There is an ever-growing selection of WordPress forum plugins to choose from, and if you’re still looking around, you likely have a few questions that are holding you back.
That makes sense as many of these plugins seem to do the same thing.
Sorting through all of the different features and functionality to get a clear understanding of what’s the best WordPress forum plugin for you can seem daunting, not to mention time consuming.
But have no fear! We’ll guide you to finding the right WordPress forum solution to meet your needs, both now and as you grow.
In this article:
- Evaluating your WordPress Forum Needs
- The Best WordPress Forum Plugins to Consider
- Why BuddyPress isn’t a WordPress Forum Plugin
- Tips on Using Forums for Support
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping Up
Terminology first. Whether you’ve heard it referred to as a WordPress forum, a WordPress bulletin board, or a WordPress message board, they’re all the same thing. They all have the same basic functions, but have simply been given different names over the years.
And while that clears up one issue, the long list of features most WordPress forum plugins have can create an overwhelming amount of information to wade through.
It would be so nice if there were just one best WordPress forum plugin to use, but there isn’t. The simple truth is the best forum plugin for WordPress is the one that meets your needs, and it will likely take trying a few to find the right one.
So, let’s look at some questions that can help narrow the field from the start and increase the chances of finding a good fit.
- What do you want to accomplish? WordPress forums can be used in many different situations. Narrowing down what you need it to do to two or three primary functions should make it more obvious which plugin is right for you.
- What resources do you have available? Note that this question is not “How much money do you have to spend?” Many of the WordPress forum plugins we’ll look at are free of charge, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and anxiety cost associated with them.
Setup, community management, and formatting options are some of the factors that will impact your life, and may make it worthwhile to pay for a plugin instead of choosing a free option.
- Do you want support from the developer? Many free WordPress plugins don’t come with support. They are free after all. For someone with the right technical skills or team to rely on that could be irrelevant.
If that’s not you, you’ll want to check — and likely choose — an option with support, particularly one that will be there to help walk you through how to setup a forum on WordPress.
- Is the plugin being actively developed? It’s safe to assume that a purchased WordPress forum plugin is being actively developed as there is a business surrounding it.
This isn’t always the case with free plugins. However, most free plugins are in the WordPress Plugin Repository and there you’ll be able to see when the plugin was last updated as well as reviews, active installs, and who created the plugin.
- Is a WordPress FAQ plugin a better fit? Forums are appealing because of their interactive, community-building nature, but not everyone needs that functionality. Often small businesses and eCommerce shops don’t have the resources to invest in what a forum can require.
If so, the best solution might be the simplest: a nice, straightforward FAQ plugin.
These allow you to still provide a basic level of support while having complete control of the answers being given. All without needing to spend time moderating other people’s answers and conversations.
- Do you want to limit access to your WordPress forums? Limiting access can help reduce moderation needs, allow you to monetize your content, and create an exclusive feeling that leads to more deeply invested users.
Wondering how to create a forum in WordPress while also gating access to your content? Try a membership plugin that can grow with you as your community grows.
Now that you’re comfortable with how to create a forum on WordPress, have figured out what function you need it to perform, and considered some of the alternatives, let’s find the right WordPress forum plugin for you. Here’s a glimpse at the styles and products on our list.
Built-in Membership Functionality
What about BuddyPress?
Want the familiarity and functionality of Quora, Stack Overflow, and Yahoo Answers, then this style of plugin is for you!
Their simple format can make it easy for users to navigate the conversations, while the up/down voting for both questions and answers gives you more control over quality since unfriendly users and questionable answers are sent to the bottom of the page.
This style also helps with resource management as user’s votes aid in moderation.
CM Answers is a free option for those who want users to be able to post questions and answers, leave comments, and upload files in a discussion board format.
As the owner of the site, you have the ability to enable forum administrators (admins) to customize the questions and answers, filter unwanted content, add in answers, and easily keep track of users actions in the forum.
Additionally, this allows for:
- multiple file uploads
- private messages
- the ability to subscribe to categories and certain topics
- notifications when there is new content
And, it supports multiple languages including Russian, German, Spanish, and Czech.
The free version itself may not be a long term solution as you could outgrow its functionality, but that’s okay. The Pro version and additional premium add ons allow you to increase your forum’s functionality to fit your community, and all at a price similar to other comparable WordPress forum plugins.
Busy business owners may find that DW Question and Answer Pro covers all their needs.
With six months of guaranteed support and a license that starts at only $39, the versatility of this WordPress forum plugin may quickly out-value its small price tag.
The detailed user permission controls and filtering options are ideal for eCommerce store owners and other site owners who have less time to invest in managing their forums. You might also like the ability to build a private question and answer section to house internal corporate discussions, or for a specific group of users.
If providing support is your main goal, the live AJAX search makes it easier to find older topics so they don’t get lost and go unanswered.
Beyond those benefits, there are also additional free plugins that allow you to:
- easily add social sharing
- make use of leaderboards
- enable CAPTCHA for spam control
Plus, it supports over 11 languages including English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and Arabic.
Let’s note that this does have a free version in the WordPress.org Plugin Repository, but it should likely be avoided as it isn’t being actively maintained and could cause problems.
These are designated as hybrids because they allow you to choose between both the up/down voting style and a classic discussion forum setup, all without changing plugins.
They’re a great option for people who know what features they need, but are unsure of which style they want.
WPForo is a must-try if design, flexibility, and SEO-friendly settings and structure are high priority.
Not only does this free WordPress forum plugin give you the opportunity to try both discussion and up/down voting styles, it gives you multiple layout options to do it with.
These beautiful and responsive layouts:
- feature three options to choose from based on your desired structure
- can include a forum sidebar with widgets
- offer colored counter indicators that make it easy to see the number of votes, answers, and views for each thread
Concerned it’s just a pretty face? Nope! It also comes with various moderation roles, antispam and Akismet integrations, and extensions and add ons that allow it to easily grow with you.
Speaking of growing, it also has membership potential with built-in integrations for Ultimate Members and BuddyPress.
All of these options do lead to a number of settings, so you will need some patience once you start the configuration process, but that’s an expected trade off for a plugin that lets you do so much.
For only $24, Sabai Discuss has a lot to recommend it. Along with the hybrid functionality, it’s also ideal for building out a knowledge base or helpdesk on your site. If that’s one of your key requirements, this should definitely be on your short list to try.
Another reason to love it is it’s automatic spam moderation. This feature makes it easy to flag questions, answers, and comments while the built-in user reputation system shows the authority of those responding.
This WordPress forum plugin also allows:
- users to create profiles
- for guest users to post and receive answers
- comments to be added to both questions and answers
- you to designate featured questions
With all of that, you also get a flat, fully responsive design, the ability to create search and filter forms from the visual editor, and a developer with good reviews for responsiveness. What’s not to love?
Forym at only $19 has some interesting features that make it stand out, but do proceed with caution.
Make sure to read the reviews and comments before taking the plunge. The user ratings aren’t as high as others, but depending on what you need it to do, those reviews might be irrelevant.
That said, let’s look at why it is worth considering.
This is a simple, but attractive WordPress forum plugin that offers:
- both a light and dark theme to choose from
- post templates for design options
- a user reputation system to help with the reliability of the answers being given
You can also enable it’s quote and @ comments functions, as well as using the profanity filter to keep your forums running cleanly.
Some quick research should let you know if there are enough positives for you to override any negatives and take the plunge.
Discussion-style WordPress Forums
When we started talking about forums, this is probably the style that came to mind. And while these are patterned after the originals, they sure have come a long way feature-wise since the ones used at the dawn of the internet.
Read on to see what they can do for you!
When it comes to WordPress forum plugins, bbPress is the original. Built by contributors to WordPress core and released in 2011, this functional and dependable forum option has stood the test of time.
Users gravitate towards this one because it:
- integrates with any well-built theme
- offers user restrictions
- has post moderation options
- works well with a multisite setup
- provides full Akismet support
- manage your forums directly from your site’s WordPress dashboard
On top of that, shortcodes exist to make it simple to place forum elements in any post and page, and it has an enormous collection of third-party extensions and add ons, as well as integrating seamlessly with BuddyPress, to increase its functionality.
With all that to offer, it’s easy to see why this plugin has been a go-to for so long.
Have questions about how to create a forum on WordPress with bbPress? Green Geeks walks you through step-by-step.
Speaking of WordPress forum plugins that have been around for a while, Simple:Press has been under active development since 2008.
While the free version is somewhat limited in functionality and you might grow out of it quickly, there are definitely features that make it worth a trial.
Check out its:
- full integrations with WordPress registrations and logins
- optional private forums
- ability to create custom avatars
- free importer from bbPress
- optional sub-forum levels
- gamification possibilities with ranks and badges.
Find you need it to do more? Take a look at the available extensions that let you upgrade as needed. After all, that’s one of the perks of having a free WordPress plugin with a premium upgrade solution!
Asgaros Forum is a free, lightweight, feature-rich WordPress forum plugin that certainly holds its own among the competition.
The minimalist design is both customizable and responsive, and comes with a mobile theme. Other features include:
- a powerful editor
- ad management
- reactions within the forums
- the ability to create profiles and member lists while allowing for notifications and feeds
A perk to this WordPress forum option is its ease of install. Simply add and activate the plugin, create a new page (or post), and put the shortcode where you want the forum to be. That’s it! Just like that, you have a forum up and running.
All in all, if you’re looking for a hassle free start to your WordPress forum journey, this a great option regardless of your skill level.
Discussion Board is another great free option for beginners or busy businesses, like eCommerce stores, who need to be investing their time elsewhere.
With one click, this WordPress forum plugin sets up the three pages every forum needs:
- a login page
- a page with a form for users to post new topics,
- a page to view existing topics.
In no time, you’re up and running with minimal work on your part.
Similar to other free options, this does have a Pro version you can grow into, and at a reasonable price. If you go this route, you’ll be able to set up post statuses (ideal if you’re using your forum for customer support), multiple boards for different topics, and admin approval for new posters.
There are also some optional shortcodes available to help you personalize your forums without the help of a developer.
Whether you’re looking to control access or build a robust community — maybe both — then why not pick a plugin that gives you an all-in-one solution.
Want to start simple with just forums? No problem.
This style of plugin allows you to turn on and off the different elements you want to use. When you’re ready to grow, simply turn them back and you’ve got all you need without the hassle of moving to a different WordPress plugin.
As you would expect from a free plugin with Facebook-like functionality, WP Symposium Pro is rich with social networking options and forums with community features. If you’d like an alternative to the bbPress/BuddyPress combo (which we talk about next), this could be it!
Installation is simple. As the developer says, “Add the plugin, click a button, and you have your own social network, simple as that.” Once done, you’ll be able to go into the plugin’s settings to create the experience you want your users to have.
Ease of installation isn’t the only reason to like this WordPress forum plugin. It also stands out for its:
- customizable pages — layout, text, and style
- use of shortcodes to assist in further changes
- rare ability to connect to YouTube
- option to allow users with profiles to invite friends.
Particularly nice for those who want Facebook-like functionality, this also offers email alerts when a user likes something on a friend’s page or sends them a message. Nice features that help build relationships and engagement, both of which create a robust community.
Now, as we’ve mentioned with most free plugins that have upgrades available, you may find you outgrow the initial functionality. Fortunately, the premium features come at a reasonable price and with reliable support.
You’ll be hard pressed to find an article about WordPress forum plugins without seeing BuddyPress, a free plugin, included in the list. Unfortunately this is a disservice to WordPress users.
To be clear, it’s not because it’s a poor product. Far from it.
In fact, BuddyPress has been around as long as it has been because it’s really quite good at what it does. The continued active development of add ons alone vouches for its validity.
So, why isn’t it on our list?
Because BuddyPress is not a WordPress forum plugin. In order to have forums, it must be combined with bbPress. This is in fact why each plugin exists.
The reason that BuddyPress gets treated like a forum plugin is because of it’s groups functionality, think Facebook groups. These groups can act like forums, but they don’t have the detailed threading that allows forums to be structured and searchable.
To sum up, if you’re looking for forums, start with bbPress. When you’re ready to add in groups and social networking aspects, combine it seamlessly with BuddyPress.
Want both from the beginning? Download and activate both plugins, and you’re ready to go!
Forums can be used in so many ways, and we’ve covered a number of them throughout the article. You might want them for:
- product innovation from customer feedback
- content discussions for course creators
- searchable internal communications
- networking and community building among your users
But one of their primary uses now, and since the beginning, has been as a way to offer support for your business or eCommerce store.
If this is you, then definitely take a look at DW Question and Answer Pro. It’s enhanced search functionality and ability to create private forums will have your support team up and running with all the tools they need.
Beyond technology, Michelle’s episode on the WPMRR podcast will help you with the customer side of Customer Support.
Listen as Michelle Frechette, Director of Customer Success at GiveWP, offers her practical tips on dealing with frustrated customers, keeping happy customers happy, and why managing relationships is the key to lowering churn.
Start off on the right foot to get the most out of the support experience, for both you and your users.
Should I add a forum to my website?
If you want to offer your website users threaded conversations and question and answer functionality, then yes.
Just remember, WordPress forums are a responsibility that require resources. If you don’t have time to manage them, or the ability to hire someone to do it for you, you’re setting everyone up for a terrible experience.
Be realistic with yourself about what you have to give this project, if the benefits are worth your investment, and choose your path forward accordingly.
As the internet allows for a global economy, having a place where your customers -- particularly eCommerce customers who only have the opportunity to connect with you online -- can interact with you and each other is vital.
Adding a forum that allows you to grow a community around your product or store is an ideal way to build loyalty, hear innovative suggestions, and head off problems before they get out of hand.
Are forums still relevant?
Yes. They’re one staple of the earliest days of the internet that have lasted the test of time. One might even argue that they’re more relevant now than they ever were.
More people are using the internet than ever before, and those people continue to have questions and look for ways to come together as a community. With that, it’s important to have a way for people to be able to connect, brainstorm, and problem solve together asynchronously.
Still wondering? To Forum Or Not To Forum? Adding A Forum To Your Website is a nice, quick overview of the pros and cons, with a few things to keep in mind as well. And don’t let the date scare you away. Like WordPress forums themselves, the information is as relevant today as it was in 2013.
How do I make my forum more active?
If you want an active forum, you need a plan. While a mature forum with veteran members can seem to manage itself, getting it to that stage takes time and effort.
Encouraging regular interaction, asking questions that start conversations, being visible in the community yourself, and creating opportunities for members to build relationships with each other all contribute to a healthy, active forum.
Pick up even more ideas on making your WordPress forum investment a success with these 10 tips from Fizzle.
How much does it cost to build a forum website?
Building a forum using a WordPress forum plugin is free, if you only look at the cost of the plugin. And there are lots of good free options out there.
But remember, even free WordPress forum plugins come at a cost.
Your time, for one, is valuable and limited. So while a budget-friendly option might be appealing, the extra time it takes to configure and install it might not be a worthwhile trade off for you.
That’s why it’s important to evaluate and be realistic about your needs and constraints. For some, buying a premium product can actually save them more -- in time, headaches, and added development costs -- than opting for the free route.
While we’re discussing cost, remember to factor in hosting. You’ll need that.
WordPress and WordPress plugins might be free, but they still have to be installed somewhere. If you’re making the investment in a WordPress forum, you’re going to need a stable, resource-rich host to help keep it running smoothly along. Our list gives you a reliable place to start.
Whew, we’ve covered a lot! It’s easy to see how overwhelming all of those choices and features could be. Without some help it can be hard to know where to start to find your best fit.
If installing a forum plugin seems a bit daunting to you, let us handle it!
WP Buffs helps WordPress site owners by doing just that. Under our 24/7 unlimited edits services, we’ll add certain plugins and manage compatibility issues, preventing errors where we can so you don’t have to.
If you’re handling it yourself, in true WP Buffs style, we’re still here for you. To begin with:
- Be realistic about your time commitment.
- Systematically evaluate what you need your WordPress forum plugin to do.
- Prepare to try a few before you find the right fit.
And once that’s done, check out our shortlist of WordPress forum plugin suggestions.
Best for support: DW Question and Answer Pro
Best do-it-yourself option: bbPress
Best all-in-one out of the box: WP Symposium Pro
Best hybrid: Sabai Discuss
Before you know it, your WordPress forum will be up and running, bringing value to your business and functionality to your users.