Such is the case in many “small shops” at schools: someone who is “web savvy” is offered the position of webmaster. This savvy user can maintain the site easily, can often troubleshoot issues, and may even create aesthetically pleasing pages. But is she really a master of the website, a true webmaster, properly utilizing the web tools available and understanding tricks of the trade? The answer, typically, is no.
When I launched a search for a webmaster last fall, I knew exactly what I wanted and had several non-negotiables. The right person for this job had to have search engine optimization (SEO) experience; an understanding of user behavior, information architecture, and analytics; marketing experience; and design sense. It took several months to find the right candidate, but the reward of having a team member who goes beyond being just a savvy user has been one of the best investments I have made during my marketing and communications career.
What makes a true webmaster? Let’s explore four key areas of expertise.
A True Webmaster Has SEO Expertise
At this point, most of us know what SEO is and how to add metadata into our websites. Content management systems offered by companies like WhippleHill often provide simple fields for adding page titles, metadata, and metadescriptions to our pages, aiding our SEO efforts. But for many, the knowledge stops there.
Going beyond the basics, though, is where a true webmaster shines. The one we hired, Caitlin, came in and immediately created a keyword list using Google’s Keyword Planner tool to determine which keywords were most popular, evaluated rank and competitiveness for each keyword, and generated a plan for optimizing not only the back-end metadata, but also the public content.
A true webmaster knows that every word is essential for SEO, so Caitlin guided our team through SEO do’s and don’ts. She coached our writers on squeezing keywords into every news article, optimizing existing content for keywords, and turning our blogs and social media efforts into enhanced platforms that will help improve our search engine rankings.
The ability to write well is an often overlooked quality in a webmaster. Content is king on websites, and having effective and optimized content is an art. A webmaster who can generate strong content and educate the team on how to improve their content can greatly enhance the overall quality of a site, which drives successful SEO efforts.
A True Webmaster Understands User Behavior, Information Architecture, and Analytics
We all look at our basic analytics: the number of users visiting our site, new vs. returning visits, which pages get the most or least traffic, and maybe bounce rates. But often, the savvy web user lets details beyond these basics slip by, partly due to time restraints, but also partly due to a lack of true understanding of what the data means. A true webmaster revels in the data generated by these analytics tools and can explain what it means for improving site performance and enhancing marketing efforts.
We used our analytics to show where our traffic comes from geographically and in terms of referrals as well as the browsers and operating systems being used. Caitlin pointed out negative user behavior on the site, where users tend to click the most, and even the keywords they were using to find us. Sure, we had access to the information all along, but a true webmaster embraces the data and relies on it regularly. She shared tips and tricks to decode the analytics, which can be daunting if you’re not familiar with this, and to show how functions of Google Analytics can guide efforts to improve the user experience.
All of this information helped drive our pending website redesign efforts and helped us make case after case for why we needed specific website enhancements. The user experience was at the forefront of our efforts, taking into account what our customer wanted. We surveyed current and prospective constituents, beta-tested navigation exercises with WhippleHill, and then used this data to drive the design of the site. This helped us make educated decisions in regards to navigation choices, site organization, and even the aesthetics of the new website.
Check out Caitlin's blog: A Beginner's Guide to Using Google Analytics to Understand Your School's Web Traffic
A True Webmaster Understands Marketing and Design
Some schools house the webmaster under the technology department, but more and more offices are opting to house the webmaster in the marketing/communications office. While yes, a website is technology and requires technical expertise, it is also a crucial marketing tool. The understanding of target audiences and how to generate quality traffic that leads to conversions (inquiries and applications) is part of successful marketing efforts. A true webmaster can bridge the technical components of website management with creative marketing aspects, generating the most effective and efficient online presence for your school.
Overall design sense comes into play when laying out pages on the site. Aesthetics play a role in user experience, and this is seen in a webmaster’s ability to coordinate text and graphics to capture users' attention, keep them engaged, and drive their eyes across the page. Design sense also means having the ability to generate graphics for the web (buttons, banners, etc.) in accordance with branding guidelines, and adding those assets to the site in a visually pleasing manner. When I created a branding scheme for our 2014 reunion, Caitlin was able to create web assets that matched the print products, maintaining a consistent look across the platforms. Since Caitlin possesses a strong design sense, a skill some people just don’t have, I know that when we launch our new site in less than a month, we will have pages that are optimized for SEO, are branded and aesthetically pleasing, and are targeted to our key audiences.
Check out Caitlin’s blog: How to Create a Digital Marketing Strategy That Supports Your Admission Office.
A True Webmaster Teaches The Rest of The Team
As the director, I rely on my team to share their individual strengths. For Caitlin, that means sharing her web expertise, which manifests itself through constantly teaching us (reminding us) how to incorporate SEO efforts into our content, how user behavior dictates layout or navigation choices, and how we can use our web tools to effectively promote our message.
SEO is an all or nothing game, Caitlin reminds us, which is why she doesn’t let us settle for “good enough” and is constantly driving the team to be more effective in our online efforts: “If we want to rank our pages, we have to focus on the long game, and that means producing keyword-rich content, titles, captions, and image file names every time. We won’t see that hard work pay off for a while, so it’s important to stay focused on the goal even when we’re not seeing results.”
She has helped elevate our office efforts here at Cheshire Academy, and has helped each of us individually to improve our own digital marketing skills and understanding of website management.