As more door and window business is conducted online, web-based review sites are becoming a vital part of marketing and promotion for companies in the industry.

During the recent Fenestration Day industry gathering in Irvine, Calif., which was hosted by DWM Magazine, attendees at the dealer roundtable had strong thoughts about review websites such as Yelp (many aren’t fans) and the Better Business Bureau (at least one dealer really liked it).

So which sites are the most useful?

In September 2013, Consumer Reports took a look at six online review sites—Angie’s List, Consumers’ Checkbook, Google+ Local, Porch, Yelp and the Better Business Bureau.

The best of the bunch? Consumers’ Checkbook. Consumer Reports “found little to fault” with the paid service, which takes both user reviews and its own research into account when calculating ratings for businesses.

Consumer Reports found that most of the others – Angie’s List, Google+Local, Porch and Yelp – might be too reliant on biased reviews.

Consistency is another big concern for review sites. For example, Consumer Reports cited assessments for an unnamed plumbing company in San Francisco. Angie’s List gave the business an F, but BBB rated it A+. Yelp rated it 2.5 stars out of five, and Consumers’ Checkbook graded it 40 percent “superior” and 27 percent “adequate.”

Trouble Ahead?

Two of the biggest review sites—Angie’s List and Yelp—are facing serious legal, competitive and public-relations challenges.

In early March, Angie’s List was hit with a class-action lawsuit alleging that it “manipulates company ratings that are sold to its subscribers as impartial user reviews,” according to The Indianapolis Star.

Angie’s List is also getting a huge competitor: Last week, Amazon unveiled Amazon Home Services, a hyper-local online marketplace that will allow “shoppers to order a plumber or electrician as easily as ordering up a pair of shoes or a vacuum cleaner,” according to ZDNet.

Meanwhile, a negative documentary about Yelp, Billion Dollar Bully, just reached its funding goal on Kickstarter. According to WebProNews, the film focuses on longstanding allegations that Yelp punishes businesses that don’t buy its ads by promoting negative reviews over positive ones.

The BBB Modernizes for the Web

That leaves the Better Business Bureau, a trusted source of consumer information for more than 100 years. The BBB still works like it always has – it calculates a company’s rating based on “how the company responds to each complaint, how promptly, and how well it’s resolved,” according to Consumer Reports.

Transparency is a big plus for the BBB website. A prominent part of each company’s review page is the Complaint Resolution Log, a timeline that lists all the complaints BBB has received about a business and the steps the firm has taken to make things right.

In recent years, BBB has also added a customer-review component to its website, but that comes with an important disclaimer:

“The customer review(s) below are un-filtered. These positive and negative reviews are not used in the calculation of the BBB Rating. … Customer Reviews are the subjective opinion of the individual who posted the review and not of Better Business Bureau. A customer review is not posted on a business if a BBB complaint on the same issue(s) is also filed. BBB cannot guarantee the accuracy of any customer review and is not responsible for the content of any customer review.”

The bottom line: While often accurate and helpful, online reviews should be treated like so many other things found on the web – with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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