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Webmasters and web devs: underappreciated and underrated

Am I being too pessimistic

     
12:40 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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This is something I have been thinking about for a while, but the "a bit quiet in here" thread [webmasterworld.com ] motivated me to actually post it.

Firstly, no one uses the description webmaster except in this forum. Its not a job, its not how anyone describes their work.

That leaves a lot of people as web developers. This usually means someone who knows how to install Wordpress and plugins and install a drag and drop theme.

Then there are web designers. A lot of people (the general public and SME customers) do not know the difference between a developer and designer. Insofar as the distinction exists it means the designer does not even know how to install wordpress, just to do a bit of theming. Alternatively it means they will draw a concept for a website in Photoshop and leave it to a "developer" to implement it as HTML. This is why freelancing websites are full of PSD conversion jobs and offers.

Writing content for websites is likely to get you regarded as interchangeable with people who write "SEO content" - little more than manual spun content with lots of keywords in it.

Web stuff no longer even has the benefit of being new and exciting. Its now old and boring and the hot stuff (in the minds of business and the public) is social media, SaaS, and cloud in general.

A had a conversation with a friend a few years ago. When I said I was working on websites her reactions was (not her exact words) "that is what all the full time mothers at my kids school do to occupy their spare time, that cannot be what you do". I explained what I did and it even lead to an approach from a contact of hers (could not do it - wrong platform).

I also feel that customers who hire me for non-web work feel they are hiring a skilled professional, where as people who want me to work on websites feel they are hiring a low-skill technician who could easily be replaced. I can overcome the latter by building a good relationship so I become more of a trusted advisor, but the starting point is a lot worse.

Now I know people will be thinking it is terribly unfair. There are a lot of very skilled people building, maintaining, marketing and creating content for websites. Yes, it is unfair, but its how people think and its only getting worse with more and more people using drag and drop site builders. The future lies in DIY sites for simple cases and SaaS for everything else.

Am I right or am being unduly pessimistic?
1:33 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Forget what unrelated others might think of you, that is mere vanity.

What do your clients think, that matters.

And what do you think yourself, about the value of what you do?
1:52 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Forget what unrelated others might think of you, that is mere vanity.


True. In practice it affects many decisions many people make.

What do your clients think, that matters.


That is part of the problem. Especially with new clients or getting new clients.

With prospective clients it might affect your marketing. People's views affects what you can charge. if people think that "doing a website" should cost them what it costs to install Wordpress and use someone else's theme it affects what you can charge. Yes, you can explain that their custom web app is a lot more complex, but its an extra barrier to decent rates.

Also, if customers think your work is interchangeable (I am tempted to say fungible) with that of a cheap offshore developer, it affects your rate. If customers think you are a contractor doing routine work rather than a professional exercising judgement and providing valuable advice it affects your who relationship.
2:45 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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That leaves a lot of people as web developers. This usually means someone who knows how to install Wordpress and plugins and install a drag and drop theme.

I respectfully disagree with this description, but agree with your premise in general. Installing Wordpress requires you to follow a one page step-by-step tutorial... This can be done by a person with no PHP/Apache/Linux knowledge or experience. This does not make one a web-developer.

Je suis un web-developer! [the French is for effect :)] A web developer is a person that can build Wordpress from scratch. Not exactly Wordpress but a content management system, or in other words the underlying engine the drives the website. It requires the person to know how to code in a variety of languages and frameworks. This is not the type of stuff for low-skilled technicians. This is for professionals with university degrees, in computer science, math and other related STEM fields.

There is a widening disconnect, not just with the general public, but also "web service consumers" such as small business owners. These formerly perspective clients now have access to simple (and often insufficient) tools such as WP, other WYSWYG website builder, FB, etc,. to fill their needs. They no longer require the service of web-developer to build a website. So in their minds a "some 400 pound guy on his sofa" can do the job. In most cases, this is true. So the perception is that web-development is an obsolete profession. But it is not, far from it.

Web stuff no longer even has the benefit of being new and exciting. Its now old and boring and the hot stuff (in the minds of business and the public) is social media, SaaS, and cloud in general.


This statement is representative of the widening disconnect. The general public are no longer aware of where the line is between say social-media and the web. The cloud? No it should be called the fog as it further obfuscates where the web and reality intersect. Then add data privacy and the lack thereof to the mix.

Someone says, "oh you build websites, I need a website for my business" I tell them to go install Wordpress. But then quickly follow-up with other questions about their business and typically what the person really needs is someone that can manage their digital presence, social-media, web, Google my business profiles etc. Work that I don't do but what they typically don't need need is an elaborate web-application.

One more word about the widening disconnect, this also impacts people in the "webmaster" industry. I think that many people that have operated websites for decades and have been hyper-focused on their website fail to see the changing environment in which their sites lives. And if it is a "bit quiet here" it is likely because there are very few threads discussing the leading edge of web technologies and many threads discussing things such as the "best keyword tools" and the "how to best build links with forum posts" and let us not forget the "Google conspiracy".
4:12 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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web developer ... usually means someone who knows how to install Wordpress

Sadly, that does seem to be the modern usage.

The "web developers" I have come across recently couldn't begin to write any code (even HTML), let alone configure a webserver or construct a database.

web designer ...will draw a concept for a website in Photoshop

Someone should tell them that "form follows function".

Writing content for websites is likely to get you regarded as interchangeable with people who write "SEO content"

A good search engine ranking is regarded by some as evidence of paying or cheating.

Someone should tell them that "content is king".

no one uses the description webmaster except in this forum

I would describe a webmaster as someone who does all of the above and more, including graphics, multimedia and site maintenance.

The word "master" in this context denotes a "master craftsman".

The future lies in DIY sites for simple cases and SaaS for everything else.

Quite possibly.

But a true webmaster will still outrank them in the SERPs.

It's part of the job description, isn't it?

...
7:12 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Work that I don't do but what they typically don't need need is an elaborate web-application.


Depends what you mean by elaborate. I am a backend developer and most of my web related work is developing what are web apps or custom build CMSs.

The disconnect causes two problems:

1. Potential customers are familiar with Wordpress type sites and do not realise the possibilities of a custom site.
2. Potential customers are accustomed to the cost of cheap sites from the "isntall wordpress and a theme" people and that influences what they are willing to pay, and how they expect to work with, real developers.

But a true webmaster will still outrank them in the SERPs.


A lot of people do not understand that.

A lot of potential customers thinks SERPS do not matter and a Facebook page is better than a web site.

I would describe a webmaster as someone who does all of the above and more, including graphics, multimedia and site maintenance.


A very wide set of skills. Is it better to specialise than risk being a jack of all trades?

Then again, there is the danger of making the effort to develop that skill set and then finding its the rates you can charge are being undermined by people with a limited version of the same skills.
7:39 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Is it better to specialise than risk being a jack of all trades?

Specialising is fine, but not to the exclusion of webmaster fundamentals.

With the rate of technological change you can be a high-flying specialist one year and a dinosaur the next.

Flash animation out, responsive design in, new browser capabilities, deprecated/insecure code, move to encryption etc.

Webmasters need to keep abreast of developments.

...
7:52 pm on Dec 13, 2018 (gmt 0)

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This has been a complaint I've heard for over 15 years.

Back in the day it used to be 'my nephew can do it for much less', then came WordPress and prices dropped by half to two thirds for basic sites as overnight there were zillions of new 'webmasters'. And now there are Wix et al taking out the bottom of the bottom.

I 'fired' my last webdev client in 2007 thanks in large part to AdSense on my own sites. And the relief to get away from that 'anyone can do it, you charge too much' attitude was truly liberating.

Back in 2004, I think, I commented on a WebmasterWorld thread that almost all the aggravation was from the sub$1000 and realtor market segments. I dealt with the time wasters, something for nothing or unreal expectations by asking three questions right up front (if not so brief and blunt):
* what is the purpose of the site?
* what is the project timeframe?
* what is the budget?

If they weren't clear in their own mind I'd recommend either more thought or paying for an RFP/Q.

If they weren't worth the aggravation/effort I'd simply smile, thank them and walk away. Being a professional means acting - and being treated - as such.

In short: yes, webmasters are generally under appreciated and under paid, just as they long have been. It is difficult to be skilled in a perceptually commoditised market.

Besides word of mouth how one markets can make all the difference. Most off the shelf solutions are not best for mobile, meeting various regulations (not just GDPR), conversions, etc.

One simply needs to understand that one is targeting the 1% and not be dismayed by the idiocy of the 99%.
1:01 pm on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Whether one specializes or is a jack of all trades, is really immaterial. It is how one is perceived that matters.

Call yourself a web developer and you are open to all forms of (mis)interpretation. Web, Web Designer, Web Developer, Web This, Web That are now too broad terms and therein lies the root problem.

Would it not be better to specify your skill/focus to avoid that misperception. That doesn't mean you are excluding any webmaster fundamentals.

I am primarily a one person shop and would spend too long a time explaining my work as a web developer and how I differ from a neighbors son who "can do websites". I would anquish for hours over how to market myself differently and not be cast in the same mold.

I now market myself as a "CMS Creator (because I roll my own) specializing in ..." which has resulted in better conversations and, I think, better opportunities.
The job doesn't necessarily change, just the title and other peoples understanding of it.
5:44 pm on Dec 14, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I now market myself as a "CMS Creator (because I roll my own) specializing in


Nice approach!

It is a marketing problem.
5:21 am on Dec 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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These days Tom, Dick and Harry can "do a website!"

I remind those that come to me that I am NOT Tom, Dick and Harry. And I charge accordingly.

It is results that matter. Prove that to your clients, and you can call yourself whatever you like.
1:15 pm on Dec 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I find the problem is not with existing clients. After a while clients appreciate what I do. Its with acquiring clients and with new clients.

No doubts its partly that I need to be better at sales and marketing. Part of the point of starting this thread is to learn how other people do it - even a simple change of vocabulary (as ipco suggests) can do a lot.
11:43 pm on Dec 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I keep it simple. Avoid the "web" stuff altogether.

"I am an engineer, what do you need done?"

They tell me, I tell them what it will cost. Dirt simple.

If, on the other hand, the query (OP) is "how do I find new clients" that's marketing and has nothing to do with your skill set, nomenclature or title. That's a different thread....
9:59 am on Jan 5, 2019 (gmt 0)

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With the rate of technological change you can be a high-flying specialist one year and a dinosaur the next.

That once had me working in a call centre for three months to make ends meet before getting back into an IT based role.
1:23 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I don't believe one has to know it all to describe oneself as a webmaster. There are lots of specialised skills you arguably would be better buying in rather than making a perhaps poor attempt to learn. Good to know an area I think and then buy in the rest from trusted parties as and when needed. That is certainly what I used to do when I was responsible for developing (smaller) websites.
4:55 pm on Jan 8, 2019 (gmt 0)

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I don't believe one has to know it all to describe oneself as a webmaster. There are lots of specialised skills you arguably would be better buying in rather than making a perhaps poor attempt to learn. Good to know an area I think and then buy in the rest from trusted parties as and when needed. That is certainly what I used to do when I was responsible for developing (smaller) websites.

Indeed, back in mainframe days I was an acknowledged "expert" in serveral areas, not due to my expertise, but to my superior ability to navigate the IBM manuals.
 

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