comedy

                                      /Parody

Alternatively, you can choose Category as a Type in the Forum Attributes section for your parent forums and group the child forums under that category.

Forum attributes

Your forum has several attributes which are worth getting familiar with. I’ll cover them briefly here.

The status of any forum you create can be open and closed. As you might have guessed from step 1, closed forum means anybody can see the forum but they can’t post new topics to it. The open status means any registered user can post a new topic.

You can also set different visibility: public means even unregistered users can view the forum. Private will allow only registered and logged in users to view the forum and hidden will allow the forums to be viewed only by administrators and keymasters.

The order simply determines the order in which your forums will appear on the main forum page. The default ordering is alphabetical but you can change it using this attribute. The order starts at 0 and can go as high as you want it to.

When it comes to topics, they can be normal, sticky which means they stay at the top of the forum no matter how many new topics have been added, and finally, super sticky which means the same topic is displayed at the top of every forum.

Step 5 – User registration, lost password & WordPress login pages for bbPress

Once you have your forums created, it’s time to set up a few necessary pages to enable user registration and handling logins and lost passwords.

bbPress comes with many useful shortcodes which include shortcodes for registration, lost password and login pages.

To create a Registration Page, simply add a new page and in the post editor enter:

[bbp-register]

You can also include a message that notifies your visitors they need to create an account in order to participate in the forums.

To create a Login Page, add a new page with the following shortcode:

[bbp-login]

Finally, to create a Lost Password Page, enter this shortcode after adding a new page:

[bbp-lost-pass]

bbPress user roles

Your forum users as well as yourself can have various roles. These include:

  • Keymaster – This is the bbPress equivalent of a WordPress administrator. This user can create and edit any topic, even the topics of other users. He can also manage tags, create new forums and access global settings.
  • Moderator – This user has nearly all of the capabilities of a keymaster. He cannot, however, delete other users’ forums, nor can he access global settings.
  • Participant – This user can create new topics and reply to existing topics.
  • Spectator – This user can view topics but cannot create new topics or reply to them.
  • Blocked – This user is banned from posting and replying to topics.

Customizing a bbPress forum

bbPress can be customized to blend seamlessly with the rest of your site.

The first step is to go through the settings which can be found under Settings > Forums and making any necessary changes regarding the way users interact with your board.

Most of the settings are self-explanatory but the most important one is the Auto Role setting. This particular setting allows you to set the default role new users will have when they register.

When it comes to style, bbPress’ default look will match the look of your website but there is always a way to make it look a bit more polished. There are plenty of themes available specifically for bbPress.

If you want to customize the look and feel of your forum, the best place to start is ThemeForest. They have a wide selection of bbPress themes which are responsive and attractive on top of offering plenty of other features.

I’ve mentioned before bbPress is the most popular forum plugin. It’s worth mentioning that both the WordPress.org and the WordPress.com support forums run on bbPress.

WordPress Support Forums

Another example is of course bbPress forums themselves which are a good place to seek support should you run into any issues.

bbPress Forums

The authors behind the popular multilingual plugin WPML also use bbPress to power their support forums:

WPML Forums

bbPress compatible WordPress themes

We’ve hand picked a bunch of WordPress themes that are designed to work with bbPress below. This means you can create a great looking website, that has a matching forum – no need to get a developer to style it for you.

Goodnews – Responsive WordPress News/Magazine Theme

Goodnews Theme

Goodnews by Momizat is a theme that is suitable for users of all levels, whether it’s your first website or your hundredth. This WordPress news theme can serve multiple purposes including personal blogs, product reviews, or internet marketing etc.

Features include:

  • bbPress fully integrated
  • Uniqueness – Simple and easy to customize with only a few clicks from the dashboard
  • Responsiveness – The theme is compatible with all web browsers and responsive to all smart devices
  • Monetization – Smart ad system which you can customize position and unit sizes

Get Goodnews  Demo

Price: $64

KLEO – Pro Community Focused, Multi-Purpose BuddyPress Theme

KLEO Theme

KLEO is solely focused on building a community/social network which integrates with BuddyPress. With the KLEO theme you can do several things including; build a community, write a professional blog, showcase a portfolio, build a shop etc.

Features include:

  • bbPress fully integrated
  • Clean and simple with a responsive design
  • Highly customizable
  • Easy to use front-end drag & drop page builder
  • Over 40 inner pages

Get KLEO  Demo

Price: $59

Striking MultiFlex & Ecommerce Responsive WP Theme

Striking MultiFlex

Striking MultiFlex is a flexible and responsive, multipurpose theme. It features a heavy duty framework that is suitable for sites of any size. The admin interface is easy to use, and offers full design control for those with creativity.

Features include:

  • Multipurpose theme
  • Highly customizable
  • Easy to use admin interface

Get Striking MultiFlex  Demo

Price: $61

Sweet Date – More than a WordPress dating theme

Sweet Date

More than just a dating theme, Sweet Date enables you to create a community website, with its unique, clean and modern design. With its responsive design and membership subscriptions, you know that members can access your site from their preferred device.

Features include:

  • bbPress fully integrated
  • Responsive design and retina ready
  • Membership subscriptions
  • Facebook integration
  • Highly customizable

Get Sweet Date  Demo

Price: $57

OneCommunity – BuddyPress Theme

OneCommunity

If you need a theme that is creative, with a range of vibrant color selections then OneCommunity is your perfect match. With its clear typography and easy usability, it will deliver great user experience.

Features include:

  • bbPress fully integrated
  • One-click demo content installation
  • Highly customizable
  • Compatible with WooCommerce
  • Over 40 inner pages including registration page, group forum, membership area, activity page etc.

Get OneCommunity  Demo

Final thoughts

Adding forums to your website is a great way to get more user interaction on your website but keep in mind that installing the forums directly on your main site could cause SEO issues, especially if you have “thin” content.

Therefore, it’s better to use a subdomain on your main website to install bbPress or to use a separate domain specifically for bbPress. This way, you will ensure Google doesn’t have any reason to penalize you and decrease your search engine ranking.

Posted by Ana Lynn Amelio

Ana Lynn Amelio is a WordPress designer and freelance blogger. When she isn’t busy running her own small business Ley Design she can be found reading, enjoying Italian food, and helping her kids go through not-so-secret cookie stash. Follow her on Twitter or say hi on Google+