If you want to start your own community forum there’s an overwhelming number of choices out there; and most of them are free. We wanted something simple and effective that made it easy to run a private community. Ultimately, we ended up choosing Vanilla Forums. It’s free, pretty lightweight (for PHP forum software), it has a nice control panel with analytics, and it’s got all the essential features we wanted from a forum.

Installing a shiny new forum on your server feels nice, but how do you keep it that way? Between spam protection, moderation and software updates, the amount of maintenance forums require can quickly become too daunting to bother with. Here are a few quick tips you can follow to keep your forum safe and speedy.

Stay up to date

The first and most important thing to do is to keep your forum software updated. Find out how to get notified when new versions come out and upgrade your forum as soon as possible. Be sure to notify your community when maintenance begins and ends so they’re not surprised if something goes wrong during the upgrade process. Software updates often include security fixes. This becomes a very effective weapon for spammers and hackers. Now they can search for websites running an outdated version of the software that hasn’t plugged a security hole and use that hole to compromise your site. Beyond the security, updates also keep your forum healthy and optimized.

Install anti-spam plugins

This is your second line of defense for clever bots and spammers who still manage to register on your forum. Every major forum software out there has a few choices when it comes to anti-spam plugins. If you’re using Vanilla Forums like us, I recommend installing BotStop (Adds a question designed to stop bots from registering accounts) and Stop Forum Spam (Integrates the spam block list from stopforumspam.com).

Manage your permissions

Your forum software probably has roles or permissions that you can assign to your users. The process will vary a bit from software to software, but the general idea is to make sure new members/applicants are first placed into a read-only role that doesn’t have posting permissions. If any spammers or bots manage to register on your site, this will prevent most if not all of them from posting any content on your forum.

Conclusion

There’s a lot you can do to keep your forum healthy over time. These are the first and most important steps to take and will make the most measurable difference in most cases. Keep your communities happy and healthy, folks!