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.