Referral Companies: The Good and the Bad

August 8, 2015

Finding and connecting with quality local service providers is the name of the game for both homeowners, tradespeople and the ubiquitous 'referral company'. 


In building this website it became obvious that the online market had changed quite a bit since 2008.  An aggressive flood of 'referral' companies had swooped in and taken advantage of homeowners need to hire offering to connect them with a local, vetted service provider.


Following the success of the well known 'Angie's List' dozens of websites now litter the google results, trying to cover every niche in the service market and appear to be 'local'. Some are so obviously bad, with cut and pasted content that was clearly written by a non-native English speaker. 


Unlike Angie's List, most of these middle men offer their services free to homeowners, but they charge the service provider per lead. 


And, it seems there is a new referral service every day.


This creates a couple of problems, for service providers and customers


1). For real local companies, Getting on the first page of Google is a challange:

All of these referral companies websites are so highly search engine optimized, its hard for local service providers with their own website to elbow in and get found on the first page of results. That means well established companies who don't sign up and pay these referral companies for leads can find their business going dry and if they aren't very web savvy, not even know why.  All the leads end up with the referral companies with few, if any providers to quote. 


2) Innaccurate Results: 

Few of the referral websites are created by people who know the trades. The result?  The would-be customer often gets a lot of irrelavent results because the categories aren't always precise. 


4). Are you getting an expert, or a jack of all trades? 

In fact, many of the service providers you are contacted may not be qualified. The referral companies don't understand the trades and have no way to verify they actually know their stuff.


5). Local, or Long Distance?

The more clever referral companies try to appear like they are a local company, but in fact have no local presence at all.  In the plastering field, a few outstanding examples of such mimicry are, Jegley Drywall and Mudco. They present themselves as a local company but are a referral company in disguise. 


The 1-800 or the 1-888 area codes should be the first giveaway you are not dealing with a local company, just a cleverly disguised middleman who is doing this very same thing for every category of service provider nationwide.


The one thing I like about them is that some offer a chance to review a contractor. Reviews that cannot be faked (like on Angie's List) are invaluable to good service providers. 


All this to say, it is now a much bigger challenge for a true local company to get first page Google results for their website. Many providers are forced to sign up with all these services, to become part of their 'network' of providers. Since it costs them to be a part of the network, that cost gets passed on to you, the homeowner.


So the online landscape has changed as the middle men are getting cleverer, making it harder for real local specialists and experts to stand out or connect directly with their customers. 


Sure, I have a Porch and a Thumbtack profile and yes, I am in all of the online directories, but now you have to go through them to find people like me. That is, if they know the difference between a GC, a drywall installer and a plaster repair expert. 


But, I'm a practical guy. I figure if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. (Though I think I can beat 'em...time will tell).


Update: One year later to the month (July 5, 2016)  my website has first place google results in all the major cities I wanted it to be in. Sometimes first or second organic result. It took a while and a lot of work, but I did beat the referral companies at their own game! 




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