Should Your Solar Blog Have a Call to Action

Should Your Solar Blog Include a Call to ActionMany bloggers are scared of the “call to action” concept.  They view their blogs as pure literary vehicles that would become sullied with anything that could be considered a “sales pitch.”

Basically a call to action (CTA) at the bottom of a post strikes them as greedy or insincere.

For some types of blogs, this may be true.  Hobbyists, authors, travelers – I can see why they’d want to avoid CTAs.

But your blog is NOT a literary vehicle, and you should never hesitate to use a call to action whenever appropriate.  Below are just a handful of reasons why solar energy blogs should occasionally include CTAs in their posts.

1.  Solar Blogs ARE Sales Pieces (Sort of)

There’s a big difference between the professional blogger who uses humor or rants to generate traffic – and your straightforward corporate blog.

Your solar blog is one component of a much larger online marketing strategy.  While the blog itself might not be a sales tool, it complements many of the other tools you have in your arsenal.

I don’t think including a CTA at the bottom of a corporate solar blog is greedy or insincere.

It’s just common sense.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent or part-time comedian who blogs on the side, perhaps all you want is readership – people who come to your blog, read, laugh, and move on.

But for the rest of us, there’s usually a next step we want our readers to take.  And beware – no matter how obvious you think that next step is, you have to clearly and unambiguously outline it for your readers.

What specifically do you want them to do next?  (this leads into the next point)

2.  Not All CTAs Require a Credit Card

If you’re optimizing your solar blog correctly, it will attract readers at different stages of the buying cycle.  This means that “BUY NOW” is not the only call to action worth exploring.

Below are just a handful CTAs worth exploring:

  • Fill out a form
  • Request free information
  • Download an e-book
  • Leave a comment
  • Ask a question
  • Take a survey
  • Sign up for a newsletter
  • Contact us

And don’t forget social media.  Many blog platforms (WordPress, Joomla!, HubSpot, Drupal, etc.) make it really easy to add those shiny little Facebook or Twitter icons at the beginning or end of posts.  Those are CTAs as well.

3.  You Can Add a Call to Action without Being Obvious

Calls to action need not always be big clickable buttons asking users to fill out a form or make a purchase.  You can easily sprinkle hyperlinks throughout your text – just simple, underlined phrases that people click on if they’re interested.

I often just hyperlink a small bit of text inviting readers to contact me if they need help with a solar copywriting project.  It’s not obtrusive at all.  If you’re looking for it, it’s there.  If you’re not looking, you probably won’t even notice it.

You can also insert CTAs in the sidebar.  It’s technically still part of your solar blog, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of your content.

But, I wouldn’t rely exclusively on sidebar CTAs.  Many readers ignore the sidebar – since this is where ads usually go.  Be sure to include more prominent CTAs in the body of your text to cover your bases.

Should You Always Use a Call to Action in a Solar Blog?

Not necessarily.  Only use a CTA if there is a clear next step that you want your readers to take.  Sometimes, it’s nice to end a hard workweek with a more lighthearted blog post that exists for the sole reason of existing.

Many of my clients like to make their Friday posts funny or reflective – with no deeper purpose.

Take this post for example.  I don’t end it with a call to action – unless you want to get in touch with me for a solar writing project.

Writing Solar Energy Press Releases, Part 6 – Where (to Send – Pt. 2)

Writing Solar Energy Press ReleasesThis post continues our previous discussion on where to post your press releases.

Let’s look at the last 3 options in our list.

3. Use a Paid Distribution Service

There are a ton of paid services that will syndicate your press release on numerous sites and wires.  Done correctly, your single announcement could reach hundreds of thousands of people – maybe even millions.

The upside to paid services are:

  • You have a lot of control over where your press release goes.  Segment by geography or industry or publication.
  • You can include hyperlinks, logos, and images – often as value-added services that carry additional fees.
  • You receive detailed reporting about clicks, views, and other analytical data.

The main disadvantage of paid services is that they can be expensive.  With one of my favorite services (Marketwire), you can expect to drop several hundred dollars – and that’s before including any of the value-added services.  Oh, and there’s often a higher fee for press releases that go over a certain word limit.

If you have the budget, I’d definitely explore paid services.  There are hundreds of them, but my personal favorites are (in no particular order):

I recommend using a few of them and do some A/B testing.

For example, you publish the same press release on 2 or more different services.  But be sure to change the contact information and landing pages for each press release.

After a few days, you can determine which service brings you the greatest visibility, clicks, and phone calls.  Don’t forget to factor in the cost.  If Service A yields 50% more leads but costs 3 times as much, it’s probably not worth using again.

4. Use a Free Distribution Service

Whether you use a paid service or not, you should explore a few free ones.  They’re free after all.

Let’s look at the advantages of free services:

  • Um.  They’re free.
  • You’re not limited to the number of services you can use.
  • They’re free.

The downsides:

  • You often lose your hyperlinks.  Some free services let you activate them as a value-added service, but not always.
  • Reporting and analytics are sometimes iffy.
  • They often don’t have the same prestige or reach of paid services.

Another issue with free services is that there are so many of them.  Even with A/B testing, it will take you some time to find those free services that are worth the energy.

Yes! I know I said that you should use as many as possible, but setting up accounts, formatting, and publishing all take a lot of time.  If you’re like most solar marketers, you only have so many hours in the day.

The last downside – free press release services are great at picking up backlinks, but recent updates to Google (Panda & Penguin) could make indiscriminate linking a no-no.  This article argues that you should be more selective about the links you secure.  Whereas paid services allow you to target individual industries and verticals, free services are often one-size-fits-all.

I’ve used PRLog and generally liked the results.  But this was before the Google Panda update.

If you’re still interested in free distribution options, you can always do a Google search of “best free press release sites.”  Here are two lists you might wanna check out.  List 1List 2.

5. Manually Publish Your Press Release on Partner Sites

There is no shortage of solar, green, and energy sites that regularly accept guest posts and press releases.  Renewable Energy World is one of the most popular ones, but don’t limit your search there.

The advantages of manually posting are:

  • You have complete control over where your press releases go.
  • You can usually keep your hyperlinks.
  • Your backlinks are highly relevant to your industry.
  • You can target and segment to find the perfect sites for your press releases.
  • You can piggyback on other people’s SEO work.  Renewable Energy World, for example, is highly optimized.  If your press release goes there, it will probably rank fairly high in the search engines.

The downside of manual posting is that it’s labor intensive.  You have to create logons and passwords for each site.  Then you have to format each release correctly.  This takes time.

I definitely recommend exploring this approach – but only if you have the bandwidth.  Interns can help.  Or you could always use a virtual assistant.

Final Thoughts on Press Release Distribution

Getting your solar press release out there takes time and/or money.  The potential benefits are worth it, but there’s really no way to avoid investing resources.

It’s important to find the right balance for your situation.  I recommend using a combination of all of the distribution options listed above, but you’ll probably have to divert greater resources in one direction or the other.

If you’re short on time, paid services are probably your best option.  They’re fast and easy.  But you’ll have to shell out a few bucks for the convenience.

If you’re short on cash, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and explore the many free options out there: journalists, free distribution services, and manual publishing.

This concludes our multi-part series on solar press releases.  I hope to add additional best practices and tips in the coming months, so be sure to check in from time to time or subscribe to my blog via RSS feed.

What’s your favorite way to get press releases out there?  Share your experiences down below.

 

Writing Solar Energy Press Releases, Part 5 – Where (to Send)

Writing Solar Energy Press ReleasesThus far, we’ve discussed the What, Why, Who, and How of writing solar press releases.

You finally have a polished announcement that highlights your unique solar offerings.  You’re ready to share this magnum opus with the world.

Where to begin?

Well, you have a number of options – each with slightly different pros and cons.

You can:

  1. Publish it on your solar company’s site
  2. Send it directly to journalists and reporters
  3. Use any number of paid distribution services
  4. Use any number of free distribution services
  5. Manually publish it on sites that accept guest posts

Today, we’ll explore the first two options.  Tomorrow, we’ll look at options 3, 4, and 5.

1.  Publish Your Press Release on Your Own Site

This is not really an “option,” and there really is no downside.

You should definitely publish any and all press releases on your own site – and you should do this BEFORE posting anywhere else.

This is because Google generally frowns upon duplicate content.  It’s important that you receive authorship for your own press release.

So regardless of whatever other options you choose to explore, make sure your press release goes up in the media or “in the news” section of your solar company’s site.

2.  Send Your Press Release Directly to Reporters

You can send your press releases directly to journalists.  First let’s explore the process, and then we’ll analyze the advantages and disadvantages.

Finding the right reporters takes some work.  You have to monitor newspapers and identify the types of writers who might be interested in a story like yours.  I recommend setting up a Google Alert for this project.

Let’s say you plan on writing a press release on a solar conference you’re hosting in a few months.  I’d make a Google Alert with the keywords “solar conference” or “solar event.”   You can tell Google to send you an email whenever a news story comes out with your keyword.

Over the next several days (or weeks), you build a rolodex of those stories and the authors who write them.  With enough time, you should have a pretty solid list of potential reporters.

Finding their contact information may be easy or extremely hard depending on the publication.  Sometimes their email addresses are right there.  Sometimes not.

You can always contact the newspaper directly and ask for the best way to get in touch with Reporter “John Smith.”

When contacting reporters, there are some very general guidelines to follow:

  • Personalize all correspondence.  “Hi John” is much better than “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • Don’t contact reporters when they’re close to deadline.  Again, this varies with each paper and reporter, but afternoons are typically crunch time.
  • Keep any phone calls and emails short.
  • Don’t read from a script.  Natural is better.
  • Give them the story – not an advertisement.  You may be thrilled by your solar press release, but journalists receive requests every day, all day.
  • Don’t pester them.  They’ll either write about you or they won’t.  If they need additional information, they’ll contact you.

As you can see, getting your press release into a reporter’s hands takes some effort.  That’s the downside – time and energy invested.

You also lose control of the story once a reporter begins to rewrite it.  Perhaps your target keywords or most important points disappear in the final version.

The upside is that a press release turned into an actual article can drive a lot more interest for your solar products and services:

  • You have 2 versions of the same story that are now indexed in Google – your original version and the reworked one
  • You reach new audiences – i.e. people who regularly read this reporter’s articles
  • Your story is more objective since you’re not tooting your own horn

If you only write press releases very occasionally, it’s probably not worth exploring this approach.  But if you write press releases on a regular basis, there’s real benefit in forming long-term relationships with reporters who cover your area.

Tune in tomorrow.  We’ll look at the last 3 options for getting your solar press release out there.

Writing Solar Energy Press Releases, Part 4 – the How (Examples)

Writing Solar Energy Press ReleasesNow that you know the basic structure of the press release, how do you develop a story that people will actually care about?

Well, if the solar product, service, or event is big enough, the story usually ends up writing itself.  You’re excited, and you’re naturally eager to get the word out.

These are not the types of press releases that usually give people trouble.  Copywriting about big news is relatively easy:

  • Just stick with the facts
  • Follow the format
  • Highlight the benefits
  • Throw in some quotes
  • And you’re basically done (although in future posts we’ll work on making your press release even better)

No.  The hard press releases are the ones in which you have to turn a small story into a bigger one.  You’ve extended your store hours or you’ve hired a new accounting manager.

Harder still, you want to revitalize a product in your catalog that hasn’t seen much activity in awhile.  This is definitely not “news” since the product is already available and always has been.

What do you do?

Finding the Story Within

The less “newsworthy” your story is, the more preparation you’ll need.  Let’s take an example and try to build a press release out of it.

Here’s the background: You work for Acme Solar, but your flagship product, the Acme 123X solar panel, hasn’t been selling well.  It’s a fine piece of technology, and people are generally happy with the panel, but unfortunately sales are down.

Your target customers are installers.  They buy your product and then offer it to homeowners or residential customers.

After some digging around, you discover that installers generally like the Acme 123X, although the actual installation is a bit trickier when compared with other PV alternatives.

If I were in this situation, I might write a simple e-book that guides people through the installation process for Acme 123X solar panels.  The manual might include potential pitfalls, troubleshooting, dos and don’ts, and FAQs.  It wouldn’t have to be terribly long.

As you see later on, I’ll use this e-book as a centerpiece for the solar press release.  The product is old, but this guide is “new.”

Next, I would publish the e-book online as a downloadable PDF (after people fill out a simple lead form).  I’d hyperlink this landing page – both on the Acme 123X product page and in the press release (in my call to action).

I might also send the e-book to a few installers in my network and get their feedback.  Basically, I want any juicy quotes I can get.  Remember to let respondents know that you might use their feedback in an upcoming press release.  It’s generally good publicity for them if you mention their name and company in the press release.

Next, I’d research the keywords I want to attach to this piece.  In theory, I’d already have some keywords associated with the product itself (from my earlier SEO work on the Acme 123X solar panel).  But I might also add things like “free solar installation e-book” or “free solar panel installation instruction online” or variations.

Example Solar Press Release Headlines

Now we can begin writing.  We start with the headline.  Potential winners include:

  • Acme Solar Launches Free Panel Installation Guide Online
  • Free Online Manual Makes Solar Panel Installation a Breeze
  • Free E-Book Makes Solar Installers’ Job Much Easier

Straight to the point, good use of keywords, and definitely “newsworthy.”  Also notice that the second two headlines highlight a real benefit to potential installers – “greater ease.”

Example Subheadings

Now we jump into the subheading in which we give the reader a few more details.  Variations include:

  • Acme Solar has just released a new e-book for its flagship product, the Acme 123X solar panel, making installation even easier than before.
  • With the release of its free online manual, Acme Solar believes it can reduce installation times even further for the Acme 123X solar panel.

Again, these subheadings are benefit-focused and keyword-rich.  We’re solving a problem out there, and we’re doing it with a “new” product – the e-book.

Example Lead

Next we jump into the lead.  It begins:

Anywhere, US (PRLog) April 1, 2012 – Last week, Acme Solar introduced a new….

Notice that I put PRLog in parentheses.  If you use Marketwire or PRWeb or some other service, you’d simply insert their name here.  If you don’t distribute your press release through an official wire, just remove the ( ) entirely.

The lead would continue for another paragraph in which we outline the who, what, when, where, and why.  In summary, those points are:

  • Acme Solar (who)
  • Has made this e-book available (what)
  • Last week or March 25 or next month (when)
  • Downloadable from the Web (where)
  • To help reduce installation times (why)

Example Body

Then we jump into the body of the solar press release where you can expand on the summary and include juicy quotes.  Don’t forget to include quotes from your team (explaining the “why”) and from those who have used the e-book (from your brief installer survey).

Here are some quote ideas from your management team:

  • We decided to launch this manual to help our clients reduce installation times because….
  • With the new [insert: solar rebate program] on the horizon, we wanted to make it easier for our installers to service the needs of…..

You get the general idea.  If you can document reduced times or increased efficiencies, throw those in.  Studies have shown that approximately 87% of people love numbers, facts, stats, etc.

Remember to include keywords and hyperlinks.  Don’t saturate your copy.  A hyperlink every 100 words is fine.  A keyword phrase once every (or every other) paragraph will do.

Those hyperlinks should point to the most important pages on your site.  In our example, I would probably link to:

  • The home page
  • The Acme 123X solar panel product page
  • The landing page where people can download the free e-book

Insert a call to action.  And remember to spell out any URLs in case your hyperlinks ever get disabled:

For more details about the Acme 123X solar panel or to download this free e-book, visit: http://……com.

Closing out Your Press Release

And finally, end the press release with ###, a brief paragraph about Acme Solar, and your contact information.

Voila!  Not only do you have a press release that generates buzz about one of your products, but you also have a landing page that can potentially generate sales through the lead form.

In future posts, we’ll explore how to make your press releases better and better.  But now you have a general idea of the formatting and overall content structure.

You should also have a better understanding of how to transform even the most mundane idea into content that people will actually want to read.

Now we’re ready to get your solar press release out to the general population.  Stay tuned for the next installment in which we explore the “Where” of solar press release distribution.

Writing Solar Energy Press Releases, Part 3 – the How (Structure)

Writing Solar Energy Press ReleasesNow that we’ve explained the What, Why, and Who(m) of writing solar press releases, we’re ready to jump into the actual How of the process (in 2 parts).

There was a time when you had to adhere to very strict formatting rules or else journalists would disregard your press release entirely.  Thanks to online distribution services, the formatting rules are not nearly as strict.  But it’s still a good idea to follow them for several reasons:

  • Formatting your press release properly will increase your chances of having the story picked up by a reporter.
  • Many online distribution services still require that you stick with the older format.
  • The original guidelines make it a little easier to organize your thoughts and lay out your press release logically.

Except for the time that it takes to learn the following structure, there really is no downside to formatting your solar press releases properly.  So you might as well put in the effort.

Let’s begin.

Solar Press Release Headline

Your headline (or title) should be engaging.  No big surprises there since titles should always follow this rule regardless of the copywriting project.

But there are additional points to consider when writing press releases.

  • You should state your announcement in as few words as possible.  Some distribution services even have a character limit.  I recommend 100 characters or fewer just to be safe.
  • Convention dictates that you write your headline in the title case (i.e. Every Word Is Capitalized).  Different style guides disagree on whether you should capitalize conjunctions, articles, and prepositions that don’t appear at the beginning of the headline.  I don’t think it matters much.
  • You should include a keyword or two – but only if it makes sense to do so.  Never place SEO over readability.
  • If writing for journalists – avoid marketing fluff or hype.  Snappy and engaging are okay, but steer clear of sensationalizing your story (too much).  It’s better to stick with the facts.
  • Always write in the 3rd person (ex: he, she, it, they) and never write in the 1st person (ex: we, I).  This rule applies throughout the press release.  Unless you’re directly quoting someone, stick with the 3rd person.

Later on, we’ll actually go over some examples.  But for now, just digest the basic rules.

Solar Press Release Subheading

This is a leftover convention from the pre-Internet days, but most press releases include a subheading.  Usually a sentence long, your subheading simply brings out the story a little bit more.  Think of it as a movie tagline underneath the main title.

So if your press release headline is:

Acme Solar Releases New PV Panel with Higher Efficiency Rates

Your subheading might read:

Acme Solar has just finished testing a PV panel that achieves 20% efficiency under laboratory conditions.

The subheading is a great place to throw in more keywords – but again – only if doing so doesn’t compromise readability.

Solar Press Release Lead

The lead is the “introduction” of your press release.  It usually includes:

  • Today’s date
  • The city (and state or country)
  • The name of the distribution service (if applicable)
  • Dash “–“
  • The opening paragraph of the press release

This opening paragraph is essentially an executive summary of the press release.  Yes, that’s right.  You have a title (which is a summary), then the subheading (which is a longer summary) and then the lead (which is an even longer summary).

It seems a bit silly nowadays.  But you have to remember that back when press releases were exclusively meant for reporters, multiple summaries made it easier to quickly read through piles of potential story ideas.

In the pre-Internet days, the lead usually featured the who, what, when, where, and why of the press release – the most essential facts.  These days, you can bend the rules a bit and launch into a narrative.  If the story is compelling enough, people will continue reading and discover the who, what, when… later on.

Solar Press Release Body

And now after several summaries, you’re ready to jump into the meat of the press release – the actual story.

The are no firm rules here – just simple guidelines:

  • Quotes are always good – especially if they come from 3rd party sources (i.e. you’re not quoting someone directly connected to your company).
  • White space is important.  Keep your paragraphs short and insert spaces in between every paragraph.
  • Keep the copy short (i.e. less than 1 page).  Some distribution services have strict word limits.  Others have tiered pricing based on the number of words.  I try to keep my press releases under 500 words total.
  • Weave in keywords whenever appropriate.  However, it’s best to focus on only 2-4 keywords at a time for any given press release.
  • Use hyperlinks whenever appropriate, but don’t overdo it.  On average, one hyperlink per 100 words is ok.  Keep in mind that many distribution services automatically disable hyperlinks, so be sure to spell out your most important hyperlink at least once towards the end.  By “spell out” I mean http://solarenergywriters.com instead of Solar Energy Writers.
  • Insert a call to action (CTA) towards the end.  If you’ve just announced a new service, product, or event, you probably want people to contact you for more information.  Make this request explicit.  Just remember to write the CTA in the 3rd person.  So instead of saying “contact us for more info,” you say “contact Acme Solar for more information.”

There are 3 optional (but highly recommended) items to include at the end of your press release.

  • Insert a centered “###” at the end of the content to indicate that the press release is finished.  It’s basically a “THE END” in journalist terms.
  • Include a very brief description of your company.  Usually 2-3 sentences long, this paragraph allows you to give a short overview of your solar firm in case the reader has never heard of you.  This goes below the ### and often has a bolded heading – “About Name of Your Company.”
  • Add media contact information at the very bottom – usually name, title, email address, phone number, and company URL.  This is in case reporters want to get in touch with you for additional information.  If you’re okay with removing reporters from the equation, you can insert the contact info for your sales team, customer service, or whomever.

And voila!  You now have the basic formatting down for a solar press release.  But it’s not award-winning just yet.  The next section deals with turning an idea into an actual story, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, share your thoughts down below.  Do you have any other guidelines you’d add to this list?

 

Writing Solar Energy Press Releases, Part 2 – for Whom

Writing Solar Energy Press ReleasesIn the previous installment, we looked at what press releases are and why they matter.  In this post, we’ll look at target audiences – i.e. for whom should you write your solar press releases.

There are basically 2 schools of thought when it comes to press release audiences:

  • Write for Reporters & Journalists
  • Write for the Search Engines

Both of these approaches have slightly different pros and cons, not to mention different etiquette guidelines and general rules.  We’ll explore those in detail down below.

However.  It’s worth adding a third category here – Writing for End Users.

You should always write with your end users in mind.  Obviously, you’ll have to slant the story a bit more for journalists or search engines, but it’s best to assume that an actual client could potentially read whatever solar press releases you publish.

To that end, make sure your writing:

  • Is succinct and clear
  • Avoids big words or overly technical jargon (if possible)
  • Focuses on benefits and solutions – not features and specifications
  • Includes a call to action (CTA)
  • Features contact info and links to your site

After making sure that your press release is accessible to end users, you can focus on Journalists vs. Search Engines.

Writing Your Solar Press Releases for Journalists & Reporters

In the old days (before the Internet), there was only one way for a press release to receive exposure – it had to be picked up by an interested journalist who would then rework the story and make it news.

Nowadays, you have many more options for distributing your solar energy press release without relying on reporters as middlemen.  But there are some real advantages to the journalist route:

  • Your press release will be reworked into an independent, 3rd party, objective article.  You’re not singing your own praises – someone else is (hopefully).
  • Your press release will not be duplicate content (since it has been reworked).  This means that you potentially double your SEO juice.  Google will index one version of your original press release and one version of the reworded article from the reporter.  Either or both of these may now appear in the search results.
  • You’ll reach a niche market that your own press release never would have.  People usually read articles – not press releases.  If the reporter is specialized enough (or popular enough) she will have her own following.  You now have access to that following.

Those are the advantages.  Here are some of the downsides of writing solar press releases for journalists:

  • You must find and convince journalists to cover you.  This can take a lot of hard work since attracting reporters requires thinking like a reporter.  This means that your press release must:
    • Be devoid of fluff or marketing gimmicks
    • Adhere to a pretty strict format
    • Entice and be “newsworthy.”
  • Journalists like scoops – they don’t usually want to cover your product or service unless they can add something new to the equation that no one else has.  Once a story is picked up, it becomes increasingly difficult to get other journalists on board.  This limits your exposure.
  • You lose control of the story.  The reworked article might not include the keywords you were aiming for, or it could fail to highlight those areas you believe are most important.  Worse still, the journalist could hate your product or service and do an exposé that shows you in the worst possible light.

Writing Solar Press Releases for the Search Engines

Before the Internet, you had little chance of a press release ever getting picked up without going through a journalist first.

Nowadays, you have a ton of free and paid options for spreading your solar announcements across the Web.

The rules have changed:

  • You don’t need every solar press release to be “newsworthy.”  It just has to be interesting enough to read and enticing enough to convert.
  • You don’t need to work around editorial calendars or newspaper deadlines.  Release your story whenever you like.
  • You can include multimedia (videos, images, logos, etc.).
  • You control the tone of your press release.  Make it “markety.”  Make it objective.  It’s up to you.
  • You have more control over the content and location of your press release.
  • You don’t have to adhere to as many formatting rules and etiquette guidelines.

Last (and definitely not least), you can optimize your press release so that it complements your larger SEO strategy.

That means you can weave in keywords and hyperlink the release back to important pages on your site.

The benefits of this are tremendous – and exponentially so.  The more sites you publish your release on (either manually or through wire syndication), the more SEO juice you receive as you build up visibility, backlinks, and Google love.

What are the downsides of writing press releases for the search engines?

I’m not sure there are real downsides.  There’s always the danger of alienating readers if your copywriting is too “salesy.”  But that danger is even more pronounced when writing for journalists.

Best of All Worlds – Writing for Clients, Journalists, and SEO

My recommendation – craft your solar copywriting so that it appeals to everyone.

Admittedly, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  You gotta prioritize.

  • First, write your solar press releases with end users in mind.  If they can understand your writing, you’re ready to move onto Step 2.
  • Next, try to frame your press release in terms that would appeal to a journalist.  Make it newsworthy if you can, and be mindful of formatting (coming in a later blog post).
  • Then, optimize your press release with keywords and hyperlinks for maximum SEO effect.
  • Finally, go through your piece once more to make sure it still appeals to end users.  Journalists and SEO should never trump the needs of potential clients.

Stay tuned for the next 2 installments in which we look at “How” to write solar press releases (structure and examples).

Writing Solar Energy Press Releases, Part 1 – What & Why

Writing Solar Energy Press ReleasesIf you’re like most people, you probably dread writing press releases.

Finding that perfect balance between news and marketing.  Taking care of the formatting and layout.  Contacting the right distribution sources and reporters.

It can all be pretty uninviting (to put it mildly).

I hope that this 6-part series will help demystify the process and make writing solar press releases much easier – maybe even enjoyable?

  • Part 1 deals with the “What” and “Why” of writing press releases for your solar energy company (regardless of your vertical).
  • Part 2 tackles the “Who” aspect (i.e. for whom should you write your press releases).
  • Parts 3 and 4 explore the actual “How” of writing solar press releases, including structure and examples.
  • Parts 5 and 6 explain “Where” to send your press releases to gain maximum exposure.

Let’s begin.

What Is a Press Release and Why It Matters for Your Solar Business?

First, let’s start with the basics.  What exactly is a press release?

That’s simple – a press release is a statement prepared for distribution in which you announce a new service, product, campaign, or event – with the aim of generating media coverage.

So why do press releases matter?

There are actually several reasons why solar press releases are great for your business.

1.  Announcing New (and Old) Products & Services

Press releases help you quickly generate awareness of products and services in your line-up.  This is the primary purpose of press releases.

Usually the products and services are new, but with the right spin, you can “remind” people of older offerings as well.  Perhaps you added a new feature to an existing solar product or you’ve expanded your business hours.

2.  Increased Credibility & Authority

It’s one thing to discuss your great new product on your own solar energy portal.  It’s another thing if the praise and announcements appear on another site – especially if your press release has been reworked by a journalist.

Never underestimate the importance of third party, social proof.  Obviously, people will know that your company is behind the coverage.  But seeing a reputable, independent logo above your story makes it seem a bit more objective.

3.  Optimal Coverage & Exposure

By distributing your solar press release to journalists and news wires, you maximize exposure.

Honestly, how many times have you visited Apple’s website to learn about its latest products – and how many times have you heard about the latest Apple product on your favorite news site or blog?

No matter how amazing your solar company’s site is, you’ll reach many more eyes if you publish your press release on as many outside sources as possible.

This is especially true in the age of RSS feeds since many people don’t even visit actual online newspapers anymore.  They simply digest new stories through their feed aggregators.

4.  The SEO Bump

Press releases have one other major benefit – search engine optimization (SEO).

This happens in 2 different but equally useful ways.

First – by weaving hyperlinks into your solar press release and distributing this article on other news sites, you get a ton of backlinks.  Each one of these links is a “vote of confidence” that tells Google, Yahoo, and Bing that your site is an authority on whatever keywords you’ve decided to hyperlink.

Overtime, you can expect more traffic, better search engine rankings, and “hopefully” more business.

Second – you can piggyback on the SEO work of other sites.

For instance:

  • You write a press release about a new solar training module your company is offering.
  • You publish the press release on your solar company’s website.
  • You then have it published on 10 different sites.  Let’s use Renewable Energy World as one example.

What often ends up happening is that distributed versions of your press release rank high in Google even though the version on your site doesn’t rank very well.

The version on your site might be #34 in the search engine rankings, while the same version on Renewable Energy World is #2 for that same keyword search.

Now, in theory, this might upset you.  After all, you want the version on your own site to rank higher than anyone else’s.  Combatting duplicate content can be a pain.

But what if I told you that the press release published on Renewable Energy World – not only ranks higher than your own site, but it also ranks higher than any of your competitors’ sites as well.

So even though your site ranks #34 in the search results, your press release (and thus your company’s exciting story) receives higher rankings since Renewable Energy World is a much better optimized site.

Press Releases Are a Necessary Facet of Business – But Don’t Despair

So now that we’ve covered the What and Why of writing press releases, you should have a pretty good understanding of how important they truly are.

This doesn’t mean you have to like them.  Not many people do.  But they’re unavoidable, and you’d better get used to them if you want your company to excel.

However, don’t despair.  In the next few installments, we’ll dissect the process to make writing press releases a little less daunting.

Next up – the “Who” of writing solar press releases.  In the meantime, share your own good and bad press release experiences down below.

How Long Does Solar Search Engine Optimization Take?

How Long Does Solar Search Engine Optimization Take?As a solar copywriter and search engine optimization (SEO) consultant, this is one of the most common questions I receive – how long does SEO actually take.

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer.  You could see results tomorrow or months from now, depending on:

  1. The age of your site
  2. The competitiveness of your keywords (and industry)
  3. The effectiveness of your SEO strategy
  4. The resources you devote towards optimizing your solar energy property

Let’s look at each of these in turn to see why solar SEO is such a nebulous, misunderstood area.

How Old Is Your Site?

There was a time when new sites were automatically sandboxed by Google until they had passed a certain probation period.

What does that mean exactly?

Basically, Google would prevent these new sites from enjoying top placement in the search results until they had proven their worth.  This was to prevent spammy sites – i.e. low quality websites that literally sprung up overnight to generate leads, trick search engine spiders, and/or sell useless junk.

Whether or not Google’s sandbox exists is a topic of much debate in the SEO world.  Some blog posts that I write for certain clients get indexed right away (within minutes).  Others take much longer.

Because older sites have more overall content and credibility, incremental improvements usually deliver better and faster results than those same improvements on a brand new site.

How Competitive Are Your Keywords?

Solar energy is an incredibly competitive field.  And unless you have a new piece of disruptive technology under your sleeve, you’re probably going after the same general keywords as most everyone else in your vertical.

This makes solar SEO a real challenge.  How do you rank well for “solar panels” or “solar installation training” in a sea of domestic and international competition?

Because there are so many different players out there, SEO is more of a business necessity than a competitive advantage.  In other words, not optimizing your site equals death… and optimizing your site means that you “may” survive.

Said a little differently – you can’t expect immediate results from solar SEO if every other company out there is also optimizing its own site with those same keywords.  The more competitive your keywords, the more time it will take to begin seeing demonstrable, measurable traction.

How Effective Is Your Solar SEO Strategy?

There are a zillion SEO shortcuts out there – tricks that the community generally refers to as “black hat SEO.”  I won’t cover any of them here since black hat SEO is a waste of time.  You may see some pretty spectacular traction for a brief while, but Google, Yahoo, and Bing are pretty good about detecting and punishing cheaters.

There really are no secrets in the SEO game.  Strong keywords, quality content, authoritative backlinks, solid meta data, and persistence are what earn high search engine rankings.  There’s a little more to it than all that, but these areas form the core pillars of effective solar SEO.

Arguably most important in this list is persistence (yes, I know, I know – “content is king….”  But only if that content is frequently updated over time).

SEO is not a one-time deal.  Like weight lifting or marathon training, the process is ongoing with cumulative successes stacked one after the other.  Each new blog post or link added to the pile makes your site that much stronger.

So beware of any SEO consultants who offer a one-time magic pill.  You might see some pretty good results, but those results WILL be temporary if you don’t keep investing.

Just think about it like this – if you start a great SEO campaign and suddenly stop while all your competitors continue… how long do you think your initial successes will last?

Steer clear of grandiose promises.  Make sure you stick with the core SEO pillars above.  And persevere.

How Invested Are You in Your Solar SEO Campaign?

All things being equal, whoever spends more on SEO typically wins – up to a point.

That is to say, if you hire two equally skilled SEO experts for two equally ranked sites, whichever site produces more content and backlinks will rank higher and faster.

Now what do I mean by “up to a point.”

Well, Google is pretty good about detecting spammers and cheaters.  If a site has 0 backlinks on Day 1 and 1,000 backlinks on Day 2, it looks suspicious.  The same goes with publishing too much content or using too many keywords on a given page.

You have to pace your solar SEO efforts.  1 blog post a day is much better than 1 blog post a month.  But 5 to 10 blog posts a day may set off red flags.

There are no hard and fast rules, but my preference is to post 1-7 times a week and secure 100-250 new backlinks a month.  Some sites may need a little less – others a little more.

You Haven’t Answered the Question – How Long Does Solar SEO Take?

Yes.  Despite everything I’ve just said, I still haven’t told you how long SEO actually takes.

But like I mentioned above, it really depends:

  • An established solar energy property with daily updated content, a strong linking campaign, and an ambitious budget can begin seeing real results within a matter of weeks – sometimes even days.
  • A newer site which posts only once a week (or month), secures only a handful of links, and spends next to nothing may have to wait months, assuming they ever see results at all.

The hardest campaign I ever worked on took 4 months to begin seeing real results.  This was an extremely competitive vertical with very broad keywords.

The fastest campaign I ever worked on took 20 days to achieve #1 position on Google for most of the keywords on the client’s list.

If you’re like most solar energy companies, you’re somewhere in between 20 days and 4 months.  But as a general rule, you should budget several months before seeing any real traction from a truly ambitious SEO campaign.  You can’t expect immediate results (and by all means, avoid anyone who promises that he or she can deliver).

Have you had different experiences with SEO?  Faster?  Slower?  Share your thoughts down below.  And don’t forget to include any tips you may have run across.

How to Make Your Solar Blog As Easy to Read As Possible

How to Make Your Solar Blog As Easy to Read As PossibleThe only thing worse than not having a solar blog at all is having a blog that chases traffic away.  Often, I come across corporate blogs whose styles and layouts are simply uninviting.

I don’t want to read them… even before I’ve started reading them.

This problem exists in all industries.  However, solar energy is facing a unique marketing crisis as it tries to overcome:

  • Solyndra-style failures
  • Myths about the technology
  • Trade wars with China
  • Unpredictable silicon prices
  • Green legislation uncertainty
  • Countless other challenges

Why shoot ourselves in the foot with Web content that doesn’t drive, keep, and convert traffic?  We, as an industry, should work harder to make our blogs inviting and readable.

Solar Blog Best Practices – for Now

The following is my list of top 5 tips for making your solar blog as easy to read as possible.  It will evolve with time (in future posts).  For now, I won’t discuss actual content or tone in this post – just basic readability.

1.  Short Sentences – Avoid super long sentences whenever possible.

Reading online is very different from reading a book or magazine.  Computer screens are much harder on the eyes.  In addition, readers are literally inundated with other options.  Why should they bother with your solar blog when Youtube, Wikipedia, and Facebook are just mouse clicks away?

Don’t make your audience work too hard, or they’ll move on to something else – something easier and more enjoyable.

So what is a long sentence exactly?  That really depends on your audience, but if your sentence is approaching 30 words, you should think about splitting it into 2 new sentences.  You’ll readers will never thank you (cause they’ll never know what they could have faced).  But you’ll thank yourself when you see your traffic and bounce rates improve over time.

2.  Simple Words.  Simple Phrasing – Avoid overly complex vocabulary or confusing sentence constructions.

This was a challenge for me after writing countless college and business school research papers (and reading countless academic journals).  The general trend in academia is to use big words (and complex sentences) to sound smart.  In reality, you just end up sounding pompous and stuck-up.

This much is true in academia – and even more so in online marketing.  Imagine if Nike’s tagline was, “All that is required of you is to venture forth and achieve that which you set out to do.”

I think “Just do it” sounds better.  Don’t you?

But I write for technicians, engineers, and professionals who are used to complicated jargon.”

I get this a lot.  For me, this is all the more reason to keep it simple.  If your target audience is accustomed to large words and bulky sentences, your blog is the perfect time to give them a break.

You can still weave in whatever necessary industry jargon you want.  Just keep it as simple as possible everywhere else.

3.  Bullets & Lists – These are your friends – use them abundantly.

When scanning a blog post or article, readers naturally gravitate towards bullets and lists.

  • Lists are easy to read
  • They stand out on the page
  • They give the reader a nice break from block paragraphs
  • They allow you to weave in important keywords naturally

Don’t believe me?  Just look at any ad copy with more than 500 words, whether it’s online, in the newspaper, or on a billboard.  Chances are, the writer used bullets or lists somewhere in the copy.

4.  White Space – Whenever I open up an email and see block paragraph after block paragraph, my immediate reaction is to close it, flag it, and save it for later.

No one enjoys reading blocky text.  By breaking up your paragraphs into smaller, digestible chunks, you give the reader a break.

My high school English teacher would probably cringe if he saw me now.  He always told us – a paragraph must have at least 3 sentences.  He’s probably right.  In fact, knowing him, he’s definitely right.  But we’re not talking about writing Romeo & Juliet term papers – we’re talking about blogging.  The only graders are the people visiting your site.

This means you can make your paragraph as short as you want.

Graphics can also go a long way in breaking up text (as can bullet points and lists).

Another way to create the appearance of more white space is to use a larger-than-normal font – one that is easy to read.    On my own blog, I use 16pt, but you can probably get away with larger.

5.  Paragraph Headings – Never underestimate the importance of paragraph headings.  They’re important for several reasons:

  • They make it easier for readers to scan your content and quickly identify the most relevant passages
  • They let you naturally weave in BOLDED keywords that stand out – both for the reader and for the search engines
  • They help you organize your own thoughts a little more clearly.  If you start with an outline (and you always should), it’s easy to turn one of your outline topics into a bolded, keyword-rich paragraph heading

Testing your Solar Blog for Readability?

Note that none of the above actually talks about “style” or “tone.”  We’ll discuss these things in future blog posts.  The goal here is to make your solar blog as readable and inviting as possible.

And here’s a simple test.

Imagine that you’re someone who doesn’t speak English at all.  And you stumble upon one of your own blog posts (in English).  You have an electronic translator and a grammar book at your disposal.

Now imagine that you’ve been tasked with translating and understanding this blog post.

  • If the post is dense and lacking white space, you probably won’t look forward to the ordeal.  Long sentences, complex words, and small fonts simply make the entire process uninviting.
  • If the post is spacious, with short sentences, engaging graphics, and bulleted lists, the task won’t seem as bad.

What Is the Best Font to Use for Online Solar Copywriting?

Best Font for Online Solar CopywritingAlthough I don’t get this question very much, it happens often enough to deserve its own blog post.

What is the best font to use for online marketing materials?

As Derek Halpern of Social Triggers rightfully points out – this is not necessarily a decision best left to Web designers.  After all, they typically have different priorities, like aesthetics, form, and layout.  This is not a bash on designers – I know plenty of graphic artists and designers who champion the same “font values” that i do.

Font decisions, however, are best left to those with the greatest stake in connecting with potential readers and converting potential sales.  From my experience, this job usually falls to people from the marketing, sales, copywriting, PR, and communications worlds.

What Is the True Purpose of Your Font?

Some clients suggest that they want a font that conveys a certain trait – be it trust, vitality, compassion, etc.  I could bore you with the details, but the list really does go on and on.

Ultimately, your font has one primary goal – it needs to be easy to read on any device.

How many times have you been to a fancy restaurant that uses hard-to-read cursive script on the menus?  The font may indeed add to the ambience of the evening, but it’s a pain to read.

And in this example, you’re already a captive audience.

Imagine writing for a potential customer who isn’t captive – a potential customer who can just as easily go somewhere else with a click of the mouse.  All because you wanted to use a font that conveys “vitality.”

How Font Simplicity Can Influence Behavior

I’m not joking about this.  There’s research to back up how fonts influence buy-in and perception.  In a landmark experiment conducted by Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz from the University of Michigan, test subjects were shown a basic set of instructions for a given project.

The first test group read the instructions in a simple font (Arial I believe).  The other test group read the exact same instructions in a much harder-to-read font.

When asked to estimate the amount of time it would take to complete the task outlined in the instructions, the results were interesting.  Those who read the instructions in the harder-to-read font believed the task would take 15.1 minutes.  Those who read the same instructions in the simpler font estimated the task would take only 8.2 minutes.

That’s nearly twice as long.

Same task, same instructions, different font – wildly different perceptions.

So What Is the Right Font for Solar Copywriting?

If it’s easy to read, it’s probably a good font.  As long as people don’t have to struggle to understand the words written, you’ve done your job as a copywriter (or marketer or whatever).

Personally, I stick with the Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, and Trebuchet family of san-serif fonts.  But I’ve come across many sites that use serif fonts with remarkable success (serif fonts are the ones that have little feet sticking out).

Just be sure to test whatever font you choose on multiple devices, multiple browsers, and multiple screens.

It doesn’t hurt to test it on multiple people as well.  With A/B testing, you can determine which fonts have lower bounce rates or higher conversions.  Throw up a Web page, and change the font every few days until you find the one that does the greatest good.

Can You Never Express Personality through a Font?

Although readability is the single most important criterion when selecting fonts, there are actually tons of legible fonts from which to choose.  Once you have a handful of ultra-legible fonts, you can then begin thinking about some of the traits you want your solar copywriting to convey – youth, intelligence, compassion, trust, etc.

And believe me – there actually is a big difference amongst fonts (once you get readability out of the way).  The fonts you choose can and will influence people’s perceptions.

For example.

In a follow-up experiment, the same researchers (Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz) used menus instead of instructions.

Menu 1 had a standard font and Menu 2 had a fancy font (I don’t know if it was easy to read).  Although the two menus listed the same dishes in the same order, those who saw the fancier font believed that the chef preparing the food was more skilled.

This means that you can still influence people’s thinking in different ways, depending on which “readable” font you decide to use.

Perhaps you want to introduce a new product targeted at the younger solar market.  Certainly, you can use a legible “younger” font to connect with this audience.  Or maybe use a more professional, somber font to go after utility managers or bigwig execs.

Does Size Matter?

Yes!  Size matters a lot.

12 pt. font is usually too small on most devices.  Don’t force your reader to adjust his screen in order to understand your copy.  Spoon-feed everything to your audience.  Make it as easy as possible.

14 is the bare minimum you should use for online copywriting.  I often use 16.  And I could probably get away with 18 or 20 without causing much commotion.  People rarely complain about the font being too big.

What font do you use?  Share your thoughts down below.