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Why Your Customer Testimonials Are NOT Working

Why Your Testimonials Are NOT Increasing Your Conversions
Is your social proof working? (Image source)

Aileen Lee, Partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said it best – social proof is the new marketing. It’s a powerful marketing tool that when done correctly can lead to conversions as high as 68.7%.

As marketers we understand the power of social proof. We use it every day in our marketing materials to build trust with potential customers and convince them to buy.

Examples of social proof include:

  • Case studies
  • Recognizable company logos
  • Vanity metrics
  • Customer testimonials

Customer testimonials are an essential part of social proof. They let us connect with those that are similar to us (in a similar niche) or those whom we aspire to be (big brands).

However, your customer testimonials may actually be hurting your conversions by taking up valuable real estate on your website if they’re not connecting or aspiring your audience.

In this post, we’ll explore the right and wrong ways to attain and use customer testimonials.

The Power of the Crowd

Social proof is a powerful psychological phenomenon where people will behave similarly to the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.

In fact, social proof is so powerful that Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist, conducted an experiment where he had a group of people stop in a busy street and look up at the six-floor of an office nearby where nothing was happening.

Milgram found that 4% of passersby would stop to join a single person staring up, however that number jumped to 40% when there were 15 people staring up at the office. On top of this, 86% of passersby would at least look up to see what everyone else was looking at.

In today’s crowded world, where companies are vying for consumer attention, social proof plays an important part in the ability to reach new customers.

By accumulating testimonials you are able to create an information cascade where your customers observe the actions of others and then make the same choice that everyone else has made.

As Robert Cialdini famously showed in his book, Influence, we are all prone to social pressures. In one experiment, researchers found that although audiences disliked canned laughter, the use of it “causes an audience to laugh longer and more often when humorous material is presented and to rate the material as funnier.”

The Wrong Way to Use Customer Testimonials

Don’t use Jane Doe from I Don’t Know The Company

Think about how you feel when you see a testimonial from Seth Godin versus a testimonial from Steve Young (of SmartShoot).

One will make an immediate impact on your conversions while the other will have you wondering if it’s THE Steve Young – you know the Hall of Fame quarterback of the 49’ers.

You could have the best written testimonial that talks about the benefits of your product, the pain that it solves and the amount of money it generated, however if the person writing it doesn’t resonate with your audience then it will do little to improve conversions.

It’s the very reason why conference organizers pay recognizable names such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin the big bucks. They bring an audience with them.

Instead inspire the “little guys”

Testimonials that Convert Neil Patel

While running his SEO agency, Neil Patel found that although the majority of his customers were mid-sized business, they wanted to see all of the large Fortune 500 companies that he worked with.

“When we showed potential clients all of the small and medium businesses we worked with, our conversion rate of locking them in as a customer decreased by almost half versus only showing them large brands we worked with.” Neil states in his blog post.

Can’t land a big brand as a client? Consider either losing money doing a project with a big brand or even doing something for free. It will more than pay for itself.

Don’t use “easy” and “best”

We’ve all seen those generic testimonials that look like the company wrote it and asked the customer to sign off on it: “This is by far the easiest and best product I ever used. It made the clouds part and the sun shine through! I highly recommend it.”

What you need are real testimonials. Generic terms such as “easy”, “best” and “innovative” don’t tell customers a thing about your product or services. In today’s world, if your product is not “easy” then forget about it; you don’t stand a chance.

Instead show results and overcome objections

Testimonials that Convert Ramit Sethi

How does Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestselling book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, achieve conversion rates as high as 68.7% on his products?

He does an immense amount of research to get inside his audience’s head. Ramit states that “when you can truly deeply understand people, even in fact better than they understand themselves, then your sales skyrocket.”

Not only will you be able to create a product that your customer wants and needs, but you will be able to use their exact language in your copywriting to build a deeper relationship.

As your customers are using your product ask for a lot of feedback. It’s important to ask for accomplishments especially from those who were skeptical at first.

A simple email that states, “Hope things are going well. If you were able to accomplish XX, but you were skeptical then click here.” You can then ask for detailed objections along with their results.

Then add that testimonial to your sales page and your audience will be amazed that you had an answer to their objection before they even had it.

Don’t use an all-in-one testimonial

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

I absolutely LOVE this quote and it’s one that I always go back to.

But how does this relate to testimonials? Well for one, you may be trying to cover all your bases and “stuffing” a testimonial with too many objections, results and customers.

This is especially true when it’s a video testimonial. We’ve all seen the long winded video that includes 2-3 testimonials about the customers and their achievements.

The message becomes convoluted and a viewer is NOT able to connect with the testimonial.

Instead tailor your testimonial to your audience

Testimonials that Convert sharefile
Click for full-size image

In an earlier post on Unbounce, I shared a story about how Sharefile creates landing pages tailored to their target audience. Each landing page uses language that speaks to the intended audience and is accompanied by a testimonial from someone within that industry.

For example, above is the landing page targeted at lawyers. The headline “Securely and easily exchange legal files” clearly states the benefit of a lawyer using Sharefile. The video also has a lawyer talking about how he uses Sharefile and the benefits he’s getting from it.

— Steve Young

About Steve Young
Steve Young is the Director of Product Marketing for SmartShoot, a marketplace that connects businesses and individuals with freelance photographers and videographers from around the world.. Follow Steve on Twitter.
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  1. Graham Clarke

    Steve – Nice post full of details and specifics. I found this very helpful.


  2. Andy Kuiper

    Very helpful article – thanks Steve :-)

  3. matt abron

    Great article…I agree. But…

    Testimonials are far from a ‘new’ way to create creditability and convert customers. In fact, direct response production really is ground zero of testimonial methodology. Like that crazy infomercial on at the middle of the night…right. Those guys.

    Agreed, having large firms/clients say how you brought them an otherwise elusive result effectively… is powerful, but if you can put your demographic into your testimonials you will also have more traction.

    For example if you are targeting stay-at-home Moms, well then a testimonial from a Fortune 500 CEO will not be as effective as other like minded ‘Moms’ sharing their experience. One must mirror your target demo with your testimonials…that is at the heart of effective use of testimonials…If your demo sees themselves through the experience of your testimonial subject…and relates…Boom Baby! that is street cred.

    Never loose site of your demo.

  4. matt abron

    See this and many more uses of timeless video production techniques…brought to the internet at http://visualjelly.com


  5. Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca

    One of the most refreshing looks at testimonials I’ve seen.

    Thanks so much for the insight, Steve :)

    I also might add:

    PRESENTATION :) For my glowing testimonials page (http://ryzeonline.com/testimonials), all the testimonials are Beautiful Images, and while I could use some help applying all the principles listed above, I definitely am not lacking in the visual presentation dept.

  6. Ton Bil

    Great post, thx! When I published a book in 2001, I had no name or fame. However, some of our interviewees and other relations were big shots. We asked them for testimonials. The best way to get them, it showed, was to offer them a summary of the book, to offer them even a pre-worded recommendation and from there it all went smooth. Since that time I observe the intrinsic value of recommendations when considering a buy: recommenders could just be doing a favor to the recommended.

  7. Friday Catch-Up: Most Important News and Posts about SEO and Online Marketing This Week Promodo Blog

    […] Research shows that social proof can help you improve your visitor conversions by about 70%. One of the major parts of social proof is customer testimonials. However, sometimes the testimonials you have do more harm than good. You need to learn how to improve the customer testimonials you put up on your website and related to it. Then you will see what a difference this makes to the conversion rate. Read more at Unbounce. […]

  8. Mark Thomas Walters

    Do you think it’s only worth using testimonials if they’re from widely recognizable sources then? Or they just need to be from bigger companies than the ones that you’re trying to target. And, do you think it’s worth linking to the sites of testimonial givers? So that potential clients can assess how reputable the company giving the testimonial is.

    • Steve Young

      Mark, I think you should use both big brands and small brands.

      From my experience, big brands want to see you’ve worked with big brands. Small brands will feel better about working with you when they’ve seen the big brands.

      If you only have 1 or 2 big brands that you’ve worked with then definitely have a mixture of both.

      I don’t think it’s worth linking to the sites. I think it’s better if you can provide a face and title from the big brand.

      Hope that helps!

  9. Sheetal Sharma

    Customer/client testimonials should be interesting and engaging the readers, more than a feedback,it should be informative.I am glad to be a part of team where ample time and effort is given to create testimonials.

  10. Dave K.

    This was such an informational post, I enjoyed the bit about how testimonials can aid in social proof across the board. The research you have provided has proven that not only are testimonials beneficial, but it can also add to the social proof resulting in more engagement. Thank you for the great information here.

  11. claire axelrad

    Nice post, and timely. As this very week I’m beginning to consider putting testimonials up on my website. You’ve given me food for thought. Thanks.

  12. Web Design In NYC

    Great article with full of details and specifics! Thanks for this.

  13. Web Design Quote

    Steve I love how you did a pull quote from the testimonial and made a catchy headline for the testimonial.

  14. Andy Kuiper

    Thanks Steve :-)

  15. Flash Bang SEO

    A brilliant post and thank you for sharing it.

    Tailoring testimonials has always been handy and when possible use some that are very specific about the skills and attributes your trying to promote.

  16. David Smith

    Like your example of the people looking up at the building, there is a book by Robert Cialdini called ‘Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion’ in which he writes about a number of examples about how powerful social influence can be.

    People like to believe that they’re not venturing into something nobody has tried before. The saying – “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained” certainly didn’t come from anybody considering social influence as a catalyst for getting people to do something you want.

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  22. Jodi Beuder

    I love that quote from Bill Cosby, too! My employer and I use client testimonials on a regular basis so this has provided a cornucopia of food for thought. I am going to my testimonials page right now to make sure we aren’t using the overcooked language and add some flair where I can. We do use real quotes from customers – they get to write their testimonials – so that can make it difficult to update the mundane. Thanks Steve!

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    […] Having said that, testimonials can hinder conversion rates if used incorrectly. You can read more about poor use of testimonials in “Why Your Customer Testimonials Are NOT Working.” […]

  26. Dan Carter

    Nice post, and timely. As this very week I’m beginning to consider putting testimonials up on my website.

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  29. Vicky Baker

    I think that feedback are important is you want to improve your business. Social Medias are also important if you want to build a relationship with your customers. Thank you for your post I totally agree with you.

  30. Manish

    I have another take on this topic. When I shop at Amazon , I always look at customer reviews. The reviews that I trust most are the ones that are detailed and where the reviewer shares sentiments or problems that resonate with me. Insightful and knowledgeable customer testimonials are what work.