Using Customer Stories to Build Trust and Increase Conversions

  |  June 24, 2014   |  Comments

User reviews, or social proof, can help build trust in your business, but there's a right way and a wrong way to apply social proof to your website. Here are some best practices for making the most of case studies and testimonials.

Buyers do a lot of independent research these days before making most purchases, and their research often consists of checking reviews written by previous buyers. Many businesses have leveraged this by posting success stories, testimonials, or case studies on their own websites. In fact, it is commonly believed that this type of social proof is an important element to building trust online, which is a critical first step in increasing conversions.

Social proof is one of the key principles of influence written about by Robert Cialdini. People like to do what others are doing, especially in situations where they are unsure. This is not isolated to product reviews in the B2C settings. In fact, when LinkedIn did a study of B2B marketing, customer testimonials and case studies were listed as the top two conversion optimization tactics. However, as with most tactics, there's a right way and a wrong way (or at least, a less-effective way) to apply social proof to your website. Here are some best practices for putting two types of customer stories - case studies and testimonials - to work for you.

Case Studies

Case studies provide excellent credibility for a company. Typically a case study features a company that is successfully using a B2B product, and this company is findable and recognizable. For an enterprise seeking a multi-thousand dollar resource planning solution, in-depth case studies are crucial. If a potential customer wanted to contact that purchaser for more information, case studies make them feel they can do that.

Follow these tips to make sure your case studies score high on persuasiveness:

  • Don't settle for just one. Potential buyers are looking to see similarities between their own requirements and those of your happy customers. In order to maximize the chances that your visitors will "see themselves" in one of your case studies, make sure you offer at least four to six cases that feature different types of customers.
  • Include a quick summary. Remember that people really don't like to read on the Web - but they will when they are highly engaged. Draw people in with a powerful summary that lets them know at a glance how the case study might mirror their situation, and they'll be more likely to read on for the details.
  • Add imagery. Pictures are far more powerful that words. Include relevant imagery like before and after photos, a chart showing sales growth, or even a pull quote to highlight key points of the case study.
  • Tell a story. Don't write your case studies like a brochure or annual report. Keep it interesting by writing it as if you were writing a story, with a relatable protagonist, a challenge that needs to be overcome, and a captivating ending. Everyone loves a good story. 


Testimonials can be a powerful persuasive tool on a website, but only when used correctly. People rely on testimonials daily as part of their decision-making process - when they're selecting what movie to see, determining whether or not to try out a new restaurant, and even when choosing a new doctor or dentist. We all look toward the people we know and trust for advice based on their experiences. But one thing that people rarely do is approach a stranger on the street for the same type of recommendation. Why? Because there's virtually no reason to believe that what the stranger is saying is truthful and in your best interest.

Using testimonials on your site requires more finesse than you might think in order for them to be effective. Here are some important components to keep in mind:

  • Testimonials need to be authentic. It's not enough to just use someone's first name, their initials, or their city of residence. Readers want to know that the person who wrote the review really exists. Use real first and last names, and if you sell to businesses, be sure to also include their professional title and the company they represent. Include a photo and/or link to their LinkedIn profile if you can...anything that will help demonstrate the authenticity of the person who wrote the testimonial.
  • Make sure your testimonials are specific. In order to be effective and believable, a testimonial needs to specifically address a common concern, challenge, or preference shared by many of your customers. For example, "In just two months of switching to XYZ Company, we were able to reduce our telephone expenses by 27 percent" is far more persuasive than "We are so happy we selected XYZ Company." See the difference? 
  • Place testimonials strategically. For maximum effect, testimonials should be used to alleviate buyer anxiety at critical steps of the purchase process. On the Web pages that describe a certain product or service, include testimonials from customers who have purchased that specific item. Other places that could benefit from testimonial placement include an email sign-up page, your shopping cart, or your customer service page. Think of all the places on your site where visitors might be feeling anxious, and seek to relieve that anxiety with a specific testimonial. Don't bunch all your testimonials up on a single page under your "About Us" section, unless you also repeat them in appropriate places throughout your site.

Using External Review Sites

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, buyers will prefer to check independent review sites rather than "trust" what you've published on your own site. This is particularly common in the home services category, which is why Angie's List has grown so much in popularity. If you are in an industry in which external review sites play a role in the buyers' journey, remember to encourage your happy customers to post comments about their experiences. But be careful in how you do this: you've probably heard some of the bad publicity around companies compensating customers for writing good reviews, which actually erodes trust.

If you work with an external review site, you can still publish excerpts from reviews as testimonials on your own website, with links back to the original site. Furthermore, since many such review sites encourage reviewers to post their social network profiles, you can add reviewers to your own social networks and nurture an ongoing relationship with them. And of course, provide your customers with links to your chosen review site, and encourage them to post their experience there. In this way, you are moving past the concept of testimonials as a bit of your website that's frozen in time, and allowing the review process to become an ongoing networked conversation that builds toward the future.

Image via Shutterstock.


Tim Ash

Tim Ash is CEO of SiteTuners.com, a landing page optimization firm that offers conversion consulting, full-service guaranteed-improvement tests, and software tools to improve conversion rates. SiteTuners' AttentionWizard.com visual attention prediction tool can be used on a landing page screenshot or mock-up to quickly identify major conversion issues. He has worked with Google, Facebook, American Express, CBS, Sony Music, Universal Studios, Verizon Wireless, Texas Instruments, and Coach.

Tim is a highly-regarded presenter at SES, eMetrics, PPC Summit, Affiliate Summit, PubCon, Affiliate Conference, and LeadsCon. He is the chairperson of ConversionConference.com, the first conference focused on improving online conversions. A columnist for several publications including ClickZ, he's host of the weekly Landing Page Optimization show and podcast on WebmasterRadio.fm. His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.

He received his B.S. and M.S. during his Ph.D. studies at UC San Diego. Tim is the author of the bestselling book, "Landing Page Optimization."

Connect with Tim on Google+.

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