The reality is that running a professional web site takes a team of professionals across a number of specialties. A single person trying to run a professional web site is a flawed strategy because no one person can possibly have all the skills you need. Some of the team members may be outsourced and some may be internal staff but they all serve very specific needs. Let’s look at the common roles that need to be filled;
Common Roles in a Web Site Team
Marketing Manager: This position is the top of the pyramid and is responsible for the overall messaging, brand control, and strategy development. They need to have an in-depth understanding of the business’ strategies, messaging, branding, and objectives and the ability to articulate that to the other team members. When this role is outsourced it is commonly to a full service Advertising or Marketing Agency. This person needs to have their hands on the pulse of the market place and should be an industry expert.
Web Master: This position is a general management function that includes keeping the web site up to date with new content, product updates, and other general maintenance. This is separate from the Web Programmer because of the cost of the labor. Using a Web Programmer for Web Site Administration and Maintenance is like swatting flies with a shotgun. A web site that requires a programmer to make changes is an indicator of a poorly engineered site.
Customer Service: Including customer service in this discussion might seem improper to some but in reality this is where live interactions with prospects and clients happen so feedback from this area to the web marketing team is incredibly important. Customer Service is the ears of your web site. These people can be a rich source of new keyword information and missing web site information. Customer service also has the ability to monitor the quality of traffic.
Web Programmer/Data Architect: This position is a highly skilled technician that is responsible for the detailed back end programming of the web site. They design the database, business logic, and other highly technical challenges.
Graphic Artist: This position is charged with all the visual elements of the site including color themes, visual branding elements, and the look and feel of the web site. Simply stated they make the web site visually entertaining.
Copywriter: This position is responsible for the words that engage the audience and it is one skill that is commonly assigned improperly. Advertising Agencies separated the visual from the textual generations ago because they realize they are entirely different skill sets. Artists are NOT Authors. Copywriters can be subdivided into many different skill sets depending on the task. For example the copywriter that you use for your web site might be very different than the copywriter you engage to write a book, and the divisions go much deeper. A copywriter for a web site might be very different than a copywriter for a landing page. The web site text will tend to be more factual with a mission of conveying information while the landing page is more sales copy where the mission is to engage the reader and move them to action. A common mistake is to think that a writer is a writer because there are many variations of writers.
Response Designer/User Interface Designer: This position is responsible for examining and designing how the user interacts with the web site and this is entirely different than what the Graphic Artist and Web Programmer do although both of those need to interact with this facet of the design. Response design becomes even more critical when the web design work is a landing page instead of an informational page.
PPC (Pay Per Click) Manager: This role provides the management of the paid advertising placement and overall traffic management. The goal of this position is to provide the maximum value to the business with the least cost. This is a delicate balance between quantity and quality and requires the person understands the value of the traffic they are buying. This person needs to understand the complex text model used to deliver the advertising and how to focus this model on the marketing strategy from the Marketing Manager. PPC’s primary role is to attract prospects to the business.
SEO (Search Engine Optimizer): The role of the SEO Expert is to give your business the best possible position in the search engines on the most profitable search terms. SEO work covers both on-page and off-page strategies and work. With the on-page side the SEO examines keyword uses, positions, and must understand how the search engines use this data to produce the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). The off-page side of this speciality includes work in creation of back-links and other elements that the search engine uses to create the SERP. While nobody knows for sure we estimate that off-page optimization is as much as 90% of the factors used in producing many SERPs.
To outsource or not to outsource, that is the Question
Once we understand the primary roles within the team we need to examine the internal versus outsource issues. It would be an extremely rare company that would have enough work internally to justify all these positions on a full time basis. Outsourcing parts of this is extremely common, but it does vary by company. Many companies outsource all these positions and the first position that is internal is the marketing manager. Those positions that are project related are typically the ones that are most likely to be outsourced. Web Programmers, Graphic Artists, Copywriters, and Response Designers are commonly outsourced because they are project type positions. Once the project is done most businesses will turn off the expense until the next generation of web site needs to be developed. Positions like the Marketing Manager and Web Master are less likely to be outsourced.
Web Site Marketing Team Relationships
While ultimately all positions have some degree of relationship to all the other positions some have much stronger requirements to effectively communicate with certain positions. We will skip the discussion of the Marketing Manager relationships because that position is the hub of the communications and the source of the strategy.
Web Master and Customer Service – The Operations Team
These positions are the most common that are sourced internally within the business with full time staff. This staff has a customer interface and deals with on-going changes within the business. Communicating this to an outsourced resource is difficult although not impossible. We have seen many cases of outsourcing the Web Master but very few that outsource Customer Service. In this team Customer Service owns the customer interface so they know what the issues with the site are and how important they are. The Web Master role is to make the changes as needed.
PPC and SEO – The Traffic Team
This is a critical relationship because they are like the relationship between your fingers and your opposing thumb. You cannot run a football team with just the defense or just the offense – it takes both to be competitive. Since PPC owns 50% of the SERP and SEO owns the other 50%, this relationship is critical. Part of the problem is that specialists tend to be strong advocates for their specialty. No surprise here that SEOs think that PPC is horribly expensive and not nearly as responsive as organic traffic and PPC types think that SEO is poorly documented and cannot prove their claims. There are huge synergies that a business needs to leverage between PPC and SEO so getting these areas to freely communicate is important to the business.
Web Programmer, Graphic Artist, and Copywriter – The Development Team
This team needs to communicate closely when development is under way. These people are very differently skilled so it is a very rare person that can fill more than one of these slots on the team. This team is also very project orientated so these are commonly outsourced. The key to this outsource strategy is that they have to leave a web site behind that the Web Master can maintain. It is a big mistake to have to go back to this team for routine web site maintenance.
Operations Team and the Traffic Team
These two teams need to have an active relationship with a free exchange of information and ideas. The traffic team will see opportunities in traffic and the operations team will see the results and hear the feedback from the audience they are serving. The audience expertise in the operations team is critical to being able to target the right traffic.
Not every team has a separate person for each position. Combining Graphic Artist and Copywriter is common although this typically results in a compromise on one side or the other. People who are artistic rarely have the language focus needed to write great content and great writers are rarely artists. The most dangerous combination that we see all the time is combining the entire Development team. Programmers by definition are logic driven individuals and rarely do they excel in the creative fields.
Combining the Web Master with the Development Team is a common mistake. The Web Master needs to have great administrative skills to keep the web site it top condition. The other consideration here is salary differences. Web Masters typically do not make the same salary as professionals in the creative or programming fields and the difference is not small.
Combining tasks that require on-going maintenance with positions that are project based can be a huge strategic error. Project based staff like the Development Team are not cheap and so giving them operational duties like a Web Master is simply over powering the requirement and it is a costly mistake. The advantage of outsourcing your project team is that when the job is done you can turn the expense off but if you give them operational duties the expense never stops.
What to Outsource and What to Staff Internally?
This is a tough question and there is no one answer but there are common issues to consider. In general positions that are project related like the Development Team are commonly outsourced because you need highly skilled people that are very expensive but you do not need them all the time. Once the web site is developed the typical site design will live for 3-7 years. Other skills like traffic team are often outsourced because it is rare for a business to have enough of this work to justify a full time position. The skills are very specialized and rapidly changing so it is unlikely that a person doing these tasks as one of their additional duties will be able to stay current. It is also rare that a site needs more than a few hours of these skills during the maintenance phase of the web site.
The Operations Team is rarely outsourced because it is part of the process of running the business and that is normally not something you want controlled outside your business. Businesses should always own the customer relationship because that relationship is a large part of what creates a barrier to entry into their market. Outsourced labor is more expensive than internal staff of the same skill so if you have enough work to fill the Operations Team position then internal staff makes sense. If however your need for a Web Master is only a few hours a month then it’s time to look at outsourcing.
Surprisingly, Marketing Managers are outsourced more often than you would think and it goes to the same issue as the Web Master. If you only need a limited number of hours of a Marketing Manager then you need to do the math to see which strategy makes the most sense. Outsourced Marketing Managers typically come from full-service Advertising or Marketing Agencies. One advantage they bring is they often have the development team your business needs and they already know how to work together. Even when this position is outsourced you still want to have the ultimate control of this within your business because nobody takes care of your business like you do.
There are people that can serve more than one position but they are rare and when they serve the multiple functions they maybe over or under priced. The key is getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats and it is the Marketing Manager that has to orchestrate this team and facilitate communication between the different skills.