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 November 2014 I had it made. Or so I thought … After 20 years in the game, I ran a successful freelance web design agency in the U.K. with a tonne of clients across practically every industry. Life was pretty simple back then.

And then out of nowhere, that smile was wiped out.

Yves Klein International Klein Blue

December 2014 and my clients started tumbling like lemmings off the first page - and I was powerless to catch them. (Yep, I know lemmings don’t actually commit mass suicide, but you get my point!)

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.

Poetica Ampersands

The University of Typography

I’d always approached web 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.

So I read all the books by experts like Robert Bringhurst and Jason Parmental.

Checked out all the major lodestar articles by type experts like Tim Brown, Rina Miele and Jessica Hische.

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.

Trajan (typeface)

I absorbed everything. But I also noticed that something was missing:

A scientifically sound way of decoding website demographics, 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 find inherently sharable (linkable) topics.

And as it turns out there are tools out there like font spotting browser extensions and content research 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:

  1. Using reader persona research techniques to design to your demographic
  2. A step-by-step approach to getting the typography right for maximum readability
  3. The Golden Ratio as the key to laying the content out
  4. 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 and content promotion strategy to make music again. New music.

In fact, I now had the complete end-to-end formula I was looking for ...

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.

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Stephen has helped us for the last five years and has been responsible for transforming our web based sales.Jon, Absolute Museum & Gallery Products

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