Staying Abreast of the Solar Industry as a Marketer or Copywriter, Pt. 2

Google Alerts, Google Reader, Solar Energy WritersIn Part 1 of this post, we explored some of the challenges of finding, sorting, and digesting the tons of solar industry information out there.  Google Alerts was the first technology we examined.  Now let’s take a look at my other favorite news discovery tool – Google Reader.

What Is Google Reader and How Do You Find Sources?

Launched in 2005, Google Reader is an online aggregator of RSS feeds (RSS stands for “really simple syndication”).  [Sadly, Google Reader has been discontinued.  I now use Feedly]

Google Reader essentially brings all of your favorite news and blog sources into one convenient platform.  This saves you the time of going to the New York Times homepage to read a few stories before moving on to Renewable Energy World, Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, etc.

The stories literally come to you.  Think of it as a massive jukebox of pre-selected news and blog sources that you can view from a single screen.

You might be asking yourself – “if the sources are preselected…who actually preselects them?”

The answer is, you do.

After logging into Google Reader (with a Gmail address), you can look for sources in several ways, but I’ve listed my 3 favorite methods down below:

  1. Go directly to your favorite news or blog sites and look for the orange RSS icon usually located at the top or bottom of most pages.  After clicking on it, that source will be included in the list of sources that Google Reader aggregates for you.  There are even Firefox, Chrome, and Safari browser add-ons to make subscribing even easier.
  2. Click on the red “Subscribe” button in the upper left side of Google Reader’s main dashboard.  You can type in whatever keywords you want, and Google will suggest potential sources worth following.  For example, you might want to follow blogs and news sites that cover “solar marketing.”  Google Reader will show you a list of sources plus the number of current subscribers to that news feed.
  3. Once you have at least one RSS feed in Google Reader, you can use Feed Settings (below the main search bar) to select “More Like This.”  Google Reader will show you a list of similar RSS feeds you might want to subscribe to.

How I Manage My Solar, Copywriting, Marketing, and SEO Feeds

Once you have 2 or more feeds set-up, it’s time to begin organizing them into groups.  For my own solar copywriting business, I categorize all of my feeds into 4 separate sections:

  • Solar Energy & Green Technology
  • Copywriting & Freelancing
  • Online Marketing & PR
  • Search Engine Optimization

(I also have feed categories for personal productivity, logic games, and more).

In each of these categories, I have anywhere from 10-20 of my favorite blogs and newspapers – sources I’ve collected over years.  And this list continues to grow.

When I wake up every morning, I jump straight into my different RSS feeds.  First, I’ll take a look at the hottest headlines in solar.  And then I move down the list, bringing myself up to speed on the latest trends, news, and events in all 4 of my categories.

  • If some blogger in Albuquerque has discovered a new way to generate clients, I learn about it – without having to visit her site directly.
  • If a marketing guru in Paris compiles a radical list of dos and don’ts for lead generation, I know immediately.
  • If a major solar player in China is about to unleash a new technology, it comes on my radar screen right away.

It’s so much faster to skim through condensed headlines than visiting each of these 40-80 sites individually.

Which reminds me.  When you write solar headlines for your own articles, blogs, and press releases, keep in mind that many of your readers will skim through them using an RSS feed aggregator.  It’s important that your headlines really stick out.  See my blog post about writing effective solar energy headlines.

Google Reader Tips for Monitoring Solar Information

Here are some easy tips to help you get the most out of Google Reader.

1.  Always Check Sources before Adding Them

Before you add a new source, make sure that the other stories from this newspaper or blog are relevant.

Sometimes when I search for a new RSS feed, Google Reader will show me a really interesting solar energy story that was published in a major, non-solar publication.  Although the story itself is interesting, I don’t want to subscribe to all of the other stories that have nothing to do with solar energy.

2.  Safety in Numbers

When Google Reader shows you a list of potential sources worth subscribing to, check the number of subscribers (next to each source).  In general, the more subscribers, the more useful that source is.  Although you can still find hidden gems in the less popular RSS feeds.

3.  Google Reader Has Gmail Functionality

Although there are a ton of RSS aggregators out there, I prefer Google Reader because it incorporates a lot of Gmail-like features, such as folders (labeling), starring, tagging, keyboard shortcuts, and search.

These are extremely useful for organizing and navigating through your feeds.

4.  Use Google Reader to Collect Google Alerts

In Part 1, we talked about Google Alerts and how you can send notifications to your inbox.  But you can also set them up to come to Google Reader as well.  This is perfect for people who like to keep their email inboxes as clean as possible.

Google Reader – Guaranteed to Bring Order to Your Solar Marketing Efforts

I love Google Reader.  Love it.  I have some minor grievances (like the fact that it doesn’t filter out duplicate stories published on multiple sources).  But overall, I think it’s a great piece of technology.  And it’s 100% free.

Back in the “time before” – the days before RSS feeds – I spent hours visiting site after site.  It was laborious and tedious.  Now with Google Reader, I can skim the latest headlines and zero in on the hottest topics with ease.

We’re all different, so maybe I shouldn’t make “guarantees.”  But I’m fairly confident that Google Reader (or the RSS aggregator of your choice) will greatly enhance your productivity – especially if you complement the technology with Google Alerts.

Staying Abreast of the Solar Industry as a Marketer or Copywriter, Pt. 1

Google Alerts, Google Reader, Solar Energy WritersAs a copywriter, one of the challenges of working in the solar industry is that there is so much information out there – and it constantly changes.

New innovations, new regulations, new entrants, and yes, new bankruptcies.

And this is just in the US.  Many of my clients are in Europe and Asia, so the difficulties of staying current are enormous.

No one can keep track of all of these changes.  It’s impossible.  New solar content gets published way faster than any single individual could ever consume.

How to Handle Information Overload in the Solar Industry

There are a few approaches you can use to “try” to stay on top.  You could always learn to speed read.  There are some pretty cool online tools that can teach you how.

Of course you could always specialize and focus on just a tiny sliver of the larger solar industry.  Segment by technology, geography, or size.

My personal preference is to prioritize information.  I make selective and informed decisions about what I read.  It’s not a perfect system by any means, but prioritizing allows me to handle the mountain of data that exists and evolves.

There are a ton of tools you can use, free and paid.  My personal favorites, come courtesy of Google, and they’re both free.  This post deals with Google Alerts.  In the next installment, we’ll explore Google Reader.

Tool #1: Google Alerts for Intelligently Managing Solar Energy Information

I can’t say enough good things about Google Alerts.  The technology has been around for years – at least for as long as I’ve been copywriting professionally (almost 10 years).  I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them.

But what are they exactly?  How do Google Alerts work?

Basically, Google Alerts is a notification system that “alerts” you whenever new content goes online that fits a predetermine search term.

For example, you want to follow an upcoming IPO or new solar technology.  You tell Google Alerts:

“Let me know as soon as someone blogs about the Acme Solar Z7H Inverter.”

Or

“Notify me whenever a journalist reports on the upcoming ZenithSolar IPO.”

That’s it.

You can now forget about these searches and move on with your life.  If and when either of these stories emerges online, you’ll receive an instant notification.  You never have to actively follow a story, person, or company again.

Configuring Google Alerts to Work for You

Google Alerts come with a whole range of options that you can customize.  After visiting http://www.google.com/alerts:

Step 1: Type in your search term (e.g. the name of your company, the name of a person, a particular news story, etc.).

By putting quotes around your search term, you can tell Google to only find exact matches of your search term.  For example, “Acme Solar Z7H” or “ZenithSolar IPO.”  Click here for a more detailed list of advanced search options.

Step 2: Use the Result Type pull-down menu to filter your results.  Maybe you only want news stories or perhaps you only want blogs.

Step 3: Tell Google the frequency with which you want to receive results.  Choose from Immediately, Once a Day, or Once a week.

Step 4: Have Google send you all matching results or only the best results.  I don’t know what kind of filtering it uses to distinguish between the two.  You should probably start with “all” and switch to “best” if you get overwhelmed with results.

Step 5: Select your preferred delivery method – email or RSS feed.  I prefer using email delivery because I receive notifications directly to my inbox without having to think about them.  But if your inbox is already cluttered, you can always opt for the RSS option (we’ll explore RSS in greater detail in the next installment: Staying Abreast of the Solar Industry as a Marketer or Copywriter, Pt. 2).

Click “Create Alert” and you’re done.

How I Use Google Alerts in My Solar Copywriting Business

You can use Google Alerts in any number of ways.  Below are some of my favorite uses:

1.  Following a Company or Client – Whenever I sign a new client, I create a Google Alert for the duration of the project.  That way, I stay up-to-date on nearly anything and everything written about the client (online).

If you handle marketing or PR for your solar firm, I highly recommend setting up a Google Alert for your company.  After all, you want to know what other people are saying about your firm – whether it’s good or bad.

2.  Keeping Tabs on My Name – This is more of a personal use than professional, but I maintain a Google Alert of my own name.  I want to know the instant my name appears online for whatever reason.

3.  Monitoring a Story or Trend – Whether it’s Chinese solar tariffs or new incentives on the horizon, there are any number of stories I like to follow.  They come to my inbox right away, saving me the hassle of actively searching for these stories online.

4.  Keeping an Eye on the Competition – There aren’t a ton of professional solar energy copywriters these days.  This is changing however, and I like to know whom I’m up against (or with whom I should collaborate).  Google Alerts make that easy.

You can do the same thing in your solar company.  Set up alerts for your closest competitors.  Or create Google Alerts for your most coveted SEO keywords.

Limitations and Benefits of Google Alerts

I’ll admit, Google Alerts is not a perfect system.  For example, you can’t really monitor offline content – i.e. articles published in hardcopy magazines.  In addition, Google Alerts only return results that have been indexed by Google Search.  Believe it or not, Google doesn’t index everything on the Web.

However, I think these limitations are minor.  The goal is to more intelligently digest the sea of information that exists online, and Google Alerts accomplish this beautifully.

Plus you have the added benefit of:

  • Instant notifications to your inbox or RSS feed
  • You can create up to 1,000 alerts – more than you’ll ever use
  • It’s entirely hands-off (after the initial set-up)
  • It’s 100% free

And the list goes on.

Tune in soon for my next installment on keeping your head above water in the solar industry.  We’ll be discussing another great tool – Google Reader.

Writing Solar Blog Headlines That Attract Readers, Pt. 2

Solar Headlines, Solar Copywriting, Solar Energy WritersIn Part 1 of Writing Solar Blog Headlines That Attract Readers, we discussed some of the very general rules and guidelines that go into the process.  In Part 2, we look at different categories of headlines and why they’re effective.

Strictly speaking, blogs are not traditional sales tools.  Unlike slogans or ads, there’s a lot less pressure to come up with a killer headline that leads directly to purchases.

But you still want people to read the post.  Your solar headline must entice people to click on the link.

In entertainment, politics, and romance, this process is much easier.  Open-ended questions, provocative claims, and Top 10 lists tend to be the norm:

  1. Did Brad Pitt Just Say What I Think He Said?
  2. What the President Doesn’t Want You to Know
  3. 10 Ways to Tell She’s Lying to You

Unfortunately, solar energy is a slightly different animal.  It’s much harder to weave in scandalous and intriguing titles when you’re dealing with renewables.  But with the right approach, you can still entice readers.

Below are some potential candidates:

Humor & Puns – Probably the most challenging (and riskiest) approach involves using comedy to connect with your target audience.  Done correctly, you can illicit a solid chuckle and perhaps a little curiosity.  I rarely use these because, well… solar energy simply isn’t that funny.

Example 1:  Are Fossil Fuels Really Oil Washed Up? (ouch!!!)

Example 2:  Solar Energy: the Dawn of a New Era

Warnings & Advisories – No one likes being out of the loop.  You can use uncertainty to motivate readers to learn more.  I don’t recommend doing this too much since it can quickly lose its effectiveness.  But a few advisory solar headlines here and there can help keep readership healthy and active.

Example 1:  The Truth about Acme Solar Inverters

Example 2:  What Your Solar Installer Doesn’t Want You to Know

Example 3:  Experts Predict Energy Prices Will Double Over Next 10 Years

Questions – Similar to warnings/advisories, enticing questions can use uncertainty to motivate readers.

Example 1:  Are You Making This Common Solar Marketing Mistake?

Example 2:  Do Your Competitors Know Something You Don’t?

Example 3:  Is China Really the Best Place to Divert Your Resources?

Lists – Lists are super popular these days – perhaps too popular.  It seems like every news site is using them more and more frequently.  But it’s not hard to see why – few people can resist clicking on Top 5s and Top 10s, even when they have no real connection to the topic.

We’ve all done it – standing in line at the supermarket, drawn by some stupid Top 5 headline about a soap opera or celebrity couple we care nothing about.

Example 1:  5 Ways to Bring the Cost of Your Solar PV System Down

Example 2:  Top 10 Solar Hotspots Worldwide (and How They Got That Way)

Example 3:  3 Reasons Why Your Next Solar Project Might Fail

Direct – The direct approach can be very effective depending on your audience.

Like the name implies, your title spells out exactly what the blog is about – with no frills or whistles.  Sometimes you can throw a “How To” into the headline.  I often use these in my own blog because many of my readers are looking for very specific information about a very specific topic.

Example 1:  Writing Solar Blog Headlines That Attract Readers

Example 2:  How Important Is SEO for Your Solar Website?

Example 3:  Why Every Solar Company Should Have a Blog

Solar Headlines Must Be Relevant & Truthful

This probably should have gone into Part 1 since it’s a “guideline.”  But I wanted to save it for last because it’s so important.

Online real estate is extremely competitive.  But that’s never an excuse for overpromising or making false claims in order to hook the reader.  The content of your post must deliver whatever your headline says it will deliver.  It must be relevant to the copy that follows.

In addition, the content must be truthful and, to the best of your ability, accurate.  Otherwise, your readers feel cheated, you lose credibility, and your company moves farther away from any potential sales later down the road.

If you deceive or mislead, you’ll be worse off than if you had never had the blog to begin with.

Solar Headlines – No Magic Bullet.  Only Common Sense & Practice

Because every industry, company, and client is so different, there is no magic formula for writing headlines – only a perpetually growing list of best practices.

In addition, prepare yourself for round after round of revisions.  Writing headlines is a process.  With time and practice, you’ll get better.

This list is far from complete.  In future posts, I hope to expand.

Writing Solar Blog Headlines That Attract Readers, Pt. 1

Solar Headlines, Solar Copywriting, Solar Energy WritersOver the next several weeks, we’ll cover all of the different components of blogging, including keywords, core content, images, meta data, and more.

But in this 2-part post, we’ll explore what many believe to be the most important part of blogging – the headline.  Part 1 touches on some very general guidelines.  Part 2 focuses more on examples.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if the headline truly is THE most important part of the blog.  It certainly is crucial however.  Bad copywriting in the core content will chase people away, but a poorly written headline will fail to bring people to your solar blog in the first place.

It’s safe to say that both the headline and the body matter a great deal.  The only reason we’re starting with the headline here is because the headline starts your blog post.

So what makes for a good headline?

What Is The Purpose of Your Solar Blog?

This is really just another way of saying, “who are your desired readers and why should they be reading your blog?”

You have to start with the goal in mind.  Knowing who the target audience is will guide everything that follows.  You’d communicate with product engineers very differently than you’d communicate with residential solar customers or PV installers.

What your readers expect of you also varies.  For some, pricing is supreme.  For others, features are more important.  And still others place safety above everything else.

And let’s not forget where people are in the buying cycle.  How To’s might appeal more to those earlier in the process, while Product Reviews probably appeal to those who are closer to buying.

Once you understand the ultimate purpose of your blog post – and what motivates your target audience – you’re almost ready to begin brainstorming solar headlines.

Solar Blog Headlines & Keywords

Next on the list are keywords.

There are two basic schools of thoughts governing keywords in headlines:

The SEO School – Include your most important keywords in the title for optimal search engine optimization.

Essentially, this school believes that every headline represents an opportunity to include critical keywords in bold at the top of every entry.  This makes it easier for search engines to index and rank your blog posts, thus, driving more traffic to your property.

The Copywriting School – Forget the keywords and just focus on the message.

This camp generally believes that keywords potentially distract from the core marketing message, and thus, should remain secondary.

Both sides have a point.  I generally prefer to include keywords due to the cumulative effect that blogging has on search engine rankings.  You don’t necessarily have to include keywords in every single headline.  But the better placed your keywords are, the higher your blog (and site) will appear over time.

But I also agree that you should never sacrifice your message strictly for the sake of SEO.  If necessary, you can always include your most important keywords at the top of the core content (below the headline).

Writing Your Solar Blog Headline First or Last

Again, the copywriting community is pretty split on whether you should write your headline first or after you’ve written the body.

Brian Clark of Copyblogger makes a fairly convincing case for writing the headline first.  Essentially, your headline is a promise waiting to be fulfilled.  When written first, your blog title guides the rest of your copy, ensuring that you stay on message and deliver exactly whatever it is that the headline promises.

James Chartrand (also of Copyblogger) argues that the headline should come last.  It is the wrapping paper and box that you buy only after you’ve selected the present first.  She (yes, James is a she) doesn’t say that headlines are unimportant.  But you should only begin to tackle them after you’ve hammered out your core message first.

Personally, I don’t think it makes a huge difference either way.  I’ve written headlines before, headlines after, and in between.  But I tend to favor writing the headline afterwards.  It’s easier to capture the essence of everything I’ve just written in the core copy.

Next Time, We’ll Look at Examples

In Part 2 of Writing Solar Blog Headlines That Attract Readers, we’ll cover a few more ground rules and then dive into actual examples of headlines.

Solar Copywriting 101: How to Deal with Duplicate Content, Pt. 2

Duplicate Content, Solar Copywriting, Solar Energy WritersIn the previous post, we explored what duplicate content is and how it can negatively affect your solar property.

In this post, we’ll look at a few copywriting tips to help you avoid duplicate content and its potential penalties.  The following list focuses just on the writing itself and not on redirects, meta data, canonical tags, and things of that nature.  In a future post, I hope to tackle these more technical areas.

1.  Make Your Content Your Own

This one is pretty straightforward.  The “copy” in “copywriting” doesn’t refer to stealing or imitating the work of others.  It refers to the phrasing and wording of the materials you produce.

So quite simply – don’t steal content to begin with.

Make sure that everything you write is unique and original.  If you come across a great idea or amazing passage, try to rewrite the information in your own words.

Admittedly, there are times when someone else has captured an idea so succinctly that you can’t really rewrite it.  Other times, you might lift a few sentences because the original writer is an authority and you want to leverage his or her prestige in your own work.

If you ever have to borrow someone else’s wording (like I did when referring to Google’s definition of “duplicate content” in the previous post), make sure you use proper citations.  I recommend quotes and a hyperlink to avoid any semblance of “copying.”

2.  Expanding or Condensing Pages on Your Own Site

You sell 2 solar panels manufactured by the same company.  They have very similar product specs and details – in fact – the wording is almost exactly the same.

Unfortunately, if you publish both product pages on your site, you’re posting duplicate content.

What do you do?

You could combine the product descriptions into 1 main page.  And then have a hyperlink for Panel A and a hyperlink for Panel B.  Anyone who clicks on either hyperlink will only read content that is truly unique to that panel.

Alternatively, you could rewrite all of the content for one of the panels so that the information is the same but the wording is different.

3.  Replace Boilerplates with Hyperlinks

Many of the pages on your solar site might repeat the same few paragraphs at the end or beginning.  Perhaps you have a boilerplate “disclaimer” or “about the author” or partial “privacy policy” that you include in the footer again and again.

I’ve seen a lot of sites that do this.  On the surface it makes perfect sense – you want to keep your visitors in the loop at all times.  And sometimes you may have a legal obligation to publish information repeatedly.

Unfortunately, this is still deemed “duplicate content.”

Rather than include the full text each time, consider publishing this content on its own unique page and including a hyperlink to it whenever necessary.  So whenever you publish a new page and want to alert people to your disclaimer, just insert a hyperlink that says, “Click here to read disclaimer.”

4.  Syndicating Content – Stealing from Yourself?

As already mentioned, when you syndicate your content, you run the risk of having another site rank higher for the content you originally wrote.

It happens.  It happens a lot.

But you can take a couple of steps to minimize the chances of ranking lower than other versions of your own content.

  • Publish your version first and wait a day or two before publishing your article elsewhere.  Google doesn’t always give credit to the “original” version, but by publishing first, you decrease your chances of being accused of duplicate content.
  • Always include a backlink to the original source.  For example, you might write, “Originally published on Name of Your Site.”  The link points back to your original version.  Not only is this great for SEO, but it also tells search engines that “your” site is most likely the original site.  This is especially true if you syndicate to tons of sites, all of which refer back to your own version of the post or article.
  • It’s also a good idea to include backlinks to other portions of your site, like the homepage or landing pages.  You should be using internal links anyway whenever you write a blog or article.  Just make sure those links remain active when you publish your pieces elsewhere.
  • Enable comments on blog posts whenever possible.  The more people who provide feedback, the more unique and valuable your version becomes.  Google will be less likely to attribute credit to some other site.

You Can’t Always Win.  But You Should Always Play by the Rules

Unfortunately, you can’t really stop other people from stealing your content.  There are ways to report content theft, but they’re time-consuming and ultimately not worth it.

Every now and then another site may rank higher for your own work.  This can be infuriating.  Believe me – I know.  But in the long run, regularly updated content that is unique, valuable, and original will ensure that your overall solar SEO strategy succeeds.

Solar Copywriting 101: How to Deal with Duplicate Content, Pt. 1

Duplicate Content, Solar Copywriting, Solar Energy WritersIn this 2-part series, we’ll explore what duplicate content is, how it affects your online solar property, and how to minimize or reduce duplicate content in the future.

If you do a lot of writing for your current solar company, this isn’t a post you’ll want to miss.

What Is Duplicate Content?

Duplicate content is pretty much what it sounds like.  You essentially have the same basic content on two or more different pages – either on your own site or across multiple sites.  The content has literally been cut and pasted with no major alterations.

For a more official definition, Google categorizes duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”

I can’t say with certainty what constitutes a “substantive block.”  But if you’re copying and pasting at all – you’re duplicating content.

Most of the time, duplicate content is unintentional:

  • Maybe you have both an HTML and a printer-friendly version of the same press release on your site.
  • Or perhaps you have 2 similar solar products that share many of the same technical specs.

But there’s also a category of deceptive or malicious duplicate content:

  • For example, another Webmaster steals your blog post and publishes it as his own.
  • Or you publish the same page repeatedly on your site hoping to gain extra visibility.

There’s also a smaller category of duplicate content – media.  If you take videos or photos from another site without given credit back to the original, you may be accused of duplicate content.  However, this post deals exclusively with written content – a guide for copywriters and marketers who work in the solar industry.

Why Duplicate Content Is Bad for Your Solar Business

Search engines generally frown upon duplicate content because they want to show the most diverse and relevant results possible.

When you do a search on Google, you don’t want to see the same 10 results in a row.  No.  You want diversity.  Let’s say you’re looking for a movie review of some upcoming film.  Can you imagine if the first 10 results all said the exact same thing word-for-word?

You’d quickly switch to a different search engine – one that showed multiple perspectives and results.

Google, Yahoo, and Bing know this, and so they usually show just one version of the duplicated content.

If a search engine suspects that you’re intentionally stealing other people’s content and posting it as your own, they’ll likely categorize your site as spam.  I don’t think a page or two will hurt you, but if a sizeable enough portion of your site is non-original content, you’re headed for danger.

There’s considerable debate within the SEO world about whether Google and the other search engines actually “penalize” webmasters for duplicate content or simply filter them out of the results.

In a way, it’s kind of moot since the outcome is exactly the same – your site doesn’t receive high rankings.

Except for the time you save by not writing your own content, there’s really no upside to stealing other people’s work.  You may receive a very small boost in traffic – but it won’t last.  And in the long run, you’ll either be penalized as spam and/or filtered out of future search results.

Given how competitive the solar industry is, can you really afford to take those kinds of risks?  Isn’t it better to invest the time into careful, well-researched copywriting that keeps Google and Web surfers happy?

Duplicate Content Can Be Bad Even If You’re the Original Writer

There are times when another site ranks higher for a post that you actually wrote.  You may be the author, but the other site is better optimized and is deemed more “authoritative” in Google’s eyes.  Your version has become the “duplicate content.”

This can happen if the site steals your content or if you willingly give your articles away in syndication.

I can think of countless examples when a client wrote a piece, published it on her site, published it on other sites (like Renewable Energy World), and then discovered that the original version ranked much lower than later versions on these other sites.

This happens quite often actually.  Perhaps these other site have more links or more pages or some other advantage that elevates their status.  It can be pretty frustrating.

So that’s the background.

In the next post (Solar Copywriting 101: How to Deal with Duplicate Content, Pt. 2), we’ll explore some steps for reducing if not eliminating duplicate content.

Stay tuned.

How Important Is SEO for Your Solar Website?

Solar Energy Search Engine OptimizationThis is one of the easiest questions I receive from prospective clients because the answer is so incredibly straightforward.

But before answering this question, it’s important that you understand what search engine optimization (SEO) actually is.

Quite simply, SEO is the process of enhancing your online property so that it ranks in the top results of a search engine whenever someone types in a given keyword or phrase.

Those keywords could be as general as “solar panel” or as specific as “where is the best place to buy Acme 2000 solar PV panels for my dad’s rooftop.”

Just think about how many Google searches you do in a typical day – 5, 10, 50?

  • The sites you end up clicking on are the ones that have undergone the most search engine optimization for whatever keyword or phrase you typed in.
  • All the other sites (however many million there may be) are the ones that need to conduct more SEO.

This means that if your own solar property doesn’t rank high in the search engines for your target keywords, you miss out on all of the traffic, visitors, and leads that you could be enjoying.

Worse still, your competitors (i.e. those who have optimized their sites) are getting that traffic and those visitors.

So Is Solar SEO Really That Important?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

SEO is one of the most powerful weapons in your entire online marketing arsenal.

This is not to knock email marketing, newsletters, direct mail, AdWords, or any other marketing strategies.  They’re all important.  But SEO stands alone for several reasons:

1.  SEO Is Cost-Effective

Once paid for, AdWords or newsletters essentially disappear.  Their effects are temporary and you’re right back where you started.  Think of them as consumable products with very short life spans.

By contrast, SEO is cumulative.  It is an investment that yields greater and greater returns over time.  You own the content for life, and it is forever visible.

Think about it this way.

If you spend $1 on an AdWords click, you get 1 (and only 1) visitor.  If you spend $100, you get 100 (and only 100) visitors.

If you spend that same money on SEO (blogs, backlinks etc), the potential return is unlimited in scope.  A solar blog post published today will still be generating traffic for you 5 years from now – to say nothing of all the blog posts that you publish in between.

2.  SEO Provides Feedback

By analyzing your traffic and keeping tight tabs on your SEO campaign, you know (in real time) what people are looking for, what they want, and what they don’t want.

This information is priceless.

If you notice a sudden spike in traffic for a given keyword, you know to divert more of your resources in anticipation of growing demand for a particular product or service.

Perhaps your analysis tells you that you need to add “solar financing” to your business model.  Or maybe you should pre-order a particular line of solar PV panels ahead of the summer rush.

3.  SEO Places You Throughout the Buying Cycle

When you send out a newsletter, you’re basically marketing “AT” people – regardless of where they are in the buying cycle.  Some may be interested in buying right now.  Others may just want some information as they kick the tires.  And still others immediately unsubscribe or mark you as spam.

Not so with solar SEO.

With search engine optimization, you basically have content already in place – just waiting – ready to be found by people who are looking to find it.

  • Michelle has no idea what solar energy is or how it works.  After tinkering around on Yahoo, she finds your FAQ section and Solar 101 guidebook.
  • John has questions about solar financing and incentives.  After doing a Google search, he stumbles upon your optimized blog post discussing this very topic.
  • Sarah wants to know the best solar PV system for her roof orientation.  Boom!  She discovers your product page and comparison chart.

Had you sent out a generic newsletter to all of these people, you probably would have gotten several unsubscribes.  With SEO, however, you unobtrusively answer their questions when (and only when) they ask.

This is what marketing guru, Seth Godin, terms “Permission Marketing” and what many others call “Inbound Marketing.”  You essentially attract traffic rather than market “at” people.

The advantage of this tactic is that you earn trust, demonstrate expertise, and increase conversion rates.  People come to you with a problem and you show them that you have the answer.  If you cover your bases right, you can have answers ready for people early in the buying cycle, in the middle, or at the purchasing stage.

Isn’t this better than spending wasted dollars marketing “at” people who may or may not care.

4.  SEO Is about Survival

This last point is arguably the most critical.

SEO is important because all of your competitors are doing it.

Remember.  Solar energy is rarely an impulse purchase.  From residential customers to multinational corporations, people spend hours researching their options before making a commitment.

  • Just think about how many articles, product pages, comparison charts, blogs, and whitepapers a person must read before pulling out his or her wallet for a solar-related purchase.
  • Now think about what percentage of those charts, blogs, and whitepapers originated with a Google search?
  • Now imagine that your own products and services don’t rank very high for these searches.
  • Lastly, imagine that your top 3 competitors are all on page 1 (in fact – that’s why they’re  your “top” competitors).

Get the picture?

SEO is incredibly important.  It’s important in its own right for the reasons listed above.  But it’s important because so many solar stakeholders are already investing heavily in their own respective SEO campaigns.

Failure to join their ranks means that your unique products and services will only reach a select number of people – and probably at an unbelievable cost to you.

Still Think SEO Is Unimportant?

Are you not 100% convinced yet?  Do you still think SEO is just fluff?

Let me ask you – how did you end up reading this article?

If you’re like most folks out there, you stumbled on this post directly or indirectly after doing a Google search.  And chances are, that search dealt with some type of problem or question.

I hope I’ve managed to answer that problem or question.  If not, let me know down below.  I’m always eager to hear from readers.

Why Every Solar Company Should Have a Blog

I cringe whenever I see a corporate site without a blog.  It bothers me no matter the industry, but with a sector as mysterious and misunderstood as solar energy, not having a blog seems unconscionable.

As a solar copywriter, I’m probably more sensitive to such things.  After all, a firm without a blog represents a potential client.

But even before my copywriting days, I appreciated the power of blogs.  After years in search engine optimization (SEO), I realized that companies with blogs enjoyed more traffic, longer visits, better conversions, and greater visibility than those that didn’t.

But why is that exactly?

1.  Solar Blogs Drive Traffic

A regularly updated blog creates more content on your site.  And despite numerous innovative SEO strategies, content still remains king.

All things being equal, a site with 10-20 pages will receive less traffic than a site with 100-200 pages – simply because the latter has more content indexed in Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

A solar energy blog provides you with those extra pages.  Natural, organic, and useful content.

Equally important, a blog attracts backlinks from relevant sites (more on this in a future post).  These one-way links pointing to your site help create more pathways for visitors and search engine spiders to find you.

And the best thing is – the positive benefits of all this content are cumulative.

No single post is truly an island.  Rather, each successive blog entry lends greater weight to your entire site, making it easier and easier to outrank your competitors for your target keywords.

2.  Solar Blogs Keep Traffic

After reading the core pages of your site (ex: About Us, Prices, Product Specs, Terms & Conditions, etc.), there usually isn’t much reason for the casual shopper to stick around.  In most cases, he will either purchase or leave.

The benefit of a solar blog is that it keeps people on your property, and it does this without any obvious sales pitches.  Visitors will browse, comment, digest – and if the content is regular and frequent enough, they may even come back occasionally to check in.

You might not get a sale that first day, but over time, regular readers often become regular clients.

3.  Solar Blogs Establish Credibility

Whether you service the residential, commercial, or utility market, solar energy is rarely an impulse purchase.  Customers want to shop around and explore all of their options before committing.  And in most cases, trusted names typically receive more consideration than unknown ones do.

Launching a solar blog gets your name out there.  It won’t make you a Coca-Cola or Nike overnight, but with time, your brand becomes more mainstream – more recognizable.  This is especially true if you syndicate some of your content on sites that regularly accept posts (and believe me, there are lots of sites out there hungry for fresh and original content).

Like I said, the transition is not immediate, but it’s very real.  One day, no one inside or outside the industry has ever heard of you, and the next day, you’re a name that people kinda, sorta recognize.

4.  Solar Blogs Educate Your Clients

Contrary to popular belief, your biggest competitor isn’t the solar company up the block or even those in China.

No, your biggest competitors are oil and gas.

If an established technology already works, new entrants must first convince the masses to abandon that technology before convincing them to select their own unique alternatives.

According to a 2011 survey conducted by Kelton Research, 90% of Americans support solar energy.  But when you ask them why they don’t have the technology installed on their roofs, you’ll often hear:

  • Solar energy is not powerful enough
  • Solar energy is just too expensive
  • Solar energy is unreliable

You and I know that the above claims are not true, but for many people out there, solar is still a revolutionary, untested technology.  Even before they sit down to compare Solar Option 1 with Solar Option 2, they often need additional information about solar energy in general.

Once they feel comfortable with the technology, you can then begin positioning your products and services in relation to rival solar products and services.

Done correctly, your solar blog can anticipate and answer many of the questions a potential user might have – about the technology in general or about your unique offerings in particular.

5.  Solar Blogs Add Personality and Character

As a solar copywriter, I’ve come across some pretty sleek sites in my day.  Flashy, sexy, well-organized, and intuitive.  But when you really get down to nuts and bolts, solar energy is a commodity.  It takes a lot to keep readers hooked as you try to differentiate your offerings from the competition.

Specification pages and product features help, but these can be pretty dry.  Only the most committed shoppers will stay online long enough to truly digest all the information.

Photos can also help a bit (actually they can help a lot).  But there are only so many “sun” images that one can take.  And unless you have exclusive rights to your photos, there’s a good chance you’re using the same images as everyone else.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this handsome devil.

In a sea of product pages and privacy policies, blogs add a human element to the equation.  They engage the reader.  Throwing in a narrative or a little humor offers your audience a nice break from the technical jargon and legalese that might dominate the rest of your site.

6.  Solar Blogs Sell without a Sales Pitch

You don’t necessarily want your blog to pitch hard sales tactics.  But done correctly, your copywriting can still prompt leaders to learn more.  Depending on the blog topic, you can include things like:

  • Lead generation forms
  • Links to special offers
  • Surveys & quizzes
  • Read similar posts
  • Contact us

Survey Your Top 5 Solar Competitors

Still have doubts about how effective blogs are?

I can certainly appreciate your skepticism.  After all, solar blogs take time, and you undoubtedly have a million other things on your marketing plate at the moment.

But….

I encourage you to look at your top 5 competitors in whatever solar vertical you’re in.  I’m fairly confident that at least 3 of them will have blogs.  And those 3 will probably rank higher than your own site for a good majority of the keywords you type into Google, Yahoo, or Bing.

It used to be that having a blog was a business advantage.  But these days, it’s a business necessity – especially in an industry as competitive as solar energy.  Not having a blog is worse than leaving money on the table – it’s like shooting yourself in the foot.

Stay tuned for additional tips on solar blog writing and related copywriting topics.