Buying a paid internet forum software or getting a free internet forum?

We have extensively tested phpbb, myBB and SMF. We faced many issues that are not

Some default themes of free forum platforms are not responsive:

We found that the myBB and SMF default themes were no responsive so that it was even not an option to start with a default theme of myBB or SMF.

Many broken themes of free internet forum softwares:

We bought myBB and SMF themes. We faced many issues with free and paid themes. Sometimes some links of buttons (login, search) were missing. Sometimes, the responsive theme looked messy. Sometimes, the toolbar of post editing was missing.

We also bought phpBB themes from themeforest. One was called bulletin. We had to use display: none to hide a big content. We don’t like to use display:none for SEO reasons. Then, we wanted to change the colors of the themes and we added it to the custom.css file. After purging the cache and adding !important it still didn’t work. That’s the type of issue you never face with paid forum softwares.

Bad themes of free forum platforms for SEO and readability:

We saw that plenty of themes from free internet forum softwares that were not designed with SEO and readability in mind. For instance, there are plenty of SMF themes and phpBB themes with a header that is around 300px. It is just too much. On the other hand, when you look at Vbulletin, Xenforo, woltlab forums you can see that valuable information is displayed right from the top.

Upgrades from free forum softwares are dangerous:

Due to how the theme’s files are integrated into the internet forum softwares and since plugins are necessary to get important features, updates can break phpBB, myBB, SMF installations. Themes and plugins may not be compatible after an upgrade. We witnessed this issue with myBB themes. We also witnessed this issue with phpBB and myBB plugins.

Missing features and mandatory plugin installations:

We found no free internet softwares with SEO friendly URLs. This always required the installation of a plugin to get the title of a thread as keywords in the URL.  Additionally, many plugins aren’t maintained by developers. It means many of phpBB, myBB, SMF plugins don’t work.

Also, things that seem obvious on every single forum isn’t already provided by a free internet forum installation. It is the case for the User karma system (also called reputation system) that is no embedded in the phpBB default installation. The nofollow features aren’t installed by default on phpBB, myBB or SMF.  In other words, when you install phpBB or SMF, all the URL in the posts are dofollow. This will attracts spammers.

Paid forum softwares are ready out of the box:

I have found that Xenforo, Woltlab, and Vbulletin were ready to be used out of the box without looking for a responsive reliable theme, modifying CSS, adding plugins, changing colors. This tremendously speeds up your forum installation project because you don’t need to spend hours to look for plugins, installation of plugins, coding.

Think about the future migration

I have noticed that many internet forum webmasters moved their forums to XenForo. There is an import module in XenForo. However, URL redirection needs to be in place and it looks like it is still complicated today. To write this article I have browsed the internet and looked at the forum softwares of major forum websites and I have discovered that most of them use Vbulletin. Then, I think the most common free forum installation is phpBB but I also noticed that nobody install the mod to turn the phpBB urls into SEO friendly URLs.

Free internet forum softwares vs paid forum softwares

The free forum platforms like phpbb, mybb, smf aren’t as reliable as Xenforo, Vbulletin among others.

Free forum softwares and the many theme issues

I have downloaded SMF, MyBB and phpBB. For sure, the default themes don’t look appealing. So, I have decided to look for themes. First of all, I have discovered that many themes were not compatible with my version of SMF and myBB. Then, I have discovered that many themes were incomplete. I have witnessed issues with phpBB, myBB and SMF themes such as links that didn’t work, text fields that opened partially, toolbars of edit page that didn’t show.

I have bought a theme called flatOne for myBB and I discovered that the login link and the search link didn’t work. However, it was a premium theme and I paid $30 for it. Then, I have discovered it was very difficult to modify a theme in myBB. I wanted to buy a theme to use it on several websites. I have bought several premium themes for myBB and none of theme suited my needs.

VIenna myBB paid theme: Broken link behind avatar, missing toolbar, text field is half of the screen.

On the other hand, the themes of Vbulletin and Xenforo look professional and they are reliable out of the box. Nothing is broken.

On one forum, I have discovered that theme authors didn’t use to maintain their themes. I have found a thread of someone complaining that a  theme footer was broken since several years!

At the end, the amount of money that I have to spend in buying premium themes for free internet

Free themes from free forum softwares aren’t responsive

I have found that the default themes of myBB and SMF were not responsive. Then, I have discovered that many free themes that were advertised as being “responsive” were barely responsive as they looked messy when I visited the forum from a mobile phone. Items were not aligned. Titles were not at the right location. By the way, if you test a forum, don’t use a mobile phone simulation, use a smartphone to see how it looks like.

By the way, if you test a forum, don’t use a mobile phone simulation, use a smartphone to see how it looks like.

On the other hand, all the paid internet forum softwares are perfectly displayed on mobile phones and tablets.

Free Internet forum softwares and SEO:

On the developers’ forums from SMF, myBB and phpBB no one is interested in implementing friendly URLs into their internet forum software. So, they want to keep URLs looking like:  /viewforum.php?f=2&sid=6793ae5b47125325d08772c73d628200 which is a URL from phpBB 3.21

If you want a friendly URL for your free internet forum you have to download a plugin.

On the other hand, friendly URLs are default features of Xenforo, Vbulletin, and other paid internet forums.


If you can afford it, It is advised to buy a serious forum platform like Xenforo, Vbulletin because you will save time building up your forum and its template. Also, you will get a reliable solution and you will not need to install any plugins.

If you opt for free internet forum platforms, I would suggest sticking to the default theme and develop your own theme if your community gets bigger.