testimonials are trickier than you think.
When it comes to social proof, there’s nothing quite as powerful as a positive endorsement from a paying customer. As Gregory Ciotti eloquently puts it:
“Your customers will always be more persuasive than you are.”
Unfortunately, most people take an incredibly narrow view on the power of testimonials—or simply don’t stop to think of them as more than a bucket of “social proof.” Blindly slapping just anything that looks like a testimonial on the prime real estate of your website is a poor approach, but if you’re honest, you may not have given placement or the type of testimonials you’re using much thought.
So let’s think for a moment.
- What can testimonials be used for?
- What does an ideal testimonial look like?
- Where and how should testimonials be placed on your site to maximize their impact?
It’s time we got some answers.
What can testimonials be used for?
There are actually several specific tasks a testimonial can be used to accomplish, which is important, because it means that some testimonials and placements will be more effective than others.
1. Identify Your Market/Help them self-identify
One of the critical questions you need to answer very early in the customer buying journey is exactly who your product or service is for. You can make this clear in the copy and headlines, but if you really want to slam the point home, a testimonial from someone a customer can relate to is WAY more convincing. Show your customers that people just like them are finding answers to the problems they share. Testimonials can also be useful in communicating new or different markets you service that people may be unaware of, whether niches or geographies.
2. Highlight a key benefit
A bullet-point list of benefits is informative, but dry. It’s one thing to be told about a benefit and entirely another to hear about how that benefit solved a problem in a context you can relate to. Testimonials can be used to support and elaborate on the real value of the benefits you’re trying to sell a customer on.
3. Overcome objections
As your customer debates a purchase, they will inevitably come up with rational objections to buying. This is where a well-placed testimonial can swing in and “stomp down” an objection (hat tip to Joanna from Copyhackers). Testimonials that transparently voice that same concern or reaffirm the end value of the product can reassure a lead that they’ll get the outcome they’re looking for and persuade them that their objection is unfounded.
4. Create Social Pressure/introduce Anxiety
Woah woah woah! Why would we ever want to introduce anxiety into the sales process? To be clear, we’re not creating nervousness surrounding the purchase—we want to create the fear of missing out, or falling behind. Social pressure (“All the cool kids are doing it!”) creates a desire to emulate the actions and outcomes of those we respect and would like to relate to.
5. Tell your brand story
You can tell people you are “X, Y and Z” until you’re blue in the face, making claims and promises surrounding your USP—but as I’ve mentioned in the past, if you want to tell an authentic brand story, you need to tell the story of your customers. Customer stories substantiate your claims; they give your story life.
6. Add a human element
As much as we’d love for brands to be like people, for the most part, they’re still corporate entities that exist to make money—and with that comes some hesitation and friction from the customer. Seeing photos and hearing stories from satisfied customers adds an emotional, human appeal.
7. Compare & Contrast with Competitors
A testimonial can simultaneously make the case for your product or service while dismantling the credibility of another. It’s not that you want to go out of your way to be malicious, but testimonials are a chance for people who have “tried it all” to discredit your competition while pumping your tires. Here’s a great example:
8. Up your credibility
This statement more or less sums up all of the various jobs testimonials can do. Testimonials are success stories that others will aspire to, confirmations that both what you’re doing and how you do it are worth investing in.
In a nutshell, testimonials are killer wingmen and some of the best supporting copy your website can have.
What does an ideal testimonial look like?
Now that we know the purposes testimonials can serve, we can get a better understanding of what a great testimonial looks like. There are four criteria that make up a strong testimonial:
A great testimonial doesn’t spit out a bunch of flowery platitudes and general praise. While seeing something like “Great product! I loved it! You’re the best!” is great for your ego, it’s baseless and empty to pretty much everyone else. The best testimonials are more like feedback than accolades. They mention specific benefits, situations and outcomes that the customer appreciated—details that create a context a prospective buyer can latch onto.
For example, SendHub uses a testimonial outlining specific benefits in context of their “Why SendHub” page:
Unfortunately, most people you ask to leave testimonials will be rushed or ineloquent. They want to help, but don’t know what to say. In my next post, I’ll be covering how you can prompt more detailed testimonials.
The best testimonials sound natural—layman’s terms, slang, basic language and all. They need to sound believable, not manufactured. They should embody the unique voice of that specific customer—not your brand. In that way, imperfect testimonials (the kind that don’t read like polished ad copy) are actually better than slick rehearsed ones.
3. Follows “BDA” format
The Holy Grail of testimonials are those that tell a story, including BDA: Before, During and After. Ideally, you want to paint a picture where the person leaving the testimonial confesses the problems and pain points they were facing, spells out how they came to find your solution and their experience in making the decision to buy, and then describes their wonderful new life now that they’ve got a solution. The other two points apply: Stories need to be specific, detailed and authentic. Below is a great example.
4. Has social proof
Social proof within social proof? Socialception! Strong testimonials will leverage proof of their authenticity, including:
- Photos: Make sure they’re clear and professional looking. Grainy pictures or photos that look like stock images will work against you, as will any photo that doesn’t look like your market.
- Location Info: Listing a city is a good way to prove that the person leaving the testimonial actually exists.
- Business name: One of the best sources of proof, listing a business name helps because no business would stand for their name being used inappropriately, and legitimate businesses are easily verified.
- Social links: Why not list the person’s Twitter handle? Just one more way to prove they’re really human.
- Website links: If nothing else, link to the person’s website, giving people a chance to check out who they are (also useful in helping leads self-identify).
Where & How should you use testimonials on your site?
From logistical considerations to powerful placement, here are a few tips to help you use testimonials more effectively:
1. Turn quotes into compelling headers
Almost nobody is doing this and it drives me a bit crazy, to be honest. We already know people scan when they read. If you’ve got longer testimonials, it’s incredibly powerful to pick out key statements, claims or statistics and turn them into headlines that paraphrase the testimonial. For example:
“….we saved over 50% on project costs”
“Before signing on to use Company X, we were wasting hours and hours of our own time on menial administrative tasks. When we found Company X, the pricing made sense and the learning curve was short. Since implementing Company X, we’ve saved over 50% on project costs and become profitable for the first time!”
2. Make them obvious
Formatting is important. Use contrast, speech bubbles, italics or quote marks (as appropriate) to let people know they’re reading a quote. Otherwise, testimonials may just blend in with the surrounding copy—copy a customer will think you wrote.
3. Consider Proximity to Anxiety
There are choke points along the customer journey where they’re going to have an objection or a worry that arises—the most common being pricing. As you review your content and where it corresponds to the customer’s journey, you’re going to want to place testimonials where they can be a part of answering unspoken questions:
- Use them on your home page to tout benefits and immediately identify who your customers are.
- Place them on your pricing page to help add an emotional layer to the decision and reinforce that satisfaction is guaranteed and all but a purchase away.
- Add testimonials next to bullet-point lists of features to substantiate your claims and give context to why those specific features are important/helpful (the testimonial should talk about those features).
- Use testimonials to substantiate statistics or validate other social proof by giving it a human face. Check out how Zapier sandwiches massive brand logos with personal testimonies to make both more believable:
4. There’s strength in numbers
If you’re looking to create an “Everybody’s doing it” kind of feeling, you’re going to want to show some volume in the number of testimonials you display. This is also a great way to lend credence to claims surrounding user base numbers, and can be especially helpful when you want to amp up the power of testimonials that are less specific or detailed on their own.
5. match up page & testimonial content
If the page is about pricing, choose testimonials that talk about pricing. If it’s about features for small business, choose a testimonial that discusses those features. Be choosy and deliberate about which testimonials you place where, and go out of your way to hunt for testimonials that talk about specific benefits or elements of your offering that you can then pair with your regular site content.
It’s okay to have a separate page for testimonials, but don’t leave them alone on that island. Use them in context in a supporting role!
6. Test celebrity vs. cohort testimonials
There’s a bit of a toss up that happens. Sometimes, people want to see testimonials from people just like them. For small businesses, that can mean less recognizable names or brands leaving the testimonials, and clarity can help (like a short line explaining what the company does).
Other times, you can leverage a big brand name or influencer for street cred, even if the market you’re trying to reach is small. A testimonial from a big name makes a small business feel like they’re tapping into something elite. Test both—after all, Neil Patel did, to the tune of an almost 50 percent difference in conversions.
“It really works!”
Something I was struck by during my research for this piece is how few people are using testimonials effectively. Many businesses seem to simply throw testimonials on the site and hope for the best. But there’s power in being deliberate!
I hope you got some juicy takeaways from this one. In my next post, I’ll show you some practical ways to generate more testimonials—and more effective ones, too! Until then, go forth and TESTIFY!