I'm highlighting an article that was published five years ago. The dotcom era taught us a few lesson about hiring and the Web 2.0 boom continues to challenge us on building web teams. The talent question is still relevant, "Can you be successful with fewer people?"
Webmaster might be a better term to use than "Web Designer"
In the early days of the web, "e-mail the Webmaster" was found at the bottom of most web pages. With the dotcom bust and subsequent rebuilding, "Webmaster" was traded in for more "marketing friendly" e-mail addresses like "report_a_problem" or "give us feedback." Although the actual term "Webmaster" has lost steam, the role of this "mysterious" person found at the footer of pages is more important than ever.
Times Have Changed
To be honest, I never really understood what the word Webmaster really meant. I thought it was some nerdy, research-oriented, technical guy that ran websites out of his basement. It reminded me of a plumber or an electrician, 'the type of guy you never really think of talking to until you have a problem. The Webmaster was a technical fix-it guy.
Long ago in Internet time- yeah, a whole ten years ago- most websites were one-man operations. These were research- or hobby-oriented sites that had a single person doing the writing, programming and visual design (ok, design is subjective here). When a new breed of "dotcom" websites filled with marketing hyperbola began cluttering the web, the task of Webmaster was divided into many roles. HTML was pushed to its limits with code that stretched miles. Design was no longer just an animated rainbow GIF- it was an interactive multimedia experience. Writing was no longer about copying text from Microsoft Word- it required rewriting and repositioning text to be more web-friendly. In less than five years, the role of Webmaster turned into a dozen full-time positions.
We've Come Full Circle
Many "dotcoms" quickly learned that their websites, run by a staff of 30, were only generating income capable of paying the salaries of a small portion of those staffers. While there is a need for some specialized roles, today's economy demands efficiency and the ability to perform within tight budgets. There's no room for the luxury of a full-time copywriter, or for that matter, a full-time designer. So what is a company to do?
In my capacity as a brand engineer, I've had the opportunity to interact with more than thirty start-ups or small businesses. Over time, I've realized that most companies don't need a huge team of people to run their website. Ninety percent of businesses in the United States are small businesses, which means the majority of companies are unable to hire tons of people with specialized skills. In fact, they might be able to hire only one person. Who do they call? Yep, a Web Designer.
How Many Roles Does A Web Designer Need To Play?
Whether you work for a nonprofit organization, are a freelancer or work at a small- or medium-sized company, chances are your website requires you to wear five different hats:
- Business Strategist
- Marketing Maven
- Code Monkey
- Content Developer
- Graphic Designer
Although a small business might believe they need a Web designer, what they truly need is a Webmaster. If you've never really thought of yourself as a guru in any one of the five positions, not to worry; 90 percent of companies need someone who is pretty good at all of the tasks, rather than someone who is excellent in only one or two of the roles. Let's examine each of the hats you must wear in order to help a company create a successful website.
Business Strategist: Start With A Plan.
It's impossible for a website to meet or exceed its goals if it doesn't align with the business's goals. I call this clarification- without it you probably won't get any results with the website. Work with your client or your boss to gain a solid understanding of the company's history, vision and short- and long-term goals. Ask questions. Offer suggestions on how the Web can help a company meet their goals, or on how goals can be modified to take advantage of technological opportunities. This is give and take. Be a driver. Introduce ideas that can help the business grow and evolve through the website and technology.
Marketing Maven: Sell It To Your Audiences
A decent website has all of the relevant information background information on the company, information on the products or services they offer, relevant contact info, etc. A superb website meets both business and marketing goals and fashions the information in a way that appeals to, and speaks to its audiences. It's not enough just to have the information online like brick and mortar businesses, the companies that advertise, have an attractive and inviting look and feel, and actively market to customers are the ones that will be more successful. Whether it's making it easy for potential customers to find you through savvy search engine positioning or communicating with potential or current clients through an online newsletter, don't forget your marketing hat or your customers will forget you.
Code Monkey - It's Gotta Work
This hearkens back to my earlier vision of a Webmaster; someone sitting in that dank corner office typing weird symbols and adjusting cell spacing; but it is still important. It is a necessity that your site is technically sound, making sure there are no broken links or images, and multi-browser functionality. As you're wearing all of your other hats, don't forget to do periodic checks and tests of the pages in different environments to make sure you're getting your message across in the way you intended. My motto here is keep it simple'. Remember when things go wrong that you're the one responsible for fixing the problems while juggling the other four roles.
Content Developer - Words Matter
Certainly, an attractive website is important. Make sure, however, that your online home has words and messages that are meaningful, relevant, up-to-date and consistent. All this while still incorporating keywords and content that drive search traffic. How many times have you visited a website and read through its pages only to disgustedly realize that it hadn't been updated since 1999? And how many times have you looked at a website rife with grammatical errors, typos and confusing information? How many times did you return to either of those websites? In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare writes, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. " Make sure that your website's sound and fury signifies your company's messages.
Graphic Designer: Yes, It Has To Be Pretty
The Internet was developed initially for use by government agencies and institutions of higher learning not exactly the sorts of entities that bring thoughts of unbridled creativity to mind. Visual design, brand awareness and marketing savvy weren't exactly high priorities. Since the Internet has evolved, however, designers are pushing the boundaries of what the web can do. An attractive website that maintains consistency with offline marketing elements and images is imperative. Empty visuals that promote unattainable promises will hurt your marketing efforts. Instead focus on creating a simple visual message that can be carried over into other mediums. This not only makes your life as Code Monkey easier, it gets you kudos as a Marketing Maven. Create a visually compelling online home that maintains key branding elements from your offline campaigns. The synergies created will produce results that both your company and customers will appreciate.