To paraphrase HubSpot, most solar companies only have two questions when they think of redesigning their website: How much will it cost? And how long will it take?
Well, if that sounds like your company, then you may be riding for a very expensive fall.
A quarter of all web projects fail, according to ZDNet, meaning they go over budget, miss their launch date or just don’t work properly. Too many of these projects have to be re-done right away or within a few months, costing companies tens of thousands of dollars or more.
With a nod to Tim Asimos, who offered 13 Costly Website Redesign Mistakes Your Company Should Avoid, here I offer the top ten mistakes that solar companies should avoid in their next website redesign.
1. You Don’t Really Need a New Website
Since you look at your site every day, you might be getting tired of the colors or the fonts. But for a visitor who comes for the first time, most solar websites done in the last 3-5 years look fine. If your site is older than that, you should consider a re-design, especially since most older sites aren’t mobile responsive, which is an absolute requirement for solar websites after Google’s Mobilegeddon algorithm update this spring.
But if your site is already mobile responsive and nobody’s got any specific problems with it, then you may not need an expensive redesign. Instead, you could invest that money in inbound marketing tactics that will increase your traffic and help you generate leads — that will show a much better ROI than doing a whole new site just to get something prettier.
2. You Don’t Have Clear Goals for Your Solar Website
That the CEO’s wife thinks your website is ugly doesn’t help you develop a real goal for your new site. You need real clarity on goals if you’re going to design a site that helps sell more solar.
Start by answering questions about your market strategy, for example: Do you want to expand out of residential installs into commercial solar? Do you want to look more credible to big utilities? Do you want to recruit community members as your ambassadors to do solar in a particular city? Then, build your website from the beginning to fit that audience and that purpose.
3. You Don’t Understand Your Online Audiences
Not every solar website is created equal. A website for utility executives is going to look very different than one for environmentalists and solar fans in the general public. Utility execs want to see evidence of expertise and good management in your solar company. It’s less about sex-appeal and more about stability. Data is good, case studies are better.
By contrast, solar advocates want to you to wow them with coolness — especially photos. Residential homeowners and commercial property owners or companies will want even different stuff. Don’t start redesigning your website until you’ve created 3-5 solar buyer personas first so you can understand your ideal solar customer — their motivation to buy solar, messages that resonate with them, and where they go for solar information online.
4. You Put out a Ginormous RFP
Contrary to what your boss thinks, publishing a 55-page request for proposals won’t necessarily get you the best qualified web agency for your needs. A big RFP will certainly get you an expensive agency, as it’s the bigger shops that are more likely to invest dozens or even hundreds of staff hours to compile all the RFP materials.
But more and more skilled agencies these days ignore RFPs and refuse to do work on spec. That’s not only because it’s a hassle for them. It’s also because pulling a bunch of ideas out of thin area with little understanding of the company won’t give the client a good result.
A better web agency will want to spend some time with your company and get to know your goals, your marketplace, your competitors and what you’ve done so far before proposing a plan to redo your solar website. The RFP may soon be a thing of the past, replaced by conversations or workshops with agencies.
5. Your Idea of Online Technology is Stuck in 2005
Remember when a website was just an online version of your print brochure? So do we. Ten years ago, all that web technology would allow is for a company to post some pictures and text and maybe a bit of multimedia about itself. Interactivity wouldn’t go much beyond comments on a blog (there never were any), filling out a contact form or clicking an email link. But today, a website that just does this is behind the times.
Now, customers know that websites can do so much more. If your solar company doesn’t offer a way for homeowners to see if their zip code qualifies them for a PPA right on the home page, then they’ll go to your competitor that does. Make sure your new website is truly interactive. And the best way to do that is to gauge it against the best solar websites out there today.
6. You Don’t Take Mobile Devices Seriously
So, you already know that your new site needs to be mobile responsive. And these days, no decent solar web designer will build you a site that’s not. But that’s not enough. Your site also needs to be convenient to use on phones and tablets. That may mean adopting “mobile-first” design.
For example, you may want to avoid the usual three-column homepage in favor of a single long column that makes it easy for a phone visitor to swipe straight down the page.
7. You Put Aesthetics Before Content
It doesn’t matter what colors your website is if all your content is stale and unappealing for your target audiences. Is the only thing new on your website in the last six months a news release announcing that you hired a new VP of sales?
Then you have bigger problems than whether to choose turquoise or celadon as the background for your header.
Both humans and search engines like new content and lots of content. So start a solar blog before you worry about website colors. And make sure the articles are more than just canned HR announcements — put up advice that solar customers would find useful and news that they would find entertaining.
8. You Don’t Convert Visitors to Leads
First, your new solar website needs content. And hopefully it’s stuff that your desired audience wants to see. Then, you need that audience to discover you, through social media and search engines.
Unfortunately, that’s where most American solar companies stop. And that’s too bad, because it means they’re leaving money on the table. Instead, go to the next step and make your site a lead-generating machine with clickable calls-to-action as this solar company in India did.
9. You Invite Too Many Cooks into the Kitchen
You’ve heard the pitfalls about “designing by committee,” right? It applies to websites as much as anything in marketing.
Everybody from installers in the field to legal counsel to the 13-year-old son of the VP of product development seems to think your website will be a total flop unless you can benefit from their feedback about submenus on your draft website design. And every department wants to be represented on the home page.
The politics of your company may mean you can’t keep all these folks out of your process at some point. And of course you need to build buy-in for the new site. But try to keep your core group of regular in-house reviewers manageable.
10. You Think Your Website is Finished Once it Goes Live
It’s just like a brochure, right — once it’s printed, then it’s done? At least until we do the next one in five years?
Er, not really.
At a bare minimum, you should be updating your content as things change in your company, to show new products and services or new personnel. But if you want anybody to see your new site besides your mom, then you’ll need to build traffic.
“Build it and they will come” has become a tired joke about companies that kill their investment in perfectly good websites by failing to promote them properly. Once your site is live is when the real work begins: creating new content like blog posts and e-books which you can then promote through social media, search engines and email blasts to increase your website traffic.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group