Is ServiceMagic Unfairly Developing Leads Using Contractors’ Good Names? You Be the Judge

July 14, 2011 | by Fred (email) |

About three months ago we used ServiceMagic to search for a local electrician who could install expanded electrical service to our house and a sub-panel in our garage. If you’re not familiar with ServiceMagic, it’s the largest online lead generation service for contractors. ServiceMagic is a middle man, matching homeowners’ and business owners’ construction & remodeling needs with qualified contractors servicing the buyer’s area. We’ve used ServiceMagic a number of times with outstanding results, and from a project-quality perspective, this time was no different.

ServiceMagic referred us to three contractors who visited our house and provided quotes for the job. We selected the most compelling, thorough quote we received. That quote came from Mark H. Anderson, of Mark H. Anderson Electric.

The Shady Tactic Starts with Google

At one point after the job was underway, I needed to contact Mark by phone, but I couldn’t find the business card he left. So I did what any good 21st century internet-savvy citizen would do: I Googled for Mark H Andersen Electric, and here’s roughly the results I received. (I say “roughly”, because I just did this search again while publishing this post, but the results are essentially the same).

I was surprised Google didn’t return Mark’s web site as the first result (turns out he doesn’t have one). But no matter; I had found Mark through ServiceMagic, so I figured the ServiceMagic link would be a great place to get Mark’s info. So I clicked the link, and here’s the page I got back:

Perfect. This must be Mark’s company’s page, hosted by ServiceMagic, I think. What a cool service they offer to their contractors! Mark’s number is right there in the upper left corner below his company’s name: 410-878-4465.

I called that number and an operator answered the phone with something like, “Hello. I see you’re trying to reach Mark H. Anderson Electric. Is there something I can help you with?”

I ask if I can speak with Mark. The person on the other end says (not a direct quote, my memory fails me.) “I’m sorry sir, this is Service Magic, a contractor referal service. We help homeowners and businesses get matched to contractors. Do you know about our service?”

At this point I’m beginning to feel like this is a bit underhanded. I thought I had called the number for Mark H. Anderson Electric, but now I’m apparently talking to a ServiceMagic representative.

So I feign ignorance just to see what the person on the other end is going to say next. I ask her to explain the service. She proceeds to tell me that ServiceMagic is a service that helps people find qualified contractors, and that if I have a project I need quoted, she would be happy to help me find the best contractor to help with that.

Had I been someone still on the searching side of the equation, I might have been swayed at that point to just tell her about the project and drop looking for Mark. Instead, I said, “I’d really just like to speak to Mark. Could you put me through to him or give me his phone number?”

The operator tells me that she’s sorry, but she doesn’t have any information for Mark. (WHAT?! ServiceMagic directed me to Mark in the first place!)

This makes me a little mad as ServiceMagic’s customer. The web page has a phone number below the company’s name, and apparently that number won’t do me any good for getting in touch with Mark. And the person on the other end just tried to direct me away from Mark to their own service!

Take a Closer Look at the Phone Number

Take a second look at the picture above. There’s three important things to notice about the phone number next to Mark’s company’s name.

The first might not be so obvious if you’re not from around here. The phone number starts with area code “410”. That’s a Maryland area code, specifically chosen to give me a “local” feeling. After the call, I got the distinct impression the operator on the other end isn’t from Maryland at all, and that the number is simply forwarding to a call center and when it rings, a computer tells the person to answer with, “I see you’re trying to reach Mark H Anderson Electric.” But that’s just a guess.

The second troublesome issue is the asterisk next to the number. You probably didn’t notice that the first time, did you? Most people wouldn’t. Let’s take a look at the bottom of the page and see what that asterisk means.

Apparently the asterisk means that by using ServiceMagic’s service, I’m subject to their terms and conditions. (And look at that… the same phone number as above shows up under Mark’s address at the bottom!) The terms and conditions look like pretty much the same stuff any web site that operates in Service Magic’s business line would have… There is nothing about them replacing the contractor’s phone number with their own.

The third, and perhaps most egregious thing about the set up, is that ServiceMagic’s name and logo are not in the header of the page. This page is designed to look like Mark H. Anderson Electric’s web site. ServiceMagic is developing leads by getting web searchers who are looking for specific contractors to visit these pages and call ServiceMagic, believing they are calling the company they originally intended to call.

Are the Contractors’ On Board?

I asked Mark if he knew that ServiceMagic was doing this. He didn’t… and he was shocked that ServiceMagic’s phone number was next to his name on the site. Now that doesn’t mean that when he signed up, he didn’t sign some paperwork that gave ServiceMagic the right to do what they’re doing. I’m sure they did have him sign something to legally protect them.

But Mark isn’t the internet-savvy type. He’s using ServiceMagic to generate leads so that he can do a good job at what he does best: being an electrician. If I were him, I wouldn’t be happy they were doing this… but that’s for Mark to decide.

As for me as a consumer, I don’t like that ServiceMagic is using this overly-aggressive tactic. It’s a deceiving user experience. If someone searches Google for a company name, they should get a result that sends them most directly to the company. I would be OK with the set up if ServiceMagic provided Mark’s direct number, and then listed their own number on the same page with a clear explanation that it was their number.

I shouldn’t be tricked into calling ServiceMagic’s number when I really wanted to talk to Mark.

What do you think?

Is ServiceMagic over the line? Have you seen this type of lead-scraping elsewhere online?

P.S. If you’re looking for Mark H. Anderson Electric, we recommend that link, which has the proper contact information, until Mark gets his own site going.

18 Responses
  1. Beth says:

    I think it’s fantastic that you’re exposing this. Very good to know!

    • Kim says:

      It’s too bad they do this ’cause we were all ready to give a glowing review of their contractor LOCATION services. People get back to us literally within minutes of our initially searching for a job on Service Magic.

      But this left us on a negative note. Hopefully they see this and respond! We’d love to hear from them on this item.

  2. SMEmployee Notrevealingname says:

    If you had gone back to and looked at your service request, you would have seen your pro’s real phone number. Also if you had explained to the rep that you were trying to get in touch with a pro that you had already been matched to, they would have given you your pro’s real number, and/or forwarded your call directly.

    What you found here is our Exact Match product, wherein you can look at a pro’s ratings etc. before getting in contact specifically with him or her. Yes, the phone number there (and on every other pro’s profile) routes to our call center here in Golden. When you connect to a pro in this way they are charged a fee, same as when we match your project to 1-to-4 pros in our mainline Market Match product. When a pro has reached their pre-set spend limit, or under certain other circumstances, we stop sending customers to them, which is why you got the awkward “doesn’t have any information for Mark” spiel (which is not what they are supposed to say, so I hope you are paraphrasing or mis-remembering).

    It is true that we are making money from these pro profile pages. But we are doing so primarily by *sending business to the pro whose page it is*. Only when we are unable to do so, do we point a consumer at our other pros.

    As for Mark claiming not to know we are doing this, I do not doubt his sincerity in saying so, but he most definitely did agree very explicitly (not fine print) to participate in this program. As with any customer it is his responsibility to understand how our service works and what he is paying for.

    • Fred says:

      Hi SMEmployee, I appreciate your perspective. I did want everyone to know that ServiceMagic contacted me via e-mail, and this is not their official response. That will come either as a separate comment to this article, or perhaps a new article in the future. In any event, we are interested in hearing ServiceMagic’s response, because that’s what makes the internet great.

  3. Patrick says:

    I am not a fan of Service Magic. My experience was similar to yours. It reminds me that there needs to be some sort of regulation, some sort of protection for consumers who are just trying to find good, reliable contractors.

  4. Mandy Black says:

    Good afternoon Fred –

    I want to thank you for speaking to me directly and I am glad that we were able to clear up the concerns that you stated here. I also spoke with Mark in regards to his account and any concerns of his have been cleared up as well. The integrity of our business and product is our top priority and when these types of issues are brought to light I want to make sure we address them.

    The process that you have seen is our Exact Match process, which is a feature of our service that we offer to our professionals. In no way is the Exact Match program here to hurt our professionals. Ultimately, our goal is to increase a Service Professionals online presence to allow them to achieve maximum exposure, and maximum growth of their business. We also offer stand alone websites, mobile websites and Facebook pages to help the professional optimize their company’s online presence.

    When a Professional partakes in our Exact Match program we actually give them two metered numbers which will then allow us to spread that information to our partners. We then begin the process of seeding that Professional’s information in various online directories who partake in our Exact Match partner program. The goal here is that when a local homeowner searches for a service we will be able to put that quality Professional in front of that consumer.

    It is true that the number on the professional’s listing rings through to us; this is actually to help filter and send quality leads to our Professionals in the Exact Match program. We are an advertising company and unlike most advertising companies, ServiceMagic charges professionals for each generated inquiry from a consumer, versus a flat nominal fee. If the consumer is looking for a service that the Professional does not offer or in an area that the Professional does not work in, we can in turn match them with a professional who does. Secondly, if the consumer merely has a few questions around a “do it yourself” project we can offer our assistance.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly at 303.963.8066 or

    Thank you again,

    Mandy Black

  5. modernhousewife says:

    Is it true that Mark had reached his “pre-set spend limit” and that is why his (direct) phone number wasn’t given out by the SM representative?
    Are contractors allowed to use service magic but not sign up for “Exact Match”?

  6. Mandy Black says:

    Hello Beth –

    Great question! Our professionals choose an advertising budget that fits their company’s needs. This helps prevent them from getting into a financial bind. There are options within the Exact Match to either accept the lead if they are over their budget or pass it on to another professional. Exact Match is an optional feature that we do not require you have.

    Thank you,

    Mandy Black

  7. modernhousewife says:

    Hi all – Just thought I’d let you know I used Service Magic today to get some leads on AC repair people. The 1st place called within the minute I submitted the request – and all 3 had called within 5 minutes! We’re getting the work done tonight- which is fantastic. I actually did need to call the number from the “Exact Match” page because I couldn’t figure out how to “log in” to service magic to get my matches again. Anyway, when I called, they were very clear to say, ‘Hello thank you for calling Service Magic. I see you’re trying to reach… etc” I thought it was good they said that. Anyway, when I said I was already matched she said she would connect me and she also gave me the direct number.

  8. Mandy Black says:

    Hey Beth –

    I am happy to hear we were able to help you with your project and everything went smoothly. Let us know if there is anything else we can help you with.

    Thank you,

    Mandy Black

  9. I can beat that. They took our branding and did a bait and switch to substandard contractors who still had to pay them for a lead base.

    Took years to get our logo off Service Magic sites.

    Bottom line: Do no call Service Magic. Your local BBB is a better choice.

  10. Mandy Black says:

    Good morning Craftsman Direct –

    I am sorry that it took longer than expected to get your information pulled down from the online directories. We are continually improving this process for our professionals who decide to remove the exact match program. I see that you still have an account with us. I would like to speak to you directly and make sure that we get you taken care of. Please contact me at or 303.963.8066.

    Thank you,

    Mandy Black

  11. I have been contacted by SM recently. I was told that I would be purchasing leads, and decided to do some research on the company like I would with anyone I would do business with. I started asking questions online about other contractor’s experience with Service Magic. This story is all to familiar.

    If they actually cared about fixing these deceptive business practices they would. An unsuspecting contractor could get caught in this trap, and it is disgraceful for SM to use the good name of a contractor to hijack their web traffic, and use their business name to sell leads to other contractors.

    Looking forward to the conversation with the salesmen when he calls me back.

  12. Mandy Black says:

    Good afternoon Tommy –

    Thank you for posting your concern. The exact match program is optional for you and in no way is it there to “hijack” web traffic from our professionals own websites. We want to make sure that our professionals are getting maximum exposure and are able to be found online. If you would like to speak more in detail or have any other questions, please feel free to contact me directly at 303.963.8066 or

    Thank you,

    Mandy Black

  13. Mandy,

    Your attempts to explain away the extremely dubious chicanery of Service Magic’s business model are disturbing. My company was a Service Magic “pro” for a short period of time, but we did not feel the quality of the leads was worth the expense. Fine, we go our separate ways. But just today I learned through a client of ours that when she called 411 directory assistance she was routed to an SM number. I tried it myself and sure enough SM answers the phone and immediately begins to steal “my customer” who is not looking for quotes, was not matched via SM and has no relationship with SM. When I explained that I was the business owner and did not understand how my 411 listing for my company was replaced with an SM number, the SM rep first transferred me and then I was told SM has no idea how that happened (as if!!) and that I should call the phone company. I then go online to find all of these forum postings and to discover the purely evil concept behind SM trading on my good name when you have no business relationship with me any longer!

    I’m glad it worked out for you in this case. I was originally enticed by the SM concept, too. But despite your experience this time around, I hope you can appreciate that a business built on deception will never work out for you or the contractor in the long run.

  14. Mandy Black says:

    Good afternoon Erik –

    I spoke with Leigh at your company today about your concerns and gave her options to help expedite the update of the information. I would also like to speak to you directly in regards to your account and concerns. Please contact me directly at 303.963.8066 or Thank you in advance for your time and I look forward to speaking with you.

    Thank you,

    Mandy Black

  15. modernhousewife says:

    Hey Guys,
    I just had a bad experience with a Service Magic “Pro” and went through the whole giving them a bad rating thing.. and they contacted me and partially corrected it, until i “revised” my rating to a 4/5, then I stopped hearing from them….

    I recently joined Angie’s List and thought you guys might want to check it out. The business model is different since the consumers have to pay to use it, so I guess pros could put their own reviews in (although I think they try to figure that out) but some businesses have a lot of reviews, so I think those must be accurate. I found the “pro” from Service Magic on Angie’s list with a bad review.
    I signed up with the code “DIY” for 40% off

  16. Mandy Black says:

    Hey “modernhousewife” –

    I’m sorry to hear you had a rough time with the professional you chose through us. I would like to hear more about your experience and see if there was something we could do to help. Can you contact me at


    Mandy Black

Leave a Reply