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.