Thinking about a new car? If you're like many people, the first thing to do is enter the make and model in a search engine such as Google. Shopping for books, clothes, electronics, sporting goods, or home improvement items? A 2002 report by research firm Vertis says 57% of Americans have access to the Internet at home, and half of those with access buy such products on the Web.

The report also showed that the higher a person's household income, the more interested he or she is in purchasing online.

These days, the Internet is also often the first place consumers turn when seeking information on a contractor or contracting services. And there are a number of ways you can ensure that your company is the one they find when they do their search.

Internet Lead Providers Among the easiest ways to get their attention is to contract with an Internet lead provider. Among the leading companies in the field is ServiceMagic, of Golden, Colo. (, named by Deloitte & Touche in October 2004 as the second fastest-growing technology company in the state. ServiceMagic connects homeowners with prescreened, customer-rated residential contractors. Nearly 26,000 contractors across the country use the company to find leads. Lead costs vary, depending on the project (example: $6 for a leaky pipe, $40 for roof replacement). Contractors set an amount of money they want to spend each month and receive leads until they reach that number.

Since its founding in 1999, the company, a subsidiary of IAC/InterActiveCorp, parent of,, LendingTree, and Ticketmaster, among other brands, says it's handled more than 3 million consumer requests. (Hanley Wood, REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR's parent company, has an investment interest in ServiceMagic.)

It works like this: Property owners/managers visit the ServiceMagic Web site and complete a service request form. Service-Magic then routes the request, via e-mail, cell phone text messaging, or other means, to three or four appropriate member contractors looking for business in the area.

Member contractors must be licensed and insured and have no record of significant civil legal judgments within three years of their registering with ServiceMagic.

“We enroll your business, build a one-page Web site you can use and that we use to present you to potential customers,” says co-CEO Rodney Rice. “We're enabling businesses to do the work they want to do, where they want to do it, and have enough of a lead flow to pick the consumers they really want.” This removes barriers to communication familiar to any customer or contractor who's played phone tag for days on end and increases the likelihood of an appropriate match between contractor and consumer, Rice says.

Fixed Price Leads Other companies, such as ( of East Greenwich, R.I., charge a flat rate per lead. Rather than send a lead to three or four members, sends it to one and charges the company $20, says president Chris Pearson. The price guarantees exclusivity, but that also means that an ABCLeads member contractor may not reject a lead, Pearson says. Similar to ServiceMagic, member contractors must pay for each lead they're sent, whether business results or not.

When consumers filling out the data request form choose geographic boxes based on the first three digits of their ZIP code and submit it, the lead is then instantly sent to the contractor who's signed up for that box. If no contractor occupies the box, the lead is deposited in the Lead Shop database for another member to purchase.

“Qualified buyer leads” are those that have already been purchased by a member. After 90 days, places these back in the Lead Shop database for sale. These leads represent qualified buyers who've not yet made a purchase. Contractors can be credited for purchased leads that prove defective.