Setting Initial Conditions For Your Online Business Success

The topic I want to cover in this blog post is for all your brick and mortar businesses out there, and especially for solar installation companies.
After speaking with dozens of solar installers about this, it’s pretty clear that online search is a critical piece of the residential solar buying process. In fact, many installers reckon that up to 100% of residential PV paying customers do research online.
So whether you take action or not, your long-term success depends on setting initial conditions for success online.
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If you work in solar, I’m sure you’re aware that the path to purchase for most solar customers involves online search, but too many companies overlook this fact. As a result, there are fewer customers, fewer jobs and more of what we in the renewable energy space don’t want: dirty energy.

It’s no secret that PV is still an intimidating, technological mystery to a lot of people.
The general public isn’t well informed about how solar works. Not only that, but the Koch Brothers and their minions routinely expose the public to disinformation.
Suffice it to say, most people are not comfortable making a purchase without doing a significant amount of research and Google search is the number 1 way to get informed in the 21st century.Google Monthly Search Volume courtesy of Search Engine Land
So if your solar company is a local solar company relying on referrals and door-to-door sales, that’s great and all. Sadly though, your competitors are doing a lot more and taking the lion’s share of the business.
If you want your solar company to grow and to thrive for the long term, you will need to build an online version of your business that is robust and that meets your customers where they are.

All your online properties put together equal much more than a banner ad floating out there in space. They are powerful tools that when put to use, can automate lead generation, build relationships and provide easy access to you and your business.

Of course, most, if not all solar companies do have a website.
it's an empty parking lot, like a weak websiteBut after the basic set up has been completed, many businesses will consider the work done and walk away from their websites and social media accounts, leaving big opportunities on the table.
Having a website is not enough.
Having a parking space on the internet is not enough.
What you need is a website that is a machine for generating customers and leads and for engaging and nurturing those leads.
In theory, the internet serves as a public repository and exchange of information and when you play by those rules you will get a lot more out of it.
So I wanted to give you some guidelines for how to build that foundation that will lead to your online business being as successful as your door-to-door business might be.

Yes, websites are still relevant, more relevant than ever in fact.

Whether your homepage gets more or less traffic than your social media accounts, your website is an essential component of your online business.
Sure there are some companies that only have a Facebook fan page for example, but in 2017 that’s not looking like a very good strategy.
Out of the box, a brand new Facebook page has less power, role and reach that they used to. That being said, Facebook business pages are still pretty important, especially if you plan to take advantage of Facebook’s powerful advertising platform.
And even if they give you less distribution than they did in the past, a well-managed Facebook page can be a great place for building highly engaged audiences that impact your bottom line.
But I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s get back to the website.
So for a website, something is always better than nothing. You can set up something basic to get started, but if you want to compete with other solar businesses in your service area, you’ll need to raise the standards of what you’re presenting to the public to ensure that you’re punching in the same weight class as your competitors.
The good news is that with an appealing website designed with thoughtful navigation and user experience, you can make a great first impression on your online visitors. Add compelling opt-in funnels to the mix, and you will have increased the value of your business.
With time, you will see concrete results. You can build your local business from what you do online.

Now a website on its own is not going to magically solve all your online business problems, but it is a great place to start.

As with any constructed thing, there needs to be some kind of solid foundation in the design of the thing, whether it be a home or a product, whatever it might be.

If you are a real business, you need a new website if the following describes you:

  • you have an old or out-of-date website

  • you’re hosted with some janky, basic website builder

  • something is broken on your site and it isn’t working

  • you rely on Flash Player to serve sliders and other media

  • your site looks great but loads slow

  • your site isn’t mobile optimized.

Think of your website as a place you want to invite guests to for a picnic or party. Now imagine a dirty apartment with broken fixtures, a toilet that doesn’t flush and a patchy, dusty backyard. If that apartment is your house, you might want to host the party somewhere else, huh?
Let’s be real. An out-of-date website in 2017 is a real turn-off! ?
An outdated website gives the impression, “oh yeah, this is a two-bit, second-rate company.”
Your site visitor doesn’t know that you have decades of experience, or that your company has received accolades for how awesome you are.
Your site visitor only knows what they see, and if they don’t like it, they’re gone in a flash.
Now, do you want to be the old, tired company not keeping up with the times? Or do you want to show that you care about your business, that you care about first impressions?

A charming website can:

  • make you look like you have it together

  • that you’re going places in the world

  • that you’re going to be there for your customers

  • that you are responsive to people who are interested in buying solar panels from you and having an installation done.

So if you want to take on the task of building your website on your own, there are some basic things you want to take care of right out of the gate.

If you’re overwhelmed by the thought of starting fresh, you should know that moving content over from your existing website is no big deal.
Moving the copy can be as easy as copying and pasting, but there are other ways, depending on how you approach it.
It’s easy enough to redirect the old version of your URLs to your new pages too. You’ll want to do this to ensure that you aren’t penalized by the search engines.
Re-directing URLS is just one aspect of SEO. Search engine optimization makes all the difference in how or whether organic traffic reaches your website.
Changing the design of a domain usually doesn’t affect traffic coming to your site. Google doesn’t penalize design changes so it’s perfectly safe to do from the standpoint of site rankings.
So if you’re on one of the basic type GoDaddy website builders for example or an old Dreamweaver site, or something similar it’s not a problem to make the change to a better content management system.
When choosing a new CMS (content management system) I prefer WordPress. WordPress is the most widely used CMS out there thanks to its flexibility and a vast selection of free and premium features.
WordPress is an open source platform which means it has the advantage of evolving quickly with so many minds contributing.
I like to think of open-source software in solar terms: think of WordPress as the distributed energy solution.
Now that you have your new CMS, you will want to:
  • Setup your Google Analytics tracking
  • Make sure your N.A.P. is formatted correctly across the web
  • Register your business on all the citation sites with that same MAP. This will help your SEO.
  • Installing an SEO plugin like Yoast.
  • Take a fresh look at your content and optimize for keywords
  • Reconsider titles and meta-description for SEO to increase performance in search.
In short, you want to make sure that your basic SEO is in place.

Images and Video. It may sound like an annoyance, especially if you’re an engineer or an operations person, but images and especially video can really give your website a boost.

User experience and navigation: You want your language and each page and post to serve a specific function along your site visitor’s path to purchase.
The idea is to enhance and support the buyer’s journey. And not all of your site visitors are ready to buy.
So some posts should have general educational information for people who are researching.
You might want to provide some content that will appeal to existing customers or people who already own solar panels.
Still, other pages will be designed to capture leads and move a reader toward a purchase decision.
The idea is to offer content all along the buyer’s journey to answer the needs of your site’s visitors.
And finally, you want to have that funnel I mentioned earlier in place.
Most solar companies have this in the form of a free energy audit and have a nice button in the “above the fold” part of the page. Don’t be afraid to try new things too!.
For some great examples of solar homepages, take a look at my report on the top 10 solar companies. In the report, you can see how top solar brands design their home pages and get a better idea of what this looks like if you aren’t familiar already.
That was a lot.
Having a new face for your business online with a nice website can be such a refreshing thing. So I highly encourage this as part of setting the initial conditions for the success of your solar business.

Next up:

Social media accounts need to be more than parking lots. To become the business enhancing assets you want them to be, they need to have life and activity in them.
[clickToTweet tweet=”The companies that get the best results from their advertising $ are companies that have active social media sites.” quote=”The companies that I’ve worked that get the best results from their advertising dollars are the companies that have active social media sites.” theme=”style2″]
Companies that interact with their customers, and are quick and responsive usually win. When it comes to social media, showing good energy and enthusiasm can go a long way
Social media sites are best when they’re fun for people.
Forum Romanum
Not only that. They serve as a forum (think Forum Romanum) where the public can ask questions and get answers and interact with your business in a convenient and public (group) way.
So you want to set up a Facebook page and whatever other social media you’re interested in pursuing.
I recommend Instagram for solar companies for sure if you can document your work with photographs.
Maybe you like me and Twitter is something you enjoy. Even if you don’t use Twitter, it can be a great testing ground for copy and images.
And for commercial and utility-scale, LinkedIn is an often overlooked and very powerful platform.
It has amazing potential to drive new leads and to get you on phone calls, especially if you’re pursuing commercial solar projects. We can help you there : )
In the interest of time, I’ll leave the details of each social media platform for another post.

Your website and your social media are the primary components to attend to when setting initial conditions for your online business success.

There is a bevy of other online strategies to put in motion as you move ahead with an online strategy, but for now, keep it simple.
The rest of your work will take place in the real world.
At Support4Good Solar, we recommend taking care of the steps described here before investing heavily in advertising. These initial conditions will help you get more success from your advertising down the road.
Maintaining your online assets is an ongoing process. It’s not a set and forget type situation.
You need to be at your business and open your doors at 8 am and close them at 6 pm or whatever your hours of operation are right? So in the same way you need to be there on social media. On your need to have automated systems to engage your visitors on your and be there for you.

Once you’ve put it all together, you’ll be ready to embark on advertising campaigns.

My advice here won’t be applicable to everyone though. Some like to jump into advertising without having their initial conditions set and in some cases it works. It just depends on the business.
From a marketer’s perspective, we don’t know everything.
We try to collect as much information as we can about your business.
If you’re not forthcoming about something, then we can’t be responsive to that condition, so honesty really is the best policy.
Final Thoughts
The lion’s share of responsibility still lies with you the business owner’s shoulders.
Marketers have their role to play.
We are like a power suit that enhances your business in some pretty awesome ways, but in the end, it is you who wears the suit.
The suit is nothing hanging on the shelf with no one inside to animate it. And the suit is limited by the capabilities of the wearer.
It’s cool, but it’s not the answer to everything.
Setting Initial Conditions For Your Online Business Success
Setting Initial Conditions For Your Online Business Success
with up to 100% of residential PV customers doing research online, your long-term success depends on setting initial conditions for an online version of...
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