Having a community that is mobile ready has never been more essential. Sure you can have a mobile app, but when it comes to discovery and content consumption, a growing amount of time spent online is happening in the mobile browser. According to Flurry, in Q3 2014, Americans spent more time using their mobile devices than they did looking at television screens.
Changes Made by Google
As mobile consumption grows, Google is also changing how it deals with websites in it’s search results. Starting at the end of 2014, Google announced a new Mobile-Friendly tag that would accompany websites in their mobile search results. This was to help users find mobile ready websites.
Google also warned at the time that they were "experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal". It appears that now they have rolled this out. For those websites that do not address Google's mobile-friendly requirements, Google Webmaster Tools will now warn websites with a notification: "(The following) ...pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”
Mobile Apps Do Not Solve The Issue
The message is simple: community forums that do not address their mobile web shortcomings will rank lower for mobile users. This means even if you use an app for your community, such as Tapatalk, you are not spared. Using a mobile app Will not fix your underlying mobile web issues, as Google will be looking at your native website. Ignoring this issue could mean you reduce the new members who can discover your community in Google’s search engine from their mobile.
Steps You Can Take
If you are using a mobile ready community platform (like Vanilla Forums) you should be all set. If you are not sure if you are using a mobile friendly community platform, Google has released a tool where you can test things out for yourself
If your platform is letting you down on mobile performance, you need to re-evaluate your options. How important is your mobile audience? Ignoring the growth of mobile usage could result in severe consequences, including less traffic and less revenue. If you care about the fastest growing source of online traffic, it's time to switch vendors.
#Update February 27th 2015#
From Google's Webmaster blog: "Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results."