Rebuilding A Damaged Community Progress Report

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A few days ago I mentioned the issues I was facing with the mess that was the UK Webmaster forum I'd taken over.

Rome wasn't built in a day, as the saying goes, so I wasn't expecting immediate results. However a pleasant surprise is always a good thing, so I was delighted to see how quickly some of the issues were getting resolved.

The most obvious area that needed attention was the forum's content itself. There was a LOT of spammy junk, which caused two problems:

  • It was being indexed by Google et al, so the site was appearing in the results for search queries that genuinely alarmed me
  • The content had put off new and existing members from hanging around

I'd love to say that I've managed to remove all the spam posts, but I know there are probably plenty of them still lurking (though searching for certain keywords isn't turning up much these days).
Vbulletin's plugin and permissions allows you to customise a site to your heart's content, so I've added  a few plugins and settings that mitigate spammer activity. For example, users cannot post external links until they've got a post count of 15. The same kind of logic is applied to signatures ie. the links / tagline below someone's post.

Another thing that needed to be addressed was the site's visible focus, so some of the sections have been either removed entirely or moved around a bit ie. topics that are not related to the site's core topic have been moved to the "off topic" area.

VBSeo's tools definitely help in deciding which areas of content you want to optimise and which areas you want to "devalue", so ignoring the "member profile" pages seems to be a good idea (some of the member names are barely "safe for work" at the moment!)

Measuring progress isn't that easy, but there are a few tools that help. So I've spending a lot of time poring over the Google Webmaster Tools console, as well as checking Analytics.

What is interesting to see is the significant jump in GoogleBot activity (click to enlarge):

While bot activity can be quite meaningless in isolation, when you compare it with the previous levels it's very interesting. (To me at least, I wouldn't expect everyone else to be this fascinated by it!). One of the conclusions I've drawn, which may or may not be realistic, is that the site's new hosting helps ie. it's the only site on that particular server and the server itself has very good connectivity.

Unfortunately I don't have enough web statistics data to work with as yet, but I did notice that the site now has a Google Page Rank score, which it didn't have a short time ago.

James, from the excellent Forbairt Media , has been tweaking the site's layout, so it's now a lot simpler to look at and hopefully more pleasing to the eye.

Of course it's very early days yet, so I expect it will take a lot longer to see any real jump in visitor levels and member activity. Thankfully several people who read my original post on this have been kind enough to join and "get the ball rolling", which is fantastic and is much appreciated.

Let's see how it goes from here ...

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9 Responses to Rebuilding A Damaged Community Progress Report

  1. Gordon September 10, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    Its great progress. I imagine its an enjoyable project, its dfefinitely interesting to follow. Please keep the posts coming about this if you can.
    Should one migrate from ?

  2. Michele Neylon September 10, 2008 at 10:20 pm #

    I’ll try to post followups over the coming weeks / months – no promises however!
    IWF is a different site / community, so while I’d expect there to be some overlap both sites are separate.

  3. James Larkin September 11, 2008 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks for the mention Michele 🙂 (Tweaking is going slow I’m afraid to say)
    @Gordon – Personally I’d see both communities as having different target audiences for some things. The population of the UK being much bigger I would assume once WMT builds up it’ll have faster responses to questions. There’ll also be region specific questions like .. can you recommend a host in the UK. (currently on the lookout for a UK based one for some customers) I’ve not really received a good response to that question over on IWF.
    As a number of my clients are UK based its good for me to get out there and market myself a bit as well .. you never know who goes looking for the answer to the meaning of websites 😀

  4. Michele Neylon September 11, 2008 at 6:59 pm #

    The UK market is very different from the Irish one. Very very different 🙂
    If you look at affiliate marketing and ecommerce it’s much more highly developed (How many Irish companies are on Tradedoubler compared to the UK ones? )

  5. James Larkin September 11, 2008 at 7:06 pm #

    Yeah … a friend is working in affiliate marketing and the irish market is small change. He was blown away by the UK market.

  6. Michele Neylon September 11, 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    If you look at the really big ecommerce vendors selling into the Irish market, how many of them are actually Irish?
    I suspect that it is only a small fraction.
    Part of the problem comes back to basic economics and logistics. If you wanted to automatically send out thousands of snail mail letters of some kind in the UK you can do it via APIs / web services etc., whereas here you’d have to take a much more manual approach.

  7. Nev - NevF September 23, 2008 at 2:30 am #

    Whats so ironic now is that forbairt now had more posts than blacknight. 🙂
    Regarding the site, you’re making great headway, and it’s good to see the community is being revived – one small pace at a time.
    As you said above, it will take time, and plenty of it. But as long as the vibrant people stay this time, the forum will be unmatched by the likes of any other one that i can think of.
    IWF has successfully managed to make that small connection between all those professionals and hobbyists throughout ireland, a small niche, but effective and friendly community. The differences i see with (as michele pointed out to me dead seriously) is that they’re both aimed at different countries, but also that the UK is a much larger, diverse population, and extending the ‘hand of god’ (ie. WMT) out to them, will be a challenge, but with the word of mouth, and the passionate people in the engines, this will be a matter of time rather than possibility.

  8. Michele Neylon September 23, 2008 at 9:22 am #

    James seems to go through phases where he gets very verbose, but I’m not complaining 🙂
    Thanks for your kind words. We’ll have to see how things pan out, but if you have any suggestions let me know

  9. Prometheus September 24, 2008 at 11:37 am #

    Re Googlebot activity – I’d say the act of cleaning up the spam triggered the activity. I recently had a mail from the big G saying I had spam on my pages (I’d been hacked!) and was removed from the G index (annoyed me ‘cos I’d got to Page 1 on my chosen keywords) Anyway about a week after I cleaned it up – google restored the index and a couple of days later I’d gone back to (close to) previous position.
    I wonder if the previous admin had been notified but couldn’t be bothered?

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