Best WordPress Forum Plugin: Simple:Press vs. wpForo vs Asgaros Forum
The following article was commissioned by us to compare Simple:Press to two other forum plugins available on WordPress.org. Other than providing access to a demo site for Simple:Press and editing for grammar, we had no substantial input into the review you’re about to read below. The author’s bio (Colin Newcomber) and contact information appears at the end of the article.
Looking for the best WordPress forum plugin to create a discussion board on your site? Good news then – you’ve stumbled onto the right webpage!
In this post, we’ll compare three of the most popular options – Simple:Press vs wpForo vs Asgaros Forum. (Notably absent from this comparison is bbPress since there are tons of other articles about it already.)
This comparison will run much deeper than your average 300-500 word comparison article. Instead, we’re trying to get beyond the marketing copy and into the features that will really help you to build a successful forum and community.
As such, we installed each plugin on a test site and went hands-on – expect lots of screenshots and discussion of nitty-gritty features over the 3,000+ words in this comparison.
Here are the different areas that we’ll be comparing for each forum plugin:
- Basic functionality
- Design and style options
- Community building features
- SEO functionality
- Administration/moderation features
- Other features (i.e. features that don’t necessarily fit into the categories above)
There’s a lot of ground to cover so we should probably dive in right away. But before we do we should mention that the comparison was done with all the premium features of all the plugins enabled. So many of the features discussed below might require you to make a purchase on the respective developer’s site.
Ok, all that said, onwards now….!
Simple:Press vs wpForo vs Asgaros Forum: The Introductions
Before we dig deeper into comparing functionality, let’s quickly introduce each plugin just in case you’re not familiar them.
Simple:Press is a longstanding WordPress forum plugin that’s been around since 2006. It has over 70+ add-ons to let you customize your forum with a modular approach, and it also recently launched a free core version at WordPress.org.
wpForo is a popular forum plugin at WordPress.org. In terms of out-of-the-box styling, it has a lot of similarities to Asgaros Forum. While the core plugin is free, you can extend it with several paid add-ons.
Asgaros Forum is a 100% free forum plugin that’s available at WordPress.org. It’s popular and well-rated. However, because there are no premium extensions, its feature list isn’t quite as long. Asgaros Forum is a good free option for simple uses, but it definitely lags behind the other two plugins when it comes to depth of functionality.
Comparing Basic Forum Functionality
In this first section, we’ll compare basic forum functionality, like whether or not you can create private forums and how nested forums work.
Simple:Press lets you create unlimited forums.
To organize those forums, you can create separate forum groups, and you can also nest child forums inside of other forums:
You can upload your own custom icons for each forum and add featured images.
Beyond that, you can also control access to forums by creating permission sets. Essentially, for each forum, you can create special permission rules for different user groups.
For example, you could say that paying customers have full access to a forum, while free members can only read forum topics (but not reply or create new topics).
Or, you could completely block access to certain user groups – the choice is yours:
The combination of permission sets and user groups provide what is probably the most flexible (and powerful) permissions system available in a forum plugin.
When users are not allowed to view a forum in its entirety, you can specify a re-direct page – which is a great way to redirect to a subscription or shop page to entice users to pay for your premium content.
wpForo offers the same basic approach of nesting forums inside forum categories. Like Simple:Press, you can also create sub-forums inside forums.
For each forum, you can choose a forum icon from Font Awesome, though you cannot upload your own custom icons.
You also get a good number of permission management options, with a drop-down of available permissions for various user roles:
Asgaros Forum also lets you create unlimited forums and organize them into different groups with categories. You can also create sub-forums inside of other forums.
To customize a forum’s icon, you can choose from the included Dashicons, but you cannot upload your own icons.
To restrict access to your forums, you can:
- Restrict access to a category by user group
- Close a specific forum
- Require approval to join a specific forum
However, there are no options to get into the more granular options, like leaving a forum open but only giving read-only access to certain users.
Comparing Style And Customization Options
In this section, we’ll compare how each plugin lets you customize the style and looks of your forum.
To help you control how your forum looks, Simple:Press comes with 14 pre-made style themes that you can choose from to quickly switch up your forum’s design. [SP Editor – its actually 5 themes with child themes and other options making up the 14 themes that are visible on the themes page.]
One unique thing is that you can opt to use a different theme for mobile users, which is important given how much of the web has already shifted to mobile.
Once you choose a theme, Simple:Press includes a theme file editor and a spot to add your own custom CSS:
Unlike Simple:Press, wpForo has a single overall theme. So if you don’t like its basic styling, that might be an issue.
However, you do have full control over the colors for that theme, and the theme also includes three separate layouts for you to choose from.
Beyond that, you can easily switch up colors through the human-friendly interface, and wpForo also makes it easy to add your own custom CSS:
Like wpForo, Asgaros Forum only has a single “theme”, so if you don’t like how it looks, you might be in trouble.
To customize this base theme, you get a dedicated Appearance area where you can configure:
And you can also easily add your own custom CSS:
Comparing Community Features
A forum is an online community. And if you want it to flourish, you need ways to build that sense of community. In this section, we’ll compare how each plugin does that with features like:
- Private messaging
- @ mentions (e.g. tag a member in a forum reply)
- Who’s online functionality to show activity
- Forum ranks and reputation
Simple:Press includes an array of community-oriented features.
First, it includes a private messaging system where users can communicate with each other and the moderators via private message.
Beyond that, there’s also a mentions feature that lets users publicly tag other users in posts.
You also have the option of including a nice footer summary that has:
- Online members
- New members
Each user gets their own dedicated profile page, where they can upload pictures and add a signature. And admins can add more fields to the user profiles to collect additional information.
If you want to give the community more control over which topics get featured, you can let users vote on the best answer/reply to a topic (kind of like Reddit).
You can also create your own custom reputation system to reward loyal members. For example, you can give reputation points for X days registered, X posts, etc:
You can also customize all the different reputation levels and upload custom badges, which lets you get creative with your community building. There’s also a myCRED integration if you want to go even further with your reputation system.
If you want more of a social network feel, you can also integrate Simple:Press with BuddyPress to add functionality like an activity stream, forum notifications via the BuddyPress notification system, more detailed profiles, etc.
Finally, your users also get a few different ways to subscribe to new content. They can subscribe to:
- Specific posts/topics
- Entire forums or user groups
- Keywords (e.g. get a notification whenever a specific keyword is used in a topic)
When a subscription is triggered, users can be notified via email or when they log back into the forum or both.
In the free version, wpForo gives you a similar member reputation system that lets you define your own member reputation levels:
One difference here, though, is that your reputation levels are only based on a user’s number of posts – there’s no way to factor in how long a user has been registered as you can with Simple:Press.
If you want to go even further with your reputation levels, you can grab the premium myCRED integration which lets you get a lot more creative with your community building. For example, you can give people points if their replies get upvoted (or for voting in the first place).
You can then display myCRED badges and ranks underneath a user’s profile.
Speaking of user profiles, each user gets their own profile page where they can control:
- Their avatar
- An about description
- Their forum signature
- Associated social network accounts
And with the premium Private Messages add-on, you can also let users send private messages, including an option to start multi-member group chats.
Asgaros Forum is a little more limited when it comes to community-building features.
First off, there’s no support for private messages, nor is there any type of custom reputation system.
Pretty much all you get is user profiles and signatures. Additionally, there’s a public activity feed that can help with building community.
Comparing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Functionality
If you’re creating a public forum, all that user-generated content gives you a great chance to rank your forum for a variety of search terms. However, in order to do that, you’ll need a forum plugin that can help you implement search engine optimization best practices.
Here’s how each of these plugins handles SEO…
Simple:Press includes features to help you with both basic and advanced SEO principles.
First off, Simple:Press offers pretty permalinks that can include keywords in the URL, as well as canonical URLs.
To help Google index your forum content, Simple:Press’ Google XMP Sitemap Integration can connect your forum content to popular SEO plugins including:
- Google XMP Sitemaps
- Yoast SEO
- All in One SEO Pack
This lets you submit a sitemap of all your forum content to Google and other search engines.
Beyond that, Simple:Press also helps you set up important SEO metadata. You can add:
- Custom SEO titles
- Custom meta descriptions
- Social media open graph tags
- SEO meta keywords (by automatically applying post tags as keywords)
Here’s a look at the dedicated SEO settings area:
You can also configure SEO slugs when you edit or create a new forum:
To create a stronger internal linking structure, Simple:Press also lets you automatically convert keywords in posts into links (you could also use this feature to add your own affiliate links or other external links – it’s not limited to internal links).
wpForo gives you a few different ways to control SEO.
First, like Simple:Press, it lets you use SEO-friendly pretty permalinks. Beyond that, you can also control the base slug for important parts of your forum, like tags and user profiles:
wpForo also includes some features to help you add meta titles and descriptions, which are pulled from your forum’s name and description.
In a recent version, wpForo also added sitemap support. It creates its own sitemap under your forum slug (e.g. yoursite.com/forum/sitemap.xml). You can then submit this sitemap to Google to help with indexing.
Finally, like Simple:Press, wpForo also adds Open Graph tags for social media.
In terms of built-in SEO functionality, Asgaros Forum lags behind both Simple:Press and wpForo.
Asgaros Forum includes a feature that enables SEO-friendly pretty URLs, but that’s the only dedicated SEO feature:
Asgaros Forum will also use your forum name as the SEO title, which gives you at least some control over the information there.
Comparing Admin Management Features
Moderating topics and replies, dealing with spam, replying to topics…managing a forum requires a lot of work. With the right forum plugin, though, you can try to streamline that work as much as possible.
In this section, we’ll compare how each plugin helps you manage your forum when it comes to things like spam management, moderation, etc.
Simple:Press includes a number of tools to help you more effectively manage your forum.
Let’s start with moderation and anti-spam features.
First off, Simple:Press includes a CAPTCHA integration to help you cut down on spam posts. There’s also a Remove Spam Registrations add-on that lets you periodically clear out spam users to slim down your database.
To help you keep track of new content, you can opt to receive notifications for new topics/posts via email or in-forum notifications.
And to help you avoid having to manually moderate everything, you can add a profanity filter (you can add your own custom word list here – so you can block other types of words, too):
Another way to limit bad actions by users is Simple:Press’ Warnings system. With this, you can warn users when they do something bad, escalating up to suspensions and even outright bans:
You can also ban users by IP, hostname, IP range, or user agent.
Simple:Press also includes a front-end “Report to Admin” feature that lets forum users flag posts for moderation.
To get notifications when this happens, you can set up custom HTML notification emails. Or, you can also get Slack notifications for important events, like new posts or new user notifications.
Speaking of important events, you can also view an Event Logger to keep track of everything that’s happening on your site, like when a post has been edited.
Finally, if you want to boost engagement, or are running a support forum, the Unanswered Topics add-on gives you a dedicated view that lists only topics that don’t have a reply yet.
This helps you build an engaged community by making sure you interact with all topics.
wpForo also includes some helpful automated features to help you administrate your forum.
First off, it also has a Google reCAPTCHA function. You can also choose where to use the CAPTCHA functionality. For example, you could add it to the registration page, but not the login page:
To prevent spam posts, you can integrate wpForo with the Akismet plugin to automatically filter spam posts. And you can also use the built-in spam control features, including an option to automatically ban a user when spam is suspected.
Another helpful feature is the ability to limit permissions for newly-registered users. For example, you can only let people include links after they have X number of posts:
You can also ban users from the Members list, though there’s no way to ban by IP address so the user could technically just create another account to get around the ban:
Finally, wpForo also includes a feature that lets regular users report posts for moderation. You can also opt to receive email notifications whenever a user reports a post, as well as notifications for:
- New posts
- New user registrations
Again, Asgaros Forum lags behind the others when it comes to admin features.
The only built-in feature is a front-end report option that lets users flag posts for moderation. You can then view these posts from a dedicated Reports tab in the WordPress dashboard:
You’ll also get a notification when there’s a new report (though you can turn this feature off if desired).
If you want more functionality, you can install a separate Google reCAPTCHA plugin. And there are also some code workarounds to create a profanity filter or block other key phrases.
However, in general, Asgaros Forum is definitely more limited than Simple:Press and wpForo when it comes to helpful administration functionality.
Other Relevant Features
Beyond the broad categories above, each forum plugin includes some other features that might help you create a better discussion board.
In this section, we’ll summarize the features that fall outside of the neat categories above.
Simple:Press includes a number of smaller features to help you create a better forum. Simple:Press includes more than 60 add-ons so we can only include a few highlights here. (In other words, there’s a good chance that if you need a feature they already have it even if we haven’t covered it in this article).
First, there’s the Announcements add-on. This lets you create an eye-catching notification bar on top of your forum that you can use to announce news or promote something:
It also includes some detailed search options, including an option to search for only those posts created by a specific user.
If you want to create a discussion topic for your blog posts, Simple:Press includes a Blog Post Linking add-on that lets you automatically turn blog posts into forum topics and blog comments into forum replies.
You can also run polls and surveys with the Polls and Surveys add-on, including options to restrict who can vote and how often users can vote:
Like Simple:Press, wpForo also includes an add-on that lets you run surveys and polls in your forum.
There’s also another add-on that enables the same “Forum – Blog” cross-posting functionality. That is, you can automatically turn a blog post into a forum topic and add blog comments as forum replies.
Finally, if you want to include ads in your forum, the Ads Manager add-on lets you easily insert ads into your forum in a few different locations. You can also limit advertising to specific forums and rotate advertisements, including an option to limit advertisements to specific date ranges:
Asgaros Forum also includes a dedicated advertising feature that lets you add HTML ads at certain locations, though it’s not as detailed as wpForo’s ad feature:
Then, you can also limit the ad frequency for those various locations:
Finally, there’s the last big question – how much will all the features that you saw above cost you? Let’s compare Simple:Press vs wpForo vs Asgaros Forum when it comes to the price tag…
The core Simple:Press plugin is available for free at WordPress.org.
After that, you’ll need to purchase various premium add-ons to add many of the features that you saw above.
While the add-ons can be purchased individually, they can be pricey. Instead, your best value will be from purchasing a bundle which starts at $99. (I suspect that the add-ons are deliberately priced in such a way that if you need more than two you will likely choose to spend a few extra dollars to get a bundle that includes all or most of them.)
The core wpForo plugin is also available for free at WordPress.org.
Beyond that, you can also purchase premium extensions to add support for private messages, blog cross-posting, and some other features. These add-ons range from $11 to $35 each.
This one is easy – Asgaros Forum is 100% free. This helps justify why it’s more limited than the other two plugins.
Summary: Simple:Press vs wpForo vs Asgaros Forum
To finish out this comparison, let’s recap some of the key takeaways for each forum plugin.
First off, there’s Asgaros Forum. This 100% free plugin is fine for simple uses, but it noticeably lags behind both Simple:Press and wpForo when it comes to depth of functionality. For example, there’s no private messaging, limited admin features, limited SEO features, etc.
wpForo hits a middle ground between Asgaros Forum and Simple:Press. It gives you some of those features – like private messages, a reputation system, and decent SEO options. However, its feature list is still more limited than Simple:Press.
For example, there’s no way to ban by IP address, so banned users can just keep coming back. Similarly, there’s only one theme, so you can’t customize your forum very much beyond switching up the fonts and colors (unless you want to use custom CSS).
Overall, if you want the most flexibility to control your forum, Simple:Press has the deepest feature list. The multiple forum themes let you control exactly how your forum looks. And Simple:Press gives you deeper functionality in general for each area it chooses to address. A few examples are IP bans, Slack notifications, moderation warnings, etc.
The biggest drawback with using Simple:Press is its user interface – it looks dated (which makes sense since its original development started 12 years ago.) But, as long as you can look past that, it is the most feature rich of the bunch and even its highest priced bundle is only just under $200 per site and includes their premium support options.
About The Author: Colin Newcomer
Colin Newcomer has been working with WordPress for over 12 years. Since September 2016, he’s been working full-time as a freelance writer focusing primarily on WordPress and digital marketing. He helps clients grow their web visibility by writing engaging, well-researched blog posts. You can contact Colin through his website at: https://www.cnewcomer.com/
This article was updated in July 2020 to add new images for the Simple:Press Forums Plugin since the original images were for an older version.