Business/Finance

How to avoid Solar Home Inc’s online presence

If you find comment spam, domain speculation, cybersquatting, and sockpuppetry to be as unethical as I do, here’s how you can more easily avoid conducting business with Solar Home Inc.

Solar Home

Solar Home

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Over the last three days I’ve shown that Solar Home Inc uses comment spam, domain speculation, cybersquatting, and sockpuppetry as means to boost their business. If you’re someone who thinks it’s OK to conduct business using these practices then there’s no need for you to read any further. However, if you have read through the evidence I presented over the last three days and concluded, as I did, that Solar Home is behaving unethically, then I invite you to read this final post about how to quickly identify the vast majority of Solar Home’s websites. When you’re done you’ll be able to more easily avoid conducting business with them or their affiliates.

First a word of caution – Solar Home has demonstrated itself capable of maintaining 6,300 websites with some degree of automation. Given the fact that changing the appearance of a website is relatively simple and inexpensive, especially with automation, I have no way to know how long the examples below will remain representative of Solar Home’s websites.

Cookie-cutter appearances

Most Solar Home websites follow one of the following cookie cutter templates. I’ve taken screenshots and given you websites as examples for each type:

Variant #1: Solarlease.com

Solarlease.com

Solarlease.com

Other websites that use this variant include solarleasecolorado.com, solarleasegoodidea.com, and solarleasescams.com.

Variant #2: Missourisolar.com

missourisolar.com

missourisolar.com

Other websites that use this variant include cathedralcitysolarenergy.com, desertsolarhome.com, and ladwpsolarrebateprogram.com.

Variant #3: Nationwidesolar.com

nationwidesolar.com

nationwidesolar.com

Other websites that use this variant include gritiesolarkits.com, mitsubishisolarextreme.com, and overstocksolar.com.

Variant #4: Solaronsale.com

solaronsale.com

solaronsale.com

Other websites that use this variant include 5kwsolarsystem.com, 10kwsolarsystem.com, and ab811solar.com.

Variant #5: Solarleasecalifornia.com

solarleasecalifornia.com

solarleasecalifornia.com

Other websites that use this variant include anaheimsolarrebate.com and solarleaseprogramscalifornia.com.

Note that this variant also has the following deceptive statement on their splash page:

As of March 20th 2012 prices for purchasing a residential solar power systems have dropped to such a low level (Only as $1.66 per watt before incentives for a popular sized 5kW grid tie solar system) that we are no longer recommending solar lease programs in California or any type of solar lease program for that matter. (original emphasis removed, bolding added)

The emphasized line above implies that Solar Home used to recommend solar leases, but since Solar Home has never done so, this is deceptive advertising.

Variant #6: Advantagesolar.com

advantagesolar.com

advantagesolar.com

Another website that uses this variant include inverterdoctor.com. Note that the splash pages for both sites do not mention that the website is associated with Solar Home. Instead, both sites claim to be copyrighted to Advantage Solar or Inverter Doctor. I checked their WHOIS entries – both were registered by Laura Wade. Both require you to go to the Contact page to discover that they are part of Solar Home.

Other websites found via the About/Contact page

Second, Solar Home has other websites that, after several hours of hunting, were not obviously one of the variants identified above. I’m not going to add screenshots of their splash pages unless they become more common variants, but commercialsolar.com, solaredgeinverter.com, solargasstations.com, and xtremesolar.com are all Solar Home websites. Also be aware that “Hyper X” solar is a Solar Home trademark, so anyone offering or hyping a Hyper X system is working with or for Solar Home.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to check the About or Contact page of any online company you’re considering doing business with. If there’s not a way to contact the company, or if there is no About or Contact page at all, then that’s a huge red flag that you might not want to conduct business with them. On every Solar Home website I’ve visited there has always been a Contact or About page, and the website’s affiliation with Solar Home has always been clear via that page (to Solar Home’s credit).

At Motley Fool, the Solar Home-affiliated username “solarexpert” wrote that the other two Solar Home commenters should “simply tell the truth about leasing versus ownership and let the chips fall where they may. The truth will always prevail.”

The truth is that solar leases are not for everyone – but neither is solar ownership. As I wrote in my response to Boggs’ S&R comment, the cost of my system over the lifetime of the lease will be within 10% of the cost of purchasing a system and the lowest interest loan we qualified for was over 7%. For us, a lease was the best option. In fact, CleanTechnica ran an article comparing cash purchase, 0% FHA loan, and solar leasing. The article concluded that which option made the most sense varied greatly from region to region. When I used the EnergySage estimator recommended by the CleanTechnica article, it found that a lease would save me WAY more than a 0% loan option would – and I don’t even qualify for a 0% loan.

But Boggs, Winton, and anyone else Solar Home employs don’t want potential solar customers to dig into the details to find out if leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) make more sense for the customer – Boggs et al want those customers to buy or finance their panels, because every solar lease or PPA is a lost customer. To that end, Solar Home engages in comment spamming, domain speculation and occasional cybersquatting, and sockpuppetry.

For a company that supposedly believes “the truth will always prevail,” Solar Home sure engages in a lot of ethically questionable online activities in order to influence precisely which “truth” prevails.

3 replies »

  1. Thank you for writing this series. Solar has been something we have been thinking about, and this definitely sheds some light and gives general ideas. As for this company in particular, I would never do business with them, of course. However, owning an IT and website company as I do, it’s pretty clear to me that this semi or full automation of 6300+- websites is only for SEO purposes. Humans are probably never meant to see most of these sites. The company they hired for the SEO is probably paid a handsome monthly sum. It is highly doubtful the owner can actually run his business AND handle a digital campaign of this magnitude. The question that remains for me is has Google flagged or penalized this company for its more or less black hat SEO techniques. True, legitimate, quality content is what Google wants for its users, and with as sophisticated an algorithm they have for vetting out this kind behavior, I’m wondering if they punished them. I’m sure some research and digging in with Google webmaster tools could help us find out, my hope is that are found out, per se. Having dealt with companies like this before, though they are generally just trying to gain a competitive advantage, and doing this is “just business, nothing personal”, the business owners conducting these practices are generally bad people with less than desirable morals and ethics. Just me experience but thought I would chime in with that.

    • I could see the point of doing this for SEO. I’d have figured turning off crawlers via the robots.txt file would have killed the SEO aspect, and every one of Solar Home’s cookie-cutter websites I’ve checked (and I’ve only checked a small sample) is configured to turn off crawlers. However, I’m by no means an SEO expert.

      One thing I found interesting was that at Fool.com in April 2014, “solarexpert” said that Solar Home controlled so many websites expressly to keep the domains out of competitors’ hands. And I recently saw “inductancreluctance” point someone from Kentucky to “kentuckysolar.com,” which is yet another of Solar Home cookie-cutter site (Variant 1, in fact). I’m not sure how much trust to put into anything these guys say at this point, however.

    • Hi Ryan. There’s no doubt that a lot of what we see here is spammy SEO tactics. And if we could get under the hood of their analytics we might find that they’re dealing with algorithmic penalties (or even a manual one). If so, they’re going to be in need of a backlinks rescue.

      But that only accounts for some of what Brian is describing, right? I’m not an expert on backlinks audits by any stretch (have worked on a couple rescues and hope they’re the last two I ever get anywhere near) and the sockpuppetry is a different problem. That serves no SEO purpose since comments are nofollowed. It might serve a purpose, theoretically, but it isn’t SEO-driven, right?

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