Solar power may be an advanced energy source. But the way most solar companies do marketing comes straight out of the 1950s: cold calls, door-to-door sales, hosted events with a free lunch and direct mail.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?
Of course, most solar marketers know that they should be doing more marketing on the Internet. Online marketing costs less and, since it can be measured, you also know that you’re getting a better return-on-investment.
After they put up a basic website, many solar companies dip their toe in the water of online marketing by buying a few pay-per-click ads on Google.
Sadly, after a few months and thousands of dollars in click fees but few new customers or even website visitors to show for their investment, a lot of those solar companies decide that PPC ads are a waste of money.
They may even get the idea that Internet marketing doesn’t work well for solar. So then it’s back to making cold calls, knocking on doors, and doing other old-timey marketing and sales tactics straight out of the movies Tin Men and Glengarry Glen Ross.
That’s a shame. Because the Internet is definitely the future for solar marketing.
Where’s the proof, you ask?
Just check out some of these solar companies who have obviously made a big investment in their websites. Or these solar companies that are doing aggressive social media. Or this solar marketplace that exists only online and appears to be thriving through blogging, SEO and email marketing.
So, if you haven’t had success with PPC ads, the problem may not be the ads. It may be that you didn’t do them right.
And regardless of whether PPC ads work well or not to market solar, there’s a lot more you can do to market your company on the Internet besides buy ads. In fact, if you’re not doing more marketing online than buying ads, then you can expect to start falling behind the competition very soon.
The Case for Solar PPC Ads
You probably already know how search engine ads work on Google. You open an AdWords account, specify what search terms you want your ad to come up for, and then pay anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars per click, depending on how competitive your terms are.
Then, your ads come up at the top of the page for the search terms you’ve chosen, above the organic listings. Here’s an example of some typical solar PPC ads that came up when I did a search for “solar panels Los Angeles”:
The appeal of pay-per-click ads (PPC) is clear:
- You only get charged for your ad when somebody clicks on your ad, which means you’re paying for results
- You can measure how many clicks you get, which means you can track ROI
- And you can get instant traffic to your website, which means, hopefully, that you can speed up the sales process
But you’ll only get value out of search engine ads if you do them right.
Rookie Mistakes to Avoid
Too many solar companies waste their investment in PPC ads by making rookie mistakes. Eric Siu in Entrepreneur magazine outlines five PPC mistakes that can cost you money, and I apply them to solar companies here:
- Sending visitors to your home page. For example, if your PPC text offers residential solar in Southern California, then unless that’s all you do, your company’s homepage is not the best destination. If they arrive on your homepage, your visitors will have have to click past your other products and other geographies to get to the page about home solar in LA., Orange County or San Diego.
- Sending visitors to your contact page. This may violate the rules of PPC sites, as Siu explains: “If you’re advertising through Google AdWords, for example, be aware that requiring visitors to fill out contact forms in exchange for something free goes against the search giant’s guidelines.” But it’s also not effective. Many first-time visitors to your site are not ready to hear from a salesperson or even join an email list. They just want to poke around for a bit on their own. If you push them too fast, they may just leave your site.
- Failing to split-test your ad text. Before finalizing any PPC ad campaign, try out a couple different versions of your text to see which one gets more clicks. Then, select your text accordingly.
- Relying entirely on “broad match” keyword ads. Broad match ads will match any of the search terms you specify, which will get you more traffic, but maybe at the expense of irrelevant clicks. For example, “solar installation” may come up for searches on “solar batteries” or “art installation,” which are probably not clicks you want to pay for.
- Not taking advantage of negative keywords. Negative keywords scare a lot of people doing PPC ads. Why would you want to NOT come up in a search? But they’re actually a good way to increase relevance and get higher quality traffic. Thus, in the search above, you might want to exclude the words “batteries” and “art” so you want have to pay for clicks from people who aren’t really looking for a grid-tied solar array on their roof.
I’d add that, unless you already have a website that’s optimized to convert visitors into sales leads with effective landing pages as destinations for your PPC ads, then you’re wasting money on Google ads.
The Value of Ads is Short Lived
In the long run, no matter how good your solar PPC ad campaign, ultimately, search engine advertising is a strategy with diminishing returns.
On the one hand, the keywords you really want are going to be bid up by competitors, costing you more per click over time. On the other hand, up to 80% of people ignore Google-sponsored ads.
So, that means PPC ads are getting more expensive but less effective. Ouch!
Of course, Google is not the only place to buy PPC ads. Alternatives like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn may offer better value, writes social marketer Larry Alton. Ads on social media services are cheaper, they target customers more specifically, they are easier for companies to set up, and there’s more interest from users.
But any solar PPC ads, whether on Google or Facebook, will never by themselves be a successful solar marketing program. That’s because, in today’s world of the social Web, any kind of ads are less effective than they used to be.
Today, people have lots of options to block ads. And even when they can’t block all advertising, people are more used to ignoring ads than in the past.
Content Marketing: More Effective for Solar than Ads?
The best solar marketing will do much more than buy ads. It will build relationships.
For a prospect to get the the point where he’s ready to make the commitment to a solar company, that company needs to earn the prospect’s trust.
Why is trust so important for solar?
For homeowners, buying solar is a big deal — much bigger than getting new gutters or landscaping.
A home solar array is either a lot of money up front for a purchase or a long time commitment to a lease or PPA. A homeowner needs to trust a solar company to make that deep a commitment. But with all the news of solar scams out in the news media these days, building trust with solar buyers takes more work than ever.
Solar PPC ads don’t build relationships — they merely get attention.
What it takes to build relationships is content marketing, where a solar company puts out stuff that solar buyers really want to see, such as blog posts, infographics and e-books.
With content marketing, solar companies can build authority and trust with solar buyers that will fill their online sales funnel with Web visitors, leads and ultimately, new customers.
Content marketing is better in the long run to fill a solar sales funnel for years to come, but content marketing does take time to start working. So, to get Web visitors quickly, it may make sense to buy a few PPC ads, as long as you already have a great solar website to send visitors to.
However, you should never make PPC ads the star of your marketing program, because they’re not a good long-term investment. After all, once you stop paying for the ads, they disappear. And once they’re gone, so is any benefit they provided.
By contrast, when you do content marketing by publishing blog posts and other helpful stuff on your own website, then you’re building SEO equity that will only increase over time. That SEO becomes a company asset.
At most, PPC ads should take up 5%-10% of your online marketing budget. The rest you should spend on creating and distributing content that will add SEO to your website and build your brand in the long term.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group