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The Anatomy of a Good Testimonial

Posted on 3.23.2014

:: Frank Spohr, Clicked Studios ::


Did you know that every positive testimonial you receive is not necessarily good for your business’s selling process? Sometimes good testimonials can work against you by failing to trigger important psychological cues in your prospect’s mind and actually make you seem less credible. I’m not talking about blatantly fake testimonials either. Those types of testimonials wreak of scam-artistry and are extremely easy for people to spot. The type of testimonial I’m talking about is one you get from a happy customer that says how great it is to work with you and your company. On the surface, this seems like a great testimonial to have, but the reality is that it is a shallow testimonial that fails to build the level of credibility for someone who is completely unfamiliar with your product or service.


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Understanding the Reverse Testimonial

The best kind of testimonial is called a reverse testimonial. This kind of testimonial differs greatly from the generic positive testimonial so commonly seen on the Internet. The main difference is that it starts off with a skeptical attitude toward your product or service. This triggers the first psychological cue that the reviewer started in a similar situation as the person reading the review.  People tend to trust information coming from others they view to be like themselves.  The testimonial then continues to show, despite the person’s initial skeptical attitude, how the product or service put his doubts to rest by explaining the specific problem he was having, how the product or service solved it, and by describing his unique situation to identity him as your target audience. Once your prospective customer reads a testimonial like this, his brain feels satisfied because the testimonial was not overly glowing and felt based in reality, allowed him or herself to associate with the reviewer by feeling like they were experiencing the same problem, needed the same solution, and lived in a similar world as himself. All of these aspects tie into Robert Cialdini’s research on the principles of persuasion relating to “liking” and “social proof."

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Testimonial Examples

Here are 3 examples of how testimonials can be written along with their rating.

“Acme, Co.’s product is amazing!!!” – John Smith

This testimonial qualifies as “the ugly." It is so short and over the top that most people will treat with a grain of salt by thinking it was made up or a freebie testimonial provided by a friend, family member or other biased supporter.

“I can’t believe how great Acme Co.’s services were. From start to finish, they excelled at everything they did. I give them an A+++ and would hire them again. I told my brother, my sister, and everyone I know to use them. They were that good!” – Jane Doe

Here we have “the bad” testimonial even though it is positive in nature. It is longer than the ugly, which helps it a bit since a little more time and energy may have went into it doesn’t look quite as fake. Once again though, it fails to trigger credibility since it is so overly positive. No one really talks like this in real life and for the most part, very few services are so great that they warrant a testimonial like that.

“My wife and I own a home on the north side and I heard about Acme Co.’s window service on the radio. I thought they sounded pretty good and checked around with some friends. Everyone I knew seemed to have good experiences so I figured I’d give them a shot. I thought they were a little expensive at first, but after seeing the end results from their work I feel completely satisfied. Our new windows look wonderful and we’ve gotten many compliments on them when our friends stop by. We couldn’t be more pleased.” – Jack Thomas

“The Good” is represented in this testimonial because it starts to illustrate the type of person the reviewer is by saying what part of town he is in, the fact that he is married, and has friends he gets advice from. This gives the prospect’s mind something to work with and make assumptions about. The testimonial shows controlled enthusiasm instead of unbound praise which is more in line with how people discuss products and services in real life with their friends.

How To Acquire Better Testimonials

Anyone with some experience in collecting testimonials knows that even your best clients will probably not submit a testimonial like this to you. Your clients are busy and have a lot of things on their minds other than your product or service. By the time you get a testimonial from one of them, it is most likely going to be a simplified, positive review. You can avoid this situation by asking your clients to fill out a testimonial form each time instead of just simply asking for a testimonial constructed at their own discretion. Your form questions should include:

1. What were you unsure about before using our product or service?

2. How did our product or service fix your problem?

3. How do you use our product or service in your daily life?

4. Please briefly tell us how your profession or personal life relates to our product or service.


Frank Spohr is the CEO and founder of Clicked Studios, a responsive website design and online marketing company focused on using the latest tools and techniques in design, marketing, SEO, and human psychology to build better performing and more engaging online experiences.

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