Getting online reviews for your business will be more important in 2016 than previous years as Google and other major search engines are putting a big focus on local search.

With Google, they’ve given their Google+ local business listings a major boost with prime real estate on the first page of search results.

As a small business owner looking to gain more customers via online, earning reviews is crucial to your success.

With only 13% of business owners making a proactive effort to earn more online reviews, now is the time to get a jump on your competition!

Along the way of earning more positive reviews, you're bound to run into that dreaded negative review.  

How should you respond? Should you respond? Don’t worry, we’re here to help navigate through this mucky, yet oh-so-common situation.

First, realize that negative reviews happen to the best businesses.  It’s not possible to please everyone. So, don’t take it personally when you receive a negative review. In fact, some studies suggest that businesses with both positive AND negative reviews earn more trust from potential customers.

So, while keeping that in mind, follow the steps laid out here as a best practice for dealing with online negative reviews.

Take a deep breath - small business owners are passionate, that’s what drives your entrepreneurial spirit. But the last thing you want to do is fly off the handle and leave a reactive, heated response for all to see.

Start with an apology - no matter what, reply to the review and apologize for their negative experience.  Remember this is all public, so use every review as a way to show off your customer service.

Take the conversation offline - after you apologize, give the reviewer a way to reach you directly to resolve their issue.  Keep the entire reply simple, yet empathetic.

Learn from the experience - while not all negative reviews are warranted, remember that every piece of feedback you receive is a learning experience for you and your business.

Lastly, keep in mind that negative reviews may actually help your business earn the trust of prospective customers.

Approaching negative reviews with the above approach creates a powerful response; one that instantly turns negative reviews into a positive example of your business’s dedication to the customer experience.