More consumers read online reviews before they decide to patronize a business,  leaving marketers with a limited window to earn conversions.

Businesses understand their customers are online, reading web content for preliminary research in advance of making purchases. However, they may not know exactly how much is at stake when it comes to online reputations. Bright Local just released the findings from its Local Consumers Review Survey 2013, revealing that one-third of customers read at most three reviews before they form opinions about brands, which means companies only have three chances to win or lose sales.

This is important, considering that approximately two-thirds say positive reviews increase the likelihood they’ll patronize local businesses. Moreover, 30 percent said they trust online reports as long as they seem authentic.

While positive reviews can convince consumers to┬ápurchase products or services, Brafton previously reported that 86 percent will consider competitors if they read poor accounts of companies’ products and services.

33 percent of customers read at most three reviews before they form opinions about brands, which means companies only have a few chances to win or lose sales.

Bright Local reports that companies targeting females and Millennials have the most at stake, because these demographics put the greatest stock in online reviews. Thirty-five percent of females say they believe reviews as long as they seem authentic, while just over 20 percent of males gave the same answer. Similarly, consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 trust online assessments that seem organic, while roughly one-quarter of people over the age of 55 believe what they read.

Because authenticity is of the utmost importance, it’s imperative that marketers refrain from grooming their online reviews. Hiding negative experiences to showcase positive reports might seem like a solution, but customers will find it fishy if companies’ reputations are unscathed. During a recent Google+ Hangout hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration in honor of National Small Business Week, a panel of experts agreed that no company receives 100 percent positive reviews even if it delivers five-star services.

Instead, marketers should respond to unhappy customers and offer resolutions, while continuously publishing branded content that will eventually push bad reviews out of search visibility.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.