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 · 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 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, Jason Santa Maria and Jim Williams.
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 and Paul Scrivens.
I absorbed everything.
But I also noticed that something was missing:
A scientifically sound way of decoding website demographics to inform the design style and strategically uncover the most engaging content topics.
To do that, I needed to dig much deeper.
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 discussions can help shape the design of a site, I wanted to know whether you could take the reader persona research one step further and leverage digital intelligence tools to get a deeper understanding of your audience.
To find inherently likeable, sharable and linkable (Google ranking) topics.
And as it turns out there are tools out there like font spotting browser extensions, demographic profiling 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 visitors 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 this 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
- Content Analysis to uncover what performs best for any topic or competitor
- The Golden Ratio as the key to laying the content out
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, marketing funnel and content marketing gurus like Neil Patel put out that he endorsed.
And finally I was done;
I had worked out a new marketing strategy to make music again.