While a lot of basic, common sense goes into making a great website for renewable energy companies, I wanted to offer some specific considerations that renewable energy or clean tech companies need to take into account when making a new website.
1. Get everyone internally to agree on the goals of the website. What’s #1?
If possible, get all your key decision makers in a room and hash this out, and don’t let anyone leave until they’ve signed the document that spells out exactly what the goals for the site are. Your site can’t do all things for all people. It needs focus. So go ahead and make your laundry list, but define a top goal.
For example, you may want to clearly show that you have the best solar panel installation process. But your number one goal may be to get the maximum number of consumers and businesses in your area to think of your company first when they’re considering going solar. As you go through the web development process, continually double back and make sure the site will help you achieve your #1 goal. If you stray from the path, back up and start again. Ultimately it’s worth the time and effort to get it right.
2. Define your audiences.
Who do you really, really need to reach? Is it the public at large, the press, investors, or policymakers in Washington (or all of them)? Once your organization has agreed on whom you are trying to connect with, you need to create buyer personas for each target group. The buyer persona outlines in detail exactly what their hot buttons are. To learn more about how to create buyer personas, read David M. Scott’s excellent book, “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.”
3. Your messaging should quickly answer these questions: What do you do and why should I care?
It’s a common trap to think that just because you have the best clean technology since the invention of the sun that everyone will instantly ‘get it’ and want to buy it from you, or invest a gazillion dollars in your company. Many companies don’t take the time to be very clear about what they have to offer. In fact, they put total gobbledygook copy on their home pages.
The trick is to describe what you do in a way that will appeal directly to the hot buttons for your #1 audience buyer persona. For example, if the buyer persona of the person you really want to influence is a policymaker in Washington who’s keenly interested in reducing America’s reliance on foreign oil, that idea should shape your message. You’ll go from, “Here at WindPro, we make clean energy from wind using our patented Fandibulum Contabulation technology,” to “WindPro delivers clean wind energy to homes across America, helping build our energy independence and reduce our reliance on costly foreign oil.” Bingo.
4. Don’t fall into the flower trap.
Just because your company is helping the environment using clean technology, that does not mean your home page design should feature children running through fields of flowers as puppies frolic (healthy puppies fed all-organic puppy chow) as birds chirp and spin in a pristine blue sky. These days clean energy means business, and the environmental aspect – while important – often plays a secondary role to saving money, being efficient, and operating in a sustainable way.
5. Keep it simple.
The whole idea of a technology being “clean” implies a lack of visual pollution. Consider a design that uses lots of white space, with very intuitive navigation.
6. Make it easy for your customers.
One energy company that Captains of Industry worked with tried to recruit business people to focus groups to gauge their understanding of carbon emissions regulations. But they wanted to get people who had at least SOME knowledge of the topic. We’re talking energy managers here, people whose job entails knowing about the complexities of energy. The upshot was that it was next to impossible to get enough people who had enough baseline knowledge to offer significant insights.
So, first off, don’t assume your audience knows what you know. Second, put yourself in their shoes when designing your website architecture: will they know where to go and what to click on? Does the copy spell out your technology in a way that’s understandable? Do the images and design elements reinforce the points you are trying to make? Is it really, really easy to know what to do next? To learn more about how to make your website a no brainer (even for smart people) read “Don’t Make Me Think,” by Steve Krug.
7. Use video to create a personality.
In the age of YouTube, building a new website without video is like building a new house without a roof. Nothing lets you tell a story like motion pictures. You can take your technology beyond bits and bytes, and show the personality of your people and your customers. Why does working in clean energy get you out of bed in the morning? What’s your passion? In the clean energy world, especially in solar and wind, your customers need to be reassured that you share their environmental mission. Don’t leave this story to static text on your site.
Also, the video should not be some repurposed corporate video (bla, bla, bla), but something new that’s fully integrated into the design and messaging of your new website. Look at First Wind’s media center to get an idea of how video can help tell the story of clean energy in a web environment.
Here’s an important tip to take into account when you publish your videos: The search engines (as of today) can’t “read” the script for the video, which means that it’s important for you to have a descriptive title for your video, along with some text that describes the video. This will make it easier for Google and others to find your video, and the more people see it and link to it, the higher you’ll be ranked on their pages.
8. Make your news prominent, and update it frequently.
Search engines like Google love frequently updated content, and news from your company is the easiest thing to update on a regular basis. Having the latest news cycle through on your home page tells your audiences that you are a happening company that’s out in the market making news, and Google will (over time) rank you higher because more people are seeking out the latest news from your company. In addition to having news on your home page, be sure to integrate into your media center as well.
9. Integrate with social networks.
Be sure to add links to your Twitter account to your site (at least on the home page, and on the contact page), plus links that make it easy to share the site via Digg and other bookmarking sites. AddThis provides a way for people to share on the site of their choosing, with only one icon on your web page.
10. You wouldn’t wear the cheapest suit on the rack when meeting with investors. Don’t cheap out on your website, either.
You can certainly get a website written and designed for $5,000, but it won’t reflect the real quality of your company, or be crafted in a way that will resonate with the right people. It’s unfortunately true that banks usually don’t lend money to people who don’t have money, and if your site looks like it was pieced together with bubble gum, it won’t inspire confidence.
Don’t cheap out on your website by making it in-house without the right resources, or hiring a couple of kids to make it for you. Find a professional. Your website is your opportunity to make your company look like the billion dollar company you can become, and is worth the investment.
For more how-to’s, from logo and web design to video testimonial production, download this free e-book – Branding & Marketing for Renewable Energy Companies.
Ted Page is co-founder and Creative Director of Captains of Industry, a marketing and filmmaking agency with expertise in renewable energy. Ted oversees the creative development of websites, logos, videos and interactive web marketing campaigns on a range of clean tech and renewable energy companies such as First Wind and Alteris Renewables. His non-fiction articles have been published in Boston Magazine and Marketingsherpa.com.