The Art & Science of Using Testimonials to Increase Opt-Ins & Conversions

Testimonials are one of the web’s answers to “word of mouth” –- the most valuable marketing tool in history.

In addition, customer testimonials also play an important part of two of our 7 Levers of Business: Increasing both Opt-Ins and Conversions.

testimonials-paulIn this essay, we are honing in on how testimonials can help you increase the profitability of your business as well as providing you with some examples of highly effective testimonial implementation.

We cover a lot of ground in this one:

  1. Why authenticity is everything
  2. How to acquire “lever increasing” testimonials
  3. How to get the right responses
  4. Where to place testimonials for optimal effectiveness
  5. The right context for opt-ins and conversions

As you will discover, customer testimonials are highly valuable to your business; however, they are tricky. Some of the challenges in using testimonials effectively include:

  • Your prospects can be distrusting of testimonials (if implemented poorly)
  • Because of phony testimonials, people often ignore legitimate your ones (unless you know what to do)
  • Testimonials, in the wrong context, receive little or no attention from readers


In any case, testimonials are a form of social proof (or social currency) –- a valuable asset to businesses of all types. According to a report in McKinsey Quarterly, word-of-mouth influences up to 50-percent of all purchasing decisions.

Why use testimonials?

While we aim to help you increase your business’ profitability by 10% with our 7 Levers of Business, according to a report from Kristie Rimmele, customer testimonials can increase conversions by a whopping 250%.

Though customer testimonials ostensibly serve two purposes (opt-ins and conversion), testimonials, in both cases, ultimately help you get better results for your business through the following:

  • Overcoming scepticism in purchasing decisions
  • Building rapport with customers
  • Selling without being “advertorial”

In this report, we share the art and science of making the most of customer testimonials. Along the way, we will include examples of businesses that get testimonials right, and tactics you can swipe and deploy to make testimonials easier to implement in your business.


Testimonial Tip #1:

Authenticity is everything

“People influence people.”– Mark Zuckerberg

The first consideration you should give to your testimonials is presenting them authentically. Your audience is primarily concerned with genuine information, and as such, you want to focus on authenticity.

Authenticity has a lot to do with how you get testimonials. In the past, companies have generated bogus testimonials to drum up new opt-ins and drive conversions, but this is among the worst practices relating to testimonials.

The governments of many regions (including Australia and the United States) level steep fines against businesses that use falsified or doctored testimonials in their advertising materials.

Some of the things you will want to avoid in presenting testimonials to your audience include:

  • Substantially editing the testimonials you receive
  • “Cherry picking” overly glowing testimonials
  •  Removing minor negative feedback within testimonials

Engaging in any of these “don’ts” sends the wrong signal to your prospective customers. No one expects you to use negative testimonials in marketing, so you need not feel obligated to present bad ones. However, you should always present only authentic testimonials that do not overstate things or gloss over legitimate concerns.

Customers can easily spot bogus testimonials. You want to make use of real, authentic customer testimonials at all times. Otherwise, you run the risk of deterring real customers, and incurring penalties.

Transparency is of critical importance in presenting testimonials, as is the case elsewhere in business. In 2013, Western Australia’s Consumer Protection office estimated that 30% of online reviews are fake, and that within one year, 15% of online testimonials would be the paid variety. You do not want to count your company amongst those presenting anything other than transparent, authentic customer testimonials.

Testimonial Tip#2:

Acquiring testimonials

The effectiveness of a testimonial comes down to asking the right questions to the right people. Your customers may have no idea how to give a useful testimonial.

To get testimonials, you have to ask for them. Simply posing the question of “Would you mind writing a testimonial?” will not generate the kind of response you want; that will result in a generic “everything is rosy” testimonial –- which your prospective customers will discredit.

The primary way to acquire testimonials is through a survey form. Using a tool like Wufoo or SurveyMonkey, you can easily create a survey form that asks the right questions. The more questions you ask of your customers, the more relevant information you will gather for potential testimonials.

Other sources of testimonials:

Many marketers choose to use an ongoing approach to gathering testimonials and feedback, in general. You may have noticed emails that tack on a “PS” line to all of their emails inviting recipients to reply with feedback. Positive feedback received in this manner can easily become a testimonial.

Bonus tip: the postscript is a highly eye-catching part of a message, according to HubSpot, and that makes it a great place for a testimonial as well as a great place to request testimonials.

Testimonials can also come to you through social media. Comments and tweets can contain succinct customer testimonials. Using the “Embed Tweet” function in Twitter, you can dynamically share testimonial tweets as they happen, within the landing and product pages of your website.

Social testimonials can be treated the same as form-acquired testimonials. Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn are viable sources of testimonials, just like Twitter. In fact, across social media, “Testimonial Tuesday” has become a weekly occurrence, much like Follow Friday.

Have you searched for the #testimonial hashtag yet? Testimonial Tuesday is catching on across social media. So if you search for posts mentioning your company along with this hashtag, you are likely to uncover a steady supply of testimonials.

6 Ways To Social Proof Your Website

Swipe + Deploy!

Regardless of how they come to you, you need permission to use customer testimonials for marketing purposes. If often get alot of custoemr support emails, or unsolicited praise, here is a swipe-and-deploy example of how you can secure permission to use those clients words as a testimonial:

Hi {Insert Customer Name},

Thank you so much for the kind words below -– we love the fact that you dig what we are doing!

Your comment is so good that we would like your permission to use it on our website as a testimonial.

If you would be so kind as to reply with a “yes,” your comments will appear on our website in a forthcoming update.

{Insert tweaked testimonial}

Thanks in advance,
{Insert signature line}

Takeaway: Our template here is future-focused and politely assuming in tone. When it comes time to reword their testimonial, play to their egos and tweak their words so it works as a standalone testimonial that the respondent will have no trouble agreeing to publish.

Testimonial Tip #3:

Getting the right responses

Testimonials are a lot like reviews. A report from HubSpot tells us that 52% of online consumers say positive reviews make them more likely to choose a particular business, in contrast to just 28% who base such decisions on other factors, like location and price.

With all the emphasis on positive reviews, it becomes even more important to get the right testimonial responses. Doing that comes down to how you ask for testimonials –- right down to the questions you ask in the survey form, and there is no reason to over-complicate the matter.

The best idea for getting great testimonials is to ask specific questions instead of asking for a testimonial. In a back-catalgoue podcast with Dale Beaumont, he outlined the most effective template for framing useful testimonials.

According to Dale, the best testimonials follow this format:

  1. What made the customer sceptical?
  2. Why did they try the product/service?
  3. What have been the benefits since trying it?
AmeriCommerce Shopping Cart Testimonial

AmeriCommerce Shopping Cart Testimonial

The accompanying example from Americommerce largely follows the outline Dale describes in the podcast.

This testimonial states problems that other customers are likely to share. The customer lists benefits and results of using the product.

The testimonial also alludes to some of people who benefit from using the product: presumably anyone in need of multi-store functionality, Facebook shops, or recurring orders.

Help your customers provide testimonials by asking the right questions. Some common testimonial survey questions are:

  • Full name
  • Location (city/state/country)
  • Contact info not for public display (email, phone)
  • Why did you decide to try the product or service?
  • What has been your experience using the product or service?
  • Would you recommend the product or service to a friend?

Other questions may apply to your business, specifically. Constant Content offers an eBook called Sample Survey Questions, Answers, and Tips that offers many ideas for the types of questions to ask in a testimonial survey form.

The key point in deciding what to ask in a customer testimonial survey is that it comes down to asking questions which illicit a real response, not a generic statement. To shape your line of questioning to get the kinds of results you need, it is helpful to understand what you are looking for in a testimonial.

Three best practices emerge here.

A)     Focus on specifics

Research from Dan Schley tells us that people favour precise numbers throughout marketing. Schley asked survey participants to identify which of following statements they found more believable:

“60% of American households recycled.”

“60.37% of American households recycled.”

The majority of respondents (78%) said the statement containing the precise number (to the decimal) was the more believable of the two.

You can apply this as you comb through testimonial responses looking for ones to use. For example, a testimonial respondent who states, “I saved $1253.47 since switching to this service” gives a more useful response than one who rounds the numbers to “$1250.”

Consumers have a strong interest in “value,” as research by the American Marketing Association shows. You want to look for testimonial responses that reference specific metrics to maximise value perception.

B)     Attribute the author

You have probably seen anonymous testimonials before (and you have probably discredited them straightaway). In a post on the Safe Collections Blog, Adam Home clearly describes the glaring flaws with anonymous testimonials. As Adam puts it, “anonymous testimonials aren’t worth the paper they are printed on” –- or you might say that they are not worth the webpage real estate they occupy.

The most helpful testimonials are those in which the author is willing to stand behind, by name. A testimonial attributed to “John S., Perth, Australia” is not as credible (in your customer’s eyes) as one attributed to “John Smith, Perth, Australia.”

The more information you provide about the author of the testimonial, the more authority it conveys.

In instances where you receive a low volume of respondents willing to allow your use of their full name, you can compromise on this point. Using the testimonial author’s full name is definitely a plus, but it is not an absolute necessity. Many of the examples we have found do not share the customer’s last name, so certainly you can get away with it, too.

C)      Include a photo of the author (if possible)

Customer Images and Testimonials Example, from Susie's Mopeds

Customer Images and Testimonials Example, from Susie’s Mopeds

A report from Epic Flowers tells how one company increased paid sign-ups by 102 1/2  percent, just by adding photos to its testimonials.’s Paul Soltoff sums this up by saying, “Get real photos. Make a solid effort to obtain photos to accompany testimonials. A picture adds an amazing amount of credibility and believability.”

In other words, testimonials work best when there is a face to pair with a name.

Request a headshot from all testimonials respondents, but keep in mind that, as with the full name, you can get by without a photo if needed.

Testimonials Tip #4:

Where to place testimonials for optimal effectiveness

Boris Grinkot, writer for the Marketing Experiments Blog, identifies testimonials as “supporting” materials that, in a Web design context, back your unique selling proposition. He advises that testimonials should appear close to value-exchange elements on a given page, to help customers feel comfortable taking a specific action.

Although you can use testimonials in a variety of marketing materials, where you place the testimonials on a given page is of high importance. This constitutes a brief discussion of how testimonials work in the context of a webpage, from a design standpoint.

In A/B testing by WikiJobs (using Visual Website Optimiser), testimonials resulted in a 34% increase in sales over a version of the page with no testimonials.

Image without testimonials

Image without testimonials

Image with testimonials

Image with testimonials

Testimonials get results by reducing customer anxiety. By placing testimonials near anxiety-inducing page elements (such as buying actions or other calls to action), you minimise the likelihood of the dreaded bounce. Your prospective customers mainly want to know that they are not the first to take the plunge, and that others have been glad they did. Placing testimonials in proximity to anxiety-inducing page elements helps encourage the visitor to take the desired action.

As Grinkot also points out, though, testimonials are seldom the focal point of a page, with the exception of dedicated testimonial pages, though their placement certainly matters.

In a ContentVerve case study, Michael Aagaard produced 64.53% more eBook sales, just by moving testimonials around on a sales page. Aagaard experimented by moving two testimonials to the top of the page, while leaving others lower on the page. In A/B testing, he found that new visitors to the site needed a little extra “nudge” to take the purchasing action. Just by moving two testimonials to feature more prominently, he saw a spike in sales.

Testimonial Tip #5:

The right context for opt-ins and conversions

Once you have collected some testimonials you would like to use in your marketing materials, you have to position them in the right context. This is where we find the main points of differentiation between testimonials for opt-ins and testimonials for conversions.

Testimonials to generate opt-ins:

Fizzle is using testimonials to generate opt-ins.

Notice the kind of language in use at the site. The company avoids the subheading “Testimonials.” Instead, it uses the subheading “What Fizzlers are saying.”

Also, note that this testimonial uses some choice language – apparently fitting with Fizzle’s slightly rabble-rousing marketing angle.

That kind of language might not work for you, but do remember testimonials can definitely incorporate language that is acceptable to your audience. For generating opt-ins, ideally testimonials should create common ground between you and your prospective customers, as the Fizzle example shows.

Testimonials to drive conversions:

Manpacks is using customer testimonials to drive conversions.

Manpacks places testimonials (pulled from social media) right next to its products.

In doing so, the company is emphasising social proof and upping the “cool factor” of ordering one of its one-time or subscription shipments of men’s care products.

If you visit the full product page, you will notice that the testimonials are right below the anxiety-inducing “Subscribe Now” button to alleviate any hesitation about taking the purchasing action. Following a format like Manpacks’ keeps visitors at ease, and thus more likely to make a purchase.

Wait! What about video testimonials?

Online video is important to marketers, with Kissmetrics reporting that attracts 250,000 site visitors a year just from YouTube. Clearly, it is good to have people talking about your business on video sites.

Video testimonials can work well, but only if you do not sacrifice authenticity when creating them.

Consumers are suspicious of professionally produced video testimonials. Worse, sites like allow you to pay for video testimonials. Unfortunately, here again this is not only against the law, but it is also a bad idea, as Forbes reports. Your audience is just too discerning to buy into paid video testimonials.

As online video surges in popularity, marketers are flocking to it as a tool. In the 2013 B2B Demand Generation Benchmark IndustryView report from Software Advice, some intriguing figures emerge. According to the report, round 91-percent of marketers respond that they are using video; however, only about 30-percent find video to yield a substantial quantity of leads. Even fewer respondents (22-percent) say that video brings in quality leads.

If you want to use video testimonials in your marketing materials, you have to let it come about naturally. YouTube is more popular than ever, and something good is bound to be said about your company on YouTube, eventually. Monitoring your company’s presence on YouTube will lead you to a review that can serve as a testimonial.

Once you find a video to use as a testimonial, proceed by sending the uploader a message that says, “Hey, we love your video. Do you mind giving us permission to use it as a testimonial on our website?”

Placing video testimonials on webpages generally works as it does for text, from a placement standpoint. That said, Marketing Experiments reports some highly inconclusive statistics when it comes to text versus video testimonials, with text driving more conversions overall (74.55-percent to video’s 34.96 percent), but video driving a greater increase (201-percent) over no testimonials compared with text’s 25-percent over no testimonials. The jury, it seems, is still out on this one.

So proceed with caution when it comes to video testimonials!

P.S. – Do what works best for YOU

Several examples used in this report have come about through A/B testing. The truth of the matter is that testimonials do not always work for every business.

A 2013 report from AJMC shows that adding testimonials to sales pages for name brand medications does not show a statistically significant increase in sales over generics. The reason for this failure has to do with perceived value, as testimonials do apparently little to add enough value to name brand medications to negate the savings associated with generics.

We encourage you to conduct your own A/B testing when implementing or changing testimonials in your marketing efforts.  Your results may vary, and one approach does not work for every company or every audience. The great thing about marketing on the Web is that it is very easy to change what is not working by replacing it with something that does work, or reverting to something that was working before.


Testimonials Checklist:

Customer full name/location
Written permission to use the testimonial
Testimonial states customer’s initial problem
Testimonial states why respondent decided to use product/service
Testimonial clearly outlines specific benefits and results of using product/service
Testimonial recommends products to others
 A photo of the respondent accompanies testimonial

  • Daniel

    Great article Pete. I have been looking to expand some of my previous squeeze pages by adding in testimonials. I know that some marketers use fake testimonials to generate some start up customers which I think is completely wrong. With these tips I should be able to generate some intriguing testimonials from previous buyers and hopefully increase the effectiveness of my current campaign.

  • Aaron

    Thanks for sharing some of these tips. Testimonials are something that I have been using on my site for a while, but this guide should help me use them to an even higher level of effectiveness.

  • Peter

    This was just an awesome article. I have always wondered on how to effectively showcase and obtain testimonials without bugging past clients. The Testimonial Checklist was also a big help and something that I will refer to regularly.

  • Testimonial Shield

    Great article! As someone who has been living in the testimonial and review filed for the last 8 years, I can say that this is one of the most complete and accurate articles on the subject that I’ve read in a long time. My only addition would be that having your testimonials independently verified will increase believability…

Pete Williams is an entrepreneur, author, and marketer from Melbourne, Australia.

Before being honored “Australia’s Richard Branson” in media publications all over the continent, Pete was just 21 years old when he sold Australia’s version of Yankee Stadium, The Melbourne Cricket Ground For Under $500! Don’t believe it? You will! Check out the story in the FAQ section (it really is our most asked question).

Since then, he’s done some cool stuff like write the international smash hit ‘How to Turn Your Million-Dollar Idea Into a Reality’ (+ the upcoming ‘It’s Not About the Product‘) and he’s created a bunch of companies including Infiniti Telecommunications, On Hold Advertising, Simply Headsets and Preneur Group.

Lots of other people think he’s pretty good too! He’s been announced as the Global Runner-Up in the JCI Creative Young Entrepreneur Awards for 2009, the Southern Region Finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year, and a member of SmartCompany’s Top 30 Under 30.

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