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Are There Still Opportunities Working on the Web?

The dot-com bubble of the late 1990s was a crazy time. Everyone knew the Internet was going to be huge, but they didn't know who the big players were going to be. So investors threw money at anything that ended in "dot-com."

Back then it was easy to get a job on the web. Things have settled down now, but there are still lots of Internet-related jobs to be found. People such as web developers, social media consultants, programmers and Internet marketers are in demand, to name just a few.

The Role of Social Media

Hallie Janssen is the vice-president of an Internet marketing company in Portland, Oregon. Her company focuses on search engine optimization (commonly called SEO) and social media marketing.

Search engine optimization involves helping companies show up near the top of the results list in Google and other search engines. If someone searches for "bird houses" and your company is on the 10th page of results, you might never be found.

"In my role as vice-president, I work with our team of 12 people and our clients of around 70 to execute high-level strategies and kind of build their business with Internet marketing in mind," says Janssen.

One way that companies are trying to build their businesses is with social media. Social media is very big right now. Facebook, the biggest social media site, has more than 500 million users worldwide. That is a lot of potential customers! Companies are anxious to reach those people with their marketing messages.

Social media experts like Janssen are helping them do that. Companies like hers employ young people who use social media every day -- young people who understand their appeal and can help companies reach the people who use them. Janssen says social media has caught the attention of business leaders. They're telling their managers and marketing staff to get onto the social media wave.

"We see a lot... of companies that are doing social media at the high level, so the CEO is deciding that they need to do social media, and it's because his kids are on Facebook, or it's because he read an article in the Wall Street Journal," she says.

Janssen says young people can get jobs with Internet marketing companies if they have a good understanding of Facebook and similar sites. They will usually be asked to execute the social media strategies developed by senior marketing staff. But understanding Facebook means much more than being able to create a profile or fan page.

"Facebook is becoming much more interactive," says Janssen. "There are applications that you can tie to Facebook. There's customization you can do using technology like FBML, which is Facebook Markup Language. So you can create a custom tab on Facebook and not have to rely on the standard five or six tabs that they start out with.

"Facebook is much more customized now," she adds. "And there's also something now called Facebook Insights, where they're giving you deeper analytics on people that have liked what you've had to say and are passing around your information. So I can find out all kinds of info about my demographics and the audience that I'm reaching."

Young people who have grown up with Facebook and similar sites "get" social media in a way that many older people don't. This makes their perspective and skills a hot commodity.

"I really think it's the younger generation that's going to drive this part of social [media] that says, 'Hey, by the way, there's these cool things that we can do using different technologies to plug into Facebook to amplify our message even further,'" says Janssen.

Web Analytics

Even though social media is huge, there might be even better opportunities on the web.

"Social [media] is hot, and social is the big thing," says Janssen. "But I would also say there are other disciplines that are growing faster and are probably going to be here longer than... social media as it's defined today."

The best opportunities, Janssen believes, could be with something called web analytics because it "touches everything that Internet marketing does."

Web analytics is about analyzing the traffic that's coming to a website. Three of the main providers of web analytics tools are Webtrends, Omniture and Google (Google Analytics).

"It's just a tiny snippet of code that resides on every single page of your website," explains Janssen. "Through that code you can understand how people are getting to your website, so if it's through a referral link on another site, or if it's through a search engine."

Web analytics can also tell you what keywords someone used in a search engine to find you. You can also figure out what pages they're visiting on your site. If people are having trouble using or getting around your site, you'll know that. You can find out if lots of people are visiting your site but then deciding for some reason to not make a purchase.

"[Web analytics] is just exploding right now because CEOs today are realizing that they can measure social media," says Janssen.

"Just six months ago, social media was talked about like, 'Oh, you can't measure it, it's just branding, it's just awareness.' And now they're saying, 'Wait a minute, we can make money off of Facebook.' And so how are we going to measure that? It's through web analytics packages like Google Analytics, which is going to tell you how [customers] came in, what they bought, if they filled out a lead generation form, things of that nature.

"I think it's so important for students nowadays to get an education in analytics," says Janssen.

It's possible to get certified in Google Analytics. This is done online through Google and costs $50. Also, some colleges and universities are starting to teach web analytics.

Janssen's company hires young people who have taken courses in subjects like finance and economics to do web analytics. They look for people who are very math driven and can use database software such as Excel.

"We require that they're experts in Excel so that they understand how to use Excel with very complex formulas... and things of that nature," she says. "It takes a very scientific and mathematical mind to really understand what's going on on the Internet. It's not just, you get a marketing degree and you've got a job."

In short, data analysis is where it's at.

"Those jobs are just going to explode because there's just more and more data that we're creating and that is able to be analyzed," says Janssen.

The Changing Role of Website Designers

David West is a website designer and Internet marketer. He says the role of website designer has expanded and changed in recent years.

"There certainly is still demand for web designers," he says. "I think, though, that that term is far more diversified than it was five years ago."

In the past, a web designer might have been someone who had taken design courses and knew a little bit of HTML (a programming language for websites).

But there's much more to website design and development these days, says West. Now, a website design team has to include skilled programmers because websites can't just look good. They need to do things like take feedback from users and track user demographics.

"Somebody entering the field of web design really needs to decide: Are they a graphic artist, or are they a programmer?" says West. "And a client who's going to develop a successful website really needs two people, or two skill sets.... There's more to a website than just a pretty face.... There also has to be a programmer involved if you want it to actually do something for you."

Search engine optimizers are also in demand, he says. (They are often the same people who design the website.)

"That industry has continued to flourish and grow," West says. "...Ten years ago you couldn't sell search engine optimization to a person -- there was no perceived value in it. Today, when a client comes into our shop for web development, they're asking the question: 'Can you also help me after the website is live and get me to show up on the first page of Google?'

"So clients have a much greater understanding and perception of the value of search, and so that's created a whole new raft of employment opportunities -- people who just practice search engine optimization," West adds. "So now you can see how the term web designer meant one thing 10 years ago, [but] it means something totally different today."

West says it's a good idea for aspiring website designers and marketers to take courses in those subjects. There are many certificates and diplomas being offered by colleges. But being self-taught isn't necessarily a barrier to employment.

"I started as a freelancer in about 1995 and taught myself how to program websites, and then continued from there," he says. "And six years ago (around 2004), I started a full-time web development company, and put together a team and have gone full steam ahead. I've never once had a client ask me, 'What education do you have in web development?'

"Having said that... if I was starting over again, if I was 19 years old, going to college or university, and had an interest in this, I think that that individual coming into the workforce will eventually have an advantage by being able to use [their education] as a differentiator from the freelancers of the world," he adds. "So there certainly is value in education."

Scott Hendison has been an Internet marketing specialist since 2006. He specializes in what's known as "organic" or "natural" search results on search engines such as Google. This means he helps companies show up near the top of the results lists in those search engines "naturally" (as opposed to paying for top placement). This involves knowing how search engines rank websites. One of many factors is the number of other websites that link to your website.

Hendison says there is, "lots and lots of demand for [Internet] consultants, but everybody claims to be an expert. And when push comes to shove, the work needs to be done, and the people who are consultants need people to do the work, too, and that's where there's a lot of demand."

In other words, Internet consultants like Hendison need programmers working with them to create the actual websites. Hendison says there's a "monster growth spurt" in the use of Wordpress, a software platform for creating websites. Nearly 10 percent of websites are now running on Wordpress and it's "growing like crazy," he says. "Wordpress developers are in huge, high demand."

There are also two programming languages for website development called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) that are hot right now.

"People who are really good with CSS and PHP programming can earn incredible livings working for Internet marketers like myself," says Hendison. "That's most of my employees, and some of the subcontracting we've done -- it's always PHP and CSS programmers to work within Wordpress. And they're always busy."

Even though lots of people are becoming Internet marketers and website developers, West says there's room for more. "I've been running a full-time web development business for the last six years, and I've never really had a sense of competition," he says. "I've never felt like the next opportunity isn't going to come because my competitors are on my heels, so I don't think that the market is saturated.

"I think that for web development companies to prosper into the future, they're going to have to diversify," West adds. "So they're going to have to have designers and programmers, they're going to have to have people who are online marketers who specialize in SEO and social media, and I believe those are two different roles.

"Search optimizers tend to be very data [oriented], analytical, black-and-white kind of people...." says West. "Social [media] people tend to be just that -- very social -- and they should be, frankly, because that's what it's all about. And those social people are often people that... don't come from a technology background -- they come from a background like public relations or communications."

Hendison agrees with West that demand remains steady for people who can create great websites and get people to notice them.

"There never seems to be any slowdown," says Hendison. "I mean, individual clients, individual industries will slow down, of course, but there never seems to be any shortage of people wanting to rank better or people wanting to drive more traffic."


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