12 INVESTIGATES: Angie's List rankings

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - So you need a plumber, maybe a mechanic, but you don't know who to trust - so you go to Angie's List. But, can you trust that the company ranked at the top of the list is the very best? Some local business owners say the answer is no!

Money has a lot to do with it - even Angie herself comes clean on who's on the list and how they got there.

But how big a part does money play?

"There are all sorts of layers of 'pay to play,'" said Hugh Joyce, personable president of James River Air, and the company's long-time pitch man.

When I search "heating & air" on Angie's List, it shows no company with a better grade - or more positive reviews than James River. Yet Joyce's company isn't at the top of the list. In fact, I have to scroll down past 11 other firms - some with 'B' ratings and as few as 10 positive reviews - to even find James River. But there's an easy fix:

"The last time we priced it, the package they were describing to my IT group was somewhere in $12,000 to $15,000 range," said Joyce.

But before you feel too bad for Joyce, consider the plight of Rami Hajj. His company, "Jed Mechanical" in Sterling, Virginia, ranks 158th - that's eight pages in, way below companies with lower grades. He really thought the site was just performance-based... until he got a call from Angie's List, asking him to advertise:

"It was in excess of $50,000 to be ranked above companies that had lower rankings than we did."

The company's founder, Angie Hicks, admits it is true - advertisers do get better placement on the website. But she says they still have to make the grade.

"Only 'A' or 'B' rated companies are eligible to advertise, and they have to offer a discount to our members," said Angie Hicks.

That discount is the key - it's the only hint on the search results page that the company is a paid advertiser. Angie's List does explain its policy in it's FAQ section, but it wasn't easy to find.

Either way, it's a game Hugh Joyce says he doesn't want to play - at least right now.

"As a business decision on my part, I have resisted paying for rankings - and I feel like we should conduct our business in a way that gets us those good rankings," said Joyce.

It's important to point out that people with bad grades can't pay to jump over people with good grades on Angie's List.

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