Web Designer, Web Developer or Webmaster?

A lot of people sell themselves as “web designers” or “web developers”, and a lot of organizations hire these people to take charge of their online presence. But.. a web designer or a web developer is not usually a “webmaster”.

As a freelance designer and developer, (and offsite webmaster for several sites), I read a lot of online classifed ads from people looking to hire someone to design or build a website, or update one, or manage it. I’m sure it must be confusing for many of them — especially small businesses and even for larger organizations if their isn’t someone on staff who knows enough to ask the right questions when hiring for web oriented positions.

Some people post, “Web Designer Needed“, then go on describe a job that requires a CS or BA degree and experience noting specific programming languages, protocols or database formats, specific development tools, and even requiring the candidate have experience in the employer’s line of business.

I read other posts titled; “Web Developer Wanted” which go on to say they just want someone who can create a template in Photoshop for use in a WYSIWYG “do it yourself” content management system.

Sometimes a “web designer” is just that — someone who is capable of designing the graphic look of a website and delivering a (Photshop / .PSD) image file the containing the web site’s user interface graphics. Other web designers may know HTML, CSS and other markup languages and be able to implement the [graphic] design into functional HTML pages.

Sometimes a web developer is not a designer at all — they can’t draw a straight line and don’t claim to be able to.. they know nothing of color theory or typography, but they can write code, (HTML, CSS, maybe some Javascript, Php, ASP, or PERL), and will know how to tie the code together with databases, forms and other elements of the website to implement the needed functionality.

Web-application developers may not involve themselves with the overall website look, feel, or functionality, thier task oriented and will develop “an application” — a program which accomplishes a certain aspect of the site’s functionality.

A “website manager” may have no technical skills at all — they may not be able to design in Photoshop, code a line of HTML, and wouldn’t know the difference between server side or client side scripting — but this person is a “manager” — they know how to delegate responsibility, how to communicate with a “team” and how to follow up to make sure the organization’s online objectives are met.

So, what is a webmaster?

In the true sense of the word, a webmaster is a person who has mastered the skills needed to keep an organization’s web site(s) up and running, who can make sure that designers and developers, hardware technicians and others responsible for creating content do their jobs in a manner that’s cohesive and efficient. Most webmasters wear more than one hat and fulfill some of the (above) roles. In general a webmaster is the person responsible for the organizations web presence, (internet and if applicable, intranet).

Some skills and duties of a webmaster may include:

  • registering domain names in the most effective way to fit the organization’s needs
  • setting DNS and nameserver info to properly associate the domain name(s) with the website(s)
  • setting up a web server, or administering the organization’s space on a shared server
  • setting up email server(s), FTP server(s), and other TCP/IP based servers.
  • installing and configuring any needed utilities or applications on the web server
  • using best practices to insure the organization’s web properties are secure
  • performing routine data back-ups and maintenance
  • keeping abreast of the latest web technologies, and knowing which ones will benefit the organization
  • working with outsourced providers to insure all products and services meet the organiztion’s needs.
  • making sure non-technical as well as technical members of the organization have the information they need to take advantage of the organization’s web properties
  • working with content providers to insure data is produced in a manner that is efficient for use on the web, (and if applicable, that SEO best practices are employed).
  • working with marketing staff to insure SEO, SEM or PPC campaigns target goals and maximize ROI
  • responding to any emergency, complaint or suggestion regarding the organizations web presence
  • being the “go to” person when any questions or situations regarding web, email or other IP related issues arise

In short, a web-master is the “master of the (organiation’s) web”.

I guess the point of this post is to educate those hiring someone to design, build or work on their website(s). So, here are a few suggestions for advertising for help:

1. When writing a “help wanted” classified ad, and the job description is to hire someone to work on your website(s), DON’T use buzzwords if you don’t know what they mean. Too often, I see titles like: “Wanted Web 2.0 Rock Star” or “Social Networking Guru Needed” when all the person posting the ad wants is to spend $100 or $200 to get some help setting up a WordPress Blog or customizing their MySpace page.

2. Don’t post a help wanted ad for an “intern” if you don’t have something to teach them. Internships are meant to be mutually beneficial. You get a low-cost or free pair of hands, and the intern learns something that will help them when they apply for paying work. If your objective is to get a high-school or college kid to work free and perform at a professional level — you’ll both be dissapointed. You get what you pay for.

3. If the job is for a commercial website, make sure the candidates you interview understand the business model including short-term and long-term goals. With web development, most often “scalability” is the objective. This means building a site in stages, where each stage yields a complete and functional site. Work done to reach one stage should “scale-up” as and increased number of users, sessions and pageviews place an increased load on the system. For example, a database driven site with less-than-efficient code may appear to be very quick with only a few users — but may slow to crawl (or die) when the number of users per hour increases.

4. Do it right the first time. If you have the attitude that “there’s no time (or money) to do it right, but there will be plenty of time (or money) to do it over“, you may end up paying much more in terms of both time and money.

5. If you intend to “do it yourself”, and just need a little help, put that in the ad. DON’T use the ad as a way to get free advice. Hire someone on a consulting basis, you’ll have an expert to call when problems arise. In addition, any web designer, developer or webmaster who’s worked on numerous sites will most likely be able to tell you how to save more money, time and aggravation than any fee you pay them.

I hope this article has been helpful, and I look forward to any questions or comments related to hiring a web designer, web developer or webmaster.