The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing for Solar Companies, including Solar Dealers and Solar Installers
Last updated: 08 February 2020
A thorough guide to how solar dealers and installers can use digital marketing to increase their site traffic, generate leads and convert them into customers.
Digital marketing can be a confusing and complex process. With that fact in mind, this guide will walk you through the many key components of digital marketing and explain how you can implement them effectively in your solar business:
- Understanding your customer
- Creating a functional website: providing useful content to your customers
- Inspiring confidence in prospects and customers
- Promoting your business using digital channels and industry trends
- Email marketing
- Tracking leads and customers
- Reporting and integrating your marketing process with other business systems
- Advanced marketing tools.
Table of Contents
- The Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing for Solar Companies, including Solar Dealers and Solar Installers
- Solar Website Best Practices
- Well-Designed and Mobile Responsive Solar Web Sites
- Web Hosting for Solar Websites
- Solar Website Content Tips
- Solar Assets and Special Offers
- The Importance of High Quality Solar
- Solar Landing Pages
- Providing Value to your Visitors
- Using Popup Forms on your Solar Website
- Tracking with Google Analytics
- Inbound Marketing for Solar Dealers and Solar Companies
- Credibility Signals and Buyer Confidence for Solar Companies
- Solar Industry Trends
- Solar Digital Marketing Channels
- Organic Traffic (SEO)
- Google My Business (GMB)
- Solar Advertising Concepts
- Google Ads
- Bing Ads
- YouTube for Solar Marketing
- Twitter for Solar Marketing
- LinkedIn for Solar Marketing
- Pinterest for Solar Marketing
- Spotify Advertising for Solar Companies
- Email Marketing for Solar Companies
- Reporting and Tracking Solar Campaigns
- CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for Solar
- Tools for Solar Marketing
Understanding Your Customers
You need to understand your customers. In particular, you should recognise who your ideal customers are and what the buyer's journey looks like. For many solar dealers, homeowners make up the majority of their clientele. They might be young married couples or retirees who want to reduce their phone bill. Regardless, more often than not, customers are focused on saving money. In a much smaller percentage of cases, your customers are interested in reducing their environmental impact.
Reducing Bills vs. being Environmentally Friendly
Predominantly, customers want to save money, but in some cases they express environmental concern. It's important to understand their motivation, because that will influence your market message. Your message starts with your website and extends to your advertising content, which needs to target these customers. For instance, if a large part of your customer base is retirees, then a website that focuses on young married couples will feel irrelevant. Often, your customer base depends on the region in which you operate. For example, here in Sydney, some suburbs focus more on young married couples and first-time homeowners, whereas the Blue Mountains west of Sydney comprises a much larger retiree market.
Residential vs. Commercial Solar
Also, it’s important to consider residential solar versus commercial solar. Some residential customers might start with their own homes, but they might also own a business or perhaps in some cases a farm or hobby farm, in which case they’ll need to take a commercial solar approach. You’ll need to understand all of your customers’ needs in order to serve them well. In addition to understanding who your ideal customers are, it's important to think about how they find you.
The Solar Customer’s Journey
Many years ago, prospective customers might have looked you up in the yellow pages, clicked on an ad, or perhaps received a leaflet in their mailbox. These days, however, the process is much more intricate. They often start with some Google research, which might lead them to have a look around your website, but they don’t make a decision immediately. Next, they might see an ad or a post that you have on Facebook, and as they start thinking about that, they might then go back to Google and click on an ad to come back to your site. At that point, they may sign up for a newsletter or download an eBook, but they're still not ready to buy. They're still in the research phase.
This process can go on for weeks, months, or even years in some cases - it’s all part of the solar lead generation process. You need to recognise this journey that potential customers go on so that you can be in front of them every step of the way. Customers make their decisions over many touch points, which is why when we discuss digital marketing promotion later in this post, you’ll understand how they all fit into eventually converting someone into a customer.
Seasonality in the Solar Industry
Seasonality also plays a large role in the solar industry. Typically, in very warm months, people are much more interested in solar power. In Australia and other parts of the southern hemisphere, the end of the year, Christmas, and the New Year period is a very popular time to start researching and booking solar installation. The uptick drops off around April and the middle of the year, when it's much colder.
Research Mode vs. Buying Mode (Purchase Intent)
During the less busy season, people still do research, but they aren’t generally in buying mode. They don't have purchase intent, which is a term we use in marketing. In the colder months, while people are still researching, it's important to have an email marketing strategy, and stay in front of them with email updates and content. That way, your business will be at the forefront of their minds in August and September, when they move back into the buying mentality.
Solar Website Best Practices
When you get a visitor to your site, it’s crucial that you don't lose them; your website is your first chance to make a good impression. When it comes to your website, a few points might seem obvious, but they are often overlooked. We work with a large number of dealers, and we often see very obvious, simple mistakes on their sites.
Well-Designed and Mobile Responsive Solar Web Sites
The first key element is a good design. You’ll need a good, clean layout, and your site needs to work on mobile. Unfortunately, many dealers these days still have websites that don't work properly on mobile devices. The site content is really small, and in order for people to get information they have to pinch their screens and toggle around. That's really not acceptable these days. Your design must work well on mobile.
Web Hosting for Solar Websites
In addition, you need superior hosting so that your website is fast. People are very impatient these days, so if your website is slow to load (usually anything over three seconds is considered slow), then you're missing out on an opportunity to impress a visitor.
Remember, people usually do research in their spare time. They might quickly look information up on their lunch hour, or on their phones as they’re heading home on the bus or the train. Therefore, it's very important that your website be fast and responsive on mobile.
Solar Website Content Tips
Regarding site content, there are a few key areas that you need to have in place. Firstly, you need a services and products page, which presents the products and services you offer. This page could showcase your high quality solar components and batteries and perhaps some smart home management systems. It should also describe your installation, maintenance, and in some cases cleaning services. Be very clear about what you provide.
Solar Assets and Special Offers
You should include some special offers such as:
- Case studies
- Overview of your services
Your special offers should be something potential customers can download, usually after providing you with their email address. That way, you can stay in contact with them, and they have information about you to consider.
The Importance of High Quality Solar
Presumably, you are selling high quality solar (here’s why it’s important). All of the marketing strategies, tips and tactics this post covers are focused on good quality solar. If you're peddling cheap solar components, many of the tips we discuss here won't work for you. As a business, we don't work with low quality solar. You have no doubt seen “scare me” solar campaigns, door knocking, telemarketers, cheap offers that are too good to be true, and warranties that companies can't honor. We don’t consider those kinds of “offers” valid, and this post isn’t aimed at them. When we talk about special pricing here, we're not talking about cheap solar. We're talking about special pricing related to rebates, tariffs, and incentives that typically change from state to state in Australia and the U.S.
Solar Landing Pages
Landing pages are key pages that might offer an eBook, a quote, or special information. They are part of the website, but they have a slightly different focus. They're not part of normal menu navigation; instead, they're tailor-made pages to which specific sources send people.
For example, you might be running an ad on Facebook. Instead of sending prospects to your home page, the ad might send them to a special landing page centered on an eBook. So you might be promoting a special guide to solar on Facebook and pushing visitors to a landing page that talks about that eBook, gets them to sign up, and gives them the eBook download.
Here’s an example of a good solar landing page.
Providing Value to your Visitors
Blog posts are typically the best way to provide regular, valuable content for your website’s visitors. These posts might provide information and answers to typical questions people have about solar power. They might provide insights into the industry, or key improvements in solar. For example, if one of your suppliers increases their warranty or the efficiency of a product, you might mention that as news. You might talk about rebates or tariffs that are particular to your area and location. You might also mention special case studies to which you want to call attention. All of these ideas would provide valuable content for visitors.
Using Popup Forms on your Solar Website
Popup forms should be little slide-ins. People don't like popups that take over the whole site; they're quite annoying. But little slide-in forms that offer your visitors an eBook, or perhaps a quote, or maybe a sign-up for a newsletter are all parts of a well-optimised solar website.
Tracking with Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a simple, free program for tracking your site visitors. It will tell you how many visitors came to your site, the content that they viewed, and how they arrived at your site. Did they come from Facebook? Did they come from a Google search? This information is very important because it helps you optimise and improve the results you get from your website. If you learn that people coming from a particular source are converting into leads and customers, that's useful information. One other tool that we'll talk about in detail later is Google Tag Manager, which we recommend for inserting scripts into your site.
Inbound Marketing for Solar Dealers and Solar Companies
In terms of the content to provide to your prospective customers, the key words you should know are: inbound marketing. Inbound marketing deals with the content that people go searching for in places like Google or Facebook. You can successfully market this way when you know the keywords and terms that people search for and respond to and then make sure your website provides that information.
Sales Focus vs. Providing Answers
Quite often, websites have an aggressive sales-and-marketing focus. It's almost like they're an online brochure, and while that angle is necessary, it's also important that you provide value. If people who are not yet ready to buy land on your site and all they get is sales eBrochures, they're unlikely to return. However, while people are doing their research, if you provide valuable information and answer frequently asked questions, you’ll establish real credibility with them.
Solar Content Strategy
As part of establishing that credibility, you need to actively plan a solar content strategy. All solar dealers should have a range of dynamic website content as part of their strategy. To achieve optimum content, organise a content schedule or calendar and update it regularly. Updating is important for two reasons:
- Google – Google likes to see regular, fresh content on websites, as that is a good indication that the site hasn’t gone dormant and is still being maintained and managed.
- Visitors – Visitors will also look for fresh content. If they see a recent blog post, they know that you’re still in business. Whereas if the website hasn’t been updated for a number of years and the copyright date is five years old, their confidence in the site is reduced.
Effective Content for Solar Websites
Appropriate solar website content typically includes services and products pages, case studies, blog posts about industry trends, and frequently asked questions. Also, providing insight into new products and how they can be used effectively is helpful. For example, you might have a blog post about how batteries are becoming more viable in terms of their return on investment time period and the pros and cons of adding batteries to your system.
Credibility Signals and Buyer Confidence for Solar Companies
Once your website is up-to-date, fast, mobile-accessible, and content rich, it’s time to look at some of the other practices that instill confidence in your would-be customers.
Google My Business for Solar Installers
One of the best and easiest ways to generate this confidence is to use your Google My Business listing. If you Google your business, you should see a panel on the right displaying your business name, reviews, and images. If you don’t see that, you can easily create this listing; we have a blog post devoted entirely to how to get that panel. Before you create that, though, remember that it’s important to get reviews from your customers, which will appear there. Ask your best customers to give you a review on Google, and their positive recommendations will inspire confidence in others.
You can also add offers, content posts, photos, or even installation videos on your Google My Business listing (here’s how to add videos to your Google My Business listing). That way, when someone is searching for a solar dealer in their area, they'll see your Google My Business listing and straight away they’ll make a judgement about you. If they see good reviews, that will add confidence to their perception.
Most solar dealers in Australia are on Solar Quotes now. Getting good reviews and being recognised as a high quality solar dealer on this platform adds a lot of credibility.
Clean Energy Council (CEC) Accreditation
If you're an authorised dealer or a premium dealer for a high quality solar product (for example, LG panels), that shows credibility as well.
Getting testimonials from clients and regularly updating them provides confidence. Make sure you date the testimonials, and if you can include a photo of the person that's excellent, though not mandatory.
If a visitor goes to the testimonials page on a solar site and sees testimonials from five years ago but nothing recent, that can be a red flag. Make sure you update testimonials regularly, and expand on them as case studies.
Case Studies vs. Testimonials
The difference between testimonials and case studies is that case studies normally include pictures of the installation. They might also include a lot more detail about the goals of the installation, what the customer’s vision was, and how you achieved that for them. Case studies are very powerful.
Solar Industry Trends
Increased Awareness and Informed Buyers
One of the foremost industry trends that solar dealers and installers are seeing is a rising awareness of solar and renewables, which is encouraging. This awareness means that the market is becoming better informed about solar panels, batteries, and renewables. It also means that people are doing a lot more research, and as part of their research they may touch your website and your marketing.
Cheap Solar and Solar Scams
The heightened awareness is also good news for people who are selling quality solar. Unfortunately, the market is ripe with scams and so-called “crap solar.” However, over the last couple of years, Australians have experienced a growing understanding of the need for quality in the solar marketplace.
News outlets have covered many of the scams involving low quality solar. They’ve exposed the door knockers and the telemarketers who are often outsourced from overseas and are peddling low quality components that aren't backed up by any reputable installation or warranty. This kind of low quality solar is a terrible thing for the market and for the environment, often costing the environment much more than it saves. Thankfully, consumers are becoming more aware of this problem, and they are now demanding quality.
Growth in Batteries and Smart Home Energy Systems
We’re also starting to see a push for batteries and smart energy homes. Over the last 10 years or so, solar panels have reduced in price and increased in efficiency to the point where they are now providing a return on investment in less than 10 years. They are paying for themselves much more quickly and lasting much longer than they did previously. We're seeing warranties of 25 years and above now for solar panels.
This is a very good sign, and it is a good benchmark for the industry. Batteries are still expensive, but they are coming down slowly in price and becoming more of a viable option for many homes. Over the next three to five years, we're anticipating large growth in the battery market, not only for new homes that don’t yet have solar, but also for homes that already have solar panels, and perhaps have even had them for a number of years.
Electric Vehicles (EV) and Residential Solar Installations
One other factor that's going to contribute to the growth of the battery market is the rise in electric vehicles (EVs). EV owners recognise that by having batteries and solar installed they're effectively getting their transport costs reduced or even free.
What the Trends Mean
What all of these trends mean for dealers is terrific opportunity to provide value and growth in the Australian, US, and European markets. This good news also means that it's more important than ever to clearly communicate the need for quality in the marketplace.
Solar Digital Marketing Channels
The following are all digital channels, and they include Google and SEO as well as social channels and paid advertising.
Organic Traffic (SEO)
As everybody knows, when you go to Google, you call up organic (or free) listings and also paid advertising. The advertising is usually at the top of the results page and has little notes next to the listings to show that they’re ads. Underneath, you'll see organic listings, which means nobody had to pay for them. These organic listings are where you can work hard on your site to improve your results.
We have another post entirely dedicated to how you can improve your organic results, including doing keyword research, writing content, and optimizing that content for Google. That's a key part of your promotion strategy. However, search engine optimisation (SEO) and organic traffic, while free and important, often take a long time to improve. Initially, you might land on page two or three of search results; it takes time and hard work to get to the top of page one. That's why you need to consider many other channels.
Google My Business (GMB)
As discussed previously, Google My Business is an important way to promote your business, especially for local SEO (local people searching Google for local offerings). People in your area searching for solar businesses will be a key part of your organic traffic. We have the key resource for getting your solar Google My Business listing up-to-date.
Solar Advertising Concepts
Advertising and paid promotion should be another key part of your strategy. You can advertising on Google, on social channels, or on other websites in the following ways:
- Search Advertising
- Display Advertising
- Social Advertising
- Lead Gen Forms
When people go to Google and search for a term such as “solar panels,” the paid advertising that pops up at the top of the first page is a result of search advertising. Companies (such as yours) pay to get their businesses promoted at the very beginning of relevant searches.
Ads on other websites are an example of display advertising. Quite often, these ads appear as colorful banners. They might promote a special offer, they might talk about an e-Book, and they appear on what Google calls their display network.
You might even open a newspaper like the City Morning Herald and see ads at the bottom. Those are often Google display ads. Many ad networks besides Google also use display advertising.
Social advertising involves social media, so it can take place on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Clickable images often accompany these ads. If someone clicks the image, they go through to your website.
Remarketing refers to those ads that follow you around the web. Have you ever visited a website and then later seen ads for that website on other sites, or perhaps on Facebook or LinkedIn? That's retargeting, and it’s accomplished using “cookies.” A cookie is text that a web server can store on a user's hard drive. Cookies allow a website to store information on a user's machine and later retrieve it.
Lead Generation Forms
You might have seen a lead gen form when you were on Facebook or LinkedIn. For instance, if you see an advertisement for an eBook on Facebook and you click on it, but instead of redirecting you to a new website a form pops up right there, that’s a lead gen form. Lead gen forms can be very effective.
Now, let’s look at how these different advertising concepts relate to various advertising channels.
Google Ads covers search ads and display ads. The display ads are often a result of remarketing, whereas search ads are text ads that appear in the Google search results. They have a headline and some sub-headings, and then they provide a link to your website. We have entire blog posts dedicated to how to set up and manage your Google ads, including information about display ads and remarketing.
Depending on which country you reside in, Bing may or may not be a viable option. In some countries, Bing is very small in terms of their market penetration, but in others they’re influence is quite significant. One benefit of looking into Bing Ads is that they're very similar to Google ads, but other dealers often overlook them.
Just by creating an account in Bing Ads, you'll often get much cheaper clicks and better results than with Google Ads. However, your results will depend on your location; you’ll need to test and measure your outcomes.
Facebook has two options: Facebook pages and Facebook advertising.
Your Facebook page is “organic social”; it targets the followers you already have on your page. Those followers might see your updates in their newsfeed, but keep in mind that most of the people on Facebook won’t already be fans of your page. They don’t even know about you. The best way to get your message in front of people is through Facebook advertising.
Facebook is incredibly powerful in the way it targets people by similar interests. Facebook has significant data about everyone, so they're able to target very effectively. Both Facebook and Instagram advertising have been extremely effective for solar dealers.
Instagram Business Profile
Instagram is very image-focused, so you might think your Instagram profile is solely for sharing photos of food or holidays. However, Instagram is increasingly becoming a place to talk about solar and renewable business. In fact, Instagram has business profiles now—you can mark your Instagram profile as being a business profile.
Typically, Instagram advertising is a good way to promote assets such as e-Books or guides. These resources are often where people start their journey learning about solar. Instagram advertising is not really a place to sell or promote special offers; it's more about starting the journey and providing valuable information and content.
YouTube for Solar Marketing
YouTube is increasingly becoming a place where people go to learn. A YouTube channel where you promote and educate viewers about your business provides credibility. When you answer frequently asked questions about solar energy, you inspire credibility and provide value. Then YouTube advertising promotes your channel to visitors.
With YouTube Advertising, you can also actually run ads that point back to your site. YouTube advertising is a powerful way to get your message in front of potential customers.
Twitter for Solar Marketing
Twitter tends to be more of a niche area for solar dealers, although it is growing in some of the more technical industries, depending on who your target market is. Let's say your target market is young, married couples or first-time homeowners; often those people will be on Twitter, especially if they're in professional jobs. For example, a developer or someone in IT is very likely to be on Twitter. If they've just bought a home and they're looking for solar, then targeting them on Twitter can be very effective.
A Twitter profile can inspire confidence in your business, and Twitter advertising (using Twitter Ads) provides powerful targeting so that you can zero in on your target audience and provide your message. On Twitter, providing offers in terms of eBooks and resources is an effective way to promote engagement.
LinkedIn for Solar Marketing
LinkedIn has three components: your own personal LinkedIn profile, your LinkedIn company page, and LinkedIn advertising.
LinkedIn Personal Profile
Getting your LinkedIn profile up-to-date to explain who you are and your relationship with your company is worthwhile. If you’re the owner of a solar company, an installer, or a salesperson, mention that on your profile.
LinkedIn Company Page
Your LinkedIn company page is where you talk about your business. That's where you post updates around products, eBook offers, case studies, and testimonials to encourage confidence in your business.
Finally, LinkedIn advertising is a way to sponsor content that's on your company page and provide offers for people to click through to your site.
Pinterest for Solar Marketing
Pinterest is not as popular yet in Australia as it is in the US, but in the US market it's incredibly popular, especially with the female demographic. Pinterest is a place for people to record their plans. For instance, if they're planning a holiday they'll often have a Pinterest board. If they're planning upgrades or renovations (like solar!) to their home, they often record those plans on Pinterest.
Advertising your business on Pinterest is a good way to get in front of people. Here, your messaging should center on home improvements, (i.e. how solar panels look great on the roof, and how quality is important) and answers to frequently asked questions. You should also include infographics and easy diagrams. Because it's a very visual channel, having good quality imagery on Pinterest is important. Stock images are less effective; it’s a better medium for real images and case study photos.
Spotify Advertising for Solar Companies
Spotify is a music streaming service that people often listen to all day. With Spotify for Brands (Spotify Advertising) you can pay for a 30-second advertising soundbite to share a message or an offer regarding solar. Spotify can be a good way to get brand awareness.
Email Marketing for Solar Companies
Email marketing is a key part of the buyer's journey. Once someone has come to your site and signed up for an eBook, requested a quote, or shown enough interest to give you their email address, you can use email marketing to keep in touch with them.
Email marketing is most effective when it provides a mix of information, offers, and details about your products. Make sure your email follow-ups aren't all about sales, because people will tire of that. Keep in mind that when people sign up for something, they're still in research mode. They're not usually ready to buy, so you should be using email marketing to gently move them along from the research phase to the purchase phase.
Tools for Solar Email Marketing
Many good tools can help you with email marketing and automating email follow-ups. We typically use three different products:
Separate blog posts speak about each of those products specifically.
Reporting and Tracking Solar Campaigns
This section will discuss tracking visitors and analytics. This information relates to people visiting your website, using tools to track what they do on your website, how they found your website (which is important for marketing attribution), and how to engage with them better.
Google Analytics is free, easy to set up, very popular, and you can find plenty of information online about how to use it effectively. It's very simple to set up: you just put a small tracking script on your website. If you don't know how to do this, your web developer can easily add it on and then you can use Google Analytics to view information about your visitors and their behavior on the site.
First of all, you can see where your visitors are coming from. For example, they might have come from Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google search results. You can also see where they're located. They might be located near you in Sydney, or in a suburb or another city. They might even be living overseas.
Solar dealers often have a large amount of traffic from overseas because they've written content and Google has made that available in other countries. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but it's not particularly useful for you. It can be a good sign that your site is performing well, but you'll be most interested in what percentage of your visitors come from locations near you and how your site engages them.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) for Solar
When it comes to tracking, you’ll need to have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. We recommend HubSpot as a great tool. They have a free version that is very easy to install on your website. When people fill out a form, they go into HubSpot CRM and then you can track everything that they do on your site. It will show you what pages they visited, what forms they filled out, and it's a good indication of the quality of the lead, whether they're a person looking for solar or are just a tyre kicker.
Lead and Prospect Tracking
In terms of tracking leads, one key question most people have is when to call leads. A few years ago we advised dealers to be very careful about following up with people on the phone too quickly because it could be off-putting. However, we've seen that change in the last couple of years, driven by the low quality, scam solar dealers who call leads and hound them straight away. As a result, people are used to getting phone calls. The difference is not whether they get phone calls or not; it's the type of phone calls they get.
When you call leads, make sure your caller is someone who is very knowledgeable about products and that their intent is to provide help and value to the people they're calling. If you call people and launch right into a special offer or try to sell them something, it will often put them off. The telemarketers that bad solar companies outsource call random numbers and hassle people to make an appointment. That approach has very low success. However, when high-quality dealers call and provide value in a non-confrontational, non-pushy, helpful manner, it is very effective. The approach can be as simple as: "Hi, I saw you downloaded this e-book. Do you have any questions? Can I help you with answering any queries you have about products?"
Also important in tracking visitors and leads to your site is tracking actual customers. Once they've become customers, that shouldn’t be the end of it. Once they have purchased a solar panel package from you and had it installed, that should be the start of their relationship with you. Years later, they might need maintenance, they might want to get more panels, or they might want a battery system. They might want some home monitoring and smart home efficiency systems. So keep track of those customers and keep them informed.
Asking for Reviews
Also, asking for reviews and testimonials from happy clients is a very useful way to further promote your business. Earlier we discussed getting solar reviews for Google My Business. In addition, when you've been tracking customers you can send them email follow ups where you not only inform them about new products, but also ask them if they will leave you a review.
Tools for Solar Marketing
When it comes to overall reporting, we use three key tools:
- Google Analytics (GA) – See previous discussion about this tool.
- Google Search Console (GSC) – Google provides this tool to provide insight into where you appear organically in search results.
- Bing Webmaster Tools (BWT) – This tool helps you understand where you rank for key solar terms or FAQs.
We cover these topics in further detail on our solar marketing blog.
That’s a lot to absorb, and in most cases we’ve just scratched the surface.
We hope you’ve found it useful.
If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us here.