Day 7: Identify the ten faces of a web professional

Working as a web professional can be incredibly satisfying. But as the job has matured into its current state, creating websites has grown beyond the traditional “webmaster” role, drawing on numerous skills to deliver a finely crafted end product.

Here, I’ve identified ten familiar faces a web professional will present throughout a project’s lifetime…

1. Product Manager

Every project has to start somewhere, whether it’s a brainwave, a client request or the need to meet a personal requirement. You need to start by jotting your ideas down as a mind map, flowchart or even just on a pack of Post-Its.

Think about your users. Would your website benefit from creating user profiles to make sure it’s delivering to your audience?

Make the most of project management tools like Basecamp, Agilezen or (my current favourite) Project Pier. How much time will the build take? Can you meet the deadline or do you need to outsource some of the work?

All these questions need to be asked and monitored throughout the entire project – it takes a forward-thinking individual to consider all the influential factors of any project.

2. Designer

Once the product has been brainstormed and documented, it’s time to design. It’s not just a case of making things pretty though; you should be going through the entire design process.

It’s a clever idea to start with low-fidelity wireframes in Balsamiq or Mocking Bird to establish the fundamental content and process. From there you’ll move into your favoured graphics app to create prototypes, taking into consideration all the most important factors including typography, colour palettes, layout, grids, user interfaces, experiences… the list goes on.

As a thorough designer you should consider the many facets of each project, and be aware that this area can take a substantial amount of time to refine.

There are many established designers who argue that the current process is broken, that the ideal tool isn’t even available. Some argue that designing in the browser is the way forward; whereas others suggest we should be designing content out, not canvas in. Some will even tell you that you shouldn’t be such a perfectionist.

Try a different approach to your process to see if it improves your workflow. Every designer is different, and it’s healthy to experiment with new tools and methods. You never know, it could end up saving you enormous amounts of time.

3. Copywriter

It’s all well and good having your product outlined, but do you know how to sell it in the most effective way?

Have you thought about the tone of voice your website should adopt? How is your international English when writing for a global (US-educated) audience? Is your content structured appropriately? Have you thought about creating a writing style guide if you’re handing over responsibility to another publisher or editor?

Not only is it a painstaking job going through your own website copy, it also requires a certain calibre of language as well as an eagle eye to spot that elusive typo.

Call on friends, family or peers to proof-read your copy. It’s amazing what another pair of eyes can find.

Getting content from clients can be a nightmare, so work with them on how best to write the content. Push them in the right direction with a page table, highlighting the importance but putting it simply when broken down.

4. Application Developer

Very few websites are built using standard HTML anymore. Server side languages such as PHP, Ruby and .NET have changed the way we build websites, allowing for easier maintenance and more versatile applications. We could argue over the merits of each language all day, but when it comes down to it every web developer should have a preferred language.

Most languages have various frameworks available to assist development, but there’s always a learning curve involved – especially if you’re new to common model-view-controller (MVC) patterns and object-oriented development (OOD).

Thorough knowledge of good database design is highly desirable too – it’s amazing how many software developers struggle to understand the concept of fundamental practises like normalisation and indexing.

5. Front End Engineer

The foundations of the Web – HTML – are bred in to every good web professional. However, with the evolution of the Web, we’ve seen a number of huge changes in recent years such as HTML5, CSS3 and improvements with JavaScript. We’ve also seen movement towards responsive/adaptive web design, tailoring the experience for multiple devices (not just desktop and mobile).

Thankfully, there are a number of frameworks and libraries available to aid development. jQuery has helped many developers get their heads around JavaScript quickly, making integrating AJAX user interfaces far easier than it used to be when the XMLHTTPRequest object first appeared in IE. HTML5 Boilerplate is a rock solid template for any starting point, enabling you to save time when establishing your site foundations.

Keeping up with all these advances is extremely demanding, especially when you’re still trying to resolve all those cross-browser quirks. With each new project, set yourself the goal of learning at least one new method. Micro-managing your personal development allows you to keep progressing without taking up lots of time and resources.

6. Systems Administrator

Your website needs to be hosted somewhere and you need to ensure your server is configured correctly to deliver your end product.

Have you considered the deployment cycle (from development to stage to production)? Are you using a version control system like Git or Subversion to ensure your code is backed up frequently, as well as ease release deployments? Do you need to make any specific modifications to the server for background processes or external communications?

All these factors require research and time to implement. Don’t take on too much –outsource as much of it as possible. Use online services like Beanstalk to manage your repositories and deployments. Host your website with established providers like Media Template who have years of experience tailoring servers for a diverse range of websites.

7. Social Media Guru

Have you thought about the social marketing channels for your product? You might have secured a Facebook Page (and its vanity URL) and Twitter account, but are you missing more appropriate networks like Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo or Dribbble to share other rich media related to your project?

Managing all these different channels is a full-time job in itself, and can be extremely demanding and draining. Learn the best way to use social networks for your website or business, drawing on educational material like Twitter for Business or Facebook for Business.

Set time aside on a daily or weekly basis to ensure that you’re using social media regularly, and in the most effective way. Try to commit to short, frequent periods (such as the Pomodoro Technique) so that you don’t end up procrastinating over unnecessary viral campaigns that catch your attention.

Monitoring your social networks is time-consuming, so use services like Sendible to manage all of your accounts in one single place. This will also allow you to make sure your message is consistent across all your channels.

8. Digital Marketing Ninja

The old saying says: “if you build it, they will come”. Nowadays, this doesn’t tend to be the case. It’s all well and good building your site but unless anyone sees it, what’s the point?

Have you optimised your website’s code and copy in relation to search engines (namely Google)? Have you considered setting up some targeted adverts, either with Google Adwords, Facebook or LinkedIn? Or even some paid slots on popular advertising networks like Fusion Ads?

Don’t underestimate the power of link building either. With a good press release on the right website, you could increase your website traffic tenfold within an hour. You could even ask peers or friends to pimp your site on their blog. This will add weight to your Google Ranking, as well improving awareness and reputation. Use tools like Google Webmaster Central to monitor and improve your website’s performance.

Remember to get some tracking on your site like Google Analytics or GoSquared to monitor traffic. It’s easy to forget about your stats though, so make sure you check regularly or arrange regular email reports.

It’s also worth looking at services like Crazyegg to monitor how people use your website, not only at URL level but right down to the areas of the webpage they’re focussing on with heat maps.

9. Accountant

Every project takes time and – as we all know – time equals money. Make sure you make accurate estimations on your deliverables, and be generous. There’s no accounting for those awkward, unexpected browser bugs later down the line; nor the endless last-minute tweaks that delay launch.

Keep an eye on your time using tools like Tick or Harvest. These will give you a simple interface to monitor where your time is going and if you’re staying within budget.

When the tax man comes knocking, have you got all your finances in order? Tools like Freeagent make it easy to manage your cash flow and even generate your end-of-year tax return.

10. Helpdesk Support

It’s inevitable that your end product will require some TLC to ensure it continues to deliver to its audience or clients. Even if they’re minor fixes or support requests, you need to be prepared to handle the emails, tweets and calls when things don’t work as expected.

Look at using an online tool like Uservoice or Get Satisfaction to crowd-source bugs and feature requests, or use a self-hosted task management solution like ProjectPier to track client tickets.

Whilst the web is a 24/7 beast, people aren’t. Make sure you set realistic and fair support hours that won’t interfere with your other projects and home life. Don’t forget to define your location in the world. How often have you had to wait for someone in the US or Australia to fix your problem, unaware their operational staff are 8-12 hours behind or ahead?

If your project takes off, consider hiring support staff in other time zones to allow 24-hour support. You could arrange a regular monthly charge or pay on an ad-hoc basis. You might even find there are volunteers willing to support your product for free, perhaps on a hosted forum.

Ten Faces, One Person

When you look back at all the different faces of a web professional, you can see just how much work goes into the job. It doesn’t mean you should be fazed by it though – there are tonnes of resources and solutions available for even the most discerning individual, so use them to your best ability.

These ten roles can may be challenging but trust me, one person can pull it all off. Go forth and make stuff.