At Yoast, we’ve seen a lot of websites of every caliber. Every website has its own issues, but all websites benefit from optimizing the conversion rate. It really doesn’t matter if your goal is more sales, more Facebook likes or more newsletter subscribers. One thing that helps almost every website, is the right use of testimonials. A lot of websites do have testimonials, but just having them simply isn’t enough.
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Here, we’ll explain how to exploit your testimonials to the fullest, and what steps you should take to find out how they work best for you. We’ll start with explaining why testimonials work in the first place!
Note: In this post, we’ll use the word testimonials for both testimonials and (product) reviews. We chose to do so because the two are actually the same thing, in our opinion. There’s only one real difference: reviews can be negative.
Why testimonials work
Testimonials are mostly said to work on the basis of social proof. Social proof is a psychological process, which causes people to copy the behavior of others, in an attempt to reflect correct behavior. A well-known person, or at least someone people can identify with, may use a product or service and be blown away by it. When others hear about this, they will interpret that as correct behavior and follow suit. This is the reason influencer marketing is such an effective way to sell your product nowadays. When a celebrity on Instagram uses a product and writes positively about that, people will buy it. Because if an admired celebrity endorses a product, that must mean it is just the right thing for you as well! Social proof, regardless if it’s from celebrities or close friends, contributes significantly to the effectiveness of testimonials.
However, social proof is not the only reason why testimonials work. Or, at least it shouldn’t be. While a lot of the testimonials we encounter in eCommerce shops are fairly vague, even those vague ones shed some light on the workings of a product or service. After all, five stars is five stars, right? This is exactly what testimonials should do as well, as far as I’m concerned: give some insight into the experiences of some people so that others can make up their own opinion. Not only should a testimonial confirm the fact that your product is awesome, but it should also discuss:
- why it’s awesome,
- how it works and
- why it worked for the person writing the testimonial.
And then you’re still only halfway there. You should also have testimonials about:
- the buying process on your site,
- the delivery and
- maybe even someone using your 30-day money back guarantee.
Let your visitors know that every aspect of your online shop has been successfully used by other people and that they were very satisfied with it!
Testimonials overlap with product reviews
We’ve arrived at a gray area here, where testimonials start overlapping reviews. And in my opinion, that’s exactly how it should be. As soon as they’re overlapping, you’ll get the best of both worlds. Not only will the social proof process kick in, but experience products – products of which it’s hard to predict if they work – can also change into search products – of which it’s easy to predict if they work. In other words: the benefits of your products will become a lot clearer, making it easier for potential customers to purchase them.
When testimonials work
Testimonials are powerful in creating trust, and not just for online shops. Research confirmed that positive reviews can significantly increase sales. In fact, testimonials were found to be a more important cue for judging the trustworthiness of an online store than the actual overall reputation of that store. That was the case some years ago, and that hasn’t changed. But obviously, you can’t just slap some glorifying texts on your site. Your testimonials have to earn the trust they evoke.
In case of product reviews, even negative reviews can be useful. But only if you can show visitors you’ve adequately responded to the customer who gave the negative review. It’s normal to receive a negative review once in a while. How you react to those negative reviews is important, especially for future customers. This is also precisely why you shouldn’t remove negative reviews or submit fake ones. Your reviews need to look genuine and trustworthy. And they’ll only look real when they are real.
Over the past couple of years, storytelling has become all the rage and for good reason. Stories have a positive influence on a customer’s perception of a brand, as well as the willingness to purchase. Stories can affect behavior, given that the story resonates with your visitor.
And that’s exactly where it becomes tough. It’s easy to state that “stories sell”. But how would you go about obtaining stories that your audience would feel captivated by? If you offer services or products that are problem-solving, to begin with, this is easy. Just ask a few of your customers to describe the issues they had and how your services or products helped them solve these problems.
It’s a totally different story (literally) if you’re selling clothes, for instance. You obviously can’t have customers state “I was naked my entire life until I found this piece of clothing!”. In these cases, you’ll have to get creative and maybe ask customers to write about the – hopefully superior – quality of your products and how they last longer, for instance. And if you offer a clothing brand that’s sold in other online stores as well, let your customers write about why they’re using your shop in particular. Is it your superior customer service? Your site’s excellent usability? The speediness of delivery? Have your customers write about this.
The use of photos with testimonials
Photos are almost considered a “sure thing” within internet marketing and CRO circles. In fact, research from just a few years ago showed that the use of pictures increased the perceived trustworthiness of a statement. According to the results, it doesn’t even matter whether the picture is relevant, or the information next to the picture accurate. While I think these are cool findings, I don’t believe it is always this simple and depends highly on your audience.
To make matters worse, there are studies that found photographs increase the perceived trustworthiness of poorly performing vendors only, and decreased that of vendors with a good reputation. Furthermore, there are differences in reactions to images between cultures, which means you might actually have to make use of different tactics for different continents if you’re selling globally.
As you can see, science isn’t really definitive about the use of photos. And the downside of all these studies is: they’re not specifically about testimonials. At Yoast, we always recommend using photos with testimonials, because it appears to add to the credibility of those testimonials. But the best way to go would be to test if adding photos leads to better results for your site.
If you’ve already read about testimonials, you probably have read about the impact of “influential people”. I already mentioned influencer marketing. Let’s talk about that some more. There are some people that are so well-known in their field of work that their opinion really carries weight. Their opinion carries weight due to the Halo effect. Wikipedia has this to say about the Halo effect in marketing:
“The halo effect is also present in the field of brand marketing. One common halo effect is when the perceived positive features of a particular item extend to a broader brand.“
With testimonials from influential people, the product will be perceived as better or more trustworthy. As you’ve read, this can even transfer to your entire brand.
Obviously, there’s one major criterium for this: the person would have to be considered an influential person in the field you’re offering products or services. If we were to receive a great testimonial for our Yoast SEO Premium plugin by Miley Cyrus, it probably wouldn’t carry much weight with the people we’d like to influence (agencies, website owners). Nevertheless, I’m sure a lot of people would install the plugin, but perhaps not for the right reasons. You get my drift.
Placement of testimonials
Over the years, we’ve noticed that quite a few of the websites that do have testimonials, just don’t place them prominently. Testimonials are great. But if they’re only on the testimonial page and nowhere else, odds are not a lot of people will find them. So you need to put them on pages where people will find them. On your landing pages and near call-to-actions would probably be good spots.
You and your testimonials
If you read this article up to here, you probably agree that all this makes perfect sense, right? So stop just having testimonials, and start using them!
Is there anything we missed? Or do you have something else to contribute? Let us know in the comments. Thanks!