Frequently asked questions
Here you’ll find most of what you need to know about Ern Berck Digital and how we approach web design. We answer questions about processes, technology, costs, copywriting, web hosting, email, SEO, and do-it-yourself design.
Q: Do I really need a website?
That depends. If you have a genuine business and you’re serious about being successful, the answer is yes. If you’re a talented artist or writer and want a “living archive” to display and share your work, yes again. But if you just want a website because someone said you should, please wait until you’ve got something relevant to share — There’s too much junk out there already.
Q: Could I build a website myself?
Sure. You could build your own refrigerator too. Seriously, there are dozens of “page building” tools out there that can help you make a nice website. Just keep in mind that after the site is built, it needs to be managed. That means security, backups, plugin updates, additions, revisions, and fixing cranky code.
Q: Could I manage a website myself after it’s launched?
Yes. With some initial instruction and ongoing education, you could easily add content and keep your site secure and reliable. That said, it’s critical that your website is regularly updated and maintained. Failure to do so can lead to severe, and in some cases, irreversible damage or loss.
After we build and launch your website, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive Website Operations Manual that will cover all the required maintenance and update tasks required to keep your site secure and up-to-date.
If you don’t feel comfortable maintaining your website, or simply don’t have the time (most of our clients don’t), we offer a variety of website support plans that can handle all management tasks for you.
Q: I have a Facebook page. Why do I need a website?
A Facebook business page can help an organization engage their audience, grow their customer base, and provide “social proof,” but it’s no substitute for a dedicated website.
- Facebook owns your audience, you don’t.
- Facebook pages are temporary, websites are permanent.
- Facebook pages belong to Facebook. They make the rules.
- Your website belongs to you. You make the rules.
- A Facebook page is a marketing tool. Use it to drive traffic to your business website.
A Facebook business page won’t do nearly enough to turn your business into a profitable, respectable brand. To do that kind of heavy lifting, you need a dedicated website.
Learn more: A Facebook page is not a website
Q: What exactly do you do?
We design and build websites for small to midsize professional service businesses. We specialize in creating visual interfaces (the things people see) that are both useful and easy to use. As noted below, we rarely build ecommerce, subscription, or membership websites. They’re just too complex and time consuming — and don’t fit our business model.
Q: Do you also do application programming?
Q: Do you build progressive web applications?
We have, yes. Progressive web apps (PWAs) can get immensely complex and expensive, so we confine ourselves to building them on the WordPress platform with readily available tools.
Learn more: Progressive web applications
Q: What’s so special about your design system?
The typical approach to website design involves all sorts of static files like wireframes, mood boards, mockups, and “stylescapes.” These are often delivered to the client as PDFs or images that must be approved before moving on to the next “milestone” in the design process.
The problem is, none of these files are fully functional: you can’t click, drag, scroll, navigate, select, or resize. To make matters worse, most of the design work is based on faulty assumptions gleaned from weeks of customer “research” done by marketing interns.
Note: Access to these files often requires logging into some sort of “project portal” or “client dashboard.” In our experience, most clients don’t need one more account to manage, or one more password to remember.
By eliminating a lot of these questionable activities, our simplified web design system shortens the whole development timeline by months — While saving you money and countless headaches. We even provide a working demonstration website to share progress during the design process.
Q: Do you prefer specific website platforms or vendors?
Yes. We operate in a fairly narrow technology niche. This allows our operations to be fast, focused, agile, and scalable. We currently only build and manage websites with the following technologies:
- WordPress content management system (CMS)
- Genesis, GeneratePress, and Gutenberg theme frameworks
- WP Engine and Flywheel managed WordPress hosting
If your web development project requires a different “technology stack,” we’d be happy to recommend a more suitable web design firm.
Q: Do you work with nonprofit organizations?
We do. We work with nonprofit institutions, community organizations, and service clubs. But typically not pro bono. Costs and services usually depend on the complexity of your management structure, and the layers of approval required to get things done.
Learn more: Marketing for Community Organizations
Q: Is there anything you won’t do?
Yes. Here are a few types of projects we typically won’t tackle. Not to worry though, there are dozens of firms that do.
- Ecommerce sites
- Membership sites
- Subscription sites
- Shopping carts
- Web forums
- Bulletin boards
- Sites with illegal or questionable content
Q: Can you repair or modify our current website?
Maybe. We’d be happy to review your site and offer recommendations, but we’d rather not work on it. When it comes to websites, it’s hard to know the original developer’s intent, experience, and skill level. For those reasons and more, we rarely work on stuff made by others. We prefer to build websites from scratch — If something breaks, we know how to fix it.
Learn more: Website usability review
Q: What if I want to add some features to my website while you’re building it?
While we like to be flexible, we also like to deliver what we promise — On time and within budget. If we all agree that your new request will help us achieve our objectives, then we’ll be more than happy to discuss additional work. If your new feature isn’t directly tied to your original objectives then we’ll suggest adding it later.
That said, we’re not an inexpensive web design studio. We understand that, so built into our engagement process is a bit of room for flexibility. In short, we try to remain “bendable” within the limits of our good nature. We never want you to fret over the small stuff. If we think you’re pushing your luck, we’ll let you know.
Q: Do you offer any kind of post-launch website warranty?
Sort of. We typically include a 90-day post-launch support period to ensure that your website is functioning properly. During this period, we test and make incremental site improvements to help achieve your online goals.
This free support period does not include adding any new features or functionality. Due to the nature of technology, we don’t provide support past the this 90-day period unless you have committed to one of our ongoing website support plans.
Q: Who do you like to work with?
Great question. Our ideal client:
- Runs a small, privately held service business that offers a specific set of products, skills, knowledge, and expertise.
- Understands that it’s the customer — not organization charts or office politics — that matters most.
- Works directly with us as the decision maker and not through another staff member, assistant, associate, committee, or agency.
- Isn’t afraid to say what they think, and doesn’t mind if we disagree.
- Doesn’t squawk about the cost or time involved.
- Usually defers to our judgement because that’s why they hired us — We know what we’re doing.
Q: How does a typical work relationship begin?
We start by asking you some simple questions. If we like your answers, we’ll ask harder questions. We try to learn all about your company, your goals, and your customers.
We’ll explain our engagement process in detail to make sure that we’d work well together. This is usually done via email or over the phone. Once we have a solid understanding of what you need — and if we can help — we’ll put together a plan and get to work.
Q: Would you be able to start work on our project immediately?
Possibly. But unless we have a cancellation, we’re typically booked for three to six months in the future. Your initial down payment essentially reserves a start date. If you’d prefer not to wait, we totally understand.
Q: Can you provide some references we could contact?
Nope. Not any more. This is why:
- On occasion, potential clients have sent out the same generic email to all references with a dozen or so questions. Some current clients felt like they were being interrogated.
- Some potential customers had interns call references and question them. If you don’t have the time to check us out yourself, we probably won’t work well together.
- Sometimes asking for references is a sign of skepticism. This type of doubt often persists throughout the relationship, and often causes friction.
- Most importantly, the work we do for a client is confidential — Just as our work with you will be.
Q: Do you work with clients outside of Northern California?
We do. The internet has pretty much eliminated the distance barrier when it comes to communication and production workflow. Wherever you’re located, locally or globally, we’d be happy to speak with you.
Q: Do you work alone?
Usually. Sometimes we work with trusted outside partners who can provide a specific skill or expertise that we need. To clarify, when you hire us, you get us — not a flaky subcontractor, or one of our freelance buddies. If we ever use outside sources, you’ll be the first to know.
Some organizations feel more comfortable — or may even require — working with a full-fledged design “agency” with lots of departments and dozens of employees. That’s not us. Just let us know up front what your requirements are.
Clarification: I’m terrible at mixing pronouns (I, we, us, me) in my content. Sorry. My name is Phil and I’m the owner of Ern Berck Digital. I do 95% of the work. You will never communicate with anyone but me.
Q: How much do you charge?
We typically charge between $3,000 and $7,000 for a new website. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Don’t freak out just yet. There are a lot of cost variables.
Q: What are your payment terms?
Most of our services are partially or fully prepaid and non-refundable, for any reason. The motive for this is not cash flow. Rather, it gives us the freedom to be completely open and honest with you — Without fear of you withholding payment. For precise payment terms please contact us about specific services.
Q: What is your hourly rate?
We don’t work on an hourly basis. That would just punish us for being efficient. This policy also allows us to devote more time to our regular clients. We encourage all business owners to have their sites professionally managed on a monthly basis — If not by us, then by some other competent firm.
Q: Do you offer web hosting services?
No. But we have very strong opinions on the subject. In fact, most of our design and service agreements require the use of a specific website host. This is more for the client’s benefit than ours. The choice of a web host directly impacts performance, reliability, scalability, and security. Other than design, it’s the single most important decision you’ll make.
Q: Do you offer search engine optimization (SEO) services?
We do, up to a point. Unless otherwise noted or discussed, the following Technical SEO features are included on all websites we build:
- Semantic HTML structure (helps convey meaning of display elements).
- Mobile responsive for display on devices of any size.
- Image alternative text attributes (frequently called “alt tags”).
- Optimized page titles and descriptions.
- XML sitemap to help search engines index your site.
- Page speed optimization (see below).
When delivered, your website will be free of any browser errors, including:
- File not found errors (404)
- Website security certificate warnings (HTTPS errors)
- Page redirect issues
- Broken internal and external links
- Empty page title tags
- Empty page descriptions
In addition, every website we build undergoes an extensive series of manual and automated tests to ensure the quality of your baseline SEO. Any problems will be addressed prior to delivery. For an overview of typical SEO tactics, see “Technical SEO” on our support terminology page.
Learn more: Common SEO Myths
Q: Will people be able to find my website on Google?
Your exact position on search engine result pages (SERPs) — for any specific search keyword or phrase — can’t be guaranteed by anyone. However, we will submit a properly formatted list of all the pages on your site (an XML sitemap) directly to Google in order to expedite the process of getting your website crawled and indexed.
Neither Google, nor any other search engine, promise that they will index your website. But with the best-practices we have in place, most websites start appearing in less than a month.
Q: Do you offer page speed optimization services?
All websites that we build adhere to Googles’s Core Web Vitals page experience standards. We guarantee passing scores (90%) on all measured parameters (prior to the installation of any 3rd-party plugins or applications by the website owner).
Q: What are Google Core Web Vitals?
In May 2021, Google introduced a new search ranking factor called the Page Experience signal. In addition to other currently-active factors, Page Experience includes a new collection of sub-signals referred to as Core Web Vitals:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures loading performance
- First Input Delay (FID): Measures interactivity
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures visual stability
So, if your website is critical to your business and you’re not sure what all this stuff means, you should find someone who does.
Learn more: Core Web Vitals
Q: Do you offer copywriting services?
We do. In fact, we not only make content recommendations, we typically write much of your website copy ourselves — For you to review and improve at your discretion. We also edit existing text to make it more appealing for online consumption. There is no additional charge for this service, and it greatly accelerates the development process.
Q: What is “responsive” web design?
Responsive design is a methodology for creating websites that will provide a useful human user experience, regardless of the viewing device. Responsive design has been around for over 10 years, and is pretty much a standard feature of any new website. If you find yourself working with a designer who disagrees, find another designer.
Q: What is web accessibility?
Over a billion people in the world (15%) experience some form of disability. A disability is defined as any condition of the body or the mind that makes it difficult to perform certain activities.
Web accessibility means that websites and digital tools should be designed and developed in a way that people with disabilities can use them without any hindrance.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) define requirements for designers and developers to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. It defines three levels of conformance:
- Level A
- Level AA
- Level AAA
Most web accessibility legislation requires WCAG 2.0 conformance of Level A or Level AA. The Ern Berck Digital website is partially conformant with WCAG 2.1 level AA.
Learn more: Website accessibility guide
Q: Will my website be accessible and compliant?
Website accessibility and compliance are complicated topics — Guidelines and requirements are still being debated by government agencies.
Consequently, we can’t guarantee full accessibility compliance, but we do follow best practices that ensure your website will be accessible for most visitors. This includes:
- Semantic HTML (code) structure
- Scalable typography
- Adherence to WCAG AA color contrast ratio standards
- Keyboard navigation
If your business requires strict compliance, please let us know before we begin your project so we can consult with an accessibility specialist.
Q: Do I really need all those boring legal pages?
Q: Do you offer email management services?
Nope. Email was — and still is — the killer app of the internet age. Like most killer apps, its machinery is wonderfully invisible when it works, but an absolute nightmare when it breaks. Email has a lot of moving parts. At its heart is an immensely complicated system of client applications, servers, protocols, relays, frameworks, vendors, and policies.
To manage email properly would be way beyond the scope of our core competencies. Besides, dedicated and reliable domain-based email can be had for around $5 to $10 per month through services like Google Workspace or Microsoft.
Learn more: Email is Hard
Q: Do you offer email marketing services?
We do. Email marketing is the act of sending a commercial message — typically to a group of people — using email. Despite all the hype about Facebook ads and YouTube videos, there’s still no better way to connect with your customers and grow your business then through email marketing. Our Level 03 support plan includes online signup forms and basic email marketing service configuration.
Learn more: What is Email Marketing
Q: Can you build a website that will “dazzle” my customers?
Probably, but a lot of dazzled customers never come back because they never found what they were looking for. The purpose of a website isn’t to impress visitors, it’s to create customers. We believe in simple, elegant websites that are easy to maintain and a pleasure to use. This rarely involves anything that pops up, plays without warning, blinks, crawls, makes noise, or moves around the screen.
Q: Who the hell is Ern Berck?
Ern Berck is the blacksmith at an anonymous town shown in the opening scenes of the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven. You never see him, he never speaks. But somehow you know he’s there — with fire and iron — making stuff.
Q: What’s with the bird?