If you either have or were to visit a few contractor sites, it won’t take you long to find claims about quality and customer satisfaction among other things, and there will usually be a collection of reviews or testimonials. Since everyone is saying essentially the same thing whether it’s true or not, you’re left trying to sort through the noise.

The sad part is there have been plenty of ploys used to manipulate the reviews you should be able to trust, making them less reliable without a measure of discernment on your part. Here is some advice to help you do that.

Onsite Reviews Are the Least Reliable

To be fair, many contractors are honest and the reviews published on their site are real and trustworthy. However, it is unsafe to make the assumption that they are. These are also the easiest for an unscrupulous contractor to fake. They could literally just make up anything and publish it on their site.

Our advice is to read the published reviews if other trust factors on their site indicate the contractor is reliable, but not to take the reviews at face value. We suggest also moving on to other steps outlined below.

Seek Out Unbiased Outside Reviews

There are many places to find outside reviews: Google, Home Advisor, Angie’s List, GuildQuality, Manta, Mojo, Yelp, and more. We’re not saying you should find the contractor on all of these places, but they should be found on at least some of them. These are not impossible to manipulate but they are much harder which makes the reviews you find more reliable.

Another benefit to outside reviews is you get to see everything submitted. A contractor can pick and choose what to publish on their own site, but they cannot control everything that appears on an outside source. This can provide a more balanced perspective. In fact, the contractor’s site should ideally link to outside reviews.

A special note should be made about “bad” reviews even though we’re not aware of any against us. Since even the best contractor can feasibly encounter an impossible to please customer, seeing a bad review is an automatic deal killer. It’s normally easy enough to see if the person complaining does so out of habit, but it’s even easier if several others have raved and the dissenter doesn’t match what others are saying.

Also, if the contractor becomes aware of the bad review against them and responds, the way they respond tells you a lot about the contractor. In almost every respect, the outside reviews will reveal a great deal about a company.

Use the Search Engines

Most contractors, unless they are very large, do not have a big budget to cover their tracks. It’s very difficult for them to hide from a Google search. Use the company name as the search term. Quite often you may need to add other identifying terms like the city name to refine your search results. Unlike most of your searches where you rarely go to page 2, go deep. Go to at least page 3.

This step alone could spare you a lot of pain. If the contractor you’re considering has anything they would rather you not know, a Google search is likely to be very telling. And the opposite is also true. Performing this step on a reputable contractor will reinforce your confidence that you are making a good decision to hire them for your project.

It’s Worth the Effort

You’ve no doubt heard the horror stories about contractors and it continues to be a leading problem reported to consumer protection authorities. There are two primary factors that show up in nearly all cases: first, falling for the low price, and second, failing to follow the 3 simple steps above.