What Is a Webmaster and Do They Still Exist?
The title “webmaster” sounds more like a name you’d see in a cheesy sci-fi novel than on a job board. But as strange as it may sound, this somewhat-dated job title and the careers it’s morphed into represent a broad field of today’s tech employment.
Webmasters first came into play to manage many different aspects of a website at once. Though some employers today do still look for “webmasters,” the job has morphed into lots of different titles that encompass the same basic role: one professional doing many different tasks for website maintenance and optimization.
What is a webmaster, exactly?
We’ve grown accustomed to polished and sophisticated websites found on the internet of today, but it wasn’t long ago websites were just transitioning from novelties to serious engines for businesses and organizations. The webmaster job description of old often encompassed all aspects of development, design and upkeep of a website.
Nowadays, companies want their online presence to be functional, appealing and easily found by searchers on the internet. They need to be fast loading and compatible on mobile devices. Websites are also a gigantic platform for marketing, meaning that serious companies and professionals need to constantly maintain, update and improve their websites. Given the increased complexity of modern websites, this jack-of-all-trades approach and job title has become less common as these duties are spread out among specified roles. That said, versatile webmasters still exist as an option for organizations looking to make the most of their online presence.
“Companies will want to hire a webmaster to either improve on their current website or to build and maintain a new one,” says Ovi Demetrian, founder of Blocks Edit. “If you are solely responsible for building and taking care of the website, you may also take on other digital marketing-related roles, like building email newsletters or landing pages.”
A webmaster can keep tabs on everything related to a website. They monitor its performance with search engines, functionality, speed and design. Webmasters even keep track of content, campaigns and marketing efforts. Additionally, webmasters may dabble in information technology work like server set-up and administration.
Simon Ponder, SEO outreach manager at Image Freedom, says he’s held several roles that could all fall under the webmaster umbrella. “I think I have been called everything from online producer to SEO specialist—from digital editor to interactive ad designer as job titles. They all seemed to have the same duties.”
Additional job titles that may overlap with a webmaster include front-end developers, back-end developers, SEO specialists, web designers and server administrators, to name a few.
What does a webmaster do?
So what are those duties specifically? “I spend a large portion of my time in a project manager capacity working with development teams and designers in getting projects done,” Ponder says. “I also troubleshoot, research solutions and create content as the needs arise.”
The daily tasks of a webmaster can be pretty flexible, Ponder says. “I am not set into a ‘these are the five things I do every day.’ Instead, it’s a, ‘let’s jump in and get your hands dirty.’ For example, today, I have written reports based on analytics, solved problems for clients, emailed a programming team for a status update and designed a website.”
Website changes and marketing strategies tend to be what Stephanie Rosenfield, owner of Cleveland Marketing King, spends the most time on. “If there is a change to a website, a lot of times it has to do with a marketing initiative,” Rosenfield says. “Client communication—phone calls, emails and meetings—take up a good amount of time as well.”
“My tasks vary from day to day, but I usually update all my plugins and ensure that my security is up-to-date, as well as check my SEO to ensure that everything I'm doing is working,” says Moises Cardenas, webmaster at Mountaineer Technology Consultants. “I also check my Google Analytics console and sitemaps to ensure there are no broken links.” Cardenas also runs regular site audits using tools like SEMrush and creates new landing pages for campaigns the websites need.
What skills do webmasters need?
Since webmasters handle so many different kinds of web maintenance and optimization, there are quite a few skills that come in handy on the job. We asked our experts to weigh in on which of these are most essential.
WordPress and HTML
Webmasters do their fair share of web development. “I would say learn basic HTML and learn plugins that you love to use if using WordPress,” Cardenas says. Cardenas also adds that finding other tools, platforms or shortcuts that can make your life easier will help you spend your time on the deeper, more interesting work instead of repetitive, mindless tasks.
Webmasters also do a good amount of web design. While you may be able to pick up on the basics just by diving in, learning graphic design will boost the quality and speed of your work, according to Cardenas.
Technical search engine optimization (SEO)
“Technical SEO is also big for webmasters, and understanding how Google ranks your website and what content will get penalized is important,” Cardenas says.
This part of the job is usually a big expectation from clients as well. “I would 100 percent say the most frustrating thing about my job is dealing with clients who have unrealistic expectations, such as wanting to immediately rank on the first page of Google for the keywords on their website,” Cardenas says.
If you understand the technical side of SEO, then you will be able to explain a few aspects to your clients—as well as produce meaningful results with their website.
Since many webmasters work for organizations that may not have the staff or resources to hire niche specialists, writing skills can also be a big help. Demetrian says it’s fairly common to pitch in with light copywriting support for campaigns—including website copy and social media campaigns.
Having a basic idea of content strategy is important for webmasters as well, according to Ponder. Any time your clients rely on you for marketing aspects, explanations or even being able to advise them in content strategy will be key.
“Clients will make requests of you, and it will be up to you to figure it out or research what it is to advise them on finding a vendor to help them with what they need to know,” Ponder says.
What education and experience do webmasters need?
Some webmasters freelance or set up their own businesses to take on clients. But companies that are large enough employ in-house webmasters to manage their sites. We used real-time job analysis software to search job postings for webmasters and related titles. Of the jobs that listed an education requirement, about 85 percent were looking for a candidate with a Bachelor’s degree.*
Programs that focus on web programming or development would be a great choice for anyone interested in becoming a webmaster. Employers and clients often look for a certain amount of experience for these positions. Ponder says coding camps and short programs like 3-Day Startup are excellent ways to build experience.
“Additionally, thanks to the gig economy, there are sites where you can pick up a small freelance opportunity and make some side income while in school,” Ponder says. “There are a ton of opportunities to pad the resume and pick up new skills while job hunting now.”
Weaving the web together
What is a webmaster? The professional who can meet a huge variety of needs in a website. This career involves technical savvy as well as some downright creative thinking. If that mixture of right- and left-brain work appeals to you, then you might want to consider working as a webmaster (or any of the many job titles that fall under its umbrella).
One of the fundamental pillars of the work of a webmaster is understanding how to code and design websites—a task often attributed to web developers. If you’re thinking of getting started in the web development field, then you’ll want to check out our article, “Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Web Developer.”
*Burning-Glass.com (Analysis of 6,186 webmaster/ administrator, SEO specialist, digital editor and online producer job postings, Apr. 01, 2017 – Mar. 31, 2018)