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Testimonials .
Believable or just more yada yada?
Liane




msg:392941
 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?

  •  

    justawriter




    msg:392942
     11:13 pm on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Liane

    I suppose if you're going to include testimonials like:

    "Well I spent the whole trip puking my guts up because this is the first time I've every sailed anywhere but at least the boat broker was wonderful"

    might make you're testimonials might be more believable - but then I'm just a cynic who rarely believes any testimonials.

    However, including a photo of the people alongside the boat would probably make a good testimonial much more believable.

    Rosalind




    msg:392943
     11:29 pm on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    When I see them, I always mistrust them. They're far too easy to fake. If you examine them closely, you can often tell that the style of writing is so similar in each that they are likely to have been written by the same hand.

    Using people's photos would be one way to authenticate them, but I just don't see anyone going for that. Too many people would like their web lives to remain more private.

    txbakers




    msg:392944
     11:43 pm on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I use them on my site, but I always include the full name and basic contact information so if a person realy wanted to, they could contact that person.

    The ones with "J.D., Texas" are just garbage in my opinion.

    When we get nice comments via email, I ask the person if I can have their permission to list their name and comments on our site. If they do, great. If they don't want me to, I won't post the testimonial anonymously.

    Liane




    msg:392945
     11:51 pm on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

    "Well I spent the whole trip puking my guts up because this is the first time I've every sailed anywhere but at least the boat broker was wonderful"

    ROFLMAO! Heeeheeeeeeee! Good one! I guess that would kind of lend a ring of authenticity to it wouldn't it! ;)

    Mr Bo Jangles




    msg:392946
     12:07 am on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    When we get nice comments via email, I ask the person if I can have their permission to list their name and comments on our site. If they do, great. If they don't want me to, I won't post the testimonial anonymously.

    When we get permission to do it, we make the comments into a nice graphic - that way the client's name can't become turned up in search results in the future - a bit more privacy for them.

    WebDon




    msg:392947
     5:00 am on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I've used testimonials for some client sites, even the Jane & John Doe, Hawaii versions. Haven't faked any so far.

    Many of us don't bite, but there are a ton of people out there who don't even think about whether or not the testimonial they just read was real or not.

    I wouldn't use them across the board but in many instances they may help, I haven't seen them hurt (so long as there are not hundreds of them) and I try to rotate them out as often as possible to keep them up to date.

    I'm working on our own site facelift and plan to add them.

    txbakers




    msg:392948
     5:11 am on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I have mine stored in the database and randomly rotate them on my home page. Only one appears at a time, with a link if people want to read more.

    sharbel




    msg:392949
     6:24 am on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Testimonials are important for certain companies, so long as they are done 'correctly'. For example, as a web-developer, if I have a testimonial:

    "Very in depth, fast service.. a pleasure to deal with!" A.G Jones"

    Nobody is going to care or believe it.. However, a testimonial from an owner of a recognizable company like this is great:

    We at XYZ Widgets were very impressed with ACME Web Development. Very knowlegable, and fast service.

    Thats a great a advertisment when it's recognizable companies, especially if you are targetting local companies, you use local testimonials...

    I find testimonials are especially effective with service based industries, more so than sites trying to sell products.

    henry0




    msg:392950
     12:32 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Testimonials do add credibility. (When offering a real name and location)

    Liane




    msg:392951
     1:42 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    sharbel, I agree your example is quite compelling and believable, but unfortunately, I am not dealing with companies but individuals on holiday.

    So aside from saying "yes, I use or don't use testimonials" do you have reasons to offer as to why or why not ... and any suggestions which will help make them more believeable?

    aspect




    msg:392952
     2:45 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I currently have over 200 testimonies on over 20 testimony pages. And we also sprinkle them around our site on the pages where we sell a services.

    We also write articles which are case studies with the last word going to the customer.

    We try to get a picture of the work we did, occasionally we get a picture of the customer.

    It does add trust to a site, especially when not all the feedback is 100% positive (We mimic the ebay system of feedback) and we are so convinced by this that we have just added blog style commenting on many of our pages.

    Gathering feedback from our customers is essential and listening to them has made a major impact to the way we do business... we hope that the onsite commenting will help us get feedback about the actual webiste.

    The other thing is that testimonies (and some of them are quite long) provide extra content - add key phrases that I would never have thought of. Noting where the customer comes from has been a great help because we now show up for searches in every part of the UK, and it shows the person doing the searching that our premisis is worth traveling many miles to get to... They don't feel so stupid for travel 400 miles if somebody else did it first. And this is the whole point of testimonies and why they work!
    You may have heard it said that people are like sheep, actually we are more like wolves or dogs. We go along with the pack. Very few of us are Alpha males who lead the pack by taking a chance. Most of us don't want to be the first to do something. We don't have the confidence without the pack backing us up.
    If you go to a web site that offers something amazing, don't you instantly get wary and imagine it's a trap? But if you see a forum with plenty of people using it -- the very fact that there are plenty of people using it is enough to help you overcome one or two complaints you might find on the forum.
    Think of a web site like a watering hole. If the watering hole looks inviting but there are no other animals about, you start to wonder if there is a crocodile in there. But if the watering hole has zebras, wilderbeast, elephants etc. You are going to assume its safe, even if one or two Giraffes are complaining that the hippos crapped in the water. :)

    luckychucky




    msg:392953
     3:00 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I send out a brief automated checkup eMail 2 weeks after I ship:
    <<
    We're always working to improve your wholesale shopping experience at {WidgetWorld}, and we'd love to hear your feedback.
    What can we do to help?
    Kindly take a little minute to let us know how we can better serve your needs.
    THANKS!
    * Quality and Design - How did your customers like the {Widgets}?
    * Profitability - How are the prices, and your retail markups?
    * Ordering - Did you have any problems ordering from {WidgetWorld}?
    * Shipping - Did your order arrive on time?
    * Customer Care - Were we nice to you? How can we treat you even better?
    Thanks so much for your valued opinion,
    {WidgetWorld} Customer Satisfaction
    >>
    What comes back usually glows with praise. I post them in anonymized form ("Bob S. Hernia, Kansas") because my business is hypercompetitive and, privacy issues aside, there's no way I'm going to give out any customer contact data. I link to the testimonials from every page with "What customers say about our products - click here". It seems to work well. I have pages and pages of the stuff, always growing. And don't forget, you're getting all that search engine food: free, highly relevant content.

    I do very little editing. The only slightly negative comments I keep are ones such as such as "I wish you had a wider selection", "gimme more" etc. Customers want the world. They're whiney and needy. They write in that if we peeled their grapes for them, they would be easier to eat. We edit that stuff out too.

    Lastly, this bit of text sits at the bottom of every page:
    <<
    Owner's Note: These are all actual customer testimonials, I swear it on my soul. Sometimes they might sound a little similar to each other, only because everyone is responding to the same brief set of checkup questions. There is some very minimal editing: yes, we do get an occasional complaint, but they're very rare, they really are. These are artisanally handcrafted wholesale products, which demand high precision and skill to make. Even with the best quality control, a {widget} can slip past inspection with a small defect once in a blue moon. Almost always, we remedy the mistake and all is well. As the owner of {WidgetWorld}, even though I know these are actual comments from actual customers, I am still awed by so much positive feedback. But it really is genuine, cross my heart and may I be struck dead right now if I'm lying. Thank you all for letting us know we are apparently doing our jobs so well; it feels good. And thanks again for your continued support - you're why we're in the wholesale {widget} business, and the key to our continued success.
    -{Lee Harvey Oswald}
    Owner, {WidgetWorld}
    >>
    And one more thing: we stay honest. We don't falsify a thing. You can do what you want, but ours is real. Period.

    Liane




    msg:392954
     3:23 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Hmmm,

    I know nothing about blogs other than I find them to be (mostly) full of drivel. If I were to open a blog specifically for customer comments and photos, is there a way to password protect anyone and everyone from commenting?

    In other words, if I were to supply my clients with the password at the end of their holiday so they could comment freely. Is there blogware "type" software I could use on my own site or would I have to use blogspot or something like that?

    I don't like the idea of editing customer comments unless they use foul language or something which is particularly vile ... like I want to kill you you blood sucking so and so! :)

    luckychucky




    msg:392955
     3:33 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    No way I'd ever let my customers blog directly on my site. Face it, there are always a few disgruntled, mentally deranged types who'll leave a turd in the punchbowl, no matter how good you are. Instead, my customers reply optionally to a checkup eMail. We read it over, and if we like it, we post it as a "Testimonial". Fortunately we apparently please the vast majority of our buyers, so it all works out well.

    Liane




    msg:392956
     4:02 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    So, If I put these directly on my site, with a link to the "testimonial" section on the home page ... how would you handle it?

    Are 10, 20 or 30 testimonials enough? Rotate out the oldest in favour of the newest sort of thing? Should I include customer photos? Should I use a standard set of questions and then a general comments line? Should I use a rating system?

    luckychucky




    msg:392957
     4:18 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I think a "Testimonials" section on your home page isn't such a great idea, as it takes up a lot of valuable space. You want to micro-manage your home page text very carefully so you can control it and keep it finely tuned for SEO purposes. In my opinion, you might want a link at the bottom of every page: "What our customers say" or whatever (actually, I keyword-stuff even that link, so it becomes "What our customers say about our wholesale blue plastic widgets.") That link goes to where you post your testimonials. If you accumulate 10,000 pages of them, then the more the merrier. Freshest first, oldest last. Photos and a rating system are optional. If you like that, do it - it's your personal style choice, the personality of your own site.

    One more thing: be sure to keep every typo and misspelling, weird capitalizations, punctuation or lack thereof. You'll find that there's a broad difference in writing styles between each person's testimonials, and that really helps create the authenticity/believability.

    ronburk




    msg:392958
     5:52 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

    Better questions:

    • Do you understand that assessing the reliability of a company (e.g., are you for real, are you going to be in business next month?) is a common task for users who are considering a purchase?
    • Have you designed your website (you do use task-based design, right?), so that it's easy for visitors to perform that reliability assessment at all the common decision points where users usually branch off onto that task?

    Once your task-based design actually fits the needs of your users, then less important tactical decisions, like whether to use testimonials, become a matter of mere A/B testing.

    europeforvisitors




    msg:392959
     6:03 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Testimonials have been around far longer than the Web has--and if they didn't work, you wouldn't see them being used by mail-order catalog houses and other experienced direct marketers.

    Also, there are different types of testimonial, and testimonials can serve different purposes for different audiences. For example:

    1) Press quotes are a type of testimonial. I have a page of "press clippings" with quotes from various newspapers, magazines, and Web sites, and I feature a couple of press testimonials (one a magazine award, the other a quote from a PC Magazine column) in appropriate areas of my site.

    2) Testimonials don't just build credibility with readers--they can also enhance your credibility with prospective advertisers or with PR people who supply products for review, press trips, etc.

    BTW, in another thread, there was a mention of personal photos. I use head shots throughout my site, partly out of habit (I was an About.com guide for 4-1/2 years before starting my current site) but mostly because "personal branding" has a long tradition in the travel-publishing field. Personal branding has worked well for Temple Fielding, Arthur Frommer, and Rick Steves; why should I buck a tradition that works, especially when a human face with a personal voice is one of the things that distinguishes my site from those of big-time corporate competitors?

    surfin2u




    msg:392960
     6:21 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    A couple of interesting examples of testimonials came to mind as I read this thread. The first is on eBay. The feedback that buyers leave for future buyers from the same seller is the most key piece of information to many users of that site.

    The other example is at my favorite sushi restaurant. I display a discount coupon for dinner at their restaurant on my local directory website. The coupon has been a success and if you search on google for best sushi in (the name of my city) the first result is a link to my coupon for them and a quote from me saying that they serve the best sushi in (the name of my city). They now have a laminated copy of that google search hanging in the window beside the entrance, along with other upbeat reviews. I get free sushi for myself and a friend whenever I go there. Nice arrangement, I think!

    tedster




    msg:392961
     7:37 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    One of my clients got a significant boost in sales by adding testimonial comments to the top of their Home Page in a very prominent center position.

    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.

    And as I said, the result was a solid jump in sales with the same traffic. And that jump has been sustained for about 3 years. We would not take it down.

    Another time when testimonials are a big help is if you have a comment from someone extremely well known who has given you permission. A testimonial from a former president on one site I work with helped a lot.

    dataguy




    msg:392962
     8:23 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Part of the sales cycle is 'reducing the perceived risk' for the potential customer. Testimonials can go a long way in alleviating apprehension that the prospective customer might have in making a purchase. They can also be useful in answering questions that the prospect may have.

    As EVF has said, testimonials have been around a long time before the Internet existed, with good reason.

    s_clay




    msg:392963
     8:31 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I often read testimonials - if I am really interested and the site is credible.

    I use testimonials, but only with permission and without full identification (even when offered by the writer). These letters to us often mention things that I would never think of saying, in a much nicer way then I do (or could).

    Bottom line: testimonials add to our site's content, credibility and have a positive effect on sales, but only because they are never faked.

    luckychucky




    msg:392964
     8:46 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    Another thing they're good for, is to take the pulse of your operation. Initially I was quite scared of what would come back from my feedback solicitations. Then I got (and continue to get) all the love. What nice strokes...feels sooooo good.

    I used to think of testimonials as just a cynical marketing tool. Shortly before my mom died last year, she said she had visited my website, read all the testimonials, and was moved to tears. This, from a woman usually pretty sparing in her praise. I had no idea that would make her so proud. Wow.

    Conversely, if all you get are complaints, then you've got a heads-up about which issues need repair. Either that, or you've learned you're working on a lost cause and it's time to find yourself a new specialty.

    elguiri




    msg:392965
     8:53 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    I've never used testimonials, because they're not appropriate for my sort of business. However I have the feeling that even fake ones work.

    That standard sales letter format we see everywhere: with big headlines "$5,000 in just two days!" underlined and bolded, and another thing, and another thing, and yet another thing, and 10 testimonials, and then you see the price and it's quite reasonable, and then the free gift thrown in, then another couple of testimonials of lives changed, another free gift and finally a money back guarantee.

    None of the individual parts, let alone the fake testimonials, would sell you anything. But they work because in the end you feel you have nothing to lose and it might just be real. The testimonials, which might just be real, add to the process.

    These are tried and tested methods. We don't like them but they convert readers to customers at a higher rate.

    stormy




    msg:392966
     9:26 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    In my particular case, testimonials have definitely helped. They are real and very easy to check: we sell domains/hosting and have links to the customer's sites. We kept all their misspellings and minor criticisms.

    My advice: get real testimonials and make sure they also look real or are easy to verify. You'll see conversions improve almost instantly!

    oddsod




    msg:392967
     9:48 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    From a site on the web mocking "testimonicles":

    Notice how everybody who writes a testimonial sends a passport photo for the author's convenience? And at least one testimonial is from an attractive woman? Beautiful women do that a lot - they have a disproportionate tendency to write testimonials for authors of Get Rich Quick books.

    You've got to choose testimonials carefully to fit your audience. For most services online when I find that all the testimonials are from women (and accompanied by photos) the cynical me thinks they're probably fake. The unspoken thought is, "If you're faking your customer cross section you're probably faking the customer words."

    cornwall




    msg:392968
     10:01 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    To a large extent it depends on what your site is selling.

    If you are, say a web design company, and you include a glowing tribute from a client, link to their site, etc, then it carries a lot of credibility.

    If you run a hotel, and include testimonials from local companies and the recommendation is from the CEO, then it carries weight.

    But, as you say Jon and Jane from Hicksville do not, add anything to your sales pitch.

    In Liane's case, I am sure there are "gold plated" recommendations that could be used with links to the punter's own web site to boost cred.

    twist




    msg:392969
     10:20 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

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

    Take a note from places like webshots and others. Tell people that take your vacations that you have a section on your website where they can anonymously (or use their real name) upload their vacation photos with comments.

    Have a block on your front page showing a photo sent in by your most recent customer with a comment beneath and a link to your customer photo section.

    This creates good customer quotes (who would take the time to send in photos if they didn't enjoy their vacation) with multiple photos of happy people enjoying their vacation. If you allowed people who sent in photos to contact each other, then you could even create a small community of people who might share and talk about their experiences and return to your website occassionaly to meet others that shared their vacation spot. Maybe some will even plan more vacations with some of the poeple they meet through your website.

    You would dominate your market and offer things that competitors couldn't compete with. Then you could send me any extra money you make.

    McCray




    msg:392970
     10:46 pm on Mar 26, 2006 (gmt 0)

    My favorite testimonials used by a client of mine on a website are stories from happy African hunting clients. They tell a particular story of a memorable hunt experience. They are fun!

    Please pardon me if this is inappropriate, but I just wrote a bit more about this, which I'll repeat here:

    Happy People = Testimonials = Dollars

    Are people happy with your company? And are you looking for more people to be happy? If even a few people have told you that they are happy, then use their testimonials to engage more new people.

    Let me specify that I'm not talking about paid endorsements. I'm talking about real people who are pleased with your product or service.

    Why go to the trouble of promoting testimonials?

    * increase your credibility
    * add another layer of info without "selling"
    * reinforce your brand message
    * build relationships
    * provide yourself with real-world info for more ideas
    * re-motivate yourself and your team

    What does a good testimonial look like?

    * a photo of a real person using your product
    * a short "They did a great job for me" statement
    * a paragraph mentioning several great things
    * several paragraphs telling a compelling story
    * any combination of these

    Who can give testimonials?
    Well, who is a customer? Anyone whose actions affect your results, according to Steve Yastrow. So that includes:

    * customers
    * employees
    * vendors
    * community members
    * industry experts

    Testimonials work best when completely identifiable, so use full names whenever you can.

    Are you too new to have good testimonials? Then get some test customers, give away some samples, and ask for comments.

    How do you capture testimonials?

    * Ask. Just ask. If someone makes a positive comment to you, ask them to write it down, or to let you write it down for them. Now if you do the writing, be scrupulously honest; do not stretch even a little bit. Make it easy for them. Let them use any of the types listed above.

    * Use tags for del.icio.us, Furl, Technorati, and other online tools. As marketing and advertising continue to over-saturate us, the boom in social bookmarking and social searching online is one of our coping responses. It's the current version of word of mouth. The same people who are paying less attention to your ads are paying more attention to the advice of other real people. That little tag means that someone has endorsed you online. So make it easy for people to tag you.

    * Give them something they can share. Chris Brogan suggests stickers, anything with your brand on it, and even coupons.

    Where do you use testimonials?

    * on your website
    * in your store, especially in product displays
    * in your office
    * in your waiting area
    * in any ads
    * in your newsletters
    * on the back of your business cards
    * in your product descriptions
    * on your brochures
    * anywhere your branding appears

    Testimonials can be incredibly powerful. With this reminder, and these ideas, now is a great time to pick up the phone and ask for one. Make it the first of many.

    (c)2006 by Becky McCray

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