This is a republish: we’ve made some minor changes to it. We decided to republish it, because this post and its content are still applicable and important now.
At Yoast we’ve seen a lot of websites of every calibre. Because I personally like conversion rate optimization so much, I always like the webshops we get to review. A lot of these webshops have various things they’re doing right or wrong, but there’s one thing I’ve found that almost every website can improve on: testimonials. A lot of websites do actually have testimonials, but just having them simply isn’t enough.
So I’ll try to explain what I think is necessary and what steps you could take to find out how testimonials can work best for you. I’ll obviously start with explaining why I think testimonials work in the first place.
Note: In this post I’ll use the word testimonials for both testimonials and (product) reviews. I chose to do this, because I feel the two are actually the same thing. There’s only one real difference: reviews can actually be negative.
Why testimonials work
Testimonials are mostly said to work on the basis of social proof. Social proof is a psychological process in which people copy the behavior of others, in an attempt to reflect correct behavior. So a well-known person or at least someone you can identify with has used this product or service and was blown away by it. That must mean the product is just the right thing for you as well. This is probably true, and social proof probably does contribute for a large part in the effectiveness of testimonials.
However, I personally feel this isn’t the only reason why testimonials work. Or at least it shouldn’t be. A lot of the testimonials we encounter on webshops are fairly vague, but even those vague ones shed some light on the workings of a product or service. And this is exactly what testimonials should do as well, as far as I’m concerned. Not only should a testimonial talk about the fact that your product is awesome, it should talk about why it’s awesome, how it works and why it worked for the person writing the testimonial. And then you’re 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 webshop has been used successfully and satisfactory by other people.
We’re actually arriving at a gray area here, where testimonials start overlapping (product) reviews. And in my opinion, that’s exactly how it should be. You see, as soon as they’re overlapping you’re actually getting the best of both worlds. Not only will the social proof process kick in, but your experience products can actually change into search products. Simply put: the benefits of your products will become a lot more clear, making them easier for potential customers to purchase.
When testimonials work
Testimonials are powerful in creating trust, and not just for online shops. The same actually goes for sales. Research has found that positive reviews can significantly increase sales. In fact, testimonials have been found to be a more important cue for judging the trustworthiness of an online store than the actual overall reputation of that store. But obviously you can’t just slap on some glorifying texts on your site. Your testimonials will have to earn the trust they’ll evoke in your site’s visitors.
In the case of product reviews even negative reviews can actually be useful, if you can show visitors you’ve adequately responded to the customer who gave the negative review. It’s only normal to receive negative reviews. So 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 real and trustworthy. And they’ll only truly look that way if they actually are real.
Recently, storytelling is all the rage and for good reason. Research has shown that stories can have positive influence on a customer’s perception of a brand as well as the willingness to purchase. Stories can actually affect behavior, granted that the story resonates with your visitor.
And that’s exactly where it becomes tough. It’s really quite easy to state that “stories sell”, but how would you go about obtaining stories that your audience would feel captivated by? Sure, if you offer services or products that are problem solving to begin with, this is easy. Just have a few of your customers write up 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 simply can’t go having customers state “I was naked my entire life until I found this piece of clothing!”. In these cases you’ll have to get a little creative and maybe ask customers to write about the (hopefully superior) quality of your products and how they last longer, for instance. And if it’s a clothing brand that’s sold in other webshops as well, let your customers write about why they’re using your webshop in particular. Is it your superior customer service? Your site’s superior 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 3 years ago stated the use of pictures increased the perceived trustworthiness of a statement. And they claim it doesn’t matter whether the picture is relevant or the information next to the picture accurate. While I think these are cool findings, I don’t think it is always this simple and depends highly on your audience.
To make matters worse, there are studies that found photographs only increase the perceived trustworthiness of poorly performing vendors, and decreased that of vendors with good reputation. And then you have the differences in reactions to images between cultures, which means you might actually have to make use of different tactics in different continents.
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 do always recommend using photos with testimonials, because it seems to add to the credibility of those testimonials. But the best way to go would be to test if the results are actually positive for your site.
If you’ve read more about testimonials, you’ll probably have read about the impact of “influential people”. 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.“
So 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 viewed as an influential person in the field you’re offering products or services. If we were to have a great testimonial for our WordPress SEO Premium plugin by Beyoncé, it probably wouldn’t carry much weight at all.
Placement of testimonials
During our website reviews 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. So on your landing pages and near call-to-actions would probably be good spots.
Over to you
This all makes good sense, right? So stop just having testimonials, and start using them!
Is there anything I missed? Or do you have something else to contribute? Let me know!