The ‘web generalist’ turns 10 – but specialists still rule the online roost

This blog is constantly sympathising with the smaller business operator.

On the one hand, they are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the online world on not only their marketing, but their entire business.

On the other, the online goalposts are moving so often they are often left wondering which way they are kicking at all.

Everyone has an opinion and rarely does it correspond with another.

But 10 years ago this year, your correspondent set out to make it easier for smaller business to embrace the online world and stay there. But the journey has been anything but smooth.

All about technology

In the early days, most opinion was led by the web developer – the computer programmers who would hand-code your website. All of a sudden they were the flavour of the decade as business operators everywhere beat a path to their door to grab a slice of the online action.

Before long though, business operators were asking if there was anything that could be done about the appearance of their webpages. Apparently not everyone liked grey backgrounds, chunky borders and Times New Roman as a typeface!

Enter designers. Whilst it was initially difficult for the limited bandwidth of those old dial-up connections to show much more than a few kilobytes of imagery, both bandwidth and web design tools soon allowed for websites that looked a little more like the full-colour brochures they were more familiar with.

As time wore on, this dynamic duo (or sometimes one multi-talented person) was joined by a bevy of professionals to take the website beyond pretty pictures to become a fully-fledged marketing channel.

Producers, account managers, copywriters, search engine specialists, video producers, animators, usability specialists and others were soon being brought into the mix to fully realise the emerging capabilities of the medium.

Enter the marketers

Then once your website was live, you had to promote it. Enter online marketing specialists, search advertisers, email marketers, social networking specialists – not to forget the traditional promotion professionals who could provide plenty of traffic via traditional channels too.

But for budget-conscious smaller business operators, hiring this sort of team was simply not an option. Budgets simply couldn’t stretch to take on the whole gamut of online marketing specialities.

Instead it was up to your trusty web designer to steer you in the right direction and hope that that wasn’t a virtual dead end.

But as the above evolution suggests, designers were not necessarily the best professional to guide your online presence.

Design is after all about the look and navigation of your website. Exactly how well versed are they in creating a website that will easily port into your various other requirements?

And how easy is it going to be for them to recommend a direction that is less about design and more about other online marketing factors? And have the integrity to send your valuable business with it?

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A new kind of web professional

Having worked in the then nascent industry and sensed where these developments were heading, 10 years ago I set out to address some of these issues by creating a new kind of web professional that was completely ‘agnostic’ of both online technique and technology.

This person wasn’t a specialist in design or in search engine optimisation; nor were they experts in social networking or development.

The best way to describe the person was an ‘independent webmaster’. A web professional that was to the online world what a general practitioner is to health.

Someone who had a good general knowledge of all of the online technologies and techniques, but who wasn’t aligned to any one.

Someone whose sole motivation was the best online result for their client, and not the technique they happened to specialise in.

Of course, few realised what I was banging on about. They just wanted a good website for as reasonable a price as possible. It wasn’t till much later that they saw how the website was but the foundations for a multi-channel online presence.

A slow burn

Ten years on, such a person is still relatively scarce in the market. But as time goes on, the need for it is as strong as ever.

Now more than ever, smaller business operators need a professional who will impartially steer them in the direction that is best for their business and not the professional’s.

Whilst its taking some time to come to fruition – due mainly to the resilience of the ‘specialists’, my tip is that for smaller business, it will become the predominant way of doing business online.

Time will soon tell…

Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.

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