Marketing Department Management Report
A JOB-SKILLS CHECKLIST FOR NEW WEBMASTERS
Like most marketing department functions, personnel management is likely to be the biggest stumbling block for your department’s Web site. Qualified talent is scarce and outstanding Webmasters the felicitous term for site administrators are even rarer. This creates problems what qualities to look for, what to pay for them, and where to find them that this article will help you surmount.
There is no widely recognized job description or standard list of required skills for the post of Webmaster. Webmasters themselves tending to be independent jack-of-all-trades types and proud of it don’t even like the term ”Webmaster.” Most prefer other titles such as Web administrator rather than a geeky term borrowed from ”postmasters” managing e-mail systems.
But finding that right person isn’t impossible, says Marianne Paskowski, an editorial director at Cahners Publishing, whose department runs a popular business news site. ”It’s the hardest job for companies to fill when no one has hired one before,” she told MDMR, confident that she recently hired ”a renaissance guy” combining technical prowess with sensitivity to her site’s editorial and advertising missions. Newspaper editors write the copy, however, and print space reps sell site advertising.
Larger sites will require more. At high-tech giant Texas Instruments, a troika of managers handle different tasks. An ”Internet editor” takes charge of content and makes sure the site meets its goals, an ”infomaster” manages the site’s all-important response activities, and a ”Webmaster” per se handles software and hardware technical details.
What Qualities to Look for
The Webmaster or as is increasingly likely in a more complex cyberspace, the Web team must perform five tasks, says Web developer and author Selena Sol.
1. Content creation. ”Content is king on the Web,” Sol writes. ”Regardless of how snazzy your Web site looks, how many cool Java applets you can cram onto one page, or how macho your server is, no Web surfer is going to spend more than five seconds at your site unless you offer him or her something of substance.” As MDMR sees it, at business-to-business sites catering not to surfers but to inquirers seeking specific information, content is critical.
Although it’s tempting to simply ”repurpose” print ad copy or video commercial clips, you need to repackage promotional and information material to meet the Web’s requirements. Site visitors scan rather than read information and will jump to hyperlinks or leave your site and not return if forced to wade through material from other media. Your technical and promotional writers control what is said, but the Webmaster must know how to say it online, and work well with others to handle that task smoothly.
2. Architectural design. But no matter what the quality of content, your Web site must make navigation easy, even intuitive. Sensitivity to the download speeds the average visitor will experience, flow control, the selection and description of hyperlinks, the placement of search engines on the first screen a visitor sees, proper frame design, and other Web-specific navigation requirements are essential considerations. Good Web architects have the ”street smarts” to understand user needs.
3. Implementation. Some marketing department managers argue that certain technical skills writing hypertext markup language and using content distribution technologies like CGI and Java, for instance are no longer important Web technician qualifications because site automation tools have taken over much of the grunt work. Others, however, insist those skills be hiring criteria, reasoning that people with those abilities will know their way around the Web.
Paskowski at Cahners Publishing, for instance, asks candidates for Web technician to sit at the keyboard during the job interview to show what they know. ”I asked one to perform a tough maneuver downloading from other sites that we couldn’t quite handle before. He found a backdoor to do it. I hope he didn’t break through any firewalls!” she exclaimed.
Adds Sol, ”A good technician will write code that is so standardized and easy to read that he or she could get run over by a bus and a newly hired technician could acclimatize in a week. No [automation] tool will ever write well< !->designed and documented code.”
Implementation also means managing Web server hardware and software, plus security, particularly when site visitors can access inside-the-firewall information.
4. Visual design. Your site must invite visitor participation and convey information efficiently. Ask to examine Webmaster candidates’ portfolios, just as you’d review samples from copywriters, art directors, and photographers. Says Sol, the Web developer ”will also be trained in the quirks and specifics of Web graphics design as opposed to print graphics design.”
5. Management. With the Web becoming a critical marketing tool, not just a supplemental communications medium, Web site administration becomes a central concern to brand managers, sales managers, communications managers, and other marketing department specialists all having to coordinate how they present themselves to customers and prospects online. The Webmaster should sit at the center. Anything but the stereotyped socially inept geek, he or she needs strong collaboration and communication skills. ”The Webmaster really fills the role of general contractor, working with architects on design and then tapping specialists to pull off different pieces of the project,” reasons Computer Reseller News columnist Heather Clancy. ”With this in mind, you’re about to see a big shift in how Internet specialists are trained.”
Whoever fills the position solo Webmaster or Web team leader needs a passionate commitment to online marketing. ”Real zeal,” Paskowski calls it. She scrutinizes job candidates’ samples of sites they’ve designed, discussing them in detail during an interview to sense the commitment behind the work. And she asks probing questions, such as why a candidate liked a favorite project.
What to Pay
* Examine salary ranges carefully. Considering the unprecedented shortage of talent, plus the fast-changing and all-over-the-map job descriptions for Webmastering, pinning down industry-average salary ranges is tricky. Competition prompts more companies to sweeten salary packages with sign-on bonuses and noncash incentives, Computerworld’s latest salary survey indicates.
According to IOMA’s 1998 Report on Salary Surveys Yearbook, surveys by ZD Internet, Computerworld, and the now-defunct Web Week peg base pay for Webmaster and equivalent Internet-related job titles in the $ 50,000 range, with wide variation by geographic region. ZD Internet (www.zdnet.com) reports that the highest paid ”Webmasters” in its survey have master’s degrees and earn an average salary of $ 53,000 annually. The lowest paid have two-year degrees and average nearly $ 40,000 a year. There’s a skew: 65% earn $ 50,000 or less, with 40% of the sample earning $ 29,000 to $ 48,000.
”Web programmers,” however, average $ 66,000 at the high end (generally having Ph.D.s) and $ 47,000 at the low, says ZD Internet.
Use salary reports cautiously. There’s hardly a guarantee that survey respondents’ duties match the job you’re trying to fill. National Business Employment Weekly lists four Web-related titles in its salary survey: ”Web site general manager,” ”Web engineer,” ”Web programmer,” and ”Web site artist/layout editor.” Average salaries for those posts range from $ 45,100 to $ 72,600. Each position arguably is similar to ”Webmaster.” And the average ”Web programmer” salary of $ 47,800 only slightly exceeds the low end of the ZD Internet range for that job title.
Where to Look
* Turn to the Web itself. For immediacy and low cost, networking with colleagues and posting jobs on recruitment Web sites is becoming the preferred approach matching Webmaster jobs to available talent. Generating resumes via the Internet ”costs pennies, while using newspaper ads averages about $ 128 per resume received,” Reggie Barefield, executive director of Humana Inc.’s Talent Resources and Technology Team, told Internet Week. Internet Business Network has expected online resumes to total 2.5 million this year, about double the 1997 volume, and Management Recruiter International surveys found about 37% of executives recruiting online.
The Web-wise rule of ”surfer beware” still applies, however. A recent study by Michael G. Kessler & Associates Ltd., a New York< !->based corporate investigation firm, found 25% of the 1,000 resumes the company collected from clients and examined were fraudulent in some way.
The Web also provides current information about Web management certification programs, a number of which have sprouted this year. In addition to commercial ventures such as USWeb Learning, trade groups such as the Association of Internet Professionals and the International Webmasters Association say they’re investigating certification.
* Try other options. The U.S. Department of Commerce, monitoring the impact of the IT talent shortage, reports that companies are expanding their recruiting practices, paying larger bonuses, providing more benefits (including lifestyle benefits such as telecommuting), recruiting at lesser< !->known schools, hiring foreigners, and training non-IT people in Web management.
* Outsourcing might work for you. A relatively simple Web site that does not need a team to run it could be operated by a Web-hosting service that not only handles the server technical details 24 hours a day, but also manages site software at your direction. The savings can be great: a few hundred dollars a month to outsource a small site compared to about $ 60,000 for a Webmaster’s annual salary and $ 1,000 or more a month to connect your own server to the Web. You can move your site in-house as it grows, particularly when it accesses your company’s backroom and database operations.