“Tell us how we did”: The power of online testimonials
By Dan Jones
Dan Jones of Black Lotus Marketing highlights the importance of social proof and how to best use testimonials to your advantage – no matter what kind of business you run
Have you ever heard the fundamental business concept, “People do business with people they know, like and trust”? The world may have changed a lot, but this principle still rings true today. It just comes with a new set of challenges.
Fortunately, in the digital age, our solutions have evolved too. Our websites are the new shop front, the copy is our instrument to charm and persuade, but building trust online – that’s different. Buying online carries a greater risk, so your business is always under closer scrutiny than a typical brick-and-mortar store, which has always provided an inherent degree of authenticity.
What we need is some “proof” that your business is legit and your products are as great as you say they are. Who better than happy customers to show just that? Testimonials are a powerful way to communicate authenticity and authority to your audience. Read on to discover the benefits of high-quality testimonials, and how to best use them to your advantage.
Build trust through personal accounts
Testimonials are all about online validation. Sure, you can read the benefits of a teaching course or yoga class, but how can you be sure they do what they say they do?
“Improve your flexibility,” “modern facilities,” “great atmosphere”. These are all potential selling points of a yoga studio, and each is subjective to an individual. After all, there’s no governing body to regulate yoga studio atmosphere, so it’s down to personal accounts to bridge the gap between theoretical promises and actualised outcomes.
Those in the business of yoga are in luck, as personal accounts may be more powerful there than in any other industry. In essence, a testimonial is a personal endorsement; it’s people lending their credibility to the business, and who’s more credible than a yogi?
The power of social proof
“Social proof” is a popular term used in digital marketing these days, but it’s not a new one. In his 1984 book Influence, Robert Cialdini describes social proof as the psychological phenomenon where people copy the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation.
Social proof is what makes us pick the busy restaurant over the empty one, or convinces us to buy the celebrity endorsed yoga pants over – let’s be honest – the exact same, but much cheaper, generic yoga pants. Perhaps the most impactful aspect of social proof is that it’s often unconscious. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, a strong preference or desire. After all, what mad person would feel comfortable buying an item from Amazon that’s rated under 3 stars?
We often hear about social proof in terms of figures. The higher the number of Instagram followers a person has, the more sure we are of their worth. “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it,” said Cialdini, but it works in more ways than just raw figures.
Seeing more people perform an action can be exponentially more powerful, but the same can also be said of knowing more about the people doing the action. In-depth personal accounts from people our audience resonates with can potentially provide more social proof than volume alone. Although, of course, there’s no doubt that a higher number helps too.
So, testimonials provide social proof both in their quantity and quality.
Where to find testimonial messages
A testimonial is essentially just a message, there’s no right or wrong place to find them. If you’ve been in business a while, you may already have exactly what you need. Here’s a few places you can check for existing testimonial material:
- WordPress comments
- Social media groups, pages and private messages
- Emails from customers
- Old feedback forms
All sources are valid, as long as you have their express permission to use it. Though the quality of these sources will vary dramatically, and the typical comments of “Love it!” or “You’ve done it again!” may be of use, they probably aren’t going to have much of an impact out of context.
That’s why an active approach to testimonials tends to yield the best results. You can qualify your sources and steer them in the direction that produces the ideal testimonial for your business. Thankfully, there are more ways than ever to achieve this.
How to source new high-quality testimonials
So, we’ve concluded that testimonials are essential to validating an online business product. How then, do we best source testimonials from our happy customers?
Online, there are a number of options. The most common being surveys and webforms. They can be served directly to customers after purchase, delivered to their email inbox, or hosted online for people to fill in at their leisure.
Generally, the most direct approaches are the most effective. If TripAdvisor has taught us anything, it’s that unhappy customers are far more likely to share their experiences than happy ones. Satisfied customers often need a push to share.
When it comes to reaching out to your online audience for testimonials, there are a few options ranging from manual to fully automated. Depending on the size and scope of your business, and your relationship with your audience, you may find one more effective than another.
If you run a yoga studio and have a strong, tight-knit community, you might find the personalised outreach approach to be far more successful. People love to sing the praises of their friends and mentors, and if they know you well, you’re likely to get an original message that speaks volumes. On the other hand, if you’re a retailer with a wide audience but little interaction, you may find more success through higher volume outreach.
Tools like Survey Monkey provide a free and easy means of automating the process. You can send their surveys via email and text message, post them on social media or host them on your website. It’s geared more towards specific questions (as the name suggests) but you can keep the survey short and push more for a custom message to get your ideal testimonial.
[Survey Monkey example image, credit]
Where to display testimonials on your website
Alright, so you’ve got your glowing testimonials gathered and organised, now you need to put them somewhere they can shine!
For businesses likely to have customers reviewing the whole business rather than specific products (e.g. a yoga studio/teacher vs a yoga mat), a dedicated testimonials page is a great place to put them. All your testimonials will be relevant for every visitor, so this will become a one-stop-shop for all your social proof needs.
On the other hand, when it comes to specific products – especially big ticket items like courses – testimonials on the product page/landing page are essential to optimise for conversions. This is the perfect opportunity to tailor your testimonial messages to answer any questions or concerns a potential buyer may have about the specific product.
Lastly, there’s a prime position on your homepage for your biggest and brightest testimonial message. If you have any celebrities or influencers on board, this is your chance to show them off. On average, visitors spend less than 15 seconds on your webpage. For those arriving on your homepage, you have one chance to convince them to explore your site further, and high-profile testimonials provide instant validation to secure that click.
The best ways to display testimonials
Now we’re down to the nuts and bolts of the operation. How do we actually illustrate our glowing testimonials on the page in a way that’s eye-catching and engaging?
The low-tech option is to screenshot those positive messages and insert them as an image. They’re not going to be the most professional looking, but having a genuine screenshot of an email you’ve received does provide a level of authenticity in a way that says, “Look, they actually messaged me this!”
Next is to build them into a content box, ideally with an image of their lovely face beside it. If personal testimonials bring the human connection to a product, what depicts that more clearly than the face of the person who said it?
Content box functionality is dependent on the platform of the website. If you’re on WordPress you can easily find specific plugins that do the job, or page builders like Thrive Architect or Elementor have ready made templates to insert straight into your content.
[Elementor testimonial example, source]
The plan of action
Now that you know why testimonials are so critical for an online business, and how to go about collecting and presenting them on your site, here’s a simple action plan to get you started:
- First, check your existing channels for testimonial worthy content to use. Social media and your email inbox are the best places to start.
- Source new high-quality testimonials by reaching out to your audience. Whether that’s sending a personal email to a special customer or sending a feedback form to your entire email list.
- Determine the best locations on your website to display your new testimonials. If a dedicated testimonials page is appropriate for your business, that’s a good place to start, followed by your key conversion or sales pages.
- Find a display solution that works for your website. You can go the low-tech route or opt for a dedicated software tool to illustrate your testimonial in a way that best fits your website.
How Wildheart can help
Though we can’t go out and gather those lovely testimonial messages for you, we can absolutely help to get you started.
If you’re looking to automate the process, we can help get your email system set up and optimised. Or, if you need help collecting and implementing testimonials on your website, we’re available for Consulting Work to find you a custom solution.
Testimonials are inherently personal, and so getting the perfect one can be a little awkward. Not everyone is comfortable asking or being asked for one, but if you follow the steps outlined above, you’re on the right path to a glowing review.
About the author
Dan Jones is the digital marketing freelancer behind Black Lotus Marketing. He’s passionate about helping individuals and brands connect with their audience through authentic content and communications.
A committed Vinyasa Flow practitioner, when he’s not working on his yoga practice he’ll probably be working on his yoga website. Most likely from a coffee shop… or the beach.
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