Effective testimonials are powerful: they show your target audience that similar people, with similar problems, have purchased from you in the past, and it worked out well. They’ll have higher confidence that, if they buy from you, they should be able to get the same outcome.

In his classic book Influence, Robert Cialdini calls this “social proof”.

The principle of social proof operates most powerfully when we are observing the behavior of people just like us. It is the conduct of such people that gives us the greatest insight into what constitutes correct behavior for ourselves.

Therefore we are more inclined to follow the lead of a similar individual than a dissimilar one… We will use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves, especially when we view those others as similar to ourselves.

Robert then goes on to caution against salespeople using the techniques he highlights who are “just like you”, his reader! This was written in the 1980s: forty years on, he’s still spot-on.

You can use effective testimonials to boost your conversion rate. This post is about how we do it for our copy projects, and how you can apply it.

What problem are you solving?

The main difference between an effective and ineffective testimonial is how it talks about problems. A testimonial which is likely to have little impact will tell you very little, such as “support was great!” whilst an effective one is going to tell you about problems and outcomes:

  • What problem, pain point, or frustration did the customer have before they came to you?
  • How did your product or service solve it?
  • What outcomes are they enjoying now?

Let’s say your product is an eCommerce platform, which does an incredible job of handling custom products. A strong testimonial might say:

I sell handmade soaps with custom engraving. Before I came across [product], I had to collect the custom information from the customer via email. It was slow, emails got missed, and it hurt repeat business. After switching to [product], I’m less stressed as I can collect all the information in one place, deliver orders faster, and I’ve seen a 12% increase in repeat sales from happy customers.

The testimonial tells us:

  • Context: they sell homemade soaps with custom engraving
  • Problem before, including business issues arising as a consequence
  • Emotional benefit experienced after switching to the product
  • Business outcome created by the product
  • They don’t tell us who they recommend the product to, but that would fit in a longer quote

Context → problem → outcome → recommendation:
That’s the flow you want!

If you were in the market for a better solution to your custom products at your small eCommerce store, you’d happily switch.

You want the testimonials to clearly communicate the problems you’re solving for the customer. You likely have multiple categories of customer, so you want to speak to the different groups with different quotes.

Great example of context → problem → outcome → recommendation on a review for WP User Manager.

How credible are your testimonials?

Can you trust a review or testimonial on a website if there’s no source? Maybe! You see various approaches: WordPress.org reviews linked, third party review platforms such as TrustPilot (embedded), and sometimes just testimonials written directly on the website.

I hear a lot of anxiety around whether testimonials will be seen as credible if there’s no external source. Most of the time, you don’t need any third-party verification as long as the claims in the testimonial look credible.
We’ve generally found a couple of criteria need to be met:

  • The person giving the quote needs a public profile, so someone can look them up if they wanted. This can be as simple as a public Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • The testimonial should look professional. You want to show a name, job title, company name, and a professional profile picture too. These help immensely with trust. We assume if someone looks the part they must be trusted. 
  • The contents should give the reader no reason to doubt what they’re reading. A visitor to your site has expectations about what you’re going to be able to do for them. You certainly want to be at the higher end of that range of expectations, but if you’re wildly above them that will raise eyebrows and you’d need to add proof to your claim.

If your testimonials don’t meet those criteria — perhaps, for example, your customers don’t want or don’t have permission for you to use their company name — then you need to add credibility. If it’s just one element such as company names or profile pictures missing, then having a general link to “see our reviews on WordPress.org” or “see our reviews on Google Reviews” would be fine, or you could combine this with another publicly verifiable social proof mechanism such as total number of 5* reviews you have on WordPress.org.

WPMU DEV’s subscriptions are $49/month – a lot, but hands-down worth it for their target customers. They can use the sheer volume and quality of their TrustPilot and Review.io reviews to show just how happy customers are.

I’d never screenshot WordPress.org reviews directly. Whilst this does let the reader clearly see it’s real, it’s not in my opinion necessary and it’s also very bad for accessibility.

If you have kind things customers have tweeted about you, though, then those are good things to embed. Tweets embed nicely, and a high quantity of testimonials through tweets shows people really like your business. We do this with MasterWP:

We’ve now covered two elements: the format your testimonials should have, and how you should show they’re real. Let’s now look at another format for testimonials.

When and how to use micro-testimonials

A testimonial on the WP Fusion homepage. I love the use of tags to show the use case, letting the reader quickly identify which use cases match their needs.

Micro-testimonials are tiny testimonial snippets, and they’re great anxiety reducers. At a glance, they reassure the reader of your value and quality.

You want to use micro-testimonials around key conversion points. They work great next to important buttons like add to cart, and even on your checkout. You don’t have space for a full testimonial at your checkout, so you need to condense these down to a single sentence.

The best micro-testimonials are from high-authority figures. SeedProd does this really well, for example. This testimonial shows at their checkout:

A lot of spaces don’t have a go-to high-authority individual who a significant number of customers are going to recognise; in those cases I’d use the most effective section of a quote you can find. In our worked example of an eCommerce platform, for example, you might end up with:

[Product name] made my orders easier, customers happier, and increased my sales 12%.

That is all information in the long version, but it’s specifically edited for an impactful short version. Again, always make sure you have permission for edits like this.

How to get effective testimonials

You now know the importance of testimonials, different places you can show them, and just need the final piece of the puzzle: actually getting effective testimonials! An important pre-requisite for this is happy customers. We’ll assume you have this 🙂

You want your testimonials in your nicely-designed format. The best way to get these is to ask some leading questions through a form:

  1. What were you struggling with before you started using our product?
  2. And what problem(s) is our product solving for you?
  3. How would you describe the outcomes our product creates for you, and impact they’re having?
  4. Who would you recommend us to?

You may also want to add on a Net Promoter Score question: how likely are you to recommend us, on a scale of 1-10? This is literally what we do through a nice Typeform; we also ask “Is there anything stopping you from booking your next project with us?”

That gets you the testimonial but in a fractured format. The final question to ask is: “We’ll edit this together into a full quote: do you want to approve this, or can we go ahead and use it?” If they want to approve, then collect an email address. You just need to do the edits, and now you’re done!

You’re ideally after a regular supply of quality testimonials, so you want to ask for these at a set pre-defined point. This might be 28 days after product purchase, or in our case when a project is marked as complete. Both of these can be automated!

We’ve done this process for a sizeable number of clients: in some cases the above gets a ton of responses, and in others it only gets a couple. You’ll likely have a good idea of how your customers are likely to respond. If you’re struggling to get responses, you might want to do more personal outreach, or you could even incentivise with a “thank you” coupon. These may influence what people say — which does kinda undermine trust — but they’re an option.

For a while we offered $20 ManageWP credit to anyone who tweeted nice things about MasterWP. The ManageWP team provided the credit free to us, and most of the time we were told: “I would have said nice things anyway, but I appreciate the freebie”.

It’s also important to remember you’re after customers from your key use cases or customer segments. If you’re missing any, reach out to individual customers who you know fit that profile.

I do have a caveat here: in Influence Robert talks about the value of having your testimonial writer articulate in their own words what they like about you. This creates a public commitment and increases the likelihood they’ll continue to like you. That’s mildly manipulative but powerful. With this method you’re getting less of that benefit, but higher quality testimonials overall. We think it’s a tradeoff worth making.

You’re equipped for great testimonials

That’s your lot! Remember to get context → problem → outcome → recommendation for your target customer segments, and display the quotes professionally.

If you need other trust or social proof elements, then add those in to reinforce the claims, too. We haven’t really touched on other social proof: a list of websites which have mentioned you, awards, accolades or industry affiliations are helpful, and you should think of those as separate to your testimonials.

You want a constant supply of quotes, so set up some sort of form and automate the process for asking. Here’s a recap:

  • Identify your different target audiences and understand the key problems you’re solving for each group
  • Make sure you’re ok for credibility and add in extra if needed
  • Get effective testimonials
  • Add to relevant points on your site, including micro-testimoinals
  • Get a higher conversion rate as a result
  • Profit!

You’re now all set! Of course, for more examples of excellent testimonials, have a look at the Ellipsis homepage or our individual services pages. You might also want to sign up to our monthly marketing newsletter Press Marketing, which is also a good example of embedded tweet testimonials.

Thanks for reading. and let us know if you put this into practice!

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About Alex Denning

Hey, I'm Alex! I'm the Founder of Ellipsis, and I co-curate the really good weekly newsletter MasterWP. I'm @AlexDenning 👏

2 comments add your comment

  1. Hey, Alex! Here’s Oana from Pixelgrade. Thank you for taking the time to write such an article. I must confess I am a bit confused by the fact that most people do not make the difference between a testimonial, a product review, and feedback sessions.

    Often, they throw everything int he same arena, but that’s not the case. Not only should folks use each of these tools to get particular outcomes, but it also makes sense to educate both our customers and the general public about what’s the goal of each of them.

    We work hard to create a custom review system in alignment with our values at Pixelgrade. One that promotes transparency and authenticity, and does not run after flashy words to impress customers.

    My two cents is that honesty is the best strategy. Otherwise, I don’t know how people can learn from these testimonials or reviews or feedback to get their work better.

    I hope it helps. Cheers!