Testimonials and word of mouth are the driving force behind 20–50% of all purchasing decisions, and yet only about one-third of businesses actively seek and collect customer reviews on an ongoing basis.
If you’re not investing in testimonials right now, you need to read this.
Customer loyalty expert Fred Reichheld also reports in his book, The Ultimate Question, that businesses saw an average of 2X revenue growth simply by increasing their overall brand advocacy by 12%.
So why don’t we prioritize testimonials?
If recommendations from peers are so valuable, why don’t we prioritize our marketing investments to get more—or more valuable—recommendations?
As an informal observation, I think it’s because many of us have a difficult time attributing growth to showcasing what our customers say. It’s so much neater to equate growth with something less sentimental, like ad spend.
Consider the amount of money spent on Super Bowl advertisements. The 2020 Super Bowl commercials commanded an average of $5.6 million for a mere 30 seconds of airtime.
Does this type of advertisement really pay off?
A survey conducted by the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA, a division of the National Retail Federation) provided some interesting information.
Only 10.7% reported that the commercials would have any influence on them actually buying the products. A even smaller number, 9.1%, were motivated to do more research online.
A higher ROI may lean in favor of word-of-mouth advertising.
An excerpt from the McKinsey Quarterly report states:
“…consumers overwhelmed by product choices tune out the ever-growing barrage of traditional marketing, word of mouth cuts through the noise quickly and effectively.[…]Its influence is greatest when consumers are buying a product for the first time or when products are relatively expensive, factors that tend to make people conduct more research, seek more opinions, and deliberate longer than they otherwise would.”
Now consider that in Google’s Zero Moment Of Truth report, they found that the average buyer in 2011 used 10.4 sources of information before buying. Can you guess which sources shoppers found most influential?
According to an article in Econsultancy, when a site has customer reviews, 63% of visitors are more likely to make a purchase & reviews produce an average of 18% uplift in sales.
The article also goes on to state that, online video review site EXPO found that customer reviews are 12 times more trusted than descriptions that come from manufacturers.
Case Study – WikiJob Improves Conversions by 34%
To see just how powerful testimonials can be in action, let’s look at WikiJob – the UK’s largest graduate job site.
WikiJob conducted a split test where they added only three testimonials to a test page to compete against their original version.
- “Good training for the work environment in Europe.”
- “Very useful for practice!”
- “Almost a carbon copy for the real aptitude test.”
Simple enough, right? Nothing too flashy.
Notice that the testimonials don’t even include names or a source and aren’t over the top by any means.
However, Version B, the test page still surprisingly increased WikiJob’s conversions by an impressive 34%.
Where You Position Your Testimonial Matters.
Just adding testimonials isn’t enough. Bury your testimonials too deep into your site or too far below the fold – and they may not get noticed.
Take for example Michael Aagaard’s testimonial split test. Michael was offering a free ebook called 7 Universal Conversion Optimization Principle’s. Even though the book was totally free – he still wanted to include testimonials to encourage more downloads.
Four colleagues – wrote glowing reviews about Michael’s book – so he added them and then tested their placement.
On the control page, all testimonials were placed in close proximity below the call to action button.
On the treatment page, the testimonials were split with two testimonials placed above the button and two placed below the button.
Michael’s rearrangement of testimonials proved to be a win with an impressive 64.53% conversion lift.
Please understand, placement isn’t just about how high are low a testimonial is on the page. To get the most out of your testimonial placement, you have to understand how people view websites.
Why Do Real Faces Increase Credibility?
We’ve talked about how images can improve your conversion rates on here before, and you’ve probably already heard that using real faces have been scientifically proven to increase empathy and improve conversion rates, so I’m not going to rehash that here.
But have you ever thought about why photos of real people can increase credibility?
Quite possibly, it’s just because we expect to see real faces, especially as it relates to testimonials.
After 4 years of quantitative research, analyzing over 6,500 participants in a variety of web studies, professor BJ Fogg came up with the Prominence – Interpretation Theory, in which he postulates that the prominence of certain elements on a webpage have a direct impact on if that page is interpreted as credible or not.
If you’re in software or e-commerce, there are plenty of “credible” competitors and non-competitors featuring faces with testimonials in prominent areas of their websites.
If credibility is determined by prominence & interpretation, this means there is a subconscious expectation of your site to showcase a real person giving a real piece of feedback.
If your testimonials and images aren’t where they’re “supposed” to be – product pages, above the fold, etc – you could very easily be filed away as “not credible” by a visitor, and they might not even realize it.
Add Video For Even More Credibility.
Imagine that your company is responsible for significant improvements to Microsoft’s business storytelling strategy and Shivonne Byrne – the strategy director – is so impressed that she’s willing to give you a short testimonial over video.
The beauty of video testimonials that involve high profile clients – unless you’ve hired a body double – is that they’re incredibly difficult to fake.
A split test was conducted by Unbounce to ascertain the effects of video testimonials. Their control page contained the following text testimonials.
Their test page provided a video testimonial.
The video testimonial won, yielding a 25% lift in free trial sign ups.
Something to consider with video testimonials (if you’re in B2B) is the customer’s position within their company. Generally speaking, the more their job title reflects your ideal customer, the more credible the testimonial is going to appear.
If you notice in the examples above, the testimonials are given by directors of growth and customer acquisition. Those titles help reinforce the “who is this for” message you’ve (hopefully) established in the value proposition and copywriting.
Ask for a Celebrity Endorsement
Wonder if celebrities have an effect on your credibility? You bet. According to WikiPedia, William Shatner’s stock in Priceline rose to roughly $500 Million dollars in the first 4 years he was their endorser.
The Journal of Advertising Research evaluated athlete endorsements effect on both stock market valuation and sales data. It was found that with celebrity endorsements stocks went up at approximately ¼ of a percent while sales went up 4%.
They also found that when their athletic endorsers “won” there was a correlating boost in sales – but stock investors were focusing more on staying power.
That said, an endorsement from a respected figure in your field can have a strong effect on adding some affirmation to your product, service or cause.
So don’t be shy. An endorsement from a prominent figure is not as hard to attain as you might think. Sometimes it’s just a matter of simply asking. That is, of course, if you have good stuff to offer that’s actually worth an endorsement.
Jeff Goins – a writer who regards himself as “nobody special” – took it upon himself to get an endorsement on his book, “The Writer’s Manifesto”, from Seth Godin.
How did he do it? His answer – “I just asked.”
And here’s what Jeff got in return…
How Do You Get Celebrity Testimonials?
Ok, so clearly it’s not always as easy as just asking for a celebrity testimonial, especially when no one knows who you are.
In that case, you should follow Shaun Neff’s strategy.
10 years ago, Shaun launched Neff Headwear. Not being known in a very competitive market, and having a limited cash flow, Shaun worked his way up to celebrity endorsements by giving away his merchandise to up-and-coming competitive amateur snowboarders.
Knowing that celebrities & other taste-makers are always looking for rising stars to endorse – Neff could attach his brand to people who were:
- Already getting noticed and
- Extremely grateful to get free stuff in exchange for a little promotion.
Early on, his tactic captured the interest of high profile hip-hop celebrities like Lil Wayne. By leveraging his partnerships, he eventually put himself in a position to negotiate profit sharing endorsements with iconic celebrities such as Snoop Dogg.
Neff says the strategy was so successful, he was able to increase his revenues by 300% in 3 years.
This post on The Independent provides a lot of insight on identifying “up-and-comers”. Even though it’s talking about up and coming artists, the principals are still very much the same.
Of course, if you wanted to cheat, you could always go with celebrity endorsement agency like CelebExperts who reports over 60% of their client base being startups & emerging businesses.
Can Bad Testimonials Help?
Believe it or not, even a few (a very few) bad testimonials can help. If you read customer reviews, you’ll typically notice that they are a mix of good and bad reviews. When a bad review is posted – it helps to create authenticity for all the reviews written – particularly, the good ones.
Reevo, a social commerce company researched this theory by analyzing 2.5 million customer reviews. What they found was impressive.
When there was a mix of positive and negative reviews – 68% of the consumers surveyed trusted the reviews more.
When there were no negative reviews present – 30% of those consumers suspected that the reviews might be fake.
But what’s more, they also found that those who sought out negative reviews converted 67% more, viewed 5x more pages than the normal customer, and spent an average of 26.1 minutes on the site (more than 6x longer than a normal customer.)
Like the image says, it’s not that consumers are looking for a reason not to buy; they’re just ensuring they’ve made the right choice.
But be careful – too many bad reviews will have the opposite effect.
According to a survey by Lightspeed research, 67% of shoppers are most deterred by 2-3 or more than 5 negative reviews. One negative review has very little effect on deterring shoppers – however 3 bad reviews seems to be the magic number in turning them off.
This tolerance of bad reviews also varies among age groups.
According to the survey, 33% of 55-64 year olds and 28% of the 45-54 year olds report being deterred whereas only 10% of 18-24 year olds report negative reviews having an impact on their purchase decision. This all, of course, indicates that younger internet users who’ve been raised with eCommerce & internet culture in general have a slightly more balanced perspective when it comes to reviews & shopping online.
Now, it’s important you put this in perspective, I don’t want you thinking your product page is absolutely doomed if you get 3 negative reviews if they’re the outliers among more positive reviews.
For example, the majority of the reviews for this mouse on Best Buy are positive. Going back to what we were saying earlier, this puts perspective around the overall purchase, and in some ways (in my opinion) make the 4 & 5 star reviews look more credible.
Testimonials Aren’t Valued Equally By All People.
While I believe every business should invest more into collecting customer feedback and showcase their reviews, research shows that not every market will be influenced by testimonials the same way.
For example, a glowing testimonial for a software product targeting high level executives might not receive the same benefit as a positive review for a car seat.
In a study by Martin, Wentzel, and Tomczak, they found that buyers who are more influenced by their peers and seek social acceptance are also more receptive to testimonials.
In contrast, the study found that buyers who are not as easily influenced by their peers have a tendency to focus more on product attributes & features.
This is another reason it is vital that you know your target market and understand their demographic. Your average buyer persona will help you determine where to feature your testimonial on your site’s visual hierarchy.
Invite Feedback At The Best Possible Moment.
If you haven’t already, make customer feedback a part of your purchase cycle.
B&H does this by sending customers a triggered email encouraging reviews after the company has received confirmation that the product has shipped.
By asking directly through email (and incentivising the review) B&H makes leaving a review very enticing. Sports retailer Evogear.com tested a nearly identical method for gaining reviews, and received 280 reviews on one product – off a single email.
If you’re not in e-commerce (or don’t rely on review plugins), you can still use the technique to get more personal testimonials.
Ask open ended questions like:
- Would you refer us to a friend?
- In your own words, how would you describe our [Strongest attribute]?
- What was the obstacle that would have prevented you from buying our product?
- What did you find as a result of buying the product?
- What feature did you like most about the product?
Gathering Customer Feedback, Testimonials & Reviews
Finally, in order to make this all work at scale, you’ll need a reliable method for collecting customer feedback, testimonials & reviews.
Additional benefits of collecting customer feedback is that your customer support can become crowdsourced (Mint reduced support tickets by 75%) new product ideas can be discovered, and if hosted in a public area of your site -organic search engine traffic can increase with user generated content.
Some tools you can use are:
For a side by side comparison of these tools, click here
Testimonial Gathering Software & Techniques
- Video Genie or Nimbb (for video testimonials)
- Search these 12 networks for existing customer reviews
- Google Forms (if you really need to bootstrap)
Rating & Review Platforms
- Bazaarvoice.com (full featured review platform, used by Dell, HP & Samsung)
- Rating-System.com (Affordable pricing for businesses looking to implement ratings)
- Gigya.com (Review plugin that uses social network login vs standard login. Reviews not indexed by search engines, but easier to verify)
When all is said and done, testimonials are really just affirmations for your customer to validate or solidify their feelings on a future purchase.
By putting testimonials and reviews where they’re expected, making sure they speak to your buyer persona, and prompting them at the right time, you put yourself one step closer to winning that zero moment of truth.