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 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:
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:
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.
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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."
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