When you start with your free forum software, you already have to keep in mind that you could move to Vbulletin, Xenforo someday.
Be prepared with redirections:
All your old pages will require pointing to new pages URLs in the new forum software. This will require redirection directives. It is easy because there are plenty of tutorials to add the right directives in HTACCESS to automatically redirect the URL of your old forums and threads to the new ones.Here is an example of a tutorial from phpBB 3 to Woltlab forum.
However, you can face a major problem. That’s when a webmaster has decided to install an SEO friendly plugin on phpBB, myBB or SMF. In this case, I haven’t found any resources about redirections. On the other hand, if you decide not to install an SEO friendly plugin, I think that your forum threads will not rank as well as if they had SEO friendly URLs.
In this case, you will have to have many directives in the htaccess file that map the old URLs to the new ones like:
redirect 301 /thread-old-forum-system-title http://example.com/newforum/new-thread-title
It is going to be really difficult. It is feasible but the mapping may not always work. It is possible to find a SEO software and mass extract the urls, then import it into excel and then add redirect 301 to it. Then, it is possible to paste the new URls however, it is going to be a very hard job. I have found that many webmasters just sacrificed the link juice they received. They just moved to a paid forum software, the URLs were different and the old URLs were dead. This leads to a big loss of pagerank & Google juice.
That’s why the best solution would be to avoid installing a SEO friendly plugin.
Be prepared for exporting your old forum:
In the paid forum softwares, you can find import modules that allow you to import forums. This module usually import all the members, the categories, the forums, the threads into the new forum software.
There are also websites like cms2cms that provide an automated forum transfer for you.
This issues explain why it is better to start with a paid forum software rather than a free forum software. Don’t forget that all the paid forum softwares come with all the features by default. For instance, the SEO friendly URLs is a default feature of Vbulletin, Woltlab, Xenforo.
- Install phpBB, SMF or myBB. Don’t install SEO friendly plugins. and check if you will able to import it into a paid forum software like XenForo, Vbulletin or Woltlab. Once you know, be ready
- Create a second directory and upload the paid forum software to it.
- Import the content of your old forum to the new forum using the importer provided by the paid forum software.
- Create a redirection from the old page URLs of the old forums to the new page URLs of the new forums.
- Delete the content from the old forums but keep the htaccess config file in place.