For long-term success you should concentrate on obtaining a top 3 Google position for your chosen keywords. One of the better ways to do this is to place plenty of links to your site on similar sites, and if possible sites with high PageRank.
Ensure your links are structured in such a way that the anchor text represents the keyword you're competing for:
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<a href="http://www.debate-forum.com">Debate Forum</a>
As I said placing your link on similar sites (either through adding it as a signature link, or buying links
will greatly speed up the process of your site's ranking. Of course the site's content is equally, if not more important, so be sure there's plenty of content on your site when the search engines come crawling.
Finally, remember that nobody joins a dead forum. Try to get it somewhat active before advertising it to the masses and most importantly of all, remember that forums are never over night success stories. They take at least several years of hard work, commitment and patience until they reach a point you can sit back and relax.
Custom styles to set you out from the crowd work too.... *cough*