What Does a Webmaster Do?

The role of a Webmaster is defined by Wikipedia as thus:

“The webmaster, also called the system administrator, the author, or the website administrator, is the person responsible for designing, developing, marketing, or maintaining a website.”

This is a good, but fairly general description of the role. The actual role will of course have infinite combinations of tasks depending on the type of websites(s) a Webmaster looks after, or the size and type of the business.

Lets firstly assume that you are a Webmaster for your own small personal website, and describe the roles you take on:

  1. Design – You will either design the site, either from scratch, or from a template to your requirements
  2. Develop – Create the web pages in either static HTML/XHTML or active pages such as ASP/ASP.NET/PHP etc., using either hand coding techniques, or a visual tool such as Dreamweaver
  3. Market – Get people to visit your site, perhaps by putting a link to your site in a discussion forums signature, submitting the site to a search engine.
  4. Maintain – Updating the content when required, checking your bandwidth usage, checking the server logs and 404 errors.

Looking after your own site is great – its straightforward, you’ve only yourself to answer to, and there is no stress. But now lets compare these tasks to those tasks that a Webmaster of a large website has to perform:

  1. Design – this will normally be done by a specialist designer, or design agency. You will be required to input to your vast knowledge and experience into ensuring that the design is easy to implement, will work across the required browsers, is Accessible, easily maintainable, is Search Engine friendly etc. You will also work with the Sales and Marketing team to make sure it reflects the branding and aspirations of the company, etc.
  2. Develop – the development of a large website is normally done by a programmer or a team of programmers skilled in .net/PHP/JSP etc. They will be given a brief from which they will normally create a software flowchart to show how the page will work. When this is agreed, the design team will come up with the design of the pages, and probably the HTML templates. The developer will the design and create the code. After this, the functionality will be fully tested in a test area by the various sponsors, and when all okay, will be put live onto the web servers.
  3. Market – the marketing of the website will come under the remit of the Marketing team who will ensure that it reflects the companies current activities in the marketplace. They will also have a a specialist in SEO who will make changes to the website so that it helps it maintain a high position in the Search Engine Rankings. There will also be a wealth of offline and online marketing activity to promote the website, by emails, viral activity, tv advertising, print advertising as well as online banners and Pay Per Click activity.
  4. Maintain – the IT team will normally look after the hardware aspects of the web and database servers, and connectivity. There will also be a security team who maintain the firewalls, ensure the security of the website and data, and monitor and react to security breaches. There will then be a technician who examines the various server and error logs for missing pages and images, errors on the website, etc.

As you can see, in the above situation, the role of webmaster is extremely varied, and rather than actually doing any of the work, will tend to just pull all the relevant parties together, and make sure the work gets done. In this case, it is arguable as to whether it is even a Webmaster position at all – it is more like a web project manager.

For me, an ideal Webmaster position sits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I want to be involved in all the aspects of making sure that a website works on all levels, and stays working, and stays popular.

It has to be said that being a Webmaster is a hugely varied job. There are so many things you have to know, and many more things that you will need to know at some point, that you are constantly learning. It can also be very demanding, stressful and annoying, and there can be days when you actually don’t accomplish anything. But the rewards are worth it, sometimes from a financial perspective, but hopefully always from the satisfaction of a well designed, usable website that is available to everyone who wants to view it.

If you are thinking about a job as a Webmaster, the best place to start is with your own website: design it, develop it, market and maintain it yourself, and try to grow it. If you can do that, then you will have a good level of experience, but more importantly, most of the ability to be able to do it at a bigger level. Then, like me, you can enjoy the demands and stresses that make you say, every day, its Nearly Home Time!