I have ran several large forums over the last several years, many of which have been powered by vBulletin. Here I will provide some tips in regards to search engine optimization, and getting traffic to the forum.
Firstly, I think vBSEO is a joke. vBSEO is software you can buy which basically rewrites all the URL’s of your forum so that they contain the title of the thread which the link, instead of something like /showthread.php?=1000. While it may help a bit for the time being, I don’t think the investment is worthwhile. Search engines want to provide the most accurate results, not the results for sites which are optimized best. Because of these, the rewriting URL’s trick will not help in the near future, at least that is my prediction. Tons of the vBulletin forums I have ran ranked quite high on nearly all related keywords, with essentially no SEO done.
I definitely don’t think you should target any keywords or phrases. Overtime, as the forum grows, tons of content will be added, and you may rank high for some terms/phrases, and others not. I often notice that I get more traffic from tons of different keywords that I rank #1 for that are searched very little as a opposed to 1 or 2 keywords/phrases where I rank #2 in that is searched a lot. For example, I will pull up an analytics report from one forum:
You will notice that Google sent over 25,000 visitors throughout the the month, which accounts for a large percentage of the visitors to the site. However, the most searched keyword/phrase only brought in 1,201. That leaves 23,799 visitors from other keywords. The second most searched term only brought in 376 visitors. So if i view the full report, I find that
Search sent 26,380 total visits via 7,612 keywords
This means that around 1,600 visitors came from search engines other than Google. There were a total of 7,612 searches that brought visitors to the site. This tells me that people are finding the site by searching over 7,500 different terms, most likely ones that aren’t competitive and only get searched once or twice a day, and most likely that this site ranks in the #1 spot for each of those keywords/phrases. Another interesting stat is that out of the 26,380 visitors from search engines, there was only a 31.05% bounce rate, and they spent an average of 10 minutes, 25 seconds. That is very nice quality traffic from search engines.
Another advantage to getting visitors from many different keywords is that it isn’t so risky. Say you rank #1 for the search ‘photoshop tutorials’, which let’s say gets 5,000 searches a day. Since you rank #1 for that term, you will probably get a good 85% of this visitors to your site. That 4,250 searches a day. Now let’s say your rank #1 for several thousands different terms (lets say 5,000 terms) that aren’t competitive and are searched an average of once a day. That means you will have 5,000 x .85 = 4,250 visitors drawn to your site from those keywords. The nice thing about this is that if Google (or any other search engine) changes something with their algorithm that affects your site and drops it ranking, it will most likely only affect some keywords. If you are drawing traffic from 5,000 different keywords, you will still probably keep a good portion of those keywords, let’s say 4,000. If you are only ranked high in the competitive keyword, and get de-ranked, you lose nearly all of those 5,000 visitors from that search. This is the power of getting visitors from many (hundreds or thousands) searches and not just one or a few.
Now the reason I bring up these stats is that this site has done absolutely no SEO, yet it still gets tons of high quality traffic from there, and it isn’t too risky because it is coming “from many sources”. People always say that you shouldn’t make websites for search engines, make them for the audience. I somewhat agree with this. If you write for search engines, it is quite risk as it may not last too long. However, writing for search engines can certainly bring you tons of high quality traffic which turns into good amounts advertisers wanting to advertise on your site. I will post more details on forum SEO, management, and monetization at a later time.