Let’s be honest here, solar companies. Most solar web design is terrible. Let me count the ways your website probably isn’t adding much to your company’s sales:
- You lose credibility because the look is dated and cheap, heavy on stock photos of smiling families and PV arrays against a blue sky. And if you pull it up on a phone, the whole page shrinks down teeny tiny, with 0.2 point type, like reading the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin.
- The content was always thin and since you posted it originally, it’s just been gathering dust. “Hey, let’s just take our sales brochure and put it online!” your marketing guy said in 2011. So you’ve got a few bullet points about the benefits of solar and what products you sell. From 2011, that is.
- Your homepage is dominated by a form to “Get a Free Solar Assessment!” That’s great for the 1% of website visitors who are ready to buy right now. But most website visitors are still in the looking stage. And you’ve got nothing for them. So they’re outta here — Maybe straight to your competitor.
Now, your sales manager might say, “Who cares about solar web design? Nobody buys solar online. You have to call a prospect up, make an appointment, and make them sign on the line that is dotted. That’s how we’ve always done it.”
And that kind of old-school sales might have worked OK in 1978, when there were three solar installers in each state (except California, where there were three gazillion).
But today, with hot solar markets getting more and more crowded with competitors to put solar panels on roofs, old-school sales tactics aren’t closing deals like they used to.
- The sales leads you’re buying from telemarketers are mostly junk. Don’t blame it on your salespeople that these leads convert at a very low rate. The people on the lead list were never that interested in solar in the first place.
- Appointment-setting vendors aren’t much better. Sure, they schedule meetings for your company with homeowners who allegedly want solar. But half the time, when your salesperson shows up, nobody’s home. Because they didn’t really want to meet with your rep. They just wanted to get your pushy telemarketers off the phone.
- And door-to-door canvassing — How’s that goin’ for ya? How many people are opening their doors these days, especially women at home during the day? At least your salespeople are getting their exercise in. It’s just too bad they’re not making any sales.
In today’s boom market, just about any roofing contractor thinks they can enter the solar business and get rich quick. In a couple years, things will surely shake out.
Judging by boom-and-bust cycles in industries from software to finance to real estate, when the bubble bursts, the solar companies that are built-to-last will be the only ones still standing.
And the way they’ll beat the competition is not by knocking on more doors in more subdivisions, but by being better online. That means better solar web design.
As the weak solar contractors waste more and more money on tired sales tactics straight out of the aluminum siding business, stronger solar companies are already using the Web to support their outside sales and even generate leads online.
Below, you can see how one solar company in the Southeast does their website right. If you want your company to be around in five years, you should take them as a model for your own solar web design.
Then, learn from a few important things that they don’t do, and throw those in too if you want to generate sales leads online. Taking those extra steps will almost certainly help you beat your competitors, who are probably not going that far online.
Velo Solar is Eating Your Lunch Online
I first learned about Velo Solar, a commercial installer based in Atlanta, through a post on my LinkedIn feed about their new website. Normally, I don’t pay attention to fluffy corporate news about some company’s hiring a new VP of Engineering or launching a new website, which hasn’t been newsworthy in about a decade.
“Hello! This is 2003 calling. We want our marketing back!”
But since I look at a lot of solar web design, I wanted to see if there was anything special here. And it turned out there were five things this site does better than nearly every other solar company website in America.
In the screenshot below, I’ve numbered sections of their homepage to walk through what’s so awesome about it. The first four things are on the homepage. The last item is inside the website:
1. Clean and Mobile-Friendly Layout
The look is clean and contemporary, with mobile-friendly design. That means it looks good on phones. And that became an even bigger deal after Google’s Mobilegeddon algorithm update in 2015, which started to penalize websites that are not mobile-friendly.
The top navigation has a limited number of choices, no pulldown menus, and makes it pretty clear that Velo Solar deals with commercial solar because one of the options is “Industries.” There’s no option for “Residential” or “Homeowners,” which is another clue that the company only does commercial solar. That creates credibility with the company’s target customers and also protects Velo Solar’s salespeople from having to waste time with homeowners, who they don’t serve.
2. Top Product Offerings at the Top
Too many solar companies waste the most valuable real estate on their homepage, the top screen, with a slideshow showing pretty solar installs. That can confuse visitors, either giving them too much to do — click on five slides? — or else not enough to do if the slideshow is just pretty pictures that aren’t clickable at all.
Velo Solar’s homepage is laid out well to show commercial solar buyers what they’re looking for right away. Attractive graphics in the top position announce the company’s three main offerings: Solar Energy Systems, LED Lighting, and something called “Powerenfo” that looks like it has to do with monitoring or efficiency or something pretty geeky that commercial facilities managers or energy managers would understand.
3. Secondary Offering in the Middle
Energy efficiency may not be Velo Solar’s main business, but for some business buyers, offering efficiency upgrades may be a way to get a foot in the door for solar. And Velo’s solar web design does a great job making this un-sexy topic look as hot as possible, with a perky headline, text focused on measurable benefits and a hip graphic.
4. Stories at the Bottom
Today, buyers in all industries want companies to show them stories of customers who’ve already had success with the company. Velo offers case studies across three industries they serve in hopes that at least one of them will appeal to any given website visitor.
And they’re not the usual dry-as-dust product case studies you see on B2B sites all over the Web. Instead, they’re examples of good business storytelling. The language is accessible. And the focus is on benefits to the customer, not only product specs.
5. A Blog Inside
Unlike 99% of solar web design projects, whether commercial or residential, Velo Solar publishes a blog. But except for a menu item called “Insights,” there’s nothing about the blog on the homepage. You have to go inside the site to see it, which is a shame. If you’re going to go to the trouble of blogging, you should show a post teaser or a few headlines on your homepage, to pull visitors into the blog.
There are other ways that Velo could get more mileage out of its blog, which I’ll discuss below. But here let’s just recognize that having a blog at all puts Velo Solar head-and-shoulders above most their competition. Across industries, companies that blog get 55% more web traffic and 70% more leads than those that don’t, according to HubSpot. So, bravo to Velo!
Three Ways Velo Can Do Even Better
OK, so Velo Solar’s new website is 80% great. Their VP of Marketing certainly deserves a raise. I hope their CEO is reading this?
But in these days of the social Web, a solar company should not settle for having a website that supports its salesforce with information and a bit of buyer education. A website should work harder than that. It should help a solar company generate leads, convert them into buyers and even service current customers online.
Now that Velo Solar has invested in a spiffy new website, the company should consider doing a few more things to get their money’s worth out of their powerful new tool. And any solar company, whether commercial or residential, should consider doing the same.
To see how they could improve, I ran their website address through the Website Grader. That’s a service made available to anybody who wants to use it for any website on earth by HubSpot, a company that makes marketing automation software and practically invented the term “inbound marketing.”
Also called content marketing, inbound marketing is when you get customers to come to you by enticing them with helpful information instead of hitting them with annoying ads and cold calls.
The Website Grader gave Velosolar.com a grade of 43 out of a possible score of 100.
Now, that might sound low. But in my experience with the Website Grader, that’s about where the average good solar web design falls if it doesn’t do any lead generation online. Most solar websites would score even lower than Velo’s did because they’re not as good in other areas. And only a few solar web designs would score higher.
So, the good news is that Velo Solar is already doing very well in terms of solar web design. And the site can probably get its score up fairly easily by starting on the three areas highlighted by the Website Grader: blogging, SEO and lead generation.
Velo Solar has made a great start by having a blog at all. But their blog could be better if they had more of the traditional features of a blog. It’s OK that the blog posts don’t list publication dates, as those can act as expiration dates for content online and can limit readership. It’s even OK that they call their blog “Insights” and don’t use the word “blog” anywhere, as that term has come to mean low-value content in many people’s eyes.
But some features of a traditional blog are still useful. These include an RSS feed so that people can subscribe to blog posts as well as tags and categories that allow readers to slice and dice blog posts according to topics that interest them. Velo should add these blog features back in.
I should also point out that their blog content is a mixed bag of helpful stories like “Considering Solar for Your Business?” (eight things you need to know) and boring news releases from the PR Department such as “Velo Solar Buys Bright Idea Energy.” The most successful business blogs focus on content that will interest their target customers and put the corporate news releases in a separate section, such as “Media” or even “Press Releases.”
So, Velo should blog more about topics that their customers care about, using their blog posts to convert readers into customers. Then, the company should also blog more often. B2B companies that post two or three times a week see the highest ROI from blogging.
Connected to blogging, SEO these days is less about technical fixes behind the scenes (“Metatags, anyone?”) and more about publishing content that potential buyers actually want to read and that they can find using search terms that they are likely to use. Modern SEO is more about creating good content and improving the visitor experience than writing pages specifically for Google to read.
The Website Grader wants Velo’s solar web design to use snappier titles and descriptions for its pages and posts. As HubSpot puts it, “75% of users never go further than the first page of search results. You’ve got to do what you can to stand out in the pack of results, and compelling page descriptions is a good place to start.”
If their site was done in WordPress, a tool such as Yoast SEO can help authors write pages and posts focused on one or more target keywords and then develop short page descriptions using those keywords strategically. But a marketing suite like those from HubSpot or InfusionSoft also have tools to help optimize pages and posts.
3. Lead Generation
Here’s where most solar web design, even for the biggest U.S. installers, fails. The idea is that, if you’ve already spent tens of thousands of dollars building a great website and then put even more money into SEO to get visitors to come to your site, why not give those visitors something to do once you’ve got them?
Most solar company websites just offer information without an appealing call-to-action to convert Web visitors into sales leads. If they do offer a call-to-action, it’s usually only appealing to people who are ready to buy right now, such as “Contact Us.” But these days, potential buyers do their own research online.
By the time she wants to talk to a salesperson, the average B2B buyer has already made 57% of her decision. So, she’s not going to be ready to contact you right away. She needs time to do her research and comparison shop. That’s called the Buyer’s Journey, and you can’t rush it by being pushy. That will only send people away.
If all you offer as a call-to-action is “Contact Us,” then you’re not giving your visitors at earlier stages of the buyer’s journey enough to do on your website. That’s like asking someone to marry you on the first date. In person, it’s creepy. Online, it’s just offputting.
To serve your target customers at all stages of their decision-making process, you should have calls-to-action for early, middle and late-stage buyers. And that means offering an “ethical bribe” in exchange for contact information. Offers such as e-books should be advertised at the bottom of each blog post or page with an attractive clickable graphic.
While call-to-action graphics are common in many industries, so few American solar companies do them that, to get an example, I have to use one from a solar company in India, Sunipod Solar. In exchange for a website visitor’s contact information, the company offers a free e-book, “Must-have Consumer Guide to Solar Power Generation Systems.”
Velo Solar should start offering similar e-books or white papers that would be interesting for their audience of company energy and facilities managers interested in commercial solar. The company could advertise these offers with graphic calls-to-action like the one Sunipod uses. The graphics should lead to landing pages where the company can convert visitors to sales leads online.
Finally, the Website Grader recommends that Velo Solar set up marketing automation and analytics to track conversions.
Solar Web Design is Never Done
Velo Solar is a model of modern solar web design. It’s mobile-friendly, attractive, easy to use and focused on the company’s target customer. But in a world where inbound marketing is becoming more and more the norm, launching a new website is not the end — it’s the beginning.
Anybody out there planning a solar web design anytime soon should check out our Seven-Point Checklist for a Brilliant Solar Homepage to help optimize your new site for lead generation right from the beginning.
Now, Velo Solar and other solar companies with excellent solar web design have the opportunity to take the next step.
- Amp up their blogging program to get more website traffic
- Offer e-books and other premium content in exchange for buyers’ contact information
- Start tracking how well they convert website visitors into sales leads
A solar web design can show real value only when it goes beyond providing information and education and actually starts converting website visitors into leads and customers online.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group