Exploring this Job

One of the easiest ways to learn about what a webmaster does is to spend time surfing the Web. By examining a variety of Web sites to see how they look and operate, you can begin to get a feel for what goes into a home page.

An even better way to explore this career is to design your own personal Web page or site. Many Internet servers offer their users the option of designing and maintaining a personal Web page or site for a very low fee. Content may include virtually anything, from resume information and snapshots of friends to blogs, photographs and video, audio clips, and hypertext links to other favorite sites.

The Job

The webmaster's job responsibilities depend on the goals and needs of the particular organization for which they work. There are, however, some basic duties that are common to almost all webmasters.

Webmasters, specifically site managers, first secure space on the Web for the site they are developing. This is done by contracting with an Internet service provider. The provider serves as a sort of storage facility for the organization's online information, usually charging a set monthly fee for a specified amount of megabyte space. The webmaster may also be responsible for establishing a uniform resource locator, or URL, for the Web site they are developing. The URL serves as the site's online "address" and must be registered with Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Web URL registration service.

The webmaster is responsible for developing the actual Web site for their organization. In some cases, this may involve actually writing the text content of the pages. More commonly, however, the webmaster is given the text (and other content) to be used and is merely responsible for programming it in such a way that it can be displayed on a Web page. In larger companies webmasters specialize in content, adaptation, and presentation of data.

In order for text to be displayed on a Web page, it must be formatted using hypertext markup language (HTML). HTML is a system of coding text so that the computer that is "reading" it knows how to display it. For example, text could be coded to be a certain size or color or to be italicized or boldface. Paragraphs, line breaks, alignment, and margins are other examples of text attributes that must be coded in HTML.

Although it is less and less common, some webmasters code text manually, by actually typing the various commands into the body of the text. This method is time consuming, however, and mistakes are easily made. More often, webmasters use a software program that automatically codes text. Some word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, even offer HTML options. The majority of coding is now automated by computer processes, but webmasters are still needed to supervise the coding process and ensure that all items have been posted to the Web site as intended. In addition to HTML, webmasters must be familiar with computer languages such as XML and Java and Common Gateway Interface technology (which helps send Web resources to site visitors).

Along with coding the text, the webmaster must lay out the elements of the Web site in such a way that it is visually pleasing, well organized, and easy to navigate. They may use various colors, background patterns, images, tables, or charts. These graphic elements can come from image files already on the Web, software clip art files, or images scanned into the computer with an electronic scanner. In some cases, when an organization is using the Web site to promote its product or service, the webmaster may work with a marketing specialist or department to develop a page.

Some Web sites have several directories or "layers." That is, an organization may have several Web pages, organized in a sort of "tree," with its home page connected, via hypertext links, to other pages, which may in turn be linked to other pages. The webmaster is responsible for organizing the pages in such a way that a visitor can easily browse through them and find what he or she is looking for. Such webmasters are called programmers and developers; they are also responsible for creating Web tools and special Web functionality.

For webmasters who work for organizations that have several different Web sites, one responsibility may be making sure that the "style" or appearance of all the pages is the same. This is often referred to as "house style." In large organizations, such as universities, where many different departments may be developing and maintaining their own pages, it is especially important that the webmaster monitor these pages to ensure consistency and conformity to the organization's requirements. In almost every case, the webmaster has the final authority for the content and appearance of their organization's Web site. They must carefully edit, proofread, and check the appearance of every page.

Besides designing and setting up Web sites, most webmasters are charged with maintaining and updating existing sites. Most sites contain information that changes regularly. Some change daily or even hourly. Depending on the employer and the type of Web site, the webmaster may spend a good deal of time updating and remodeling the page. They are also responsible for ensuring that the hyperlinks contained within the Web site lead to the sites they should. It is common for links to change or become obsolete, so the webmaster usually performs a link check every few weeks. They may also use specialized software that automates this task. 

Other job duties vary, depending on the employer and the position. Most webmasters are responsible for receiving and answering e-mail messages from visitors to the organization's Web site. Some webmasters keep logs and create reports on when and how often their pages are visited and by whom. Depending on the company, Web sites count anywhere from 300 to 1.4 billion visits, or "hits," a month. Some create and maintain order forms or online "shopping carts" that allow visitors to the Web site to purchase products or services. Others have live customer service features that allow customers who are having problems with the site or just want more information about a product or service to communicate online with a “live” individual regarding these issues. Some may train other employees on how to create or update Web pages. Finally, webmasters may be responsible for developing and adhering to a budget for their departments.