Earlier this week we sized up the value of reviews on Yelp.com, the review site where actual customers (theoretically, anyway) rate local businesses, and its importance for smaller field service firms. But Yelp is hardly alone in the business of publishing and aggregating customer-written reviews. So we got to thinking even more about what tools and sites field service companies, especially ones with limited advertising resources like many HVAC, plumbing, and other service-related businesses, should be aware of. And for contractors, plumbers and others in the trades, Angie’s List is one of the most important.

You get what you pay for

Want a nice meal? Chances are you’ll dial up Yelp to find a spot. It’s great for that. But if you need your A/C unit fixed, your hardwood floors refinished, or another bigger-ticket item, that’s where Angie’s List comes in — and where Yelp’s offerings begin to thin out. For the uninitiated, here’s how it works:

Angie’s List, which has more than one million users, requires visitors to register an account and pay a fee — monthly or annual — to browse and post reviews. (Yelp is free and allows anonymous reviewers. The Angie’s List paywall may help keep out some of the spam reviews.) Once registered, Angie’s List visitors can browse other reviews or add their own. In an effort to weed out fraudulent or biased posts, Angie’s List says it verifies all reviews before they go live on the site.

Merchants create profiles free of charge and can use these accounts to review their online reputations and respond, either with thanks for a customer’s business or to reply to negative reviews. Merchants don’t pay to join and can’t pay to increase their rankings, though those with a minimum “B” rating can advertise with coupons for discounts for Angie’s List members. Visitors to the site can choose to search only for businesses that offer discounts, a practice Angie’s List calls preferred placement.

Dennis Sullivan, H.R. manager at Care Heating and Cooling in Lewis Center, Ohio, told the SmartVan that Angie’s List brings nearly as many customers through the doors as old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendations.

“We have a ton of business that comes from Angie’s List,” Sullivan said when asked how often first-time customers mention the site. “Several times a week customers will say they found Care Heating and Cooling on Angie’s List.”

A couple $100 million IPOs

Some people say that different geographical areas — big cities versus the suburbs, say; or east cost versus west coast — seem to contribute to the popularity of different review sites. [Click here for a pretty dated, but still interesting, story on this.] But either way, they’re pretty clearly here to stay, especially in our age when nobody’s opinion goes unpublished.

To wit: Consider that Angie’s List raised about $114 million late last year in its initial public offering, about the same time Yelp filed to raise $100 million in its IPO. Clearly these sites are popular.

The problem, of course, is that businesses don’t really have a choice whether they appear on a review site, and little control over what people say about them online. So, they do what they’ve always done: everything they can to please their customers so when those reviews do post — whether it’s on Yelp or Angie’s List or over the phone between neighbors — at least they say good things.