Steven Puetzer

Remodelers know consumers are online looking for ideas and contractors. They know, too, that referrals are their best lead source. Review sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp — which marry the two concepts — seem the perfect solution. And, according to a 2012 survey of 2,862 Internet shoppers conducted by search engine information hub Search Engine Land, 72% trust online reviews.

“But when you’re trying to build a relationship-based business model through technology, there are bound to be breakdowns,” says industry consultant and author Dave Lupberger. There are small breakdowns such as “having to do a little dance because you don’t want [clients] reporting that you’re rude or disinterested,” as Keith Liston, owner of Liston Construction, in St. Louis, says. And there are big breakdowns such as last year’s widely publicized case involving remodeler Christopher Dietz, in Washington, D.C., who sued former client Jane Perez for posting negative reviews on Angie’s List and Yelp and is currently involved in a defamation suit against Perez. Although the sites removed Perez’s negative comments, Dietz says, “Even if I win the monetary award ... she is still defaming me. If I win, I’ve still lost.”

So is it possible for online reviews to be a win-win for contractors?

—Stacey Freed is a senior editor at REMODELING. Find her on Twitter at @SFreed or @RemodelingMag.

The Rest of April's Cover Story:

Online Review Sites topic page

Sites for Sore Eyes: Consumer-driven sites leave contractors no choice but to play the game

Site Guide: A quick guide to the dominant online review services

Optimized Engagement: SEO experts explain how reviews can boost your online visibility

I heart Angie (Not): Contractors' love-hate relationship with the online world's biggest player

Leading Lights: A shifting definition of what constitutes a lead

Friend or Faux?: Despite fake reviews, consumers are stll believers—for now

Friendly Recommendation: Word still spread quickly via the new wave of review sites that use media

Good Word: Why you should (or shouldn't) pay for positive reviews