One Roof Energy – Solar Power Direct-to-Consumer

One Roof Energy, a residential solar power provider, has a simple yet comprehensive website. The site is relatively well-designed and makes use of some basic SEO concepts, including the following:

  • <title> tags include targeted keywords and phrases, and vary from page to page.
  • <meta name=description> tags also vary from page to page and include targeted keywords and phases.
  • Copy inside the body of pages also leverage keywords.

That being said, there is still room for improvement, including the following:

  • Additional utilization of internal linking. Right now, the navigation is limited to the primary nav bars and footers. Ideally there would be links inside the body copy as well.
  • Site map. Every site should have a site map, it’s really not that hard to put one together. Ideally, an xml site map is also created and submitted.

Beyond SEO, the site could use a refresher in direct marketing basics. Their ‘Contact Us’ form could be made crisper, and we recommend removing the promotion code, the how did you hear about us, along with the drop-down of buying a new home vs. roof. Those should be collected on a second page rather than at the point of registration. This should improve conversion.

The site is also lacking in interactive elements. There should be a way for potential customers to visualize the savings they will achieve after installation, rather than waiting for a response in email. In addition, this is a company that can truly leverage some social media elements.  Testimonials are not nearly as convincing when they are hard-coded html. Why not let consumers, especially existing customers, post comments on a fan page and make it interactive?

One Roof could even have a twitter feed for fan page update every week or month that has a running tally of energy savings, reduction in carbon footprints, etc. They could have this widget personalized for all their customers as well, to place on their own pages. This could enable some viral components as well.

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Book review: Smart Pricing by Jagmohan Raju and Z. John Zhang

Smart Pricing, by Jagmohan Raju and Z. John Zhang of the Wharton School, have written the most engaging business book I may have ever read. Through ten short chapters they weave together so many different pricing innovations it made me feel guilty about how little I have considered pricing strategy. As they say in their introduction, many of us treat price as a given rather than as an important tool in our marketing strategy. The majority of the examples are business-to-consumer, however some concepts may be relevant for the clean-technology/renewable sectors. The ‘Snob Premium’ is certainly a concept that can be applied, and a twist may be the ‘Green Premium’, in which consumers may prefer to pay more for the environmental benefits even if the benefits actually are less expensive. However, even if there is little that can be applied to your specific business, the innovations described will inspire almost anyone with strategic responsibilities. The writing is tight and so compelling, it is the first business book, since Good to Great, that I could not put down.

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Own Energy – Community Wind Development

OwnEnergy has a well-designed, well-written website (by my good friend Tess Forte); unfortunately the site does not leverage its potential given the firm’s business model of building ‘community’ wind farms.

If the underlying business model is the development and curating of community wind products logically they would utilize facebook, twitter, or some other Web 2.0 community platform to facilitate communicating and information sharing with the various communities and also use this to promote their projects.

A search for such projects revealed absolutely nothing. This represents a tremendous opportunity for the organization. Take for example their testimonials page. While the quotes from the various luminaries involved with their projects add a certain degree of credibility, an ideal platform would be a link an individual project detail page (or pages) to the testimonial. Following that, the various individuals involved could have links to their public profiles and from there we could learn more about the testimonials. We could see more how the community is involved with the project, especially if each project had a community organizer curating a page on facebook, or a shared blog, etc., about the project.

The weakest aspect of the site is this very component, Project Development. The pages and graphics appear as if they were simply pulled from a power point presentation. Again, this is an area where current technology is not being fully leveraged. For example, the steps in development could be an interactive chart tied to a map showing where the many projects OwnEnergy manages currently fall in the timeline.

Basic areas of improvement

  • Update the site more frequently. From what we have seen, the last press release and article were both dated March 2010. For a number of reasons, one of which is search engine optimization, greater effort should be made to update the site more frequently.
  • Better and more calls to action. The only area on the site where a reader can commence a dialogue is within the ‘Contact Us’ section. Ideally, there would be additional means of contact, as there are certain points, such as within the services section that means of access should be provided.

There were some basic questions that came to mind after reviewing the site. What is the goal of the site? Who are the target audiences? Frankly, after reviewing the site, in spite of being well-designed and well-written, it does not appear to be much more than a catalog with a very basic description of the company. Perhaps that was the only goal — simply to have a website describing at the most basic level what the company does and the services it provides. I would challenge management to think more deeply about their site, and their overall web strategy, if they have one. There is a tremendous amount of potential for a company such as this, and if it truly seeks a leadership position in this field, it should learn to leverage the (actually not-so-new) tools of the web.

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Sustainability at NYIT

Recently, I was asked by the Director of the sustainability program at NYIT to analyze their site from an SEO perspective. Belows follows a summary one-sheeter given to executive management.

Metric Score/Ranking Diagnosis
Page Rank 4 This is a relatively low score for an education institution. Steps should be taken to improve the results. The most important of which would be a link-building campaign, along with some basic improvements to the html mark-up.
Incoming Links 2 This is incredibly low and steps must be taken to improve. Only two known sites are linking to NYIT’s sustainability page, specifically thinkgreen2010.org and greencollar.org. Research should be undertaken to identify sites that should be linking to nyit.edu/green and have yet to do so. Here is one example: http://www.enviroeducation.com/. This would be in addition to submitting to important directories on Google, Yahoo and Bing of course.
Keyword Ranking Non-existent A search for ‘sustainability education’, ‘green education’,’education for sustainable development’ and ‘environmental technology education’ yielded results where NJIT was not in the top 30 of results. Less than 1% of all searchers look beyond the top 30 listings. It is interesting to note that the page being investigated does not even show up for a specific search such as ‘nyit green education’.
Source Code Poor None of the meta tage (<title>, keywords, and description) make use of what should be targeted terms. This is an easy step in SEO improvement. In addition, the site does not make us of ALT text in any of its images. Use of header tags (<h>) around targeted keywords would help organic results as well. On the positive side, the site is primarily text, which is still favored by search engines.
Analytics Non-existent? It does not appear as if any analytics have been installed on these pages. This would make it difficult, if not impossible, to discern traffic to the site and the most popular paths within it. Typically web analytics help the site management team choose additional keywords and design features to optimize page views and traffic to the site.
Keyword Density Low The most dense word on the page is ‘nyit’ followed by ‘energy’ and ‘green’. Sustainability is fifth. We recommend keyword density being one of the last things to focus on as it does not yield significant improvements in organic search results. However, there are very simply editorial elements needed to improve keyword density and after other recommendations are implemented, these should be followed as well.

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Solar City continued

Navigation

SolarCity utilizes a number of best practices with respect to navigation:

  1. Provides multiple entry points for various sections. It accomplishes that by incorporating horizontal navigation treatments without appearing too busy and through the use of drop-down menus.
  2. Upon clicking into a section the site then includes a secondary nav bar below the first facilitating navigation, and it also employs breadcrumbs below the secondary nav bar. Given the depth of content available, SolarCity was wise to use this device.

While SolarCity is a strong site, and the design team deserves kudos, there are some areas for improvement. Including:

  1. The left margin including news and photo gallery links inside various sections. This makes the site busier than necessary, and people who arrive at deeper pages, such as the Solar Lease section, will find them distracting rather than helpful. Other components, in particular the social media components (Share This Page, Join Our Community) are logical; however these things must be appropriate rather than seemingly random droppings of content.
  2. The margins and navigation items are large relative to the site. this limits the amount of contact that is available ‘above the fold’. Ideally SolarCity removes the left margin to provide more visibility to the primary content.

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SolarCity

SolarCity utilizes many best practice web optimization techniques, and may be the best-designed site we have reviewed thus far.

It clearly directs its audience, has visible and useful calls-to-action, and provides ample opportunities to increase engagement with its customers and potential customers. It accomplishes all of this while maintaining SEO best practices as well.

We will articulate all the things the site does well as a mold for other to follow and then point out the few areas for improvement (eg remove the large flash unit on the homepage).

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Review: Landing Page Optimization by Tim Ash

Going forward, every month we will review a book on either web strategy and optimization or the clean/renewable energy sector.

Landing Page Optimization, an aptly titled book by Tim Ash, is a strong mid-level resource for optimizing websites and performance. Tim, a popular speaker at many conferences, covers all of the basics to undertake a successful project for improving conversions on your website. The book is well-organized, and depending on your background you may opt to focus on certain areas.

The introductory section is very elementary, and most readers may choose to skim or even skip the material entirely; this is especially true of the first two chapters. Immediately thereafter, substantive information and tactics are provided. Very quickly it progresses to areas that are quite advanced, such as full factorial parametric testing. It is at this point that the book falls a little short, you get the feeling that the information is covered at a very surface level, and not necessarily explained in a usable manner. The major takeaway I had was that I need to find a few books on the mathematics of testing to review here.

The final section would be something a marketing manager or director would want to share with their executive sponsor, namely ‘Getting It Done’. Again, depending on your background you may prefer to skim this, however, this information  is probably more crucial to launching a successful optimization campaign than any of the mathematics.

I had a knowing smile with the caveat to ‘resist temptation to monitor the results frequently’. This is something anyone in the online marketing/optimization space must be very familiar and many of those themes are covered in the final chapter. An excellent summary of everything else in the book.

Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone undertaking major optimization campaigns, especially those working in a corporate setting. It will not necessarily provide you with many testing ideas, but it will help you structure your campaigns and acquire the necessary buy-in for a successful endeavor.

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Empower CES — Consumer Marketing

The direct-to-consumer marketing for Empower CES could really use a lot of help.

The design remains amateurish, however we will not focus on that component, which can be easily improved if the right resources are hired.

The messaging, and the lack of calls-to-action, however, need to be addressed. A potential customer arriving to the site has to figure out on their own what the next steps would be if they wanted to purchase anything from Empower. The landing page is simply a side-by-side comparison of installed residential solar systems along with a few bullets highlighting benefits and values of a solar-powered home.

Empower should further highlight the benefits, and have links providing more detail to each of them. In simple terms, how much will the average household save? The finance examples used are too advanced for the average visitor, and can be provided as a deeper link.

What will be the environmental impact? Carbon footprints are becoming a fairly common measure, why not use it? Better yet, why not partner with a non-profit and have them validate the claims? There are many, including Carbon Fund, the Nature Conservancy, or Conservation International.

How will the investment increase property values? Are there studies that prove this? This would be especially interesting, and it is disappointing that more information is not available.

Ultimately, the worst aspect of this portion of the site is the complete absence of any calls to action. In spite of the poorly designed and phrased benefits, if someone wanted to purse Empower further, it is not easy to do so. The only way by which the web site visitor can deepen the relationship with Empower is via the ‘Contact Us’ section. There need to be considerably more call-outs than the one in the navigation bar. Within each section there should be links. For example, ‘Want to learn more how you can save money and increase the value of your home? Send a message to one of our representatives.’

The Contact Us Page is also horribly designed. There needs to be some header text and imaging to spur visitors to complete the form. Typically, this includes a re-affirmation of the company’s privacy policy. The submit button is below the fold for most screen sizes, which sure reduces the conversion rate. Also, the button itself has a staid label ‘Submit Query’. Best practices would have a different label, such as ‘Learn more now!’ or ‘Get Solar Now’.

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Empower CES

Empower CES has a number of areas for improvement. The site is lacking in navigation, discoverability, and most significantly, engagement. The company is relatively young, yet upon arriving at the website you feel as if it was designed in the mid-90s. The homepage, while thankfully not a wasteful landing page a la Sunpower, has too many navigation points, with gigantic buttons, and no mention of what Empower actual does.

Design and architecture of a website such as Empower CES should consider the following questions:

  1. Who will be visiting our site? Typically, prospective clients is one answer, but current customers, partners, suppliers, and even competitors will also be visiting.
  2. What do we want them to do at our site? This will obviously depend on the answer to the first question. For example, we may hope for prospects to join a mailing list or request additional information, while partners may be directed to a special log-in area.
  3. What is the image we want to project? Should the focus be on engineering excellence or ‘green’ marketing? This goes to the core of the company, what are its primary values?

Reviewing the site, it does not appear the EmPower considered these questions when it undertook its design. Navigating deeper, it is clear that the company wants to speak to a wide swathe of customers: residential home owners, commercial property owners and institutions. At the same time, it is promoting the benefits of leveraging solar technology, but does not speak to each of these constituencies in a separate voice. The result is a confused, amateurish site.

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SunPower continued

I have started to take a closer look at the residential section of SunPower. It was one very interesting feature wherein they estimate the savings a residence will receive by switching to solar power. It is an excellent mash-up, pulling in satellite imagery from Google maps. I question their math, because if it were true everyone would sign up for solar! The tool lets you see your lifetime savings, monthly utility cost reduction, along with the reduction of your carbon footprint. It clearly is targeting the ‘green’ consumer and the tool does a fairly good job.

After that however, things fall apart; there is not enough follow-up. I just revealed where I live, and the calls to action after viewing my results are sedated at best. There is a button to get a free solar assessment, but there could be so much more. Creatively, the button is not nearly prominent enough. The link directs someone to a separate section that then re-asks the same questions. Ideally, email should have been collected at this point for follow-up.

There is also an emphasis to call a 1-800 number which is bizarre to say the least. Someone is already engaged, on the website, why direct them to a phone? At a minimum collect email first, ideally have something lick a live chat.

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