What is a Web Strategist?

My long time friend Martin McKeay (Network Security A-Lister) asked a curious question when I tweeted about Len Devanna, EMC’s Web Strategist. Martin asks: “I saw your tweet about EMC, saw that Len’s role is Director of Web Strategy. Better question would be what does that really mean?”

What is a Web Strategist?

The web strategist is responsible for the long term planning and ongoing programs for a website, at least one exists at every corporation.

A web strategist (this isn’t just a term I made up for my blog) is a REAL job title typically found in large corporations where the web is a necessary communication channel, or a title used by internet consultants who provide high level advice. Most often the web strategist is in marketing, but this role can appeal to the intranet or extranet. They are responsible for balancing the three spheres of web strategy (See graphic).

They manage budget, and ultimately are key decision makers for which vendors are hired.

Questions they have to answer:
How do we align our website with our corporate objectives?
How do we spend our resources?
How do we measure our return on investment?
How do our customers think of our website?
How do I prioritize our projects?
What future technologies do I need to be aware of?

They are often at Director level, VP level, and on occasion, when the website is mission-critical, they are at C level (Chief Internet Officer, or some variation), at eCommerce companies this may be the web product manager. They often report to a senior rank in marketing, or sometimes engineering or IT.

Web Strategists are business people first, tech people second. They understand the direction and strategy of the company, and know how to use the web to meet those needs. They do have a background working in web, often from 5-10 years, and they know which of the many forms of web marketing they need to use to meet their business objective.

A Web Strategist is actually a program manager, this means they manage ongoing projects, teams, and resources, to understand the difference between tasks, projects and programs, read this guide. They manage a profit and loss, and often responsible to other business units, manage budgets, and measure ROI.

Often, they act as a director to project managers, web managers. Those teams assemble the technical teams, as well as technical teams reporting directly to the Web Strategist.

Who they interact with:
Aside from managing their own team, they deal with the many internal business stakeholders, their management, and spend time managing relationships and deliveries from vendors. See this list of the many external constituents.

They are paid as director or VP level. In the SF bay area, and experienced web strategist who’s responsible for the public website of a large corporation should be paid at director level or above. I would expect that to be 80-120k, and in the rare case be 120-300, esp if it’s a large web or eCommerce company. This varies greatly, so do not refer to that example as doctrine, as I’ve not done formal research to back it up.

Notable Professionals
Here’s a few people that are doing good work, many I’ve worked with in the past, do note the title isn’t as important as the responsibility and duties.

  • Michele Frost, Director, Web Marketing, Forrester Research (current colleague)
  • Peter S. Group Director, Enterprise Web Strategy (my former boss)
  • Lisa D. Director of Online Marketing at Joie de Vivre Hospitality (former colleague)
  • Olivier N. Director, Global Web Marketing, Hitachi Data Systems (briefly, my former manager)
  • James Spanfeller President, Chief Executive Officer, Forbes.com
  • Dave Churbuck, Vice-President of Global Web Marketing
  • Bryan Rhoads, Senior Internet strategist, social media and online community specialist, Intel
  • Where to find them:
    If you’re trying to hire a senior web strategist, they can be found already working at another company (you’ll likely have to poach) or they are members of my Facebook Web Strategy Group, or attend regional meetings at the Internet Strategy Forum, a group I’ve been involved with for years. In 2006 they published research based upon a member survey.

    If you’re a recruiter, you can advertise a job opening on the Web Strategy Job board, powered by Job-o-matic.

    I’ve video interviewed Len before, if you want to know him better. You can follow me on Twitter, my handle is jowyang.

    24 Replies to “What is a Web Strategist?”

    1. Jeremiah – GREAT post (as usual) and I think this is something I can relate to. I’m an eMarketing Manager for a small company (50-100 people) & I’m basically a lot of things you mentioned above. What do I do on a daily basis?

      – Work with our agency of record & web design team
      – Managed redesign of website
      – Handle online event management registration
      – Conduct email marketing campaigns for B2B and B2C
      – Supervise partners and manage internal team expectations
      – Conduct analysis of programs and reporting
      – and I’m theoretically supposed to explore all other venues like social media, podcasting, etc.

      Obviously I’m not high on the proverbial totem pole but would you still classify that as a web strategist? Is the term “strategist” something that is the key in all of this? I do some strategizing as well in my work, but mostly tactical since the overall marketing strategy comes from my supervisor.

      And I’m not really managing an internal team of web guys. In our office, I’m the sole staffer working on web stuff. Anything web-related comes to me.

    2. For a smaller company, you are certainly meeting the duties of internet strategy. So yes, you’re doing this.

      But you’re also doing quite a few other marketing roles, such as direct marketing, and to some extent, marketing measurement and research.

      For larger companies, there are hundreds of marketers working within a corporation, and the specific task or role gets specialize and segmented.

      So, to answer your question, you are indeed performing the web strategy role, but you’re doing other eMarketing roles as well.

    3. So is a web strategist only applicable in bigger organizations where your only responsibility is to focus on planning and strategizing?

      Would you consider someone in my position as a hybrid web manager/strategist role?

    4. Ken

      The ‘official’ job title, in this case, Len Devanna from EMC (a very large corporation) that’s his official job, title and responsibility.

      For smaller companies, as in your case, this is a subset role of your job as a marketing manager.

      To me, the titles aren’t important, and you shouldn’t dwell on them.

      Instead, focus on the actual outcomes that your role delivers.

    5. Thanks Jeremiah…I think I was starting to confuse myself. You’re right: If I’m already executing the role(s) of a web strategist, then a title is merely that…something to put on a piece of paper & look impressive. Good point! Thanks for the insight.

    6. Jeremiah,

      Thanks for answering my question and a whole lot more. This also helps me understand why you’re so passionate about what you do. I’m always curious about job titles, what they mean to the people doing the hiring and what they mean to the people in the position. All too often, they’re not the same.


    7. My question: In this day and age (the age of search results as our launch pad online and the “social age”), is Web Strategist as you have defined it – “The web strategist is responsible for the long term planning and ongoing programs for a website” – the right job?

      Is it more productive to have a “digital strategy” role like the ones we have that extend beyond the web site and into all of the digital connections and communities that we now consume: social nets, mobile devices, syndicated content channels, search, etc…? That role then sees the “Web site” as part of a larger presence and involvment via digital channels.

      I suppose you still need a smaller role for those who are actively managing the Web site but they must be organized around the larger digital strategy that includes all these other connections and channels. (It’s kind of like what has happened to account planners in ad agencies – they are now “connections planners” or some such title to acknowledge the broader job and field they work in)

    8. John Bell

      Yes, it is more helpful to have an overall digital strategy, in fact, it would be MORE helpful to have a ‘Marketing’ strategy, but with that said, there is a specific need that appears within corporate of an individual who runs and manages the web.

      The same could be said for internal intranets as well as public sites.

      Either way, it’s assumed that a large corporation has someone managing the digital strategy (mobile, email, search, web) and incorporates key team players like the web strategist during the planning and implementation stages.

      So to answer your question succinctly: you need both.

    9. Nice post, Jeremiah. Well articulated description from my POV. As is evident in the comments, many are serving in this or similar role but with different titles. I agree with the sentiment above – it’s less about your title and more about your responsibilities.

      You’ll also see slightly different structures as you look @ different companies. In my world, I’m a bit more of a generalist. I do not have direct responsibility for our primary platforms (although I have in the past), but partner very closely with those that do (these folks are my peers). My role is to look @ the biggest picture possible – understanding the companies overall strategy and applying it to our digital roadmap. It’s also about understanding emerging technologies and trends – identifying those that are relevant from a business perspective, and working to drive adoption throughout the enterprise. As example, my team is currently in the midst of deploying Social Media across the company.

      Couldn’t agree more with your comment – ‘Web Strategists are business people first, tech people second.’… This is key. I started my web career on the IT side of the house back in 95’ish. I understand the inner workings on the back end, am capable of having deep technical discussions and have an intimate understanding of the development life-cycle. But – the real value comes when you combine that knowledge with the ‘WHY’… The successful Web Strategist must be able to bridge the ‘communications gap’ that often exists between technical and business organizations.

      If anyone’s considering moving their career in this direction, let me know if you’d like to chat in more detail. While, I’m a bit biased, I think this to be among the most exciting roles in the online world. The Web Strategist has direct visibility into a companies strategic roadmap and license to shape an enabling online ecosystem around that strategy.

    10. Jeremiah,
      I currently work for a great media arts non-profit and have been tasked with rewriting my job description. This post is really informative to that.

      I’ve been following this blog for a awhile and as a budding Online Community Manager, I constantly turn to it for inspiration and insight.

      Thank you so much!

    11. Great info.. I’m working as an SEO since a Year.. What all should i learn to become a web strategist?

    12. Great info.. I’m working as an SEO since a Year.. What all should i learn to become a web strategist?

    13. Thanks for the information! Very useful. This is a relatively new term in my country (Argentina).

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