"Like my website? I built it myself!"

The good old days -- when a small business owner could buy a domain, upload a template, connect it to a few social profiles, and be in business. The DIY approach to crafting a web presence lowered the barriers to entry for many and helped launch a lot of great brands.

Those days are over.

Now, the internet is growing up, and consumer behaviors are changing rapidly as we adopt the new technology that makes it easier to connect. These changes are forcing marketing and web development professionals to grow up, too, including small business.

It's critical to understand just where the change is happening, and how this will impact small-medium sized business (SMB) digital strategy.

Voice search and the connected consumer

With the increasing diversity and adoption of Internet-connected and voice search-enabled devices, consumer behavior is shifting rapidly.

For example, take the eye-opening study from Walker Sands that came out this past summer. They found that 43 percent of Millennials have used voice search to make a purchase in the past year.  Not only that, 24 percent of the people they surveyed already own an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, and 20 percent more said they planned to get one within a year.

The uptake of this technology is fast and furious. Business websites need to be better prepared to deal with this.

Itai Sadan, CEO of site building platform Duda, says believes marketing and developers ignore this change at their own risk.

"If you think about the way you used the web just six or seven years ago, compared to today, you'll realize just how much has changed," Sadan explains. "Voice search is still relatively new in terms of technology, but it is causing a fundamental shift in consumer behavior. And I believe marketers and site developers aren't paying enough attention to it."

Adding voice search to your app, or mobile version of your website is an effective way to stay ahead of this trend. You can do it with HTML5 or can easily integrate voice search with a variety of WordPress plugins. 

SMB marketing strategies need to keep up.

These changes in consumer behavior are having a massive impact on SMB strategy, and where to focus.

First of all, SEO strategies need to be re-evaluated. People are searching for companies and products "near me," especially on mobile devices.  So optimizing for local SEO becomes especially critical.

"As content marketing became hot and search algorithms evolved, it seems that SEO got lazy," Sadan notes. "We heard a lot of talk that meta-tags weren't as important anymore. That's just wrong. And it's especially important in a solid local SEO strategy."

Secondly, e-commerce continues to grow, with no signs of slowing down. In fact, the National Retail Federation expects growth of eight to twelve percent this year. Millennials are especially heavy online buyers; UPS estimates they made 54 percent of their purchases online last year.

Clearly, a solid e-commerce platform is vital to SMBs. More and more consumers want to shop online, even from a local provider. So it's pretty shocking when you realize that only about 24 percent of SMB retailers sell online today.

If small businesses are going to stay relevant, they need to prepare for these quickly unfolding realities. And the marketers and web developers that serve this audience, must be prepared too.

Driving traffic in a voice search world

The website is the backbone of any brand's digital presence, even in this age of the omni-channel experience -- for one very important reason, as Sadan explains.

"While social media and third-party distribution platforms are important for exposure, your site is still the one piece of online real estate you can own," he notes. "It's the only online space you fully control and where you can truly own brand."

Part of owning that brand means building that site to take full advantage of best practices in site marketing. 

This is where small business -- and the marketers and web developers who serve them -- can gain a fairly important competitive advantage. A study by Bing and Catalyst found that just 17 percent of marketers use Schema.org markup; the ones that do will have a definite advantage in search. The ones that don't, well, this is something that will need to be addressed. 

What all this means for marketers and web developers working with SMBs

When the internet was young, a small business owner or marketing professional could learn some basic HTML and CSS and create an okay website and get online. Nowadays, the level of programming fluency needed to implement an effective digital marketing strategy is much, much higher.

Website builders and other SaaS platforms will play an increasingly important role in providing tools that people with low-to-no tech skills can use to run their businesses. Companies that focus on creating these extensible platforms, with tools and features that web professionals can cross-sell and integrate with their other services, will be the next indispensable marketing tools. Make sure to test new technologies and see which work best for your business. 

In summary: 

  1. Add voice search to your website.
  2. Optimize for local search. 
  3. Figure out your e-commerce strategy. 
  4. Use schema.org markup
  5. Test new tech. 

All of this creates an exciting environment in the digital marketing space. Over the next few years, we'll see a wellspring of powerful tech advances that will drive more effective web design and digital marketing strategies. And, of course, that's good for everybody.