It’s a given: Contractors are always looking for better lead generation sources. Less certain is where to spend time and money to get them. But increasingly, experts say the online networks Yelp and Houzz are emerging as powerful “no brainer” lead gen sources — and chances are, you’re not properly leveraging either. 

Yelp has made a name for itself with local business recommendations, including contractors. It has become the go-to source for people to review and find highly ranked businesses. It generates more than 196 million visits monthly, according to the digital tracking service, Quantcast.

“Yelp has become the new Yellow Pages,” said Bill McGowan, marketing consultant for Save Energy Company. “It’s the place people to go to hear about you.”

Houzz, on the other hand, is the place people go to see about you. The online remodeling and design site features project photos, products and professionals.  It generates about 30 million monthly visits, according to DMR, a digital statistics tracking site. Users can browse more than 6 million project photos, find 3 million professionals and see 3 million products, according to Houzz press information. Many product manufacturers such as Marvin Windows and Kohler also feature product showcases on Houzz. 

“Houzz is a phenomenal platform,” said Michael Menn, principal with Michael Menn Ltd. “If you’re a remodeler and you’re not using Houzz even just to show photos, you’re foolish because it can be a free platform.”

Both sites are free to use, but that doesn’t mean getting the most out of them is work free. With Yelp, the goal is to maintain a high rating. To do so, contractors must look through reviews and address any negative feedback at least once a week, said McGowan.

“What you have to do is manage Yelp. You’ve got to respond to the good reviews, and you’ve got to handle the bad reviews instantly,” he said.

In the case of negative Yelp reviews, McGowan said he first makes sure the reviewer is an actual customer. Then he determines how he can make the customer happy. Many times, customers will revise their negative reviews.

 “Your commitment to customer service isn’t judged by never doing anything wrong. It’s how you correct what you did wrong,” he said.

Houzz also features reviews, but it requires a different kind of work. Because it is focused on design, the photos contractors place should ideally be professional quality, Mann said. For that reason, contractors should use it to feature their most impressive projects, said Katy Tomasulo, content development manager for C Squared Advertising. “If someone goes on Houzz and searches ‘new siding,’ you want your pictures to pop up,” she added. “These are people who are genuinely interested, and they’re thinking about doing something to their house. They’re basically pre-qualified. And once you’re set up, it’s not really high maintenance. Houzz should be a no-brainer for sure.”

Contractors can also use Houzz to create their own idea books and chime in on discussion boards where homeowners are asking questions. Showing your expertise on a renovation project is another way to generate leads, she said. But if you engage in this way, be warned: Houzz users are notoriously active and have high expectations for timely responses. “Homeowners just love it. They’re using it all the time. All we hear is Houzz, Houzz, Houzz,” Tomasulo said.

Once contractors have established themselves on both platforms, they can leverage the sites even more through targeted advertising. Both Menn and McGowan pay to have their firms show up higher in searches — and both say it’s well worth the investment.

Menn pays about $1,200 a month for his “pay to play” advertising, but he says he gets at least one qualified lead a week from it, which more than pays for the cost. McGowan currently pays $500 a month for Yelp and says he has gotten three times the response from his investment. “It’s one of our least costly channels, and it’s the best money we’ve spent,” he said. “My advice is to buddy up to Yelp, advertise on it and manage it.”