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    “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place.... Something more will arise for later, something better.”
    — Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Creating the ideal guest welcome message for your forum

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Medora, Jul 19, 2010.

  1. Medora The New Architect

    What is the 'guest welcome message'?

    The guest welcome message, as it relates to the Internet forum, is a notice, usually placed near the top of the front page (whether the index or the portal), which explains to the first-time visitor what the forum is about, and entices him to register. Whether a forum software displays this message by default (e.g., vBulletin), or it is added by the forum's host (e.g., FreeForums) or administrator, it can most often be edited by the administrator to suit his needs.

    Along those lines, the welcome message is sometimes aligned above, or in a column beside, the forum listing on the index page. Also, there are administrators who have used the description area of the first forum of the forum listing of their index page to create the welcome message when limitations by their host or software have prevented them from creating a separate notice.

    Why should I care?

    If you are reading this, you are likely already an administrator of a forum, or are interested in becoming one, and want to find out how to increase registrations. Similarly, if a guest is already reading your welcome message, he probably already has an at least cursory interest in your forum. That said, the welcome message has the potential for great value, as it allows your guests, within a few seconds after arrival, to be presented with everything he should know about your forum in a single area of a single page (more on that below).

    Of course, there are forums out there that already get a steady stream of new members from an attached website, but you may find that the attached website already has a welcome message of its own, and so the forum needn't perform the duty of informing the guest of its purpose. For the sake of this article, anyway, my concern lies with stand-alone forums, or forums without an attached website. The stand-alone forum, then, must either make up for the lack of attached website by adding a portal, or by finding ways to highlight content on the index page. When only the latter option is chosen, you may find the index page populated with a sidebar and notices, or links to content or services the administrator wishes to highlight.

    What information should I include in the guest welcome message?

    Before getting into what should be in a welcome message, let us examine the following one provided by default for vBulletin:

    Although "dry," this welcome message is professional (e.g., it avoids the common mistake of pleading) and direct (e.g., it avoids making unsupported declarations that tell the guest nothing, such as "this is an awesome forum"). Even so, it is clearly meant to generalize for all vBulletin forums, and says nothing about what your community is and has to offer (the most important point of a welcome message). Also, a lot more useful information can be stuffed into a welcome message much smaller than the one above.

    In an article on Squidoo titled "Make Them Stay Longer & Return Frequently," it was stated that you should "[w]rite an engaging introduction" and "[m]ake your content into a story format." To start, then, you can welcome the guest, briefly describe what your forum is about, and then mention why you created your forum. For example, take a look at the following excerpt from the welcome message of this forum:

    Similarly, here is the welcome message for The Admin Zone:

    For the second welcome message quoted, less about the community in question is mentioned, but a brief mention of the forum's purpose, and at least one major reason to join, is included. Also, that community has a portal page, which includes the following, much more descriptive welcome message:

    As you can see, this one isn't much longer than the portion of the welcome message to TIP quoted above, but it is more informative and includes three things I suggested adding (i.e., a welcome, a brief description of the forum, and an explanation for why the forum was started).

    Moving on, you can also make the guest aware of topics about your forum. That in mind, here is another excerpt from the welcome message for TIP:

    In this case, three topics were linked to, the first of which (i.e., the "Guide") is a customized FAQ that includes a lot of information about the community, and about special features found at the forum. The other two topics, on the other hand, are both historical accounts of the forum, though one of the two is more fanciful or comedic.

    As for what other topics you may link to, here are two more examples: the rules and staff list. At any rate, these are but examples, and you can certainly come up with your own topics to point out to your guests, even if one or more of them are already listed elsewhere in the forum, such as the menu.

    In addition to what's been suggested above, you may go so far as to create a bulleted list of what your forum has to offer. For example, you may mention the following: a gallery, directory, photo album, classifieds, and chat. If you go this route, though, it would be more beneficial to make sure your examples are unique to your forum.

    How can I encourage my guests to read the guest welcome message?

    First, there is the obvious issue of placement. Fortunately, most welcome messages are, as I said, placed above (or beside) the forum listing on the index page. However, there is still the danger of the welcome message being undermined by having several other features above it, such as a shoutbox, or a listing of the latest album pictures. If you must populate your index page with so many features, try to keep the welcome message prominent and high enough so that it is one of the first things a guest sees after the banner.

    Contrarily, you should avoid making your welcome message too lengthy, and cut down on vertical space; i.e., make it as concise as reasonably possible. After all, as I've shown above, forums can be summed up in about one or two short paragraphs, and maybe a short, bulleted list. Along those lines, watch out for wordiness and repetition; aim to cut down your message to the bare essentials. By cutting down, though, you need not be overly formal, and you need not sacrifice narrative.

    Remember that article on Squidoo mentioned earlier? Another related article from that website is titled "Understanding How Visitors Read Online." That article, furthermore, starts by pointing out that visitors scan rather than read, and then links to a 1997 study by web usability consultant Jakob Nielsen titled "How Users Read on the Web."

    What is most important about this study, as it pertains to this article, is the accompanying "heat map," which shows the areas visitors look at with the greatest frequency (red means most). As you can see, the banner area features prominently, but then even more so the area right below the banner area, followed by the main content itself.

    In the case of the forum, the welcome message would be in one of the most heavily scanned areas, and should therefore be given much consideration by the administrator. Along those lines, I already mentioned placement, and conciseness. In regard to the latter, I must quote Mr. Nielson, who made a list of considerations to make when crafting your content, including the following: "half the word count (or less) than conventional writing".

    It should now be apparent that you have to employ a few tactics to try to get the welcome message to capture the guest's attention. Here is another point, then, that I spotted in the first Squidoo article I linked to:

    Remember that "bulleted list of what your forum has to offer" mentioned above? Well, why not highlight "gallery, directory, photo album, classifieds, and chat", as well as any other features mentioned? When coupled with the bulleted list, the additional formatting quoted above, when used appropriately, work in unison to capture and maintain the guest's attention until he is through reading it.

    What if I want a long guest welcome message?

    If you are not simply being wordy and redundant, and making use of links does not shorten the welcome message enough to allow the guest to see the forum listing without having to scroll down, you will just have to use your judgment to weigh cost and benefit. In other words, if you feel that your lengthy welcome message is helpful enough that added scrolling is worth it, so be it.

    I have ideas, nevertheless, that may prevent some of you from choosing to display such a long welcome message on the index page:
    1. Add your lengthiest version of the welcome message to your portal, and add a more concise one to your index page. If you remember, I gave The Admin Zone's two welcome messages as an example of a forum using this idea.
    2. Add the most important details to your welcome message on your index page, and then add the click-able text "Read the rest..." at the end, which will direct the guest to a page containing the full version of the welcome message, including the less important details.

    In Summary
    1. The welcome message is a notice placed near the top of the forum that tells the guest what it is about and why he should join.
    2. There are numerous ways to customize the welcome message. A particularly noteworthy idea used by several administrators was to convert the description area of a forum into the welcome message.
    3. The welcome message is being read because the guest likely already has at least a cursory interest in the forum. Also, since so much information can be presented to the guest in a single area, the welcome message can serve a most valuable purpose.
    4. The first part of your welcome message should be a welcome followed by a short description of the forum's purpose, and an explanation of why it was made.
    5. Include links to topics about your forum, such as a customized FAQ, history page, rules, and staff list.
    6. A list of features your forum has may be useful, too.
    7. Give the welcome message good placement, by concise with it, and highlight key words and phrases.
    8. There are other places to display a longer version of your welcome message, if need be.

    Conclusion

    The welcome message can be valuable, but it's not essential; there are other ways to fulfill the role of quickly informing and winning over the guest. For example, I'm aware of at least one forum that has a most prominent link on its menu of an "About Us" page that also includes, in the drop-down, links to several more pages, such as Privacy Policy and Contact Us. Additionally, the "About Us" page is shown in several more areas, such as in the footer. That said, the guest would not have a hard time finding what he needs to know about the forum all in one spot, just as the welcome message would do; the only difference is in one click to see it.

    Finally, you can certainly get much more creative with your welcome message than indicated above. For example, I know that some administrators have added a fancy and click-able "Join now!" image, which has been neatly aligned to the left of the welcome message in the same column.

    Whatever you do, just remember that the welcome message should suit the guest, and to do that it must tell him what he wants to know: the mere facts of what you have to offer, rather than a propagandized version filled with vague and unjustified claims.
    1 person likes this.
  2. Dracvs Resident Lightbearer

    more often than not, Welcome Messages are just

    "Hello, Register and please don't leave! Pay no heed to the trolls!"

    THe infinity Program is a very special place, I wonder if we could write a story like an introductory intro to a game


    "And at the beginning, god created the world, and most people thought it as a bad move" - The Hitchckikers Guide to the Galaxy
  3. saturnword The Enigma

    Well, that's the main idea behind the "History of the Universe" thread which is mentioned in the introduction thread.
  4. Dracvs Resident Lightbearer

    But the story of the universe, is the story of the forum, not the welcoming message. We could distill it into a prose that contains bits of it, but the main purpose of a welcome message is not to tell you how awesome we are and how we are the best.

    it's about why you should stay (regardless of the Kilos of Amazing from the members) and it's not the same in the perception of a human:

    how amazing we are: "We created the best discussion forum ever with tens of the best net discussers with coherent answers and not trolls!"

    Why you should stay: "This is an open forum for debate where You, The User, The New Comer, The neophyte, can engage into the amazing (see how amazing) and joyful discussion at your heart content, find new minds, open minds, closed minds, create or win arguments all in one single place. no topic is off limit and everything is permitted, within the boundaries of respect, permitted as a topic!

    We proud ourselves into being the only website with no banned people. They come and go as they see fit
    "

    See, the focus in the first paragraph it's an egocentric view of our hedonists and eccentric and maybe narcissistic ways. While the second is inviting you to join the discussion and add your own input and become part of it. The story of the universe is a bit of the first. : D jaja that's why it is so great
  5. saturnword The Enigma

    The story of the Universe is referred to in the welcome message. I think that the welcome message for the forum as of now is fine as is.
  6. Medora The New Architect

    I like the idea of adding a little narrative or storytelling to the welcome message, but I would have to be careful to avoid "marketese," which web usability consultant Jacob Nielsen described as "the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ('hottest ever') that currently is prevalent on the Web." Mr. Nielsen continues:

    Yeah, I know there's a difference between getting creative with the forum history, and making big bold claims about what the forum has to offer. That said, I think the last two sentences I quoted are more pertinent in expressing my concern, which is that I only have a few seconds to get the attention of the guest, and I want to spend it giving him the plain facts right away. Part of that is quickly getting over talking about the purpose of the forum and my reasons for running it so that I may have him clicking relevant topics in no time to get the long version.

    That said, I was thinking even more about my welcome message after reading a few articles by Mr. Nielsen, and that lead to me changing the first half of my welcome message to this:

    What do you think? Even worse? Here is what I told Saint about the change:

    "I think I managed to make it sound more informative and personal without being too advertise-y about it. This is probably only because I phrased these qualities as 'goals,' rather than stating them as indisputable facts."
  7. saturnword The Enigma

    It's pretty straight-forward and honest. It's good for this forum.
  8. Medora The New Architect

    I have edited the guest welcome message again. The change, in this case, is a new sentence (the last one):

    I left out the second part of the guest welcome message, but I will quote it this time since I added another sentence (the one mentioning "The Infinity Encyclopedia":

    What do you guys think? Have I made it too long, or perhaps something else is wrong with it?
  9. saturnword The Enigma

    Nothing's wrong with it. I like it and the addition about the post bots was good since it's a trend now.
  10. Medora The New Architect

    Yeah, when I hang out at promotion forums, it is as if mine is the only forum without post-exchanges. Also, I have received several requests by people to do post-exchanges for them, and they simply assume that it is something I do because, well, I manage a forum.
  11. saturnword The Enigma

    Did they offer to pay you? That kind of desperate need for posting mindless content is amazing to me.
  12. Medora The New Architect

    One simply offered a free exchange (i.e., I post at his forum, and he posts at mine), while another offered me the lead position on the post-exchange staff for his new promotion forum. In each case, they actually came to me because of the quality of my posts.
  13. saturnword The Enigma

    Ugh. I just don't understand it..

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