Are your testimonials properly optimized?


Probably not. Our research indicates that most sites don’t use credibility indicators to their full advantage. You’ve probably noticed the same thing when your marketing cap is off and you’re visiting sites as a hunter or browser (or howser?) in your free time.

When you’re the customer, do you trust that long list of rosy, anonymous quotes over in the sidebar, or filling a whole page of its own? Does that type of testimonial influence you positively, or make you more skeptical? How do text quotes compare to video and audio clips or a customer rating system? What kind of lift can your conversion rate get from a review or award from a known brand, like PC Magazine?

Those are among the questions we’re working to answer in our optimization experiments. And we discussed recent research results and best practices in our July 9 clinic: Using Testimonials Effectively: How credibility indicators can help (or hurt) your conversions.

Web Clinic: Using Testimonials EffectivelyAs we noted in the clinic, the multivariate tests we examined also included changes to other page elements. However, our goal in sharing this research was to show that credibility indicators can indeed play a significant role in conversions — both positive and negative — based on how they are applied. While these tests didn’t isolate the specific impact of testimonials, the results make a strong case for additional testing and support the best practices we’ve identified in previous experiments.

So, science aside, what are some real-world keys to applying credibility indicators and making them more powerful?

  • No matter what the format (text, video, audio), testimonials should be placed strategically on your pages to alleviate anxiety; focus on order forms and sign-up pages first and foremost.
  • Standalone testimonial pages need to have clear, direct links and calls-to-action to transaction pages. Relying on the navbar tab = missed opportunities.
  • Lead with the highest authority testimonials, but first ensure that the application fits your target audience. Example: If you’re appealing to SOHO or small-biz buyers, recognize that using quotes and logos from corporate Goliaths like IBM, GE, or Bank of America may send the wrong signal.
  • Less is more with content: Keep the blocks of praise compact and easy to scan, with bold highlights for relevant phrases or terms like quality. Same goes for video clips: shorter ones will load quicker and convey the message faster; use a timestamp that lets prospects know it’s only a 30-second clip before they click.
  • More is more with attribution: Quotes with a full name, title, company, and photo, are more believable than just initials and a city.

Those are just a few takeaway ideas. To find out more about the underlying principles, case studies and examples, plus a live page critique, please check out the full clinic and post your thoughts or questions here in the comments section.

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  1. Jacqueline from SEOGroup says

    This is a great post! Testimonials can be incredibly valuable (social proof and all), however, like you I’ve seen so many websites fail to use them properly.

    I also agree that you need more than just initials and a city – I usually think those kind of testimonials are fake anyways, cause there is no way to actually track the person quoted and prove that they said that (sounds stalker-ish but you get the point).

    With full names or videos, the testimonials are much more likely to real.

    In regard to testimonials, I’ve found that I trust third-party review sites (Yelp, Citysearch, and such) much more – perhaps another way to optimize testimonials is for the company to get their fans to post on those sites somehow.

  2. Margaret says

    Nice summary above but I actually came here looking for the promised website do overs. Wasn’t that mentioned at the end of the seminar? Or am I ahead of schedule?

  3. Hunter Boyle says

    Hi Margaret,

    Thanks for posting. We’ve actually got a few URLs “in the shop” right now and we’ll be posting those critiques this week. We’re also putting together our next live optimization clinic on PPC ads, so if that topic is of interest, please join us for that session as well.

  4. Hunter Boyle says

    Thanks for posting, Jacqueline. I agree with you wholeheartedly about customer ratings. I think they underscore the whole notion of different levels of trust.

    The sites that use ratings well (Amazon, Yelp, Netflix, TripAdvisor) do so by raising the bar and building community to some degree. These customers generally stand by their comments, post or rate items frequently, comment on other posts and ratings, and express themselves through their ratings and reviews. That context makes it easier for readers to relate to certain posts and their authors, and formulate decisions based on that “instant” trust. Like ignoring the crank on TripAdvisor who gave a place one star and left a horror story when everyone else rated it fours or fives. Or buying a book you weren’t sure about, but a reviewer you don’t know (but whose judgment you trust) recommended it.

    Contrast that with flat testimonials, or sites that allow totally anonymous reviews, and the level of trust is decidedly lower. This is what’s contributing to testimonial blindness and, I believe, widening the gap between testimonials and user ratings. Even though ratings may not fit every site, and testimonials can still add value, the bar is being raised every day by sites that use customer reviews effectively.

    Your idea about encouraging customers to post reviews is dead on. In recent months, I’ve had two organizations ask me to post a rating about their services (not here, but on rating sites specific to their services). That should be a standard part of customer service, like sending the request and link in a follow-up email after a completed transaction. I’m often more inclined to do that than respond to a survey … but that’s a whole other post.

  5. Luke Stevens says

    Just watched the presentation, that was fantastic, thanks!

    One thing I’ve wondered about recently is geo-targetted testimonials.

    I think US-based sites who do business beyond the US could particularly benefit from this, assuming they have a significant percentage of traffic coming from other countries.

    Pick the top 3 or 5 countries and show them some testimonials from their fellow countrymen or women.

    Would a local (to the visitor) testimonial trump a better or equal non-local one? I have no idea, but it would make for a fascinating test! 🙂

  6. Hunter Boyle says

    Luke: Thanks for the post and a great scenario. I don’t think we’ve conducted tests using the geotargeting method you described, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. Considering the way people look for and respond to local organizations (think local search), using testimonials that highlight that type of connection might indeed prove to be stronger, and increase response. I agree that the idea is worth testing. Another angle to consider: Does translating the testimonials into the languages of those top countries have an impact?

  7. Scott says

    Hunter: Testimonials bring tremendous social proof and your point about more is more when it comes to attribution is spot on. For me, audio and video testimonials carry far more weight than written testimonials.

    To be most effective we find that whenever possible testimonials should speak to one of the market’s major objections or answer one of the market’s major questions or skepticisms.

    Finally, people like testimonials from people just like themselves so as you pointed out making sure your testimonials come from your target audience is also key the their being as powerful as possible.


    Chicago Online Advertising Agency

  8. Elizabeth Ball says

    Testimonials function as not only a 24-hour salesperson but also a wonderful SEO program.
    People searching for specific gift terms, or suburbs or towns, or particularly their colleagues by name, reach the Testimonials page and by the sheer number (105 to date) and included full name, suburb/city and state, are often enticed to buy.

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