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Testimonials .
Believable or just more yada yada?

 11:04 pm on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

It has been suggested a few times that I include testimonials on my website from past guests who have used our services. From time to time, I even get clients requesting this sort of thing. (Boggles the mind ... but OK)

I have always been of the opinion that this sort of self serving aggrandizement is annoying, often unbelievable and far too easy to "fake". In fact, I laugh at those one paragraph "testimonials" that read like:

"We had a wonderful time! The boat was great and performed well. We loved the country and particularly enjoyed yada yada. We will definitely be back and next time we will bring a few more friends so we can get a bigger boat!"
Joan & Jon - Gary, Indiana

Jeeze ... who buys that cr@p? I sure don't!

Having said that, I have almost been convinced to go ahead and do it. However, if I am going to do it, it must be done in such a way as to be believable.

I have a few ideas such as using photos of happy clients (at the dock), interviews, rating systems, etc. but I would like to hear from you what your general feelings are on this topic and specifically:

  • Do you use testimonials?

  • Have you ever faked them? Come on, be honest!

  • Do you think they have any true value?

  • If you do use testimonials, do you do anything different than that which I have written above and find laughable? (Sorry if I insulted you by the way)

  • If buying a vacation somewhere, do you look for testimonials or read them even if they are available?

  • If you are like me and don't believe most internet testimonials hold much water, what might convince you that any testimonial was valid ... short of giving the client's address, e:mail address or phone number?

    Do you have any suggestions as to how to provide a truly believable testimonial that even the most cynical amongst us might buy?



     10:50 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Well this has certainly provided food for thought.

    I sell high end vacations for a niche market in a niche country. Yes, I have had some "gold plated" clients, including race car drivers and other sportsmen, a few notable celebrities, some very successful business people, some prominent religious leaders, politicians, doctors, lawyers and indian chiefs and so on and so forth ... but I would truly feel silly asking them to fill out some kind of testimonial form.

    I am really going to have to consider this and think it through carefully. It just has to be very believeable and very tastefully done.

    Hmmm ... this one isn't easy!

    Years ago, when I worked in a completely different field, our company ran an ad campaign which showed Bill Cosby using our product. It worked very well. But that was an "endosement" as he had actually bought the product for his home and loved it. He was also paid to do the ad. But it worked really, really well.

    I suppose it could be done and done well. Its just the execution which bothers me as I have (personally) never bought into testimonials ... particularly on the internet!


    So would something like this ring true:

    Name: Joan & Jon
    City/State/Country: Gary, Indiana, USA
    Yacht: 2005 Privilege 435 catamaran (include link to that yacht’s info page)
    Yacht Name: Holy Smoke
    Number of guests aboard: 8
    Charter Dates: March 2 to 12, 2006
    Type of Vacation: Bareboat
    Number of times chartering: 6

    Insert Photo here

    Guest Comments: Yada Yada ....


     11:21 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Well I see a little problem there - a religious leader on a bareboat.

    That takes my warped and twisted mind to places it really shouldn't go.

    Don't worry - I'm reporting for correctional treatment in the morning :)


     11:27 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    On a more serious note - don't dismiss blogs as a marketing tool nor as a way of getting better SE rankings either.

    My brain is still dealing with bare-boated religious leaders (politicians I can understand) but I'm sure there is some way you could work testamonials into your site and into a blog too.

    [edited by: tedster at 6:53 am (utc) on Mar. 27, 2006]


     11:27 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Oh ... there's one in every crowd! :)

    See: www.answers.com/bareboat&r=67


     12:20 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    use them for each client , with a photo and a date they took advantage of our service. In my field they prove useful ,, so i guess it depends on the field. Its generally easy enough to fake them and generally easy to spot ones that were written by the webmaster.


     12:45 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Testimonial work because humans as a general rule are pack animals. They want to feel that they are with the "in" crowd. Testimonials help to provide that feeling. Even if they don't know the person giving the testimonial, heck, even if they don't even know the testimonial giver's name.

    Testimonials also work great for pushing the almost, really-want-to-buy-but-I-shouldn't type customers over the edge. I mean this other person loved it and so will I, right?

    One page wonders sales sites... Those things are like the big daddy of testimonials. Done correctly, testimonials work great.


     12:56 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    For your market, L, I would guess that testimonials would be apropriate, effective, and if done right, believable.

    Individuals tend to describe "experiences" like the ones you're selling in very indivdualistic ways, and I would like to believe that it shows when you re-post them on a website. Some of it is material that the average ad-man just would never think of.

    On a site I maintain for a fashion phtographer, he uses testimonials. All the testimonials are from models used in shoots featured on the site. And the wording of those testimonials is priceless.

    One notable quote - At the end of decently long paragraph of moderate praise, the model in question finished off with:
    ...he was not a CREEP!"

    No ad-man in his right mind would come up with a line like that. At the same time, if you've ever had much experience with fashion photogs, you would instantly recognize this as high praise indeed.

    If the quotes are genuine, and un-edited, written in the language of the customer, it tends to show through, and that makes it believable and useful.


     1:27 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    A picture and/or a link to the site of the customer makes it credible IMHO. Get permission, of course but with a link that also makes it easy for someone to find the email of someone who may have gone before, shoot them an email - hey I saw you booked sailing trip/vacation through company xyz, did you really love it that much what else would you suggest I do while there?


     2:57 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)


    One good technique for getting testimonials is to let people know right up front (before they buy) that you're interested in getting one from them if they do business with you and are happy with the service.

    Explain that testimonials carry weight with prospective clients, and that referrals from previous clients are your best marketing tools.

    "Testimonials are one of my most important ways of communicating how much clients appreciate my service to people considering becoming my clients..."


     4:53 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Testimonials really don't do anything, as no business will put up bad testimonials. It is a silly exercise.


     6:00 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Testimonials really don't do anything, as no business will put up bad testimonials. It is a silly exercise.

    Tell that to the successful direct marketers who have been using testimonials for decades.


     6:23 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    They cherry picked the five best one-liners - and included any typos or grammatical errors, just as the notes were written. They typeset these one-liners in an animated gif so as not to affect the on-page text for search engines. The gif displays just one comment at a time.

    good point. I also rotate the results of our last online survey - showing one at a time - with all the typos left in.



     7:20 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    what we do is we never ask for testimonials. people send it to us when they feel like doing so.
    if we want to put it on the website, we ask the customers and 100% of them agree.
    if a potential customer wants to learn more, we sometimes ask our former clients if they agree to share their e-mail with potential customer as these want to ask some questions about the company. we were never turned down that way.
    Also, we put full customer name, country and year they used our service next to each testimonial.
    Some potential customers really contact our former customers and ask questions. 90% of them buy the product. What is more, such customers are a bit easier to serve as they have already learned about our habbits, etc. from our former guests :)
    Yes, testimonials are a cool feature if you keep your greed tight.


     7:32 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Its hard to believe someone would fake their own testimonials, but I am sure most screen them and only put up the positive ones. Do you mention negative and bad things people have said about your products when somebody calls on the phone, of course not. To say testimonials are useless is like saying that there is no need for salesmanship at all. Some people already know its a shpeel when you are trying to sell them something whether its in writing or verbal. A lot of people buy from a good salesperson knowing that his shpeel is biased.

    The reason for this is because people purchase for a lot of weird reasons. Its not always about getting a product they want or need. There are people out there who buy things, even really expensive things, because they like the person they are buying it from for one reason or another. There have been volumes written on how to read customers and give them the the kind of attention they seem to need. There are also a good many people who cant or wont think critically about something. This takes energy, effort, and thinking. Rather they find it easier to just accept what they are given and go on with their daily lives.

    Would people end up being more satisfied or happy with the product because they liked who they bought it from? I dont know, this is an interesting question.


     11:32 am on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I really like the idea of using unsolicited testimonials. I get Kudos all the time after the fact. I suppose I could write the client back after I receive one and ask if I could use it on the website.

    That way, it wouldn't sound so structured or stilted.


    I am not dismissing blogs at all. Its just that in the height of my selling seasons mid April to end of August and November through January, it would be highly unlikely that I would have the time to write a blog. In fact, mid February to mid April is about the only time I get much spare time at all.

    During the other slow time of the year (September/October - hurricane season) I am usually knee deep in site updates as this is when all the fleets change and new boats are added, old ones deleted etc.

    I think a stale blog is likely worse than no blog at all!


     1:36 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I really like the idea of using unsolicited testimonials. I get Kudos all the time after the fact. I suppose I could write the client back after I receive one and ask if I could use it on the website.


    Letting people know up front that testimonials help your business couldn't hurt. It could be a subtle thing that you present somewhere in your contracts.

    Testimonials might even be too strong a word. People writing an honest account of their vacation experience (the good and even a little of the less than good), along with a few photos would look great on the site, give search engines more content, and provide interesting reading for all kinds of people.

    Look at eBay's seller feedback and how powerful that is. Knowing what you're getting into before making a deal, by hearing what others before you have experienced, is "priceless".


     2:21 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Tell that to the successful direct marketers who have been using testimonials for decades.

    OK...agreed. Maybe I should clarify that I personally never read any testimonials, because who is going to put up a bad testimonial.

    It is also somewhat silly to ask for references, as they always will be 'the' most satisfied customers that a company has.

    Perhaps along with some glowing testimonials, sites should also include some complaints, and how they went about resolving the issue and satisfying the client. Maybe then I'd start giving to positive testimonials some credence.


     2:27 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Do you mention negative and bad things people have said about your products when somebody calls on the phone

    Funny you should mention this. Not so much on the phone, but in person at a trade show I will indeed show known bugs and flaws in the program.

    I think people like to know that we're not perfect, and we are just as human as they are. It also gives me a chance to explain how we fix bugs and provide tech support.

    But I don't think I ever mention anything bad that a specific person said. I will mention that "some people" have noticed this and this about a screen and we are working to correct it.


     2:27 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Years ago someone gave me the following advice and it helped immedately so I will pass it on ...

    Place your best and most believable testimonial above the "SUBMIT" button for the order on your site. They said it is your one last chance to virtually put your arm around them and boost their confidence that doing business with you truly is a good thing.

    Conversions have always been better when doing that.




     2:35 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I don't know about conversions but . . .

    I've had to post fake and real testimonials for different clients. Most often the real testimonials are poorly stated or don't make sense at all . . . and then the fake testimonials are usually either obviously fake or just cheesy, ugly sounding little blurbs.

    I've written lots of fake testimonials too. I hate doing that because I usually don't have time to get to know the product or service well enough to lie about it. And I see it as a good indicator that the client is going to ask for more evil stuff down the road and I that I should bail.

    Overall, I think testimonials are crap unless they're true and written by someone who is 1. smart and 2. actually enamored with the product/service. Or if you have an industry expert comment accordingly, that's cool too.

    But . . . then again, when reading testimonials I just about always suspect that they're fake and that hurts the credibility of the site in my eyes.


     2:51 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    testimonials are crap unless they're true and written by someone who is 1. smart
    Not necessarily. Dummies leave good testimonials too. Other dummies read them and feel all warm 'n fuzzy. It's seen as being down-to-earth.

    Your customers know you're not going to post a scathing comment from a customer who hates you. But they want to be sold on you, to cut you some slack, suspend their suspicions a little and entertain your pitch. If you've got page after page of genuine happy customers gushing about you with glowing reviews (I do, happily) then that's a trend. A few omitted exceptions to the trend won't matter, especially if you admit to the existence of those exceptions by way of a little friendly disclaimer text in advance. Sincerity and honesty are everything, and they do convey, provided they're indeed real.

    [edited by: tedster at 6:49 pm (utc) on Mar. 27, 2006]


     3:32 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I use unsolicited testimonials too. Every so often someone writes in out of nowhere and tells me how great my widget was and how it really helped them in their blah blah. I tell them thanks, and ask them if I can post it on my site.

    Which is ironic, in a way, because I'm really skeptical about testimonials I see on other sites. :-)



     3:56 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    You know, we live in a world of quasi-testimonial marketing. Over half your television commercials are a kind of testimonial. The people in the commercial may not say the words, but when you see happy people using a product, it is a type of testimonial that that product is making the person happy. And the commercials are 100% faked.

    Half of marketing is really just based around a sort of testomonial mindset. A testimonial is really just saying that this product made a person happy and it will make you happy too. How many ads do you see that say that?


     4:02 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I believe testimonials work for the same reason 419 scams work: people are gullible.


     4:28 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    We use customer testimonials, however very few people click on the testimonials link.

    It may help a little, but its one of those things that is hard to measure.


     5:42 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    They can't hurt whether people believe them or not - If they want your product, they'll buy. If they're unsure, a testimonial or three may trip them into your shopping cart.

    People don't buy on testimonials alone.


     6:29 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    People don't buy on testimonials alone.

    But the testimonials alone have sometimes caused me to not buy. Don't try too hard to convince me. Don't put those glowing testimonials and pretend every customer is delighted with your service. In real life that doesn't happen.

    If 10 people liked your product - so what? 500K people may have thought it sucked. I have no way of testing your testimonials. I have no way of knowing whether they are genuine, semi-genuine, or completely made up. I don't even know if those are real people. I also appreciate that you can make the most unreal claims in testimonials even if they don't accurately reflect your business practice. And that testimonials are often used for just this purpose. I know that there are services out there on the web that will come up with testimonials for you. And, if you provide linkbait, a million webmasters will testify how great your product is ... just to get a link from you. Even if they've never bought your widget.

    If, as a business, you aren't aware of all of that, and you publish testimonials as evidence of how great your product/service is... then you're naive, a charlatan, or a bit of both. Or you come across that way.

    How about some meaningful stats? Like what percentage of your customers return. Like the average time to answer support requests. Like how many customers took up your money back guarantee in the last year. Even if I can't check those figures you're stating them as a truth and, if they are untrue, you can be punished by Trading Standards (or other statutory body) for misleading the public.

    Testimonials usually work. But sometimes just the fact that there are testimonials on the page comes across as seedy. If you're targeting a specific demographic, like the well-heeled Englishman, he'll cringe at the Americanism that's the website testimonial.


     7:20 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)


    You're analysing it too much and applying your own experiences to the rest of the world's population.

    Testimonials can serve as a powerful trigger to buy - They don't always work, sometimes they do.


    2 servers, different brands, same price, matching spec: One has a testimonial from the head of IT at Morgan Stanley. The other has none, or maybe a couple from my-online-phentermine-store dot com.

    You're tasked with finding a reliable and secure server from "up-high" and they've given you a budget. These are the 2 servers that have made your shortlist and it needs to be up-and-ruinning within the week.

    ... your job may be on-the-line, decide.


     7:31 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Now just when I was almost convinced to add this feature to my site ... along comes oddsod who happens to think the same way I do. Hmmm.

    Well, I have just this second decided that the only way it will work (for me) and come across as believeable is if the client is willing to provide their full name and city for publication on the internet.

    If a potential clients really wants to persue a reference, they can see if they can't find Joan & Jon Whoever from Gary, Indiana in the local phone book. I am not going to publish a client's e:mail address and set them up to be spammed.

    I will preface the client comments with a short explanation from myself saying something like:

    The following are unsolicited and unedited comments from past clients. While I myself place very little faith in "internet testimonials", I have been asked by many potential clients to supply references from time to time ... so here they are.

    If after your charter holiday, you wish to supply comments to be published here ... you know where to find me. Just send us an e:mail and include photos if you have them! The newest comments are at the top of the page.

    Kind regards,

    Will that work?


     7:35 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Maybe I hate pop music. Although I have quite a valid point, I am a tiny monority. Pop music sells in the billions of dollars. It works. People are satisfied to consume it. If I'm in the music business and the public likes pop music, I'll give them what they like. Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll be happy instead with my obscure publishing label selling only the remastered scratchy 78 Mississippi Delta Blues I so passionately adore, to my tiny but barely paying/barely profitable audience.


     7:47 pm on Mar 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

    luckychucky, just stop over-promoting your pop music sites to your customers who've clearly demonstrated their preference for Mississippi Delta Blues. It's annoying, it grates, it gets on their nerves. If you re-read my posts you'll see that I agree testimonials work. But not with all products, all markets and all customers.

    Testimonials can serve as a powerful trigger to buy

    Please see my reply above.

    Liane's problem is a specific market. The more she knows that market the better position she's in to decide whether to try testimonials or not.

    I have been asked by many potential clients to supply references from time to time

    If I was cynical, which I am not ;). doesn't that come across as hmm, seedy? Did "many" potential clients really ask you to supply references? Honestly? Or is that just a pretext to slip in those testimonials that you secretly know are slimy? See my point?

    I think you're onto a winner with verifiable testimonials but only if they are from industry recognised figures. Even if, ironically, you have to pay for them.

    I think you're also on to a winner with the photos. 1000 photos of people having fun are difficult to fake.

    [edited by: oddsod at 7:54 pm (utc) on Mar. 27, 2006]

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