We’re all familiar with the standard “best practices” of CRO. Always use social proof, always reduce form fields, never use image sliders, and so on.
As someone who believes that best practices are merely common practices, I’m always looking to test the tried and true to see how, well, true it really is.
First up? Social proof. Does it really work as well as we all assume? Why? And more importantly, what’s the best way to implement it?
What is social proof?
Social proof is based on the idea of normative social influence, which states that people will conform in order to be liked by, similar to, or accepted by the influencer (or society).
When you’re browsing a landing page and see a testimonial from an industry expert you respect, that’s social proof. When you’re cruising a pricing page and you see that an industry giant is already using the tool, that’s social proof. When you sign up for a demo because you see the tool solved the exact problem you have for a similar company, that’s social proof.
Essentially, it’s borrowing third-party influence to sway potential customers.
3 experts on whether social proof really works
I asked a panel of conversion and growth experts whether they think social proof is effective. Here’s what they had to say…
Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is The Way, summarizes it best: “Of course it depends on what the landing page is for—and what the goal is. But generally, a better way to look at it would be: When do humans not want to see social proof?”
Since the best of the best are still standing by this practice, let’s look at how it’s most commonly used.
6 basic types of social proof (with examples)
There are six types of social proof that you’ll see, well, pretty much everywhere. Choose one type to use in your baseline variant. You’ll want to choose the type you use based on your specific industry and goal.
1. Case studies
Data-driven, in-depth analysis of the product or service you provided a current customer with. Use this if you’re marketing B2B software, agency services, etc.
In a very meta way, this short-form case study is one of the main ways that folks behind Case Study Buddy showcase the results of their work:
Simple, short-form recommendations from happy current customers. These are fairly universally applicable. They can be as effective on a landing page for a free eBook as they can be on a landing page for a $49/month SaaS package.
Picture, name, company, role! Don’t forget to legitimize your testimonials. Give them credibility before you use them to give your product or service credibility.
Think of reviews as testimonials’ more objective cousin. Use these for products that are overly technical or in industries that are crowded and/or highly competitive.
Reminder: Customers aren’t waiting for an invite to review your product or service. Check forums and review sites (like Yelp and Google) regularly to monitor what’s being said about you (and mine for landing page content).
4. Social media
Praise from current customers and/or brand advocates in the form of tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram comments, etc. Save every positive thing people say about your product or service via social media. This type of social proof is most effective for B2C products and services, but that doesn’t mean it never works for B2B.
Social Media Examiner uses social proof on their conference landing page to show how many people are talking about the event year-round.
5. Trust icons
If I had to question one form of social proof in particular, this would be it. TechCrunch covered your Series A funding announcement 4 years ago, so you added their logo to your landing page? You belong to the Better Business Bureau, so you added their logo to your landing page?
Logos and icons might technically be social proof, but they are seriously lacking on the social. What did TechCrunch say about you? What are your BBB reviewers saying? Consider taking a cue from movie and book landing pages, which often include snippets of reviews instead of just publication names or logos.
6. Data / numbers
Customers served, number of invites remaining, etc. A single number can be worth a thousand words. Combine this type of social proof with another. By doing so, you’re saying, “Not only have X people bought our product or service, but here’s how much they are loving it.”
Buffer uses the “X customers served” style social proof to encourage conversions, alongside some other impressive numbers such as blog readers and social followers.
3 innovative types of social proof (with examples)
I ran a simple A/B test to experiment with social proof a few years ago. My results? A 20% lift without social proof.
The problem with best practices is that once we know something works, we use it over and over again until eventually, it works a little less. And a little less. And a little less.
The ever-so classic press logos are now on almost every website you’ll visit these days. Do they still work? Yes, but probably not as well as they did five years ago. Most visitors are so used to seeing them that this method is starting to suffer from the banner blindness syndrome; it won’t hurt, but you’ll need much more to persuade visitors to take on your offer.
To avoid this issue with social proof, it’s important to break away from the six standard types from time to time. In your next variant, test one of these three more innovative spins on social proof against your baseline.
1. Storytelling social proof
If you’ve constructed your landing page correctly, it’s telling a cohesive story to every visitor. Mat launched ShipYourEnemiesGlitter and used testimonials in an unconventional way. He didn’t talk about the benefits, he didn’t try to address objections. Instead, he used language that supported the story his landing page was telling.
Mat’s story was a little offensive, really funny, and unbelievably effective in terms of conversions (five figure revenue in 24 hours). Very rarely is a screenshot of the “reviews” section of a landing page featured in a Mashable article.
2. Implied social proof
Most social proof you see today is direct. “John Smith of Startup #9389 tried Product X and thought it was amazing.” Sometimes, the most persuasive argument is the one the visitor doesn’t know you’re making.
Take my friend Timothy Sykes, for example. He trades penny stocks (think Wolf of Wall Street) and teaches people how to recreate his success. How does he convince people to register? By implying social proof (note: he uses the standard forms of social proof as well).
In this case, Tim used “do you have what it takes?” style messaging on all of his landing pages. The implication? He doesn’t want you to take his course, you need to take his course.
3. Activity social proof
Every other landing page has “X customers served” style social proof. I can’t deny that it works more often than it doesn’t. However, it can be improved upon. Showing how people have recently used your product or service can go a long way.
“Not only have X customers been served, but these five customers recently used the product or service to do Y.” or “X customers are currently using the product or service right now.” Timeliness adds to your social proof, making it more persuasive and trustworthy. Look at AngelList and BittyBay, for example.
How and when to use social proof on your site
So, now we know that social proof really does work more often than it doesn’t, making it important to most landing pages. Joanna Wiebe, co-founder of Copyhackers and Airstory, thinks that the real question is how and when to use social proof:
All social proof is not created equal. It’s not enough to test your landing page with versus without social proof. This old Manpacks landing page with photos and Twitter usernames likely outperformed this old Golden Sands Experience landing page with nameless (and faceless) testimonials.
Thanks to Unbounce for these landing page screenshots.
It’s less about testing whether or not to include social proof and more about testing how and when you use social proof. Here are a few of the elements of social proof that you should be constantly optimizing:
- The type of social proof. Try the six standard types, the three new spins, and the dozens of other options available. Social proof works, but how you present it can be optimized for more lift.
- The content of social proof. Don’t stop looking for social proof once you have filled the three testimonial slots on your landing page. Always be mining for it so that you can rotate the content and test for the best results.
Try testimonials that address objections, testimonials that talk about the benefits, testimonials that use your core keywords, and so on.
- The placement of social proof. We’ve all seen the three testimonials at the bottom of the landing page design. Push back when your designer recommends hiding your social proof away at the bottom every single time. You want to be designing for conversions.
Angie Schottmuller, a well-known growth marketing expert, shared her model for grading the persuasion quality of social proof known as C-R-A-V-E-N-S. Is the social proof credible, relevant, attractive (emotionally), visual, enumerated, nearby and specific?
Try your social proof in a popup, near the CTA, near the POS, etc. Don’t be afraid to test social proof throughout the funnel, either.
To summarize, you should…
- Use social proof as supporting copy near a call to action or at a point of friction.
- Use social proof to counter objections. What are the reasons someone might not convert?
- Use social proof strategically. General praise for your product or service won’t help you convert as well as targeted messaging will. Use your social proof to support the argument you’re making and the story you’re telling with the rest of the landing page.
- Use social proof to humanize your marketing. A one line testimonial from John Smith is meaningless. Put names to faces, list companies, link to their Twitter pages, etc. Don’t leave out the social.
So, which type of social proof works best?
As Joel says, there are no absolutes in CRO. All of the experts in the world can’t tell you, with absolute certainty, which type of social proof to use for your baseline.
Chris Goward of WiderFunnel agrees that you have to test the different types of social proof to figure out what works for your specific landing page audience and goal.
However, if you’re looking for some test fodder or if you’re unable to test, we conducted a little study of our own to see if we could identify the factors that make social proof effective.
Here’s what we found…
- The different types of social proof didn’t differ significantly in how quickly they attracted users’ attention (average of 8.3 seconds to first fixation).
- People recalled high profile client logos more than low profile logos.
- Testimonials with photos were significantly more effective at generating recall than testimonials with no photos.
- Photos are memorable, but logos and numbers are not.
All in all, that means…
- If you have great testimonials from industry authorities, use them. They’re a huge selling tool.
- That said, all testimonials draw attention. So if your testimonials are just ok, think twice.
- High profile client logos, testimonials with photos, and press mentions are the most memorable.
- Testimonials should always have photos.
- High profile client logos are likely the best social proof to have as they balance high recall with low cognitive load.
How to get your social proof
So, what if you’re just starting out and you don’t have social proof yet? A classic “the chicken or the egg” situation. Oli Gardner, co-founder of Unbounce, says he gets this question all the time. Here’s what he suggests…
Trust in online advertising and branded websites is actually increasing. According to Nielsen, word of mouth recommendations are still the most trustworthy at 84%. As much as 69% of respondents trust advertising on branded websites, and 68% trust consumer opinions posted online.
The good news is that your copy isn’t as untrustworthy as some outdated statistics have led you to believe. Still, you can’t beat good old fashioned word of mouth.
Finding a new way to package that marketing power via social proof and use it on your landing pages can pay off, if you do it right.
Nine experts, nine opinions… It seems they still agree that social proof really is that important. But how you use it is what will make or break your landing page. Move away from the standard uses if you want to move beyond the “banner blindness syndrome” and really tap into the power of social proof.