Two years ago a sandwich shop in Chicago got a negative review on Yelp — before it was even open. Someone read about the shop but failed to note that it was not yet in business. When the hungry consumer arrived to find the doors locked, he wrote a one-star review.

Too often the Internet offers its own, sometimes distorted, view of the world. Competitors slamming competitors using pseudonyms; fake reviews in which businesses talk themselves up. That said, research shows that people believe reviews now more than ever before. You may be finding that home­owners who once sought the opinions of friends and neighbors before calling a contractor don’t bother doing that anymore. They go online and read reviews.

Think about your own buying habits. If you’re in the market for a major appliance, what do you do? Read the reviews. And in the post-recession world, that’s where people go to find out if the contractor whose ad/radio commercial/billboard/yard sign they saw/heard is worth calling. Bad reviews can have big repercussions.

In the minds of searchers, one lousy review means either a malcontent with a forum or a misunderstanding that has spiraled. A few bad reviews is another matter. Now the consumer thinks your operation may have real issues. A lot of negative reviews and … click! They’re done with you. Entirely.

And don’t count on your website to set consumers straight. Chances are that if they read a few negative reviews, they won’t be going to your site anyway.

You can use third-party qualification sites such as GuildQuality to let searchers know that most of your clients are happy. But to counteract what might appear on sites such as Angie’s List or Yelp (or the Better Business Bureau), you need a plan. Scan review sites daily (or subscribe to online services that notify you of reviews). Respond, if permitted, to the reviews. Reach out, as the business owner, and offer to remedy any misunderstanding on the condition that the complainant remove or alter the review.

Generate as many online reviews as you can. How is up to you, but the best way is to reinforce at every point of contact that you want it, that you will earn it, and … when the job is done, that you will make it as easy as possible by sending the client links to review sites. Let them know how important a four- or five-star rating is to you. And it is, not just to stoke your ego, but because search engines now give them more and more weight. —Jim Cory, editor, REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.