What the heck does Webmaster mean? Specialized Skill Sets of the Web

The web definitely isn’t as simple as it used to be.  Back in the ‘90s you could get away with one person who kept up with a website and everything that went into it.  This one Webmaster could handle everything.  I have the job title of Webmaster at Wofford and I have a hard time grasp exactly what that means and what I’m supposed to do and what I’m not.  Director of Web Marketing wrote a recent postHow Safe Is Your Job?, that got me thinking about what exactly does my job title mean.

When you think about a Webmaster is it someone who is master of the web or knows everything that there is to know about managing, hosting, marketing, and updating a website?  Well that was all good in the beginning, but the web of the past isn’t the web of the present.

Fast forward to the present day and the web just isn’t that simple anymore.  In the last decade a simple website has gone from a nice little thing to have to an essential, marketing, storefront, engaging, and a lot of the time the only extension of your brand that potential clients every see.  Websites have become very dynamic, fluid and visual.  People shop online, play games, do research, and countless other activities.  People build and have complete relationships with friends and family solely through experiences online now.

So if we had to look at the areas of specialization of the web today what would be some of the jobs?

Web Related Jobs

  1. Project Manager – To manage and support everyone else
  2. Web Developer – Develop the site including framework and application builder
  3. Web Programmer – To actually write the code in coordination with the Developer
  4. Web Designer – Designs the website and layout including style sheets
  5. Graphic Designer – To design graphics for the web
  6. Search Engine Optimization Analyst – To make sure your site is optimized for search engines
  7. PPC Campaign Manager – You manage the advertising though paid links
  8. Web Server Administrator – The site sits on a server and has to be managed by someone
  9. Database Administrator – Your whole site is run by a gigantic database that needs to be maintained
  10. Security Administrator – Someone who test and checks your site for security issues, loopholes, and vulnerabilities
  11. Web Analyst – Someone who goes through all the analytical data about the site and things related, to work with other team members to decide what needs to be done and where is our site not performing where it should
  12. Marketing Manager – A true marketing manager who can come up with ways to market your site online
  13. Social Media Marketer – This person is the one who builds the buzz about your brand in the social spectrum
  14. Videographer team – The video that is produced for your site doesn’t create itself
  15. Photographer – Like the videographer someone has to take the photography for your site
  16. Online Identity Manager – Knowing what your customers are saying about your brand online is important too

I could probably continue this list, but maybe that is enough variety to make a point?  Small sites won’t be able to accommodate specialized individuals in each of these and members will be asked to perform multiple roles, but the companies that fully vest in an online presence will find that everything mentioned is a requirement.  It should also be noted that many of these roles are outsources and that is ok also.  The point is it takes multiple specialized individuals and a lot of the time multiple individuals in each area to run a truly effective website.

Are you fully committed to the success of your website and filling every niche?  Does looking at this list make you feel overwhelmed?  How does one individual go about taking on these multiple roles while still staying sane and properly accomplishing everything?

Finally how do our roles as Webmasters look in the future?  The more technical and important that the web becomes to institutions and pretty much any business how does the role of “jack of all trades master of none” fit into an environment of specialization and potential outsourcing of skill sets?

13 Responses to “What the heck does Webmaster mean? Specialized Skill Sets of the Web”

  1. Says:


    This is a really good post and I think you are right. The role of the traditional “webmaster” (by the way I just love that word) has changed dramatically as the web and it’s potential has been realized as a marketing tool in higher ed.

    I like your thought about not trying to do everything but looking to outsource where you can.

    I also think you have to look at your organization and figure out where you need to put resources (time, money, energy) and where you will get the most bang for your buck, and where you can be successful.

    I think somewhere on the list architecture needs to be listed as well as strategy.

    thanks for the good reading on Friday morning.


  2. Says:

    I find it rather embarrassing when meeting non-IT/Web people and having to introduce myself as a webmaster.

    I can tell by their reaction that Dungeons and Dragons is floating in their head. (Not that D&D isn’t super cool, hell, I watched the cartoon on Saturday mornings back in the day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfif5DiGMYc), but it just puts me in a weird position of explaining what I do - and trust me, that’s no way to start a conversation.

    The sooner the term webmaster dies, the better. Unless it’s replaced by webwarlock.

  3. Says:

    @Paul - Definitely Architecture is crucial especially for sites as large and diverse as college websites. I love the word webmaster, but I hate it as my job title… it’s kind of a weird title to explain.

    @Todd - I really have to give you credit for describing exactly how I feel about it. When I joke and tell people I’m a 14th level Webmaster with a +3 Laptop they kind of just look at me really crazy and walk away. I also love D&D and have been playing on and off for over a decade, but professionally people don’t get that or the title of Webmaster. Kind of makes you feel like people think you live in your parents basement and eat cheezy poofs all day while watching Battlestar Galactica. While not a bad way to pass the time, just doesn’t build any sort of credibility and doesn’t really describe all that we do.

  4. Says:

    Excellent post Kyle! Also saw you speak at HighedWeb08 and was very impressed with your knowledge of Google Analytics.

    What Todd said. My title is web developer/webmaster at DSU and I just hate it! Firstly, ‘master’ implies expert knowledge in all aspects of the job, which I DO NOT have (heck, I’m just an old mainframe programmer who made the switch to the web a year ago). And secondly, I am a female and really don’t relate that well to ‘master’. I’ve thought about changing my title to ‘webmistress’, but well, that would be eons worse :-)

    Your list is good. Really makes one see just how many varied skills one has/needs to do the job.

  5. Says:

    Great post, Kyle.

    This kind of goes back to our conversations with College Web Guy about analytics and if it should be a lesser priority than content, etc.

    The bottom line is, if a webmaster is doing all this, the website is hurting. And, I’d argue, no matter how big the site or school is.

    This could mean two things:
    1) The webmaster *has* the skills of all these job functions, but doesn’t have the time.

    2) The webmaster *doesn’t* have the skills of all these job functions, but is forced into the role because of budgets, etc.

    More often than not the first one is true, but what about the second? Are we forcing webmasters to do a job function they’re not qualified to do … just because it’s technically a *website* thing?

    I love your idea of outsourcing. We don’t think of that often enough.

    … and let’s not even get into the discussion about what department the webmaster should reside in. :)

  6. Says:

    Yep, a website is a commodity now. If y ou don’t have one, you are dead. Now you have to get creative and start really focusing your efforts to make a difference online.

  7. Says:

    You are right about it. I do remember times when we were hiring only one person to do all jobs :) . Now I think, it is quite difficult to fill every niche, outsourcing some of the work sounds nice; or even hiring what I would call package people: a Search Engine Optimization Analyst could know PPC well enough to become PPC Campaign Manager if it is necessary or even Marketing Manager and Web Developer. This makes them more valuable on the market.

  8. Says:

    1st- cheezy poofs? :-)

    Re: How does one individual go about taking on these multiple roles while still staying sane and properly accomplishing everything?

    I don’t think they do. I think things that aren’t “screaming” just fall by the waist side. Who does it hurt? It hurts the organization/university, even if the powers that be don’t actually realize how much more effective their Web and social media strategies would be if there were enough talented people paying attention to all of these different roles. It also hurts the overly dedicated ‘webmaster’ who has a genuine interest in dabbling in all these areas, but not enough time to keep a toe in any one of them for very long before moving on to the next “screaming” project.

    I’ll never forget the first time the President of our university introduced me as his “webmistress” to a new co-worker. Talk about shades of purple (and nevermind the fact that my title isn’t and never was ‘webmaster’).

  9. Says:

    I think my job (Sr.Web Designer/Webmaster) actively involves about half of the stuff on the list. I do HTML and design from a marketing perspective, advise on content development and site architecture, SEO, social media, etc. Sometimes I write (not just for my blog but for Web sites I’m working on) and half the time I use my own photos. So it is a job of many hats. I think if one works in a capacity to advise or manage a variety of Web projects this is necessary. You have to know at least a bit of everything to know how the elements all come together. But you can’t actually do it all.

    I’d never have the time to actually write all of the content I use, nor would I go out and shoot my own video, but I need to now enough about video (or other things that are primarily someone elses job) to communicate clearly with the person who does.

  10. Says:

    I still confused about the meaning of WebMaster. Sometimes it means who knows everything about web….

    But it still means nothing to most of the non IT tech person.

  11. Says:

    I am a webmaster ( really?? ) for almost 6 years now and I for one really appreciate your post. I always outsource when I dont have time to complete the task myself or I dont know how to do it PROFESSIONALLY!

    Many webmasters refuse to outsource because they think they know it all.. this results in the client not being happy all the time..

  12. Says:

    Nice article, i dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. I have just got interested in blogging and hopefully i am able to do so

  13. Says:

    i was wondering if there are webmasters who manages several thousand websites at a time.;;-