A window and sunroom company in Virginia gets 48% of its leads from Web sites, both its own sites (it has many) and the contractor referral services it subscribes to. Sound farfetched? It isn't.

Until recently, the Web sites contractors offered tended to be electronic billboards that consumers stumbled across at random. Search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising — both of which use key words to draw consumers — changed that. Now you can pay to have your company's site right up front when the consumer starts his or her search.

And they are searching. Recent research from the Kelsey Group and ConStat shows that 70% of U.S. adults use the Internet as an information source when shopping locally for products and services. That's up from 60% in October 2003. What's also up, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute, is the number of consumers looking online for home improvement services. In 2004, according to HIRI, 14% of consumers in search of a remodeling contractor went to the Internet. That's up from 8% in 2003.

The growth of contractor referral services reflects this. ServiceMagic, which just purchased ImproveNet, has more than 32,000 pre-screened contractors in its database. According to the company, that's a 30% increase over 2004. ServiceMagic says 75% of consumers who contact the service eventually buy a job from someone.

And then you have the window replacement discussion boards, sponsored by another online marketing company, ABCLeads. com. The names of discussion board participants who indicate they're serious about buying windows are sent to contractors who subscribe to the service. A Minneapolis company owner describes these inquiries as “leads reps fight over.” This owner wrote a million dollars worth of business from Internet leads last year, at an overall marketing cost of 1%.

So if you're still spending a ton of money on Yellow Pages print ads, you might want to rethink that. (According to the Kelsey Group, use of Yellow Pages print advertising is projected to decrease 20% in the next four years.) Savvy consumers are increasingly likely to find you on the Web. Assuming you're there. P.S. Speaking of Web sites, have you been to ours? It's up and running at www.replacementcontractor.com.

Hanley Wood, the company that publishes REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, has a business relationship with ServiceMagic.