Even the ‘Merry Christmas’ card I received from Google came complete with a Webmaster tools warning.
Left jab. Haymaker.
Naturally, I did all I could. I scrambled back up off the canvas and tried to minimise the damage to my clients and to my reputation.
But after the dust settled, I came to a terrible conclusion:
I’d failed my clients because I’d become complacent. I was the cause of my own obsolescence; I had put myself on the canvas. Not one to wallow though in what could easily have become a serious mid-life web designer crisis, I decided to do something about it.
A clear vision, backed by definite plans, gives you a tremendous feeling of confidence and personal power.Brian Tracy, The Gift of Self-Confidence · Share on Twitter
So I let the clients who wanted to run free go without a fight. I stopped answering the phone (actually, I lost the darn thing and was ‘too busy’ to order a replacement).
And I set myself a goal:
To find – and if there wasn’t one around, create – a scientifically-backed formula for producing successful websites. Then I went back to school.
The University of Typography
I’d always approached typography as the slightly annoying thing you have to think about at the end of a project.
But given the primacy of the mobile reading experience – and the fact that the minimum average word count for results on the first page of Google was 2,000 + words – I had to nail typography & readability.
This video by Tim Brown, Typesetting Body Text Like a Pirate Jedi with a DeLorean, is genius:
I got all emotional by the emotional power of fonts. Fascinated by their origins and history. Illuminated by their various weights and classifications. And I grasped the essential techy bits like vertical rhythm and modular scales.
Along the way, I also encountered a typography-focussed approach. Inspired by Oliver Reichenstein’s seminal 2006 article, Web design is 95% typography, the roll call of superb designers who bought into this approach now included Roger Black, Jeffrey Zeldman, Elliot Jay Stocks, Paul Scrivens and Kenneth Ormandy.
I absorbed everything. But I also noticed that something was missing:
A scientifically sound way of always picking the perfect font, and uncovering the most engaging content for a new client.
To do that, I needed to do some reader persona research.
When I first started out in a design agency in Oxford, we spent a long time with every new client discussing who their target audience really was and what motivated them.
But although those insights can help shape the design (and inform the content) of a site, I wanted to know whether you could take the reader persona research one step further and use it as the basis of picking the typeface and inherently sharable (linkable) topics.
And as it turns out there are tools out there like font spotting browser extensions and social media audience insight tools that can help you drill down not just into the demographic profile and aspirations of your target audience, but also uncover the specific typefaces and articles that your target audience are already comfortable reading and sharing.
And comfort matters: especially for your body copy, the bulk of your content, the more immediately ‘familiar’ and readable the copy is the more likely it is that people will stick with it and share it.
But I wasn’t ready to get back to work just yet.
Now I wanted to know whether there was a scientifically – or naturally – proven way of structuring the design.
And as it turns out, there is: 1.618, The Golden Ratio.
So I looked at the influence of The Golden Ratio in design, art, history, the science of perception, as well as in web design.
And then – to see if it worked - I built a site that uses everything I’d learned so far:
- Using reader persona research techniques to design to your demographic
- A step-by-step approach to getting the typography right for maximum readability
- The Golden Ratio as the key to laying the content out
- Content Analysis to uncover what performs best for any topic or competitor
As it turns out, this site.
But before I got going, there was one more thing I needed to know.
How to Influence your Influencers
Back in 2014, I wasn’t alone in getting burnt. Many others in design and especially those who donned the darker SEO hats had got their fingers and bridges burnt too.
One of those was Brian Dean, who I came across shortly before I launched An Artful Science. Brian was as open as I was as to how crushed he’d been by Google’s updates.
And like me, he’d gone back to the drawing board.
But while I had spent that time learning about audience analysis, typography and The Golden Ratio, he’d pieced together a new white hat SEO technique.
So I read everything he regularly churned out on things like influencers and backlink building strategies.
I also avidly checked out everything other SEO and content marketing gurus like Neil Patel put out that he endorsed.
Taking advantage of the most powerful marketing tool around
And finally after a little sales training from Lisa Sasevich using “Irresistible Offers that Sell” I was done, I had worked out a new website strategy to make music again. New music.
In fact, I now had the complete end-to-end formula I was looking for.
And my 5 Step Holy Grail looked like this:
Audience Discovery + One Step Ahead + The Humility Technique + Typography-first + The 3Ps to more Traffic, Trust & Transactions = Foundation First
Now I had to get some proof that Foundation First really worked.Lean more about Foundation First →
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Did it all add up?
The first experiment of my new formula in action was A Web Designer’s Guide to Typography.
In the introduction, I summarised the historical backdrop to web typography in more depth. Emphasised its pre-eminent value in helping to create mobile-friendly sites that are readable and engaging.
And then in step 1, I showcased some of the reader persona research tools I used to create the guide itself as well as shape my future client work.
Fingers crossed, I then put it out there, and the results were astounding.
All revealed at the end of my new case study & deep dive tutorial covering Step 1, The Science of Audience Discovery:The Science of Audience Discovery →
It was a steep learning curve.
You see, like most freelance web designers I used to spend weeks just lovingly crafting logos and designing websites waiting for the Eureka moment when ‘it looked right’, and assumed with a little keyword optimisation it would naturally catapult my clients site to search engine stardom. And like most web designers, spending years to develop and test a blueprint beforehand was the last thing on my mind.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.Charles Darwin · Share on Twitter
But I now realised that by creating a considered and scrutinised Step-by-Step Formula would not only take a fraction of the time to implement— but every website I worked on would be based on a proven formula to maximise it’s profitability. That instead of thinking Mobile first, thinking about a Foundation First was the key to unlocking a websites’ real potential and success.Keep updated by E-mail
3 years later
So almost 3 years later here I am with a complete blueprint taking the guesswork out of planning super successful online businesses which not just embodies but also exemplifies everything I’ve learned — and everything I now stand for.
Sound expensive? Well not really …
With a little strategic planning I was able to turn a clients’ business around from generating a handful of leads to over 2,461 UK sales orders & 9,721 warm leads for sales consultants in the first year.
Stephen has helped us for the last five years and has been responsible for transforming our web based sales.Jon, Absolute Museum & Gallery Products
That’s a pretty darn good return on investment for working with Proven Formula!
So click on the link below to learn how I achieved +218,450.00% more traffic in just a single day.+218,450.00% Case Study & Tutorial →