Webmaster, an obsolete concept

If your webmaster isn’t in your marketing group ..

One word that causes a great deal of problems is Webmaster. Perhaps many will disagree with me, but hear me out. I acknowledge that it will be difficult to bury the word. After all even the mighty Google helps to support the word through its immensely useful Google Webmaster Central. However I believe this word and the function that it implies can create a great deal of organizational dysfunction, particularly in big companies.

Master of the ..

The problem starts with that word master. In this context, it usually means someone who looks after the well-being of some resource. Indeed it’s often applied to someone who looks after something with a cultural content. Just think Concertmaster, Master of the Queen’s Music or Master of the Royal Mint. It’s also often a word that dates back to a former time. How could it possibly have come to be used to apply to such modern innovations as websites?

It is of course a word that is often used in gaming. Perhaps that’s the explanation. Geeks are often heavily into gaming. Just think Gamemaster or Dungeon Master. Since geeks are often also the persons looking after websites, then perhaps webmaster is a very comforting descriptor. It may have been an easy word to accept in the first instant, but it can lead to all sorts of problems.

Big companies

The problems are most often seen in big companies. Websites are complex and can often run into problems, some of them being difficult to correct. Given this, many companies decide that the website is best handled within the IT group. The marketing group, with enough of its own problems, is often happy to leave this potential tar baby to another group. Since the IT group usually does not understand marketing and the marketing group does not understand the working concepts of the IT group, this is a recipe for disaster. Over the years, I have spoken to many situated either side of this divide, who are constantly frustrated by the working difficulties of this arrangement.

Marketing and Sales

The webmaster dysfunction pales into insignificance in some companies, given the dysfunction they have between the marketing and sales groups. Sometimes the two groups have somewhat independent existences. The company operates in a similar way to the way wars used to be waged. The artillery (marketing) shell the territory to be taken. Afterwards the infantry (sales) go in and secure the territory street by street. That is no longer the way wars are waged nor is it the way that marketing and sales should be cooperating. Strong team action is needed between marketing and sales to ensure the most effective sales operation.

The website should not be seen as a fine piece of art that has been created to support the marketing and selling activity. The webmaster concept might support this inappropriate view. A selling effective website is an integral part of the marketing/sales activity. Like any other part of the marketing/selling activity, there should be objectives and metrics to establish performance. Activities should be modified in the light of results. The Google Webmaster Central website can provide some useful data in this approach, but other parts of the marketing/sales group will have their own selling activities and their own metrics to add to the review process.

What’s a better job title?

To emphasize this marketing/selling role for the website, some title such as Internet Marketing Manager is much more appropriate. The exact title will depend on the size of the organization. Whatever the title, the responsibility for a selling-effective website must clearly rest within the marketing group. Some activities may be subcontracted to the IT group. But the buck stops with the marketing group.

Related: What’s in a name – Web mastery?

7 thoughts on “Webmaster, an obsolete concept”

  1. What about nonprofits that are not marketing anything? For them, I like “Internet Presence Management.”

    “Presence Master” would be more fun – care for a super hero cape with that coffee?

  2. Good thought, Elizabeth. I like the word Performance that could apply to all, I would think. So that would be either Internet Performance Manager or Web Performance Manager.

  3. I’ve never heard of a big company using a term like webmaster, instead you’ll find things like web architect, or new media manager, or some other managerial title like that.

  4. It may not often be a job title, Adrian, although I have come across it quite a number of times. However I don’t think you’ll have a problem if you ask who is the webmaster for any given website. It’s a well understood function. Just look how often you’ll see an e-mail link to webmaster@companysite.com.

  5. I began coding way back in 1994. Back then, we called ourselves “web masters” because we FELT like we were masters of the universe.

    A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a group where I was asked if I called myself a “web master”. I laughed and responded with this:

    “I’m more of a web slave than master. See, I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.”

    However, webslave@mycompany.com just doesn’t have the same “ring”.

  6. Yeah, webslave about sums it up, lol.

    If somebody asks, I usually just use the term web developer, correct or not, I don’t know.

  7. I think its obsolete in other ways besides for its name. The web master died when all these auto generated sites became popular. A person could run a auto generator and have 100 sites created by the end of the day without having any skill what so ever. There are no such things as web masters anymore 🙁

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