Good solar websites are key to getting good leads that help sell more solar today. So if you’re in the solar biz, you need a good one!
One of the amazing things about us all essentially living on the Internet is that, when you look at a nice website, everything looks so darn easy. As long as you can read, and, as Alex in A Clockwork Orange says, “viddy the lovely pictures,” you think you ought to be able to make a website for yourself like that — it looks so easy!
Eh, not so much.
Just like installing solar panels on the roof, it turns out that there’s a lot behind the scenes that you can’t see from the front.
Even if you use cheap Chinese modules and string them together badly, a solar array still might look pretty. But no matter how pretty it is, a low quality installation will underproduce or even fail compeletely.
It’s the same with a website. No matter how cool it may look from the front end, using free or cheap software put together amateurishly on the back end will make a website that performs poorly.
So at least you should know what you’re getting when you have someone build a website for you.
Point and Click and Voilà!
To be sure there’s lots of tools out there that can help you make a website somewhat easily. Curren Media Group CEO Erik Curren wrote about those options a while back, in case you’ve got a hankering for some DIY.
But in spite of an increase in helpful and increasingly easy tools, the Internet — and making things to go on it — is not as point-and-click as it might seem.
Just as there are effective site assessment tools to spec the perfect install for a solar customer, in the end, you still have to manage the project, educate your customer, design the system for them, gather the parts (whose own manufacture involved a million details), deliver them to the site, and then hoist the panels onto the roof, line them up, secure them properly, and not damage the roof — or your reputation as a quality installer — in the process.
To me, installing solar looks easy since all I really see is the finished project. But the many guys I consult with for solar marketing tell me otherwise — every solar project is a process, and they’re the experts!
Well same goes for solar websites, only this time it’s my turn at bat. After 16 years working in digital media, I know that what looks great out front online is a function of long, hard hours making it work well in the back — where it really counts.
At Curren Media Group we’ve made getting a solar website easy because we’ve put several years into development. What looks great on the front end is actually an external reflection of how well it functions in the back end — it’s not just about looking pretty, but also about how to engage your customer online. We’ve also written a couple of pieces about that:
- Should Your Website be Pretty or Should it Function Well?
- How to Build a Solar Lead Generation Website
Still, when solar firms come to us looking for a solar website I find one of the same issues occurs again and again. And that is that while making a website looks easy, a lot of assumptions are built in to what customers think they’re getting. I find a lot of unfamiliarity with the language of website building that can create a gap between the site designer and the solar guy.
That’s why I decided to make this handy guide to the 101 — the basics — of a solar website. That way, whether you get a website form us, from somewhere else, or you try to DIY (do it yourself), you’ll know the language of a WordPress website (and in some cases, the language of any website).
Solar Websites 101
WordPress Websites: WordPress is what’s known as a Content Management System. It’s a software system (and more broadly speaking an online platform) in which websites are made. Just as Outlook is an e-mail system, or Excel is a spreadsheet system, WordPress is a website system. And while it’s easy, it’s not just point-and-click and voilà.
Hosting: Your house exists on a street somewhere. A website exists on a server somewhere. When people type in your domain name, the server is called up to “deliver” your website. You have to buy hosting from somewhere to have a website unless you have your own server. At Solar Sales Rocket, your hosting is included in your service.
Domain name: You house has an address, your website has one too. Domain names also have to be purchased and they also have to be hosted. We usually recommend getting domain names from GoDaddy. Once you have a domain name, you give that to your web designer, and they hook it up to your website.
Mobile Optimized: This mean your theme automatically adjusts for other screens such as tablets and phones. Most of the best websites today come mobile optimized. The days of a separate app for a site are lessening, except when the website is so busy and complicated that an app simplifies it. Most ordinary solar websites certainly don’t need a separate app.
Content: Websites are filled with content. Content is the text and photos of your solar business. Content is almost NEVER supplied by the website designer. You supply the content, it’s your business after all. So you should be ready, above all things, to write about your business, describe it, identify your offerings, and make a case for the customer to buy solar from you. That is the #1 thing you bring to the table when you’re getting a solar website made. You give your solar website designer the content, they put it in the website.
Now, in our case, since we’re focused exclusively on the solar industry and we have backgrounds in writing and editing, we do offer to write your text for an added fee on top of the regular website design. But you still know your business best so this part is customarily provided by you.
Stock: Stock photos are pictures that aren’t of your business or services but showcase your industry well enough to get you started.
Logo: You bring your logo to the website — it’s rarely supplied by your web designer unless they also offer that service. It’s extra. You’ll often ALSO need a version of your logo that will fit into the website design theme you’re getting, so be prepared for that. Most logos that look best online are landscape oriented rectangles — not squares nor with complicated shapes that run large.
Themes: A theme is a pre-made WordPress website design or template that is the starting point for building your website. In the best cases, top quality themes reflectslots of back-end development so that it is great to look at. It still has to be configured by the website designer, and customized in various ways, including being populated with your text and photos, but it’s basic design is what you’re going to get. As a side note, on the best websites today, less is more. That is, minimalism gives an uncluttered look and feel in a info-glutted world. People like this because it makes web surfing easier.
Theme Parameters: Every theme has it’s parameters. For example, where the logo goes is defined by the Header and the Header is going to be a specific size and so your logo — or a version of it — has to be in that size, too. Photos in certain places, notably the homepage, will have a minimum size requirement, so you have to be prepared to supply photos in the right size to look right with the theme. Larger pictures can be made smaller, but smaller pictures lose quality when they get bigger. And then there’s a thing called “widgeted areas”
Widgeted areas: These are areas of a website, mostly on the homepage but also in the menu, any sidebars, and footer, that are created in the theme or are produced by what’s called a plugin. As of this posting there were 46,993 WordPress plugins available to expand the functionality of solar websites built in WordPress. Pretty cool.
While anyone can learn to work with a widgeted area, the administrator of the site or the original website builder handles these more complicated changes as part of a standard monthly management cost or, if you don’t have a monthly package, as a one-off tech project for a project fee. “Changes” here don’t mean turning the widget into a different widget that you think up that you’d like. The theme comes with the widgets that it comes with. In some cases, simple widgets can be added to a site, but it’s entirely based on whether it’s instantly compatible with the theme or whether programming would have to be done to make it compatible, and complex new programming would be a pay-for customization.
Homepage: The page people land on when they first get to your website using your standard domain address.
Sidebar: Not all solar websites have a sidebar but if they do it could be on the homepage, only on inside pages and the blog, or on both. It is a column on either side margin (or both) for displaying other widgeted information like social media feeds, social media links, ads, calls-to-action, contact info, etc.
Navigation: This is basically the menu of choices on solar websites. The trend here is also toward less is more. Hone your information to the essentials, make it compelling, categorize it and that’s your menu. But navigation call also reflect other ways you want your site visitor to get around, such as a clickable call-to-action that gets your visitor where you want him to go on your site.
Pages: Pages are the main, continual place where you put the info you most want your site visitor to find. Pages make up your menu structure though you can have some pages that are live that you don’t choose to put in the menu because you have other ways of getting people to that content. On a WordPress site you can have an infinite number of pages, you can edit them, delete them, add to them, take them off the live site for a while and then put them back. Very flexible.
Landing Page: Also referred to as a “squeeze page,” a landing page is designed to squeeze some info out of your site visitor. A landing page by definition should have an offer or enticement, perhaps a premium offer, and a form or entry box to gather contact information. The idea here is to convert your visitor to a contact that you can nurture down the sales funnel.
Blog: You use the blog in almost exactly the same way you use pages when you’re creating content except that blog additions are called “posts” instead of pages. The blog itself is in the menu, but each new addition to the blog isn’t.
A blog is a must-have on solar websites. Using your blog regularly, with high quality content additions, is the single best way to build interest in your business today. These days, most people go online to find products and services rather than find them through radio, TV, or print ads. The blog is marketing gold. And you can do it yourself, which makes if great for your budget.
But if you don’t feel confident about writing, before you put marketing money anywhere else (except maybe a print brochure for your in-the-flesh customers) you should hire a marketing person (in person or online) to write your blog for you.
Standard customization: Standard customization for solar websites should more properly be understood as populating the theme with your content. The few extras you can do are things like, maybe being able to choose between 2-5 colors options that come with the theme.
Theme Changes: Changes to the theme itself can be done through complicated backend programming, but they’re a non-standard change at a much higher level of custom work. Those changes are more difficult than they look, more time-consuming, and cost extra.
Content changes: Content changes are changes of text and photos. What’s great about WordPress is that you can be trained quickly and easily to use it, which means you can manage your website yourself in most cases.
Bigger changes that you can’t do yourself, but want done, take time, and cost money. You should be prepared every time you ask your website designer for a change that doesn’t come in whatever standard agreement you have with them that it will take time and cost extra. Web designers bill in advance.
WYSIWYG: This old software phrase means What You See is What You Get. And it’s pretty literal. There might be a few slight variations to a website theme available, but they’re going to really be slight. Like the menu bar can be green, orange, or blue. If you want purple, that costs money. So when you start asking for even what seems like a minor change, be prepared to hear your web designer say, “Yes, but that’s a non-standard customization. We can do that, do you want an estimate for the project?”
Search Engine Optimization: You want to be found when people do a Google search. In good solar websites sites, like ours, SEO is built in through Yoast. That doesn’t make it 100% automatic, you still have to work to make your site shine through Yoast, but it does mean that you don’t have to go buying SEO from someone out there. SEO has changed a lot. Let me re-state that. SEO today is NOTHING like it used to be with all those backend tricks and all that keyword stuffing. SEO is way more about organic SEO — that is, blogging. We’ll get into this subject more another time, but in the meantime, read Erik’s articles about it.
There’s a million other things I could say about building solar websites and more to describe the pieces and parts of solar websites. But this is Solar Websites 101 after all, not a PhD seminar. So let’s leave it there for now.
I hope this helps you be more conversant in the language of solar websites, which can also make it easier to know what you want to do with your website, how easy or complicated it might be, and better explain your needs or wants to your solar website designer.
Now let’s get online and sell more solar!
— Lindsay Curren, Creative Director, Curren Media Group