Sadly, after a few months and thousands of dollars in click fees but few new customers or even website visitors to show for their investment, a lot of solar companies decide that pay-per-click ads on Google or Facebook are a waste of money.
But that doesn’t mean that solar marketers shouldn’t use the ad buying software of these companies. Facebook’s ad buying system especially can offer valuable solar market research.
The High Price of Google PPC Ads
By now, ads on Google for popular searches in hot solar markets like California or the Northeast have been bid up so high that they’re not affordable for most local solar installers. For example, recently I talked to a local solar installer in New York State who’s been priced out of the Google PPC ad market.
For five years, he’d been buying Google ads for the term “Long Island solar panels” and related search terms. But over that time, as national companies moved in to the area, the Long Island solar market grew more crowded and competition for popular keywords in Google ads increased. As a result, the cost for some of his search terms rose ten times, from just over $2 a click to nearly $20 per click.
This meant that now the local installer could no longer afford to buy his way onto page one of Google through ads.
Instead of buying Google ads, the installer has made the smart decision to start building up his SEO to do better in organic search. If he sticks with it and starts a good blog using “Long Island solar panels” and other search terms that his audience uses also, then he’s got a good chance to get back to page one of search results.
He can still use Google’s AdWords system to find keywords for his organic content, though it’s a bit complicated and other keyword tools are easier to use.
Facebook A Better Value – For Ads and Market Research
At this point, ads on Facebook may be a better value than ads on Google, as SEO and online marketing guru Joost de Valk of Yoast explains in the quick video above.
Overall, whether on Facebook or anywhere else, ads are not a long-term strategy for traffic because once you stop buying the ads, the traffic flow turns off. However, ads on Facebook can be helpful temporarily to build audience to a new website or a new campaign, if you do them right and avoid common mistakes that solar companies make in buying Facebook ads.
But even if you don’t plan to buy any ads at all on Facebook, you can still use their ad buying tool to do quick research on the local solar market. And the good news is that if you’re already on Facebook, solar market research is quick, it’s easy and it’s free of charge. Here’s how to get started.
Facebook lets you target your ads by geographical location, age, gender, languages and, most importantly, interests. To select interests you can browse Facebook’s categories or put in your own term, to see what it brings up.
Solar Market Research by Local Area
In the example in the image, I told Facebook I wanted to reach men and women across ages in the San Francisco Bay Area who are interested in solar power. Facebook then showed me how many people I could expect my ads to reach, based on the people who’ve liked my company’s Facebook page, which was up to 1,200 people per day.
The system also showed me the “potential reach,” a larger number representing the total audience of Facebook users living in the Bay Area who have indicated an interest in solar power, which came out to 42,000.
Now, since most Americans are on Facebook these days, is it fair to say that this number might give you a sense of the total market for solar in the San Francisco area, both residential and commercial? Not necessarily.
There will be people on Facebook who haven’t expressed an interest in solar explicitly but who still might want it on their home or business. Likewise, just telling Facebook that you like solar energy doesn’t mean you’re ready to get a new array installed next week. But, knowing that more than 40,000 Facebook members have indicated an interest in solar power means that there is a substantial market in the area.
Some Solar Market Surprises
Of course, given that it’s the Bay Area, where people are famous for being into both the environment and new technology, it’s no surprise that lots of people there care about solar power. And 42,000 actually sounds a bit low to me for a region famous around the world for its leadership on solar. It could be that many Facebook members in the area don’t bother to tell Facebook that they’re interested in solar power. Because really, who in the Bay Area isn’t interested in solar?
That said, you can still learn something by comparing different local markets on Facebook. And you may be surprised to see how many Facebook members express an interest in solar in your local area.
For example, in Kansas City, Missouri, you can find 25,000 Facebook members interested in solar. And here’s a big surprise. As you can see in the image above, Atlanta boasts 61,000 Facebook members who’ve expressed an interest in solar. That’s 45% more than in the Bay Area. Who knew?
Since there are many fewer solar contractors in Georgia than in northern California, Atlantans who care about solar may be underserved by solar companies currently doing business in their area. For a local installer looking to expand to a new market, this could be good market intelligence.
Despite some improvements in 2015, Georgia lacks solar-friendly policies that you’ll find in California. But while the solar market in the Golden State is nearing saturation in many places, the Peach State remains wide open for solar. And unlike many states that lag in solar, at least Georgia does allow solar leases. That makes it a market with potential for solar installers with the foresight to get in early and the patience to stick it out.
Of course, you don’t want to follow General Sherman’s example and start marching through Georgia — or targeting any area to start or expand your solar business — just on the basis of a couple numbers from Facebook ads. But Facebook is great place to get some quick facts about an area before committing to more in-depth solar market research.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group