Online reviews are essential for small businesses, as they play a huge role in a consumer’s path to purchase journey. Consumers turn to local reviews to learn more about a business and its product and service offerings. Such reviews help build trust with consumers and establish credibility, putting the customer’s mind at ease when they are ready to make a purchase.

It goes without saying that the more positive reviews a business has, the more credible it will appear. It’s also important to recognize that the occasional negative review is both completely normal and unavoidable. False bad reviews, however, are an entirely different story. These reviews can provide potential customers with an inaccurate depiction of your business, thereby damaging your reputation.

According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review survey, 79% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year, but 84% admitted to not always being able to spot them. Additionally, consumers are reading an average of 7 reviews prior to trusting a business. That means that you must make the most of the reviews that you have and confirm that they are both accurate and truthful.

So, what should businesses do to handle those occasional fake, defamatory online reviews? Here are a few steps.

Determine if the Review is Real or Not

It’s a reality that you’re going to receive negative reviews, the important part is how you respond to them. When you see a negative review, don’t always assume that it’s fake. The Digital Marketing Institute lists 5 different ways to determine whether or not a review is fake:

-It doesn’t focus on any specifics, but rather very general information
-It includes a lot of verbs and few nouns
-It features more first-person pronouns
-The review is one or five stars
-The person reviewing has a shady history

Don’t Act Immediately

As a business owner, it’s understandable that when these reviews pop up you’re going to be upset and angry. However, it’s important to not act on those emotions right away. To avoid the risk of potential customers taking the review seriously, you’ll want to act promptly, but be sure to take a moment to calm down and decide on a rational course of action.

Work on Getting the Review Removed

Depending on which site the review exists on, you may be able to get it removed. There’s never any guarantee, as review sites cannot be expected to remove all of the negative posts. Here’s how some of the popular channels handle these situations:

Facebook: Facebook’s Community Standards are a set of principles predetermined by the company that will ideally help create a safe online environment for its users. If a review violates any of these standards, the post can be removed.

Yelp: On their website, Yelp lists three reasons for why they might remove a review, the reviewer has an apparent conflict of interest, the review doesn’t focus on the reviewer’s own consumer experience, or the review contains inappropriate material.

Google: According to Google, reviews that violate their review policies can be removed from Google My Business listings.

Seek out Positive Reviews

Positive reviews will help increase your business’s credibility, so you should always work on trying to gain more of them. The BrightLocal survey mentioned above revealed that 68% of consumers left a local business review when asked. So, if you’re confident in the service you’re providing, remember to ask your customers to provide feedback about their experiences on popular review sites.