A week’s work experience at BarkWeb

by Gabby Willcocks

I approached my week at BarkWeb excited about the opportunity to gain experience at a digital company, but wary that my lack of technological expertise would leave me a fish out of water. I had nothing to worry about – the team slotted me in somewhere that was challenging and stimulating, but not totally alien. I sat in on client meetings, produced work that was published, and learned about the various sections of the company from team members. I’m a third year English Literature student at Falmouth University and while I’ve done the usual summer jobs, I wanted to do something that was relevant to my potential future career paths, and I think that moving into the digital world is an important step to take.

Work experience is something that I think is incredibly important in today’s job market and culture. People my age can expect to change jobs up to around twelve times in their lifetime – so getting a head start on finding out where your interests lie, or finding out where they definitely do not, is time well spent. The ‘work experience’ label tends to be associated with GCSE and A-Level pupils, who are encouraged to spend a week in a local business or industry to help them decide what the future of their education will look like. This can be a valuable lesson for them but can also help older students or school leavers who are looking for ways to apply their skills in the real world.

BarkWeb’s field of expertise sounds – to the uninitiated – like something that can only be understood with five degrees, ten years of experience and some witchcraft. But they make it simple. Their tagline is: ‘Design, Develop, Optimise, Promote’, and that is exactly what they do. I was astounded by how comprehensive their service is, and how much care and effort goes into providing it. I was aware that websites, like buildings, need to be assembled from the ground up and that before construction starts someone needs to draw blueprints, source materials, and decide what the building is for. My grasp of website development was as tenuous as my understanding of construction clearly is, but I’ve learned a lot about the process of creating and maintaining websites for different purposes.

Design and development are the earliest stages on the path to website nirvana, and the ones that seem the most obviously necessary and complex. Someone needs to design what the website will look like – more important than you think, in an age where our attention spans are shortening rapidly and visuals need to be innovative and interesting enough to catch our eye. If design is something that most people underestimate, the development process fades into the realm of mystery for the majority of us. Someone has to write code that dictates everything the website is and does. The menu, the pages, the buttons and links – all of this is optimised so that the website is responsive for users, so the website administrators can easily update the website, whatever their level of experience with computers is, and so BarkWeb can keep an eye on things from behind the scenes and keep everything running smoothly.

Optimise and promote is something that never even crossed my mind when thinking about web design but is the area that I spent the most time learning about. I had never thought about the difference between organic and paid search results, or how just a few changes, keeping the principles for SEO online, can drastically increase the amount of visibility a website can get on various search engines and results. A little bit of research into which keywords attract the most attention can stretch a long way, and the effort of staying on top of current trends can transform itself into publicity and commercial success. Digital marketing is the way forward. You might still get a ridiculous number of leaflets flung through your letterbox, but online advertising is more effective and less intrusive. Social media adverts can use different visuals to attract people: video, photo, illustration and animation all catch the eye and stand out from the rest of the content we consume. Ads can be sent out by email or remarketed to consumers on other websites after visiting your own. It’s not sneaky or invasive – it just uses basic information to remind people about your website and product.

The huge amount of content online means that you really have to find a way to stand out from the crowd. The first way is the website design, which has to grab people’s attention and convince them that you have something special to offer them. The next thing is doing that! From a consumer’s perspective, I know how picky I am with what I read online. If I don’t like what’s on the screen, I move on. But trying to create content that I would consume is a lot harder. It was challenging to try and balance the professional tone needed with the enthusiasm and personality that actually attracts people, and I enjoyed learning how to see what different clients needed for their target audience.

The combination of professionalism and enthusiasm is also something that is central to how BarkWeb runs. They are always extremely professional, but their enjoyment of what they do is clear and enthuses everyone who meets with them. This week has been an immersive introduction to a career I had only thought about on a broad spectrum, and taught me that there is far more to the web than meets the eye.

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