What makes a great testimonial?

6 minute read

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When you embark on your journey to build your online business, then ideally you want to bring your potential customers with you. Not only do they need to know who you are and what you can offer them, but they need to begin to like you, trust you and recommend you to others.

But gaining trust online can be difficult; the internet is a place where tall tales and exaggerated claims are rife.

To harness trust, you need to go beyond slick web design and compelling copy. You need to demonstrate that the crowd is behind you, raving about your products and services.

With an estimated 92% of consumers reading online reviews before making a purchase, the scene is set to make sure you garner good reviews and use them to your advantage.

Not all testimonials are equal, however. If they are going to get customers through the door then they must be persuasive, authentic and credible enough to warrant attention. We’ve put together a few tips to help you optimise your testimonials to ensure that:

a. You get the most out of your consumer feedback

b. You expand your customer base

Think about your testimonials, do they tick all these boxes? If not, don’t worry we’re going to cover each of these in today’s article.

Making your testimonials visual
Utilising video
Using original, authentic content
Telling a story
Ensuring numbers are precise
Being relatable
 Using big-brand endorsements

They must be visual

If online trust is hard to come by, then images subliminally help to add credibility to your messaging.

There’s plenty of evidence out there to demonstrate that perceived trust is increased with visual aids in the form of photos and videos. If, for example, you display the same statement with or without a related image next to it, people are more likely to believe the fact with the picture attached.

Images of faces are even more convincing. Neuroscience research tells us that our brains are wired to respond to faces, with a whole area of the brain – the fusiform face area (FFA) – being dedicated to recognising and processing facial features. Not only does our empathy increase when we see a face, but it happens so quickly that we don’t even notice.

As such, good marketeers have long been tapping into our natural response to images, including them across their marketing strategies. There’s no better place to adopt visuals than in your testimonials.

The easiest and most relevant way of doing this is simply by including an image of the person giving the testimonial alongside their direct quote.

However, any old image won’t do. Because we are so good at reading into faces, they need to be carefully thought about, or they could do more harm than good:

The use of video

If you’re brave enough, a video testimonial is an even better way in which to engage potential customers and connect them with your product or service.

Given that a facial image helps us build trust, a video clip of a happy customer is even more powerful in sending signals of confidence to potential buyers.

While the thought of producing videos seems time-consuming, not to mention costly in getting the lighting and setting right (although a simple iPhone video is perfectly acceptable), just one or two testimonial videos can be worth dozens of text-based reviews.

Original, authentic content

As we’ve seen, we humans are good at cutting through the rubbish and knowing when we’re being lied to. It’s usually obvious when testimonials have been made up to push a brand: we can spot artificial reviews a mile off, yet genuine content stands out.

You can curate content from your customers from third party review sites such as Google My Business, Facebook, Trip Advisor and so on. However, the best way to ensure authenticity is simply to ask your customers for testimonials, and help them to do so.

This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Feedback boxes– direct your customers to a designated page on your website where there’s a feedback form, either downloadable or electronic.
  • Surveys – carry out an email or social media campaign linking to a survey, asking your customers a few questions about their experience with you. You could also link to the survey from your website.
  • Speak to customers in person – depending on the kind of business you run and the relationship you have with your customers, a good way of gleaning authentic feedback is to speak to them directly and talk them through their experience with you.

A good old-fashioned story

“Our ancestors lacked access to huge data sets and experimental methods. By necessity, we learned from specific examples, not by compiling data from many people across a wide range of situations.”

The Invisible Gorilla

Because human nature relies on storytelling to help distinguish credible sources from false ones, we tend to listen more closely to narratives.

Stories or case studies give context, especially when they paint a “before and after” picture, and they help bring a level of reliability that simple statements cannot achieve.

Ideally relatively short (no-one wants to scroll through the endless ramblings of a happy customer), they should set the “before” scene, in which the customer was struggling with a certain situation.

The testimonial should take the reader through a journey of how they found you, how you stood out, and how you helped them overcome their problem. It should finish by pointing to the future, where they claim they will use you again and/or recommend you to others.

As a guide, the following questions could be put to your customers to help guide them into telling you their story:

1.  What were the challenges that caused you to look for a solution?

2. How did you find us, and what made us stand out?

3. What goals did you expect to us to fulfil with our product/service?

4. How well did we meet those expectations? Ask for specific data.

5. Would you recommend us to others in the future?

6. Will you continue to use us in the future?

The credibility of precise numbers

Although we love stories, a good smattering of data helps add credibility by showing tangible results.

Interestingly, precision bias means humans confuse precision with accuracy: the more exact numbers are, the more likely we are to believe them. For example, a 63% increase in sales is more credible than a 70% rise.

Numbers, and specifically exact numbers, help to demonstrate that your wordy claims aren’t just empty. Your company delivers real, tangible results.

Ensure your surveys or feedback templates include questions that require a quantitative answer. Perhaps ask them to rate your product out of 5, or tell you how likely it is that they would recommend you, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Testimonials your customers will relate to

As we’ve already briefly discussed, we tend to trust images of people who most resemble ourselves. The same is true more generally when we’re compiling testimonials.

By knowing your customer demographics, it’s important to show off the testimonials that will most likely ring true to them.

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that the language and tone is informal and laidback, which helps potential customers relate to what’s being said. Pick out the reviews that are most likely to ring true to the consumers you’re hoping to appeal to.

Big-brand endorsements

If you are able to source testimonials from well-known, authoritative brands or figures in your niche, then you can begin capitalising on their “halo effect”. That is, you bask in their glory simply through association.

This is easier said than done, of course, but some hard work on reaching out to big brands might pay dividends when you’re compiling your testimonials page later on.

Final thoughts

Given the proliferation of online reviewing and the increasing integration of peer recommendation into the purchasing journey, it’s important businesses make the most of their online reviews.

Central to this is using simple tactics to harness trust, and the easiest way to do this is by being honest in the first place. Use your customer base as your capital here, and ask them for feedback either directly, or through third party sites, surveys, feedback forms and conversations. There should be no reason to construct artificial reviews yourself.

Knowing what makes a great testimonial helps you reach out in the right way to ensure you get the feedback you need. A well-structured testimonial should be engaging, demonstrating your customer’s journey to you,  and include credible data that shows tangible results. Finally, it should be visual enough to engage your customers on a human level.

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Charlotte Jenkins is an Oxford-based content marketer. She has several years’ experience in content writing, editing and digital marketing, helping clients communicate their businesses online.

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