Developing Career Opportunities on the Web -or Looking for Work in All the Right Places

By June Campbell

Want to break into a good web job?

The days when a high school graduate could step into a lower-level web design job are over, according to Jennifer Laycock, forum administrator for Entry-level web positions require a much wider skill set than was the case five years ago. However, there is good news for the newcomer. Plenty of opportunities are opening up for industrious self-starters who look for work in all the right places.

Web technologies change so quickly that universities cannot keep up. Therefore, employers are looking for people with skills that schools are not yet offering. "New areas in web development are coming up, and these jobs are being filled by industrious, self-taught young people," Laycock commented. "For example, search engine optimization and ROI analyses are not yet taught in schools in any depth, but those skills are in demand."

Self-taught newcomers with the following skills will be attractive to employers.

1. ROI (Return on Investment) Analyses.

When a company invests their dollars in a marketing campaign, they want to know how much they gained or lost because of that investment. While all industries perform ROI analyses, web marketers employ unique practices that do not apply to the offline world. The online marketer seeks answers to questions such as, "How many web site visitors are converting to customers?"; "What is my clickthrough ratio (CTR)?"; "What is the CPM (cost per thousand) of my banner ad?" You don't need to be a statistical wizard to do this work, but you do need to be familiar with basic mathematics.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

SEO specialists strive to obtain a high search engine ranking for a web site. The days of writing a decent META tag and submitting your site to a variety of search engines are long gone. Today's SEO analyst keeps current with the major search engines' ever-changing activities. He or she performs an array of activities aimed at achieving the coveted high keyword rankings. Getting it right is important. Search engines penalize those who innocently or deliberately violate their policies. Additionally, since many SEO tactics are not free, ROI analyzes is included in the needed skill set.

3. Web Site Usability.

Usability specialists study how a person interacts when they arrive at a web site. Usability specialists attempt to answer questions such as, "What makes a person click on a link?", "What makes a person read a certain area of text, but not another"; "What makes a site visitor buy a product or service?" and "How do people navigate through a site?"

Site navigation plays a major role in web site usability. "Setting up navigation on a big site is complex," Laycock remarked. "Consider a big site like Microsoft's and think how difficult it can be to find what you are looking for."

4. Accessibility Analyses.

A sub-set of web usability, this skill involves analyzing a web site to determine how accessible it is to persons with visual or physical impairments. For example, persons with visual impairments often use a special accessibility browser that reads the web's content aloud. The browser cannot respond properly unless the site is coded in certain ways. Many large companies' web sites wreck havoc on an accessible browser.

In the US, the government requires that any web site funded with government monies must be accessible. Therefore, a consultant, or a job seeker who is skilled in accessibility analyses would be at a hiring advantage over someone who is not.

How do you learn these skills if they are not readily available in schools? Laycock suggests spending time at forums such as Webmaster World ( and other online communities dedicated to web site development. She comments that senior forum members are often very helpful to newcomers. "It's rather like a free college education; you get out of it what you put into it, but it's a learning environment that costs absolutely nothing."

And, it pays off. Laycock reports that one large SEO company has recruited its last several employees from online forums.

Entry-level positions no longer pay $35,000 or $40,000 to start, as they did five or ten years ago. However, those willing to start at a lower wage are able to work themselves up into higher paid positions.

A Computerworld survey, conducted in 2003, found that tech support specialists earn from $46,000 to $52,000, depending on location. The average salary for a programmer analyst on the East Coast was $75,000, while an experienced project manager earned approximately $106,000.

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