Solar Power

There’s no magic bullet for online marketing

By David Wolpert, Founder, CleanTech Marketing

Online marketing offers residential solar installers a cost-effective way to reach prospective customers at scale, with measurable results. But there is no magic bullet—no single activity that companies can check off a list and declare its online marketing efforts done.

Successful online marketing starts with a well-designed, search-optimized website that performs well at a technical level. The website should be updated with fresh, compelling content added to a blog. And companies should continually engage prospective customers through social media and encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews. Some efforts will work better than others; the key is to learn and adjust tactics accordingly.

How are SPW’s Top Contractors doing?
My team and I at CleanTech Marketing evaluated the online marketing strategies and tools used by 154 of the largest residential rooftop contractors in the United States and Canada, as ranked in Solar Power World’s 2016 Top 500 North American Solar Contractors list. We visited contractor websites and social media channels to examine a variety of metrics in four broad areas:

  1. Technology—The use of software platforms for content management, marketing automation, analytics and communication tools, as well as how well the site performed.
  2. Search engine optimization (SEO), both on-page and off-page
  3. Blogging
  4. Social media and review sites

Location of installers studied

Note that our analysis was purely quantitative. The findings do not reveal anything about the effectiveness of various marketing strategies.

Key findings
Two general observations are worth noting. First, overall performance across the 154 installers was mixed. A small number of installers demonstrated strong online marketing performance overall, but most had room for improvement in at least a few critical areas—poor SEO, unresponsive websites, lack of email marketing and marketing automation tools, and stagnant blogs and social media pages.

Second, performance does not always correlate with company size. Many smaller installers (in terms of megawatts of installed capacity) stood out from the pack in certain areas. For instance, one small Massachusetts installer had almost as many consumer reviews as Vivint Solar, and two small California-based installers each had more YouTube videos than SolarCity. Even small companies with limited resources have found ways to do specific aspects of online marketing effectively.

Simple first steps
In online marketing, small improvements can yield big results. Free (or relatively inexpensive) and easy-to-implement processes can go a long way.

For example, implementing a content management system (CMS) is an easy way to simplify updating your website. While we found 71% of companies used them, there’s plenty of room for others to jump on board. WordPress is a great choice and is used by 57% of the installers we studied. It’s free, though hosting costs are extra.

Use of content management systems

Approximately half of all websites are now accessed from smartphones and tablets. That makes it imperative that your site is “responsive,” meaning it displays correctly on these devices. We found that 79% of the installers researched had responsive websites, which is great, but with so many users accessing your content on a mobile device, everyone should be using a responsive site design template.

It’s also important to understand your website traffic and from where it’s coming. Google Analytics is a free and powerful tool to understand who visits your website and how they found it. We were glad to see 77% of companies we evaluated use Google Analytics. Just visit  google.com/analytics to start.

Social media is another free way to connect with current and potential customers. The majority of researched companies had accounts with the major social media properties (for instance, 96% have a Facebook account) and 81 sites (53%) had blogs. This is great, but these platforms are only as good as how often they’re updated. Unfortunately, most companies we evaluated rarely posted anything to them. Take time to assign a person to update social media at least weekly, and blogs at least monthly. Or even assign multiple people to the platforms they prefer. Maybe one employee enjoys writing, while another likes to snap photos for Instagram?

Also, don’t forget to link your company’s social media accounts to your website. Only 46% of contractors with a YouTube channel and 38% of those with an Instagram account did this. It’s a missed opportunity to engage more prospects. With a small effort, blogs and social media accounts can have a more consistent presence showing that your company is active, knowledgeable and cares about customer engagement.

Frequency of posting to blogs

An audit can help
If you still find you’re lost in online marketing, or just don’t’ have the resources to properly manage it, it may be beneficial to get a third-party to help. Marketing organizations like ours can perform a comprehensive online marketing audit to identify what a company is doing right and where—and how—it could improve.

David Wolpert, Founder, CleanTech Marketing

To download a complimentary copy of the report, visit cleantech.marketing/research

 

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