Have you Google-searched your own company lately? You're no doubt pleased to see its name rise to the top of the organic search results. But before you wear your arm out patting yourself on the back, consider this: that's not how most homeowners looking for a home improvement contractor are going to find you.

Actually they're more likely to search by typing a generic term like "roofing contractor" or "window replacement" into the Google search engine.

Try it. Still at the top of organic search? Or have you disappeared into the back pages?

Page Dominance

Broad topic search results tend to be dominated in many areas by lead-generation companies. For instance, a search for "replacement windows" launched from a computer in Philadelphia turns up: Window Replacement Inc. (which takes you to the Window Replacement Center); the Replacement Window Site (advertises vinyl windows "starting at $349," fiberglass "starting $699 per window installed," and wood "starting at $750"); and CalFindercbtardcfwwbueawrytyd. In the paid search column to the right, we find ServiceMagic and QualitySmith. All these companies collect contact information from homeowners who are searching online and then sell those details to contractors.

A useful service? Absolutely. Many homeowners regard companies such as ServiceMagic as a third party validating the legitimacy of the contractor. And three out of five Replacement 100 firms list lead-gen companies among the lead sources they use.

But not all home improvement contractors use lead-generation services. And many who do use them report frustration with the experience. Common complaints include: Leads are not sufficiently qualified. Too many companies receive the same lead. Homeowners stonewall their calls and/or e-mail messages.

Internal Process Is Key

Companies that use purchased leads as a lead source generally have success when they have a specific process for handling Internet leads, including those from lead providers. If lead-gen leads consistently fail to pan out, "the issue is more with the contractor than the lead source," says Ken Greene, president of St. Clair Corp., a home improvement company in St. Louis. Leads provided by lead providers have grown to be one of St. Clair Corp.'s best sources of business.

The feeling that the contractor has to take responsibility for the success or failure of purchased leads is common among company owners who make good use of them. "My own feeling is that most of the time if these leads are not productive, it's because the home improvement business doesn't have the right internal processes to handle and follow up on the lead," says George Faerber, owner of Bee Window, in Indianapolis.

A little more than a year ago Faerber founded BringMeMyLeads, an Internet marketing company for home improvement contractors, which offers weekly webinars and on-site consulting. He estimates that 8% to 10% of Bee Window's leads come from lead-generation companies ? in his case ServiceMagic and CalFinder ? and that somewhere between 30% and 35% of Bee Window's total volume comes from one Internet source or another, whether purchased leads, pay per click, or via Bee Window's optimized website.