When it comes to lead generation, old-fashioned word-of-mouth is still in the top spot for many replacement contractors, and they guard those well-earned reputations carefully. But experts say a growing shift to online reviews, combined with a proliferation of new services, means contractors now have to guard their digital reputations just as cautiously.

“It affects everybody,” said Andy Beal, CEO of Reputation Refinery and author of Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation. “Whether you’re an individual contractor or a million dollar company, anybody can be Googled or Yelped.

And these days, there’s a host of other startup online review sites that aim to connect customers with contractors largely based on online reviews: Porch, Thumbtack, and TaskRabbit to name a few. In fact, Google and Amazon are the latest digital behemoths to announce entry into the so-called home services space. And last week, HomeAdvisor announced plans to buy Angie’s List, just as it rolls out new online lead generation services for contractors.

While the online titans battle for supremacy, experts say it’s important for contractors to guard their online reputations like never before. Here’s a look at the top 10 mistakes contractors make managing those reputations — and how to avoid them. 

  1. Believing review sites are just a “fad.” Technology is changing rapidly, and people like Beal say online review sites are like smartphones. “Can you imagine if you had decided you weren’t going to use a cell phone?” he asked. “Imagine how much business you would have lost.”
  2. Assuming traditional word of mouth is enough. Doing a good job isn’t enough anymore, says Aaron Blank, CEO of the Fearey Group, who’s also on the Public Relations Society of America’s Board of Counselor’s Academy. “Today’s customer wants to engage with you, and they want that relationship,” Blank said. 
  3. Pretending online review sites don’t exist. This attitude can be one of the most costly mistakes because negative reviews live online indefinitely. And whether contractors acknowledge them or not, those reviews can do untold damange to their reputation  “It takes 20 years to build a relationship, but it takes one second to blow it,” Blank warned. People like Beal get paid up to $5,000 a month to clean up online reputations. “A lot of people don’t realize the lifetime cost of a detractor,” he said.
  4. Failing to ask for reviews. Many contractors are shy about this step, but it’s okay to ask customers for reviews, Blank says. It’s even okay to ask more than once. He recommends emailing customers with a link that encourages them to review your business. “Be proactive in asking for reviews, and you’ll have a better online reputation.”
  5. Assuming customers won’t change reviews. Save Energy Company enjoys a five-star Yelp rating because the company isn’t afraid of asking customers to change negative reviews, says Bill McGowan, the firm’s marketing consultant. “We don’t have any compunction in coming out and saying we want you to change your review,” McGowan said. Ultimately, his firm does whatever it takes to make customers satisfied. “Your commitment to customer service isn’t judged by never doing anything wrong. It’s how you correct what you did wrong,” he added.
  6. Failing to fact check customer reviews. Customers aren’t always right. In fact, your company may be getting a bad wrap for something you had nothing to do with. “When a negative review comes up, we go instantly to our job records to make sure the person was actually a customer,” McGowan said. “We’ve had several who were not.”
  7. Paying a lot to manage online reputations. Managing your reputation can be done for free with existing services. Use Google to see where people are talking about your company. Whatever comes up in the first 10 listings is a good barometer. Then use Google Alerts to get an email anytime someone mentions your company, recommends Beal.
  8. Spending too much time online. You shouldn’t need to hire someone to manage your reputation, Beal says. “You’re looking at 10 or 15 minutes a day for most businesses,” he said. “Even if you have to spend 30 minutes or an hour, that’s still a lot less time than if your ignore it and it becomes a massive flare up.”
  9. Using too many sites. Many contractors go the opposite route of ignoring sites and think they have to be on all of them. Beal says having a presence on three sites is enough for most. “You don’t have to go chasing the latest fad,” Beal said. “You just have to figure out where your centers of influence are. Cultivate your reputation at those particular networks.”
  10. Refusing to “pay to play.” Most sites feature contractors who pay a fee. While not always inexpensive, these fees can yield big business, says Michael Menn, principal of Michael Menn Ltd. “It’s not cheap, but I probably get one qualified lead a week from that,” said Menn, who advertises on Houzz. “If I get one job from that it pay for the year.”