An Open Letter to Content Marketers and Link Builders

Dear Content Marketers and Link Builders,

Do you send emails to authors and publishers that frame a backlink request as if you’re doing them a favor?

I’m on to you. And hopefully, other web publishers are too.

I know it’s becoming rare, but I research before I write about a topic. If a link helped me, it’s likely to help my readers, and so I always cite those sources and provide those links. Your URL was not a source for my article, and in spite of your claims, it almost never offers any value to my writing.

The dark secret you don’t authors to know is that giving you a backlink could affect their ranking.  If they link to your content using the keywords they want to rank for, Google may just decide your content is more authoritative than theirs.  But you already knew that, didn’t you? I understand this game because I’ve dipped my toes into your water deep enough to know just how gross it can be.

So I’m unlikely to ever respond positively to these emails. If you’ve got a “blacklist,” then kindly add me to it.

On its face, this strategy feels like it’s light-years ahead of old techniques like blog-spamming. You’re selective about your backlink targets. You’re asking permission rather than posting the unwanted link yourselves. But you’re still gaming the system by soliciting links your content hasn’t earned, and instead of exploiting weak comment forms you’re leveraging human psychology by framing the request as if you’re doing the author a favor.

I appreciate that folks in your line of work are putting effort into finding pages relevant and authoritative on a specific topic if that’s what you’re doing. But are you?

I have no proof, but my coder’s brain thinks you’re working smart, not hard.

It would be easy to write code that calls Ahrefs or some other keyword research tool to build lists of high-authority pages for a keyword. That script could then submit the site’s contact form automatically, filling out the message from a template.

You’ve got to accept that someone like me that works on the web every day knows what’s up when you send these requests. Unfortunately, I also understand I’m a minority. You wouldn’t be doing it if your game was well-understood because it wouldn’t be profitable.

I know you folks are just trying to make a living and I don’t fault you for that. But what you’re doing hurts the web, and it harms humanity.

Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, we’re all agonizingly familiar with the concept of fake news. But the problem did not start with them. Propaganda is probably as old as language itself. But the Internet scales the danger of misinformation like the atomic bomb scales the risk of combustion.

The world wide web started with the potential to transform humanity positively. It could equalize. It could bring us together in ways that physical geography makes impossible. All of the sudden we had a source of virtually free information that could level the intellectual playing field between the haves and the have-nots. Hyperlinks offered a mechanism to reference sources and other information in their entirety, making it very easy to quickly “deep dive” on topics or skills we wanted to master.

I had hope for this technology’s potential to improve our access to low-cost, high-quality education.

But money, advertising, and political gamesmanship left their mark, and now we’re left with a near limitless supply of untrustworthy information in which users ask questions, and get answers whose validity is gauged by how well their authors gamed the algorithms rather than quality or correctness.

The SEO field grew because everyone thinks their content deserves to be in the top 10 search result, or if they recognize that it doesn’t deserve a high ranking, they’re willing to pay to get it anyway. Search engines respond to this challenge with better algorithms to reward better answers and better content. Marketers react by switching tactics. This strategy of benevolent solicitation adds some nuance to link building efforts, but it’s still a game.

You want your client’s content to be the “best answer” to a particular search query. I get that. But unless the material actually fits that description, you’re hurting the web.

As long as marketers can influence and control what users see when they search, those marketers are helping to build the post-fact world, and shift the Internet from a tool of intellectual and political freedom into an engine of global propaganda. </tinfoilhat>

Plus your non-stop emails and follow-ups are just f*#!ing annoying. Make great content, and if it’s worth linking, I’m going to find it. I promise.


What is a Soft 404?

What is a Soft 404?

A Soft 404 is an error that describes a web request that returns a successful response code (200), but the response does not contain the expected content.

Regular 404 File Not Found Errors

404 is the HTTP (the communications protocol of the web) error code that means File Not Found. Error 404 is so well-known that it’s wormed its way into our pop culture. Error 404 occurs on a static website (a site that just serves files from a folder on a web server) when a file is requested and does not exist.  A 404 may occur from a site running a content management system like WordPress or Drupal when a user requests a page that does not exist in the site’s database.

To differentiate between soft 404 errors and the type we just described, we call a standard 404 a Hard 404. A Hard 404 occurs when the server returns the 404 response code.

How a Soft 404 is Different from a Hard 404

Soft 404 occurs when the server returns a successful response code (200), but Google, Bing, or some other service determines that the reply doesn’t contain the expected content.

How does that happen?

If you have a WordPress site, it’s very easy to replicate. Create an empty category, tag, or other taxonomy. Make sure there are no posts assigned to it.  View the new category’s page on your website.  WordPress will return a successful response code, but in most cases, the page content will end up displaying a message saying the content is missing.

A successful response code, but a response that doesn’t contain the expected content. That’s a soft 404.

Why does that happen?

Think about what’s happening. If you visit the URL for a blog category and the category exists, then the content was found, right? But if the blog category contains no content, the right thing for the CMS to do is to inform you that there are no blog posts under that category.  WordPress is doing the right thing.  Google is responding by telling you about the issue. Now it’s up to you to fix your content in a way that’s most helpful to your visitors.

Where Can I See My Soft 404 Errors?

Login to Google Search Console and select your site. Click the Crawl tab and then choose the Crawl Errors report. You’ll be able to see all of your crawl errors including soft 404 errors.

How do I Avoid Creating Soft 404’s?

Generally speaking: don’t create scenarios where your web server is sending a 200 (Success) response code, but sends a response body that indicates missing content.

Helpful, right?

I most often see soft 404 errors occur when I restructure the tags and categories used on a WordPress site.  You can avoid this by thinking about your category and tag structures before you start creating content, so you don’t have to restructure later and accidentally cause a variety of crawl errors, including both hard and soft 404’s.

How do I fix a Soft 404?

There’s a good chance you’ll eventually run into soft 404 errors no matter how hard you try to avoid them.

Fixing them depends on the cause and your website’s platform.  Generally speaking, you repair a soft 404 by making sure that the URL returns the right response code for the actual response content. Here are some ideas on how to fix a Soft 404:

  • Make it a Hard 404.  If the content doesn’t exist, ensure that your website is returning the appropriate response code. Of course, this is just another error that will show up on your Crawl Errors report. So this is the Viagra solution because you’re making your 404 hard, but the only thing getting screwed is your website.
  • 301 Redirect it to a valid URL.  Make the URL point to existing and relevant content. A 301 resolves the error while helping visitors to stay on your site.
  • Make it valid. Figure out why the request is being considered a soft 404.  Did you accidentally create a category or tag structure with no associated posts?  Add some content to the taxonomy, so there is content there when the page is indexed.

Do Soft 404 Errors Affect My SEO?

Soft 404 errors, like hard 404 errors, can harm your SEO ranking.  Search engines don’t like to discover that they’ve indexed and linked to content that no longer exists. These sorts of errors send a signal about your content quality, and Google eventually removed URLs that result in 404 errors (hard or soft).

Another reason to care about soft 404 errors: a search engine will only exert so much energy toward crawling your website.  This is called your crawl budget. If Google only plans to spend so much time on your domain, you want them focused on your working content, not broken links.

how to leave facebook the right way featured image

5 Steps to Leave Facebook the Right Way

I hate Facebook. No, that’s a lie. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, and both emotions have the power to keep me unintentionally captivated by the nonsense going on in my feed. One thing I know for sure is that I have to leave Facebook.

A friend mentioned a few weeks ago that she was quitting social media to make her communication more intentional.

Intentional communication.

What a concept. Her words struck a chord with me and ever since I’ve been experimenting with ways to solve my Facebook addiction.

I’m a web marketer. How the Hell can I quit social media?

Here’s how. I need a Facebook account to access pages that I manage. That’s unavoidable. But I want to separate myself from the day-to-day drama of social media. So I’ve developed a few simple steps to help you wipe your account’s information, and the ability to communicate with you through Facebook, while still retaining your ability to log in and manage pages.

Step 1: Back up your Profile Data

Inevitably you’ll want to contact someone you were friends with on Facebook, or you’ll want to reference some long-forgotten post or message. Facebook offers a way to download a backup of your Facebook profile. Click here to learn how to backup your profile. This operation will generate a ZIP file with your Facebook history, Facebook contacts, and more. Is it in a useful format? Eh. Not really. Most of the information comes in an HTML file. You can open in a web browser and manually copy/paste what you need.

how to download your facebook data

Leave Facebook Step 1: Go to your General Account Settings and click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.”

Step 2: Delete Your Facebook Activity

It’s a well-established fact that deactivating your Facebook profile doesn’t delete anything. And remember: I need my account active, so deactivating or deleting my account aren’t good options anyway. But I want to be able to

  • Remove my relationship with all of my friends.
  • Remove as much of my Facebook history as possible so my kids can’t find evidence of what an ass their dad was.

Fortunately, a smart programmer has found a way!

Install Google Chrome if it’s not already your browser of choice, and then install the F___book Post Manager Chrome plugin. Log in to your Facebook account and navigate to your Activity Feed. Open the plugin and configure it to delete the posts you want to be removed. A word of caution: this operation is aggressive. And it’s buggy. You’ll need to run the plugin several times to remove all your activity. Some activity, such as posts by friends you’re tagged in, just can’t be deleted.

Use the F___book Post Manager plugin to delete your activity

Leave Facebook Step 2: Use the F___book Post Manager plugin to delete your activity

Step 3: Unfriend Everyone

Deleting your friends is the emotionally challenging but most meaningful part of the process. You need to say goodbye to all of your Facebook friends. Why? Because bad associations are a big reason why Facebook sucks. That may be a generalization, but it was certainly true for me. Facebook was a negative influence on my life for three reasons I can identify:

  • My friendships were based on real-world associations, friendships, and family ties. Those relationships didn’t translate well into the digital space.
  • Facebook seems to show content based on it’s potential to keep you on Facebook, not on value to the viewer. Ad revenue powers the Internet. And ads are driven by session duration (engagement). If you’re interested in this topic, listen to Sam Harris’ conversation with design ethicist Tristan Harris. It’ll make you want to punch the Internet in its greedy face.
  • My behavior. I had this idea that people can and should have reasonable conversations about ideas. I would posts questions or facts and try to start a polite discussion. My network of friends would prove me wrong about their ability to discuss ideas like grown-ups and damage my respect for them a little each time. In the end, I had to admit that I could accomplish nothing positive. I was just an accidental troll.

The best resolution for me was to unfriend everybody. Nobody can be mad if you’re treating them the same way you treat your mother, right?

It’s easy. Go to your profile and click the Friends tab. Go through your list and click “Unfriend” to everyone on the list. Depending on the number of associations you have this could take a while, and I didn’t find a faster way to do it.

How To Unfriend your Facebook Friends

Leave Facebook Step 3: Go to your profile and click the Friends tab. Then click “Unfriend” for everybody.

Step 4: Update Your Security and Privacy Settings

Now your Facebook profile has no history and no relationships. How do you keep it that way? You lock down your profile. Go to your Facebook settings and, for once in your sad online life, make use Privacy tab. Here are the settings that I have configured to limit communication and friend requests going forward:

  • Who can see my stuff? Friends (which is nobody) You can also restrict the audience on old posts since there is probably some content that was not deleted by Step 2.
  • Who can contact me? Friends of friends (which is nobody)
  • Who can look me up? Friends (for all settings)
A screenshot of my Facebook privacy settings, configured to allow minimal contact.

Leave Facebook Step 4: Facebook privacy settings for minimal contact.

Step 5: A Final, Public Post

This last step is optional but recommended. Write a final post on your Facebook profile that lets people know that you’re no longer using Facebook, you will not see or respond to their messages, and how they can contact you going forward. Here’s what I wrote:

Looking for Brian? He’s not here anymore. This Facebook account only exists so I can log in and manage my clients. DO NOT POST. DO NOT MESSAGE ME. I will not see it.
If you need to contact me, for business or personal reasons, go to my business page and find my contact info.


As of this moment I’ve been off of Facebook for two weeks. I feel good. I feel happier than I did when I was using Facebook. And I feel more productive. I never bothered to measure the amount of time I spend on Facebook, but it had to average out to 1-2 hours a day. That’s a lot of wasted time, especially to a person whose self-employed.

Leaving Facebook was the right choice for me. And leaving it intelligently by deleting my data trail, removing my associations, and leaving my account intact makes sense for me and my career. But of course, your needs and mileage may vary.

Do you suffer from social media fatigue like me?  Do you have a different way of dealing with it?  Let me know! Leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

add a google reviews badge to your wordpress site without a plugin

Add a Google Reviews Widget to WordPress Without a Plugin

This article will teach you how to leverage the Google Places API to add a Google reviews widget to your WordPress website.

Why Customer Reviews Matter

It doesn’t matter if you’re an online-only or a traditional brick-and-mortar business: customer reviews matter. Reviews are an important ranking signal for local search optimization (increasing the visibility of your business listings in services like Google My Business). In addition to getting visitors to your site, reviews provide trust and credibility that turns a casual visitor into a customer. In other words, they can influence click-through rates, bounce rates, and conversions.

If your website hosts it’s own customer reviews (in the right format), Google will show review stars as part of your organic listings.

But if you don’t have reviews built into your website, getting review stars to show up can be hard to achieve. And why add review functionality to your site when Google already provides them?

We’re going to leverage the reviews that are already on our Google My Business listings to add a reviews widget to a WordPress site.

Get a Google API Key

First, you’ll need a Google API key. Follow these instructions to create a project and create an API key, and then follow these instructions to enable the Google Places API for your new project:

  1. Go to your Google Developer Console and make sure you are on the app you just created.
  2. Click Enable API, search for the Google Places Web Service and click the link for that service.
  3. Click Enable to allow calls to the Google Places Web Service from your application.

This configuration will provide you with a key to access the Google API and query the Google Places web service.

Write WordPress Code to Pull Your Business’ Google Reviews

There is a little bit of code involved in this process, and I admittedly don’t write short code.  So rather than reproduce it here, I’ve added it to a Gift which I’ve embedded below.

This code is split up into several sections.

RWC_Google_Places Class

The RWC_Google_Places class acts as a wrapper around the Google Places web services that we need to access.

Create a new instance by passing the API key to the class’ constructor. The findPlaces() method searches the Places API for all locations that match the query. The query can be a business name or address. The method returns a PHP object built from the JSON response retrieved from the API.

The getDetails() method queries the Places API for in-depth details about a particular “place” using the ID associated with the listing. Pass it a place ID, and it will return a PHP object containing the listing’s details.

RWC_Google_Reviews Class

The RWC_Google_Reviews class leverages the wrapper class to retrieve Place details and generate the badge via the WordPress Shortcode API. Create an instance by calling the constructor and passing your Google API key. It will automatically register shortcodes with WordPress.

Displaying the Google Reviews Widget

To generate a shortcode, add the No query or placeId attributes specified on shortcode. shortcode to your page content. Of course, that’s not quite enough.  To create a badge, you’ll also have to specify one of two shortcode attributes: query or placeId. The query attribute can be used to send a query string, such as a business name or address, to Google Places, and it generates a badge for each match.  If you happen to know your business’ placeId, you can use that instead. Examples:

[google-reviews-badge query="Reich Web Consulting"]
Google Reviews Widget Without a Plugin

The shortcode output

The Code

The code is long, but it’s not complicated. You can quickly reduce this code to just a couple of lines if you don’t care about things like comments and error-checking.

If you look closely at this code, it doesn’t load any styling. That’s intentional. The HTML output is pretty raw, and I decided to leave it up to anyone who decides to use this code to make their badge match their website.

So go ahead and give it a shot. Leave a comment with any questions or feedback about the code.

Questions to Ask to Find a Web Designer

Questions to Ask to Find a Web Designer

Your business needs a website. Depending on the size of your company you probably have other technology needs too, and you might think that it’s a no-brainer to hire one company to do it all. It’s not. It can be hard to find a web designer that’s up to the task, and he or she is almost certainly not the same person that manages your network.

Reich Web Consulting used to be Reich Consulting. While the web was always our focus, we used to accept any gig that involved a computer. When we were an IT company, our small business customers all said the same thing:

We like the convenience of having all our technology requirements met by one vendor. – Small Business Owners

But is hiring a general IT company to create your website the most economical and convenient solution? This article will help small business owners to ask the right questions to find a web designer capable of building them a successful website.

It the IT Guy

You should probably let him stick to IT.

The Difference Between IT and Web Design

IT stands for Information Technology. Information Technology is an umbrella term for the support of computer and network infrastructure.

Web design, web development, and web marketing refer to

  • Creating the look, feel and user experience of a website
  • The programming that drives a website
  • The skills required to get your website in front of the right people and make it accomplish your business goals.

These terms get used interchangeably, but the individual or company you hire to build your website needs skills in all three disciplines to help you succeed.

Why IT and Web Design Are Different

“But wait,” you say, “the web is just a bunch of computers networked together! That sure sounds like information technology to me!” But that definition makes the grocery store checkout and drone warfare all part of the same skill set. That definition is just too broad to be useful.

IT and web design are separate skill sets with little overlap.

A good IT generalist will have some programming and troubleshooting skills relevant to website design. A good web designer or web developer will possess general IT skills related to their trade. Both will most certainly be able to install a content management system like WordPress. But that’s where the similarities end.

The IT generalist might pass that off as a complete website. The web specialist understands that’s just the beginning.

web design laptop

Well, OBVIOUSLY he’s doing web design. It says it right there!

Does the Company Have a Web Department?

Does the company you’re considering have a web department? Is anyone focused full-time on quality web design?

A good IT company offers a breadth of knowledge a mile wide and few inches deep, a staff tenacious enough to solve hard problems, and if you’re lucky, they employ experts with extensive expertise in the technology that matters to you and your business.

These skills make a fantastic team for planning and building your business’ computing infrastructure, keeping it running like a well-oiled machine, and solving problems when they occur.

So what does any of that have to do with building an attractive, engaging website that meets your sales and marketing objectives?

The qualities required to create a successful website are unique:

  • Graphic design & layout
  • Responsive design and cross-browser testing
  • UX (User Experience)
  • Technical SEO, site structure, information architecture
  • Copywriting, Content Marketing
  • Search engine trends, marketing, and advertising
  • Security

Ask questions. Before you sign a contract find out if their staff have training and experience in the skills that affect your project.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Company to Build Your Website

Now that I’ve made you question everything you thought you knew about the web, I’d like to ease the pain by offering something useful. The rest of this post provides a list of questions to ask before you hire a company or an individual to build your business’ website.

I ask Adobe Stock for "outsourcing" and it gives me a white dude palming a globe with the cast of a college brochure.

I ask Adobe Stock for outsourcing, ” and it gives me a white dude palming a globe with the cast of a college brochure.

1. Do they Outsource?

Many businesses use some form of outsourcing. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing and no shame in using it. In fact, Reich Web Consulting outsources tasks when offering work to outside experts results in a better end product for our customers.

But when a small business chooses a vendor based on that company’s ability to meet all their needs it’s important to know if that’s truly the case.

If you sign a contract with Company X, will Company X complete the work or will they outsource it to someone else? That’s important to know. And I’m privy to the reasons why because Reich Web Consulting gets outsourced work all the time.

Outsourcing Can Impact Price

If your IT company outsources your project, you now have a middle-man involved and all of the cost and labor concerns that entails. As a businessman I can’t help but think “good for them for working smart and not hard,” but I’m aware of all of the ways this can end badly.

Look at the quality of their design portfolio. Does the quality seem comparable to the work of other companies specifically focused on web marketing? How do their prices compare? Can you get essentially the same website, delivered without a middle-man, for less money?

Outsourcing Can Impact Quality

I don’t think anyone in the history of the web has woken up and thought “I’m going to do some crap work today!” Sometimes there are good reasons that talented individuals produce work that’s beneath them. And it usually involved money.

When we accept freelance projects, the terms area not always ideal. Agencies often provide a customer with a quote before their hire outsourced labor. That means the person or team that will build your site has been given no input into the planning, cost, or schedule. You can see how quality could easily suffer.

  • The price quoted by the sales team may not reflect the reality of the labor involved in its execution
  • The freelancer may be asked to do more than the outsourcing company is willing to pay for because they did not consult them before quoting
  • The freelancer may lack critical details, which results in missed deadlines, communication breakdown, and rework as projects need adjusting to an updated understanding of the client’s needs

When a Project is Outsourced Responsibility Can Become Ambiguous

If your IT company outsources your project, where does the buck stop?

If the outsourcing company doesn’t plan adequately, they may ask the freelancer to pick up slack and work harder and longer for no additional pay to solve a planning or budgeting snafu. It’s at the freelancer’s discretion whether or not to oblige.

Conversely, freelancers are humans, and humans make mistakes. If a bug appears after the freelancer receives payment, will they feel a responsibility to fix that bug?

And who, if anyone, pays for it?

If they can't hack a Gibson, don't even bother.

If they can’t hack a Gibson, don’t even bother.

Do They Have Design and Technical Skills?

You should hire someone to build your business’s website that has the skills to do so effectively, as well as the knowledge to steer it towards future success.

But a company that doesn’t focus on the web might not know what they don’t know. Here are some important points to understand and questions to ask before hiring a company to build your website.

Cross Browser and Cross Device Optimization (Responsive Design)

Users need to be able to navigate your site anywhere, on any device with ease. Search engines rank websites better that work well on all devices.

Some web designers still don’t understand that we’re living in a mobile-first world. Others think that ensuring the homepage passes automated tests like the Google Mobile-Friendly Test is enough. Ask the following questions to make sure the company you hire is on top of cross-device usability:

  • How do your designs account for the scale and size of various devices?
  • Are your designs responsive? That is, do your websites use the same design for all devices and adapt the design as-needed?
  • What is your test procedure?  Do you test on multiple browsers? Do you test on multiple devices? Can we see your test matrix?

Site Speed

Users will leave a site if it loads slowly (Response Time: Is Speed the Ultimate Usability Metric?), costing you leads and lost revenue. Search engines will rank your website better if it’s speedy (How Website Speed Impacts Search Ranking).

Getting the homepage to pass automated tools like Google’s Page Speed Test is not enough. It’s not difficult to build a website that gets high marks from automated speed tests while still performing poorly during actual user interaction. Ask the following questions to find out if the company you’re working with thinks about and gives special concern to page speed:

  • How quickly can I expect my website to load on a high-speed connection?
  • How quickly can I expect my website to load over a 4G phone connection?
  • What do you do to ensure fast load speeds and response times?

Keep in mind that there are legitimate reasons for slow response times.  One example is the high-resolution image carousels that are so popular today. Some customers love and insist on having an image slider on their homepage with a bunch of high-resolution photos. While I discourage it unless it adds value, at the end of the day the customer gets what they want.

(For further reading on the subject, check out the annoying but informative Should I Use a Carousel?)

Hosting & Maintenance

Most of us have contracted a virus or malware from completely innocent web browsing. How much trust do you retain in the website that infected you?

If your website gives customers a virus, serves unwanted ads, or malware, you’ll enrage them and ruin your online reputation.  Search engines like Google and Bing may remove your website from their index if they discover it’s been hacked or is serving malware. Preventing these types of problems comes down to quality website hosting, regular maintenance, and security-conscious development. You should ask the following questions:

  • Even though I’m paying you, where is my website hosted? Are they reliable?
  • How often is my website backed up?
  • What platform or technology will be used to build my site? Should I be aware of any concerns related to that platform?
  • Will my site be encrypted with a security certificate?
  • What other steps do you take to ensure my website is secure?
  • If my site does get hacked, what contingency plans are in place to minimize damage?

Website Development Technology

Lots of tools exist for building websites.

Your site could be static which means it’s a simple collection of files that get served to web browsers. Your site could work on a cloud service like SquareSpace, BigCommerce, or Shopify.

Or most likely, it could be developed on a Content Management System like WordPress or Drupal. The import thing is that you’re aware of your website’s platform, and know that if the feces hits the fan, someone’s got your back. You should ask the following questions:

  • What technology will be used to build my website?
  • Should I be aware of any implications to the technology choices? (Speed, security, etc.)
  • Are there ongoing costs?
  • Can I change my content? Or will I always have to pay someone to change it for me?
  • Will there always be somebody on-hand that understands my website’s platform in case something goes wrong?

Design Skills

Not every site needs a unique design. That level of attention to detail is terrific, but it’s also expensive.

But your website should be built by a company that knows how to create a design that looks attractive, provides a good user experience on all devices, and converts (generates leads or sales).

The person who develops your website doesn’t necessarily need a graphic design degree. But it must be planned, designed, and built by someone who’s taken the time to understand your business and the goals you hope to achieve through your new site.

A quality designer bases a website on research and discovery and later refines it based on usage data and user feedback. Consider asking the following questions to get a sense of the company’s design chops:

  • What have you created in the past? Can we see your portfolio?
  • Are your website designs based off of what the platform and templates offer? Or based on our needs?
  • If we need a design that’s not a “stock” option, do you have the expertise to make it happen?

Look at the company’s past work.  If you have questions, ask them why they made a particular design decision.


We’re going to switch things up.  The company you’re considering working with should be asking you the questions!

If you’re considering hiring a company to build your website that doesn’t seem genuinely interested in understanding your business goals, that’s a major red flag. They’re likely planning to sell you a cookie-cutter “solution” that won’t solve a problem.

How do I know? They’re not asking the questions they’d need to ask to build anything else.

Some companies will write a creative brief.  A creative brief is a document, generated by ongoing discussion between client and designer that answers important questions that inform the design process.

The creative brief doesn’t neccessarily need to be formal.  And a lot of the questions are likely answered by your business plan (if you’re not a knuckle-dragger like me that never developed one). Your designer should be asking:

  • The who, what, when, where, and why’s of the project.
  • Who is your target audience/demographic?
  • Who are your competitors?

That’s a small sample of what you can expect. But if the company doesn’t ask these types of questions, move on.


At the beginning of the post, I mentioned that Reich Web Consulting used to be Reich Consulting.  We changed our name and mission because we realized our passion lies in helping small businesses succeed at online marketing.

We care about our customers. While we can’t meet all their needs, we think our narrowed focus offers the best value. We’re all web, all the time and we’re proud of that. And we want someone that can bring that level of passion to our customer’s IT needs to deal with them.

But that’s us.

That’s not to say that an IT company can’t build a good website.  Before you sign an agreement with anyone, think about the points raised in this post. Ask questions. If the company you’re talking to is savvy enough to handle your project, you may not even understand the answers, and to some degree that’s OK.  The import thing is that they’ve got the expertise to respond to these questions at all.

Are there other questions that are valuable to ask a prospective web designer? Let us know! We’ll update this post with visitor-suggested ideas as they arrive.