Are you a solar marketer looking for a new Web marketing agency?
Maybe your company has outgrown the collection of freelancers that you’ve assembled over the years and you now want a one-stop shop for all your outside marketing needs. Or maybe you’ve got an agency but just aren’t seeing the ROI from the expensive marketing tactics they recommend like trade shows, print ads, direct mail or cold calling purchased lists of leads.
Whatever the reason, you’ve heard about inbound marketing and you’re interested:
- You understand that traditional outbound marketing tactics are becoming less and less effective as the Internet empowers solar prospects to do their own research and comparison shopping. You know that means your potential customer may have made 57% of her buying decision before she ever talks to one of your salespeople.
- You also know that your potential customers have less and less patience for interruptions in their lives like ads or sales calls, as marketing guru Seth Godin explains. You’ve heard that it’s possible to actually create marketing that solar prospects want to receive (really?).
- And you know that it involves producing content — blogs, social media posts, e-books and guides — that businesspeople and homeowners interested in a solar array would find helpful.
Finally, you’ve got a nice looking website but it isn’t bringing in many qualified leads for your salespeople. You’ve heard that you’re supposed to have an online “funnel” that attracts new visitors to your website and then somehow converts some of those visitors into good leads.
But where to get started? A marketing agency that specializes in solar companies is a good place to begin. But knowing the solar industry well is not enough to do well on the Web.
Plenty of agencies with experience in trade shows and direct mail can list solar client logos and show case studies from big solar companies. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough if you want a digital-savvy agency that knows how to make your solar homepage into an active sales funnel rather than a passive online brochure.
You also need your agency to know the digital world.
So, to see if an agency is really a digital native or just a recent move-in from the world of print design and old-school marketing, apply the Drink Your Own Champagne Test. That is, look at what the agency says they can do — web design, blogging, social media, etc. — and then compare that to how well this agency does all those things for themselves on their own website.
1. Homepage looks good and works properly
It seems obvious that if an agency offers to build you a solar website that their own site should look impressive and function well. But unfortunately, you can’t always take this for granted. Web design technology moves quickly, and an agency that had a good-enough website in 2008 may be way behind the curve today.
Put the agency’s site to the test. Is their own website design up-to-date and professional with a good balance of text, pictures and white space? Or is the agency’s site cluttered? Do all the links work? Is there an easy way to contact them online through a professional-looking form rather than just a low-tech email link that leaves them vulnerable to spammers?
2. Website adapts elegantly to mobile devices
An agency that offers to build solar websites and help with online solar marketing campaigns needs to be able to help your company reach the maximum number of visitors online. Today, that means users of phones and tablets, which can account for 50% or more of visits to your website. To please these users and to avoid SEO penalties from Google, your website must look good on smaller screens.
How do you know whether an agency can help you with that? The easiest way is to see if the agency’s own site uses mobile-responsive design. Look at it on your iPhone. Or if you’re on a laptop, just narrow down your browser screen and see if the agency’s homepage starts to respond well to a smaller view. For, example, everything shouldn’t just shrink (that’s bad) but instead columns should stack into one long column and text should rearrange itself so it’s still big enough to easily read but doesn’t get cut off on the right side.
3. Active blog with posts that people would actually want
Inbound marketing is all about producing content that your potential solar customers want to read, to draw them into your website and convert some of them into qualified solar leads. The best way to do that is to publish a regular blog with articles that solar customers would find interesting.
That doesn’t mean company news releases about new hires and promotions, corporate acquisitions or new product announcements. Boring! A solar blog too focused on internal company concerns or too promotional is almost worse than no blog at all.
If solar buyers don’t care about your HR news, they may not be ready for the hard sell either. What solar buyers do want is advice, tips and news focused on their needs — for example, how financing is making residential solar more affordable in general.
A solar digital agency may offer to help you with blogging. But if they don’t do it well themselves, then you have to wonder how good a job they’d do for your solar company. Check their blog for recent articles on stuff that the agency’s own clients among solar installers and developers would care about such as how to convert visitors to leads, how to have a powerful solar homepage or how inbound marketing can bring in solar leads.
4. Social media connected
More and more solar marketers are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other services to get qualified leads at a very low cost. And many marketing agencies offer to help. But does the agency’s own website seem well connected to social with a Facebook like box, Twitter feed (with recent posts) and buttons to easily share content?
Check out the agency’s own social media accounts too. An agency that hasn’t tweeted since 2012 or boasts only a few dozen Facebook fans may not be able to help you recruit the quantity and quality of audience on social media that you’ll need to get qualified leads from these services.
5. Clear calls to action
To build business from your website, first you need visitors. Then you need to try to coax some of those visitors to convert into leads. Finally, for those leads who qualify as potential solar customers, you can then nurture them into prospects. Again, lots of solar marketing agencies promise that they can make it happen.
You don’t just have to take their word for it, though. See if the agency does has a way to attract visitors and then funnel them into leads on their own website. Does the site feature clickable calls-to-action at the bottom of its blog posts and major sales pages (see ours below), with an offer such as a free consultation or free e-book? To get the offer, does the visitor have to put in their contact information so that the company can follow up with them as a lead?
Eliminate, then focus on the rest
The Drink Your Own Champagne Test is the easiest way to see if a solar marketing agency really has expertise not just in solar marketing but also in Web marketing. Applying this test is a quick way to eliminate agencies that may be great at staffing booths at trade shows or in designing print brochures but won’t necessarily help you on turning your solar website into a solar lead generation tool.
Once you’ve narrowed down your focus to agencies that know the solar industry and can also make great solar websites optimized for today’s Internet, then see how well those agencies connect their digital work to what you really need: not just a pretty website, but an online hub that brings in more and more visitors over time and turns more of those visitors into qualified leads.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group