What do a VCR, a fax machine, a Walkman, and the term Webmaster have in common?
They're all obsolete.
Yes, Webmaster is an outdated term.
It's the year 2020; websites are interactive, dynamic, and imperative to business operations. They are the central command center for a robust, multi-faceted marketing approach.
In a way, a website is an organism. It is a complex system that only works well when various independent parts work together in harmony. If you look at your website under a microscope, what would you find?
Perhaps SEO and social media would serve as the respiratory system, breathing in new life…maybe passwords, firewalls, and encryption protocols are the skin, white blood cells, and spleen…the server could be the heart…the content management system could be the brain…with scripts and code transporting information and lifeblood like nerves and veins.
To look after and “maintain” these independent parts, many of us turn to a single web development company, a contractor, or look to hire someone in-house. Once on-boarded, briefed, and everyone is happy, we give our new “Webmaster” the keys to the city, and task them with the responsibility to:
“Look after all this, don't let anything break, and build something that will make our company great. Oh, by the way, do all of this fast and on a limited budget.”
Ten years ago, you might have gotten away with this type of arrangement. Just like 200 years ago, the town had one doctor, who made his rounds on a horse and buggy, providing you with a one-size-fits-all treatment, regardless of whether or not you had syphilis, polio, or a broken arm from battle.
“Here's a shot of bourbon, rub some dirt on it. I'll notify the morgue, so they can free up a bed.”
I first realized I wasn't a Webmaster…
For a while, I considered myself, and everyone at my agency, Webmasters. In my opinion, part of that misconceived notion came from Google and Bing, who both subliminally knighted us every time we claimed and verified a client's website for search engine optimization (SEO).
Way back in June 2017, is when I first realized I wasn't a Webmaster… nor did I want myself, or my agency, to be perceived as one.
I always considered myself an agency owner and business consultant, but further verification (and understanding of what that meant) really took place once I made the conscious decision to focus a large portion of my time into developing a specialty web service called GOGET SECURE.
This post isn't a sales pitch for GOGET SECURE (in fact, it's not even a viable business model today), but I want to quickly share some background info on the brand, my original motives behind launching it, and its initial reception to further emphasize how absurd our views of what a Webmaster is can be.
When I started cold prospecting…
At its core, GOGET SECURE was a 51-point proprietary process (it actually ended up being more, but 51 still sounds cool) that I developed to safely, smartly, and thoroughly switch a website from HTTP to HTTPS. At the time, it was the only branded SSL Installation and HTTPS Migration Service in the world. Now, many hosting companies and plugins make encryption and conversion pretty simple. On top of that, most sites are built on HTTPS from the very start. So, like the term webmaster, GOGET SECURE is now obsolete too.
When I first decided to conduct my initial outreach, I aimed to first identify websites that weren't on HTTPS (that was pretty easy because there were thousands). In addition, I looked for websites that had login forms or other areas on their website that collected sensitive information, like passwords or credit cards. I even had a freelance developer create an app that I called Bandit. Basically, this did all of the heavy prospecting for me. It identified websites without an SSL certificate, then it generated a report and browser screenshot showing the “Not Secure” message in Google Chrome.
Once this information was generated, I would send out an email to the domain owner to give them a courtesy heads-up. The message was simple. “Hey, your website is being shamed (flagged) by Google Chrome, one of the most popular web browsers in the world. This could potentially impact your brand perception, credibility, and ultimately conversion rates. We have a specialty service, the only one of its kind, that can help you fix this to better secure your site. Interested in chatting?”
And prospects shut me down hard because they “have a guy” that handles their website already.
I quickly realized that most of my prospects were passing my report along to their existing Webmaster.
Thankfully, some kind souls did get back to me. Those that did agree to chat with me were hesitant and really put up their guard. But, I am immensely appreciative of those opportunities, mainly because they confirmed my suspicions that I wasn't crazy.
“We already have a Webmaster.”
“Our website is managed currently by another company.”
I was thwarted like this over and over again. I'm not going to lie, it got frustrating.
So, I started to reply rather bluntly: “If you have a guy, why hasn't this important security protocol been added to your website yet?”
As an agency owner, I understood the value of having a Webmaster on call to handle website needs. It's like having a family doctor when you get hit with a cold.
With that being said, I had developed GOGET SECURE because many Webmasters were not fully dedicated to search engine optimization, server configuration, and encryption like I was at the time. A lot of developers were simply unaware of the importance of HTTPS. And they did not have the knowledge and skillset to encrypt websites the right way at that time (trust me, I saw plenty of screw-ups by designers and developers that tried figuring it out on the fly). After all, becoming an expert in the arena did not happen overnight for me. I had invested hundreds of hours in refining our process so I could call myself an expert in SSL Certificates and HTTPS.
Did that make other Webmasters bad guys? Crooks? Digital Pirates? Cons? No, I'm not saying that. Nor am I saying that they were incompetent. What it boiled down to is this:
Webmasters are freaking busy and frankly a little overwhelmed.
When it comes to something hyper-focused (like HTTP to HTTPS migrations back in 2017), your Webmaster isn't always going to have 100% understanding and laser-focus. Not a big deal. After all, I wouldn't want my family doctor performing open-heart surgery.
More times than not, the person managing a website is running around week-to-week, day-to-day, switching gears to meet priorities and deadlines.
A “webmaster” is your modern-day chicken with a head chopped off, working on dozens of things to keep you happy: plug-in and theme updates, designing and developing new content, sometimes hosting your website, UI/UX testing, fixing bugs, analyzing data, pick your poison. Oh, and there is dealing with the marketing department…Good luck, Mr. Webmaster!
Working with multiple agencies and vendors is the way to go.
Doesn't your family doctor refer you out-of-office for additional diagnosis and treatment when it's out of their capabilities? Isn't there a reason why doctors affiliate themselves with hospitals and medical centers?
In the web development industry, there is plenty of work to go around. Clients rely on agencies to deliver industry expertise, creative services, and technical support. With the growing complexities of the web and digital marketing, it's foolish to think that one person can cover all bases.
So, I learned the true definition and value of a marketing agency. What was that exactly? To me, an agency is essentially a hub for your web, marketing, and business operations. Smart agencies don't look at themselves as webmasters.
They will have the courage to look at a client and say, “We need to bring someone else in here,” and then they'll make an introduction to a partner, or vendor that they have personally vetted and trust. There are other days, when they will say, “Oh yea, that's right in our wheelhouse. We have in-house team members that knock that out of the park.”
Finding the right balance and the right partnerships is key. Embodying the web via a lone webmaster is virtual suicide.