The surge in public awareness about renewable energy comes at a time of rising energy costs and an improving political environment. The demand for solar, wind and efficiency systems is changing our industry — and the companies that serve it. Selling renewable energy systems is going to get tougher as competition, and the sophistication of the competition, increases. That’s why a well designed website is a key to success in this rapidly expanding market.Your customers and potential customers are already going to the web to find out more about the technology, the costs and your company. It was only a few years ago that businesses on the internet weren’t considered ‘real’ unless they also had a storefront or office. Now, if you can’t be found on the internet, or if you don’t appear on page one of a Google search, you simply don’t exist. There are a number of critical factors to successfully doing business on the web. They include: * Website design, navigation and ease of updating. * Search engine placement and strategic optimization. * Advertising on other websites. * Clearly targeted and tracked Pay-Per-Click advertising. We’ll be exploring each of these topics briefly in this article, and more in-depth in the upcoming series. Website Design, Navigation and Ease of Updating From the moment your website appears on the screen, you have just seconds to inspire your visitor to conclude: “I’m in the right place.” This is not difficult. If your website accurately reflects your company, and you’ve attracted visitors who need your product or service then a clear message, often a headline and photo, is all that is needed. The second question you need to answer almost immediately is: “What do I do next?” If they’ve come for information about Solar Panels, give them a button that says “About Solar Panels.” If they’re interested in understanding costs and incentives, add a graphic with a clear message. …And don’t make them have to search for your phone number! In defining the purpose of your website — and the questions it will answer for your visitors — you will be creating an outline for what kind of information is contained in the site. This process of clarifying your site is also what the search engines look for when determining what your site is about. Search engine placement and optimization Getting noticed by the search engines is as much of an art as it is a science. The strategies change constantly as search engines modify their programs (spiders) to ignore the “garbage” websites that try to attract their attention. Strategic search engine optimization is a matter of filling your site with valuable, well organized ‘keyword rich’ content. Keywords refer to the words that best describe the content of your website — and the words that, when entered in a search box, cause your site to appear. Keyword rich content is pages of information about those keywords; using them, talking about them, referring to websites about them, and being referred to by websites that are about your keywords. Adapting your website to how the search engines work and what they look for is a crucial component of your marketing plan. Driving targeted traffic to your website generates sales. Advertising on related websites (Pay-per-view ads) The internet is a web of interconnected sites. Each site sends qualified traffic to related sites. If you can identify websites that your prospective customers frequent then advertising on those sites can be extremely effective. The principles of advertising are unchanged, but the messages need to be adapted to this new medium. In the past, if you wanted to reach solar energy companies with your product or service you would place advertising in the magazines directed to that market. Three months later, when the magazine hit the stands, you’d be getting calls. Now, it’s relatively simple to find out the websites and e-magazines that get the most traffic. Placing an ad on that website will result in immediate responses… if the ad is relevant, well written and well placed. The ‘magic’ of the internet is that, if your ad isn’t working and you can figure out why, you can make changes that have an impact in as little as a few moments. Clearly targeted and tracked Pay-Per-Click advertising When you advertise on related websites, you are paying ‘per view.’ If 25,000 prospective customers go to (view) that website then advertising costs are based on the value of that. Pay-Per-Click ads only cost when someone clicks on them. If your ad is appearing on relevant website, pay-per-view is often a good choice. If your ad is appearing on pages which might not be relevant, pay-per-click is a better choice because you aren’t charged if someone is not interested in your ad. This method of advertising can be highly rewarding or extremely wasteful. A successful pay-per-click campaign requires time, attention and sophisticated tracking tools to make sure that your ads are sending valuable traffic to your site. The Future of Renewable Energy The mood is changing. A growing awareness and concern is prompting the public to ask intelligent questions about renewable energy. How does it work? What does it cost? How can I find a local expert and get a quote on a system? They are asking the search engines and they’re looking for your website. Coming Soon: Learn how to improve your Google rankings. Robinson applies strategic search engine optimization techniques to the SolarPowerConference.com website. Each step, from the keyword analysis, to website copy, to the pay-per-click possibilities is outlined and discussed. Mark C. Robinson’s website, www.TheEnergyGrid.com offers a full line of internet marketing services including website design, professional solar powered web hosting, and strategic search engine optimization. Robinson is LEED accredited Professional and is well-known in the renewable energy industry through his work with Nextek Power Systems, Beacon Power Systems, Advanced Energy, and others.