EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with Miles Hanson, an expert on website building. Read about his experiences with various platforms, his inspirations, design style, and marketing strategy to hold the viewer’s attention.
AW: How did you get into marketing and website design?
MH: I was working at a corporate job five or six years ago, and I had done a couple of sales roles, a couple of marketing roles, and I was working at this software company and I realized everyone was leaving at four or five. I’d have the office to myself and I’d heard about entrepreneurship and online this and that and started researching all of that stuff.
Fast forward a couple of months, and I was staying way too late every single night, I was the only one at the office researching how to build a website because I wanted to build my first brand, and that was a fitness-related brand. I started with WordPress, it was way too hard, then I moved over to Wix and then I moved over to Squarespace and back to WordPress. It was this long journey of ultimately ending up on all of these different platforms and then finally finding WordPress, just tinkering around just long enough to know what I’m doing.
AW: Yeah, I’ve been using Wix mostly for my portfolios, but we’re using WordPress for our blog [at EvolvEd] and I had to get used to the kind of block structure on WordPress. I also checked out Squarespace once but I got intimidated and ran away, but I have heard that’s a popular option. I think it’s interesting that you’re talking about the different platforms and options out there.
MH: I kept finding an edge. I would use Wix and want to–this was a while ago, I haven’t used Wix since–but I would want to integrate a form or something a little more complex, and it just wouldn’t ever look how I wanted it to look, or they didn’t have the capability, the customization. I kept leaving tools that were too limited. Maybe they’re simple, but they’re too limited. Then I’d go to WordPress which was unlimited–very customizable, but too difficult.
I finally found the sweet spot which was the Elementor plugin (which I believe is the number one WordPress website builder plugin in the world). It’s this perfect sweet spot of drag and drop, really simple, but I haven’t found one thing that I can’t do yet, and I’ve been using it for years now. So it’s a wonderful sweet spot that I finally discovered.
AW: What do you think is the biggest challenge in building a website?
MH: I love this question because everyone that I’ve worked with–I like to ask the question “Why do you want a website?” because a lot of people have this idea that you need a website for a business or a personal blog and this and that. Awesome, you can build a website today easier than ever, but then what?
Nine out of ten times people build a website and it’s crickets. Unless it’s just a hobby, and you’re fine with just you and a handful of your peers seeing it, then you’re going to need a marketing plan, some sort of traffic-generating strategy so that you can actually get people to the website, which is the point, to have it seen by people, read by people, to convert and actually build a business.
The biggest challenge is probably taking an idea that’s in your head and building it, this intangible idea, trying to map it out and building it exactly how you want. And then the copy. A website is usually words, there has to be some sort of communication, a message conveyed to the right people. One of the biggest challenges is copywriting. It’s an essential component to websites and the work I do at least. Headlines and subheadlines, text and images and when someone visits your site, you want them to burn the fewest amount of calories because our attention spans are so short that if you’re trying to convey a message and ultimately get someone to subscribe, then you’re going to have to be super clear and incentivize them in some way. Speak to them really clearly and speak to their pain and give them a solution.
So the biggest challenge is taking an idea, putting it onto the website–onto the internet–and then making it so that it actually gets people to the site and converts them to whatever your goal is.
AW: Can you give me some examples of businesses or websites that you’ve helped clients build?
MH: One of my favorite clients is an Earth channeler; I think it’s just called Earth Channel. She basically speaks to the Earth, she communicates with the Earth; it’s very spiritual, energetic. She had a Weebly website (it’s like Wix or Squarespace) and it was really ugly, it was really disorganized, so I came in and basically gave her a facelift, a new website. She has a bunch of products, a bunch of offerings. It was all over the place and we had to hone in on who is the client, who’s the customer that we want to reach here–the prospect, and then what do they need? Let’s only focus on the things that they actually need. Let’s build the offers that they need, so we built certain pages that really highlight the most important offers. Walking through the process of someone coming to her site and needing a nice little handshake, so here’s a free first chapter of her book you can download, for example, a free opt-in, to build some trust, to offer something nice, that starts to build the relationship.
We’re talking websites, but I can’t talk about a website without talking about marketing and vice versa, so there’s a ton of overlap there.
You have the backend which is email sequencing, building the relationship, and luckily she’s been doing this for a long time, which is really important because she knows her customer really well, and she has hundreds of case studies where she’s helped people heal–she channels the Earth to help her clients heal, so she literally asks what does this person need to heal from this disease or illness. It’s really amazing, some of the testimonials that she has.
We highlight a lot of that stuff and drive people through that process of getting to know her and then figuring out what they need from her. Maybe it’s just a book, maybe they just want this high level of understanding of connecting to Earth. Maybe it’s one-on-one coaching or a group program. It’s walking through that process, figuring out what they need, and then converting them into a client.
AW: I definitely have not heard of that kind of listening to the Earth before so that’s really interesting. It makes me think of one of my friends who got really into the meditation app Headspace and would get all of our friends together to do meditations outside. I’m not personally into meditation as much, but I think that idea of connecting to the Earth is really interesting.
MH: Yeah, it’s really powerful. And not to go on a tangent, but that sort of stuff is going extinct, if you will, because our society is so fast-paced, we never slow down. That’s why I think mediation is making a comeback in a lot of areas because of the mental issues that we have and the ADD and all that stuff. I think it really comes down to not giving ourselves space, head space, not giving ourselves stillness.
AW: I think that’s why things like ASMR have gotten so much traction and the weird pleasure derived from it because it’s so removed from our busy lives. It also makes me think of people I know who feel like they always need to be consuming information or be productive, so even if they’re on the commute to work or something they’re listening to podcasts or reading. I might just not have the attention span for podcasts but I feel like even on daily commutes I would rather just observe the environment and see what’s happening even if I’m “wasting time.” But I think it’s interesting how there’s this need to be constantly improving through stimulation. It’s a lot, but it’s become the norm in our go-go-go society.
MH: Yeah, absolutely. I’m a podcast nerd myself, I can’t put them down. Sometimes I have to just take a break.
AW: What are three words you would use to describe your design style?
MH: I have to start with “simple” because I’m obsessed with space, so giving text plenty of space. Simplicity, because when you go to a website and there’s tons of content, it’s all really close together, there’s a ton of images, there’s a button here, a button there, there’s a ton of links…your mind immediately shuts off because it’s overwhelmed, it’s burning too many calories. So number one: simplicity.
Number two…simple kind of encompasses all of them, but I’d go with creative or unique. The thing I love about my tools and WordPress is the customization, you’re really able to do anything. I can take one client and build them something super unique and then the next client’s site looks completely different and it’s on-brand. If my client has a brand style that they’ve established, we can continue that as opposed to putting them in a box and saying pick from these handfuls of fonts and colors and styles and themes. So, simple and unique/creative.
I’m not a designer. I’ve never studied design, it’s just kind of come naturally through trial and error with all of these projects. I couldn’t even speak to more design-specific words, so I’m just going to stick to that: simple and unique.
AW: I was curious about that because I feel like there are a lot of people who get into websites, and I never know if they’re coming in from a coding angle or an artsy angle because I’m always curious about what their background is and how they got into website building.
MH: The nice thing about today’s world is that you don’t really have to know how to code. It can help if you know little things here and there, but I don’t know code really and anything that I do know is the super basics that I picked up just by googling something really quickly. No courses on code, really no courses on even website-building–YouTube videos and all the free resources that are out there, and I also have a friend who’s basically my go-to if I have a question. She’s a website guru and she knows everything, so when in doubt I go to her.
In the design realm, I mean if you compared my first couple designs to what I do now, it’s a big difference. Because you learn about the spacing, rules, alignment, and I think I just naturally have a design eye, very aesthetic. I’m able to see what looks bad and then if it looks bad I just continue to change it until it looks good. And in that process, I learn certain rules, if you will.
AW: Where do you draw inspiration from? Whether that’s a person or an aesthetic–what visual elements intrigue you?
MH: So many, because while I try to stay off of them for just browsing–in terms of browsing social media, I try to stay off Facebook and Instagram–but when I’m on there I see tons of marketers and website designers and stuff like that, and I’m within certain communities so I see a lot of different things. I’m picking up on things that I like and thinking “Let me try that on the next thing.” So it’s very random.
Going back to the minimalism kind of style really inspires me, so making a site brutally simple. Even with a landing page where you’re promoting a free or pay offer of some kind. Take away the menu at the top. If they’re on this page to learn about this one thing, why distract them with your blog, your podcast, your “About Me,” all this stuff, right? Just get rid of it. They can find their way back if they need to, if they get hit by the attention span and want to go back, they won’t be able to as easily so it’ll force them to remember why they’re on the page.
One thing I do with every client on the first call is, I ask them to go–like in the next week or so–research websites within their space, outside of their space that they really like. And we link five to ten websites, and we go through and pick out things that we like about all of them, and then the challenge comes when you have to take all of these different styles and ideas and then put them into a unique site. With client work, I take inspiration that they have, let them go find inspiration, and then help them build that. With myself, it’s just a lot of trial and error again, seeing what’s out there. It’s really cool.
AW: What do clients typically come to you for when it comes to website advice?
MH: It’s usually a new website. Most of them have an existing website that looks not-ideal and they’re struggling with the marketing side of it too. They come to me with “I need a new design, I’m looking to do these things” and we just go from there. They’re coming to me as a third-party consultant like “What do you think we could do here?”
Then there’s the marketing side of it which is really important. “Okay my site isn’t getting any traffic, my site isn’t converting, my email list isn’t growing. What can we do on the website to promote that and to actually grow something?”
AW: How would you structure a session on EvolvEd with a new client? Do you have a routine for working with new clients?
MH: It depends on whether the client is someone who wants a site built for them or wants to build it themselves and wants to learn. So it’d be different for each one. Either way, I would start with a completely blank sheet of paper, literally and metaphorically speaking, and just figure out what the goal is. Literally just start there because I find that a lot of people don’t even know that or they’re not crystal clear on that. So that’s a great place to start or great jumping-off point, and then once we have the goal, there are multiple ways to achieve that goal.
So we lay out the different options whether that’s you build it yourself and you learn how to build it and we can put together resources for that and a step-by-step process and then I can guide you through those because you’re going to have questions and you’re going to have hang-ups.
Or I can build it for you and then show you how to edit. The big thing with websites is when you hire out a website–unless you’re a bigger entity that has the budget to completely hire that out ongoing and make tweaks weekly or monthly that you pay someone for–most people want to have editing capabilities themselves. There’s a little bit of a learning curve there which I’ve found isn’t that bad, but you can train people on that pretty simply and have a resource they can go to to make edits or if they get stuck.
So it’d be getting clear on the goals and then laying out the options and then picking the option that sounds best and then moving forward with accountability or guidance, getting over any hurdles that are inevitably going to happen, ongoing care and maintenance.
AW: What is a superpower you would want to have?
MH: I got it. This is in line with this entire conversation. Obviously flying would be cool, teleportation would be cool, but those things I feel like would be cool for a little bit and then I’d be over it. Especially if I’m teleporting and I can’t take anyone with me. It’d be cool, but I’d want to bring my partner and she’d have to fly. I guess I could fly and just hold her, but anyway…
Speaking more realistically because I don’t want to go against nature too much, I would say something like the ability to just switch on something in my brain that allows me to focus 100% and not get distracted by anything and not get derailed and not go down this crazy mental rabbit hole all the time.
Because we’re bombarded every day, going back to meditation and stillness, I want to streamline that with a switch where you can just be completely clear-minded and levelheaded, emotionally, physically, whether it’s because you want to write or get a website done or get some work done, be present with someone, or think creatively about your next project.
That would be my superpower; I’d have to figure out what to call it.