When I acquired this site in 2018, a lot of people gave me weird looks and told me this type of site was dying. “Joy, who uses forums anymore?”. Well according to traffic in the last 30 days on the Local Search Forum, the answer to that question is: A lot. To be more specific, thanks to the massive increase in ranking on Google in the last 60 days, we are getting 144% more traffic than we did at this point in 2023.
SEOs like Lily Ray have been talking about the rise of forums quite a bit in 2023, but it isn’t until the last 2 months that I have seen forums of all types completely dominate the local search engine results page (SERPs) that our clients and most small business owners compete for.
It doesn’t seem to be limited to a specific industry. We are seeing this in the legal space, home services, automotive, healthcare and many others.
Let’s look at a few examples to see how it has changed in the last 60 days.
Here is what “wallpaper removal” looked like back in November 2023.
Now, in 2024, there are a total of 4 different forum websites ranking in the top half of the first page, compared to zero back in November.
Let’s look at a different industry.
For one of our family lawyer clients, this is what ranked at the top of page 1 for “best divorce attorneys” in November.
In December, this flipped to showing forums at the top of the page, above the local pack results.
In November and December, we saw massive increases in traffic and ranking for smaller niche forums. It’s not just Reddit.
This is how it looks for Avvo’s forum in the legal space:
A forum in the painting space:
Why are these sites ranking better?
The content is very different from the majority of what’s on every site. For example, this thread started ranking for some very competitive keywords in the personal injury lawyer space over the last few weeks. The thread is a perspective from the customer’s point of view on why you should or shouldn’t hire a personal injury lawyer to represent you. This is a stark contrast to the other sites ranking which are all sites belonging to lawyers which tell you a very similar story on every page.
With the rise of AI content and SEO practices aimed at making your site similar to what’s currently ranking, this is a trend that is showing that Google might be headed in the opposite direction.
Forums are probably the most heavily human-moderated content on the internet. As an owner of a forum and a moderator for one of Google’s forums for 12 years, I can say with confidence that forum moderators generally have zero tolerance for self-promotion and fake content. In a world full of fabricated social media reactions and fake reviews, forums are one of the best places to get honest, unbiased, sales-free advice.
Why should I care?
We have already seen forums taking away traffic from small business sites that no longer rank as high as they used to.
We are also seeing that forums are ranking on Google for branded searches (ex: “Walmart” or “Walmart reviews”).
It’s quickly becoming one of the most common things I see ranking for our clients’ brand names in addition to sites like Yelp, Facebook, or the BBB which have been contenders for years.
This can be problematic if the thread has a negative bias. For example, this Reddit thread talking about a multi-location home services company now ranks 4th for their brand name and talks about how they are a scam and quickly recommends a competing company:
The thread is a few months old but only started ranking in the last few weeks.
Given how much reviews impact consumer behavior, this is something that all brands should be regularly monitoring.
What should I do?
It’s important to monitor how the search results are changing over time and adjust your strategies accordingly. Due to these changes, we’ve initiated a large series of tests to see how business owners should approach this change and what is the smartest way to maintain control over how your company appears on Google.
We hope to publish some of our findings on what works and what doesn’t in the coming months.