When your potential customers visit your website for the first time, what do you think are the most important elements they look for? Sensible paths of action? Visually attractive calls-to-action? An authoritative ‘About Us’ page?
Of course, all of these things are important. These elements need to work harmoniously to create a website that, on the whole, makes sense.
Like with all things web design and digital marketing-related, there isn’t just one answer to apply to all possible scenarios in order to achieve this. Each visitor has their own distinct reason for checking out your site, their own sensibility for website preferences, and their own particular location on the spectrum of the buyer’s journey. For one visitor, the fact that your color scheme is jarring might be enough to cause the fateful and dreaded hard bounce. For another, a seemingly money-in-the-bank sale could slip through your grasp due to shoddily written content.
Across all of these different possibilities, though, there are certain constants. X-factors, we’ll call them.
To me, an x-factor is an element of your website whose unpredictability is matched only by its potential importance. It can be the clincher for a sale for a customer from any background and from any place along the buyer’s journey.
One of the most interesting web design x-factors is the ‘Testimonials’ section.
If you aren’t well-versed in the construction of websites, you may not even immediately notice if a site you are visiting lacks testimonials from satisfied customers. It’s not an immediately necessary way to highlight your product or service, but for many customers, it is the key piece of evidence to determine that you can provide actual value to them. In fact, customer testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating for all types of content marketing, with a rating of 89%.
Why Are Testimonials So Important?
Much has been written about the importance of humanizing your brand. Customers in the 21st century can sniff out insincerity before you even get a chance to upsell, and it’s necessary to design your web presence accordingly. While things like humor and an ability to poke fun at oneself definitely help towards this end, it doesn’t mean that brand humanization has to come at the expense of credibility. When executed correctly, the two go hand in hand.
Testimonials provide a perfect example of this. Any time a customer is being sold to, they are on their toes for deception. It’s only natural. Nobody wants to spend their hard-earned dollars and cents on a product presented as far more valuable than its reality. As consumers, we’re all more willing to believe in what’s being advertised if we can identify with the source of the information. Testimonials can provide the perfect way to bridge that gap.
It’s always a good idea to position your marketing strategies in a way that sells an experience, as opposed to just a product. This is nothing new. It’s why beer commercials have .1% to do with the beer in the bottle and 99.9% to do with the epic night out the sharply dressed twenty somethings are having while holding those beers.
When it comes to digital marketing, you can apply this same concept (with much more subtlety than the typical over-the-top beer commercial). For a lot of your site’s visitors, this idea alone can be the difference between a sale and a bounce.
Some Best Practices
As long as your past customers have had positive experiences with your brand, testimonials are pretty hard to mess up, but here are some ways to take them from good to great:
Imagery: Remember – the key is to sell an experience. If the customer can visualize that experience as opposed to just read about it, the pitch is all the more compelling. This proves especially true for testimonials. Websites that have imageless testimonials are really wasting that space, because the immediate reaction of most visitors will be one of skepticism. Who’s saying this? Did the product really revolutionize their lifestyle? If I can see the person, I can more easily imagine them using your product and getting genuine value from it. Once I can do this, I’m a very short psychological jump away from imagining myself getting the same value. The image below is of the testimonials section of software company Resumator’s website. They do a great job of setting up the testimonials with a bold statement, and including images of the people who confirm that statement with their true-to-life stories of positive brand experience.
Video: Another thing to consider is the use of video. Video testimonials are even more effective for visualizing the experience you’re selling. After all, anyone can grab a stock photo and add a made up quote to testify to their product’s effectiveness (not that you would ever engage in such an obvious unethical and black-hat practice, but in the mind of the consumer anything is possible). With a video, you can see a real-life customer explaining thoroughly and convincingly what made the product so great. This leaves no doubt in the mind of the visitor that there is something special about the experience you are selling them (or at least that the way you are selling to them is sincere, which is an infinitely better position to start from than the alternative). And, as (almost) always, A/B Testing can help alleviate the bulk of the decision-making work in this area
Page Placement: Whether you decide to go with photograph or video (seriously, avoid the plain text blurbs at all costs), placing your testimonials in a functionally sensible location will play a role in their effectiveness. ‘Functionally sensible’ relies heavily on the type of relationship your audience has with your product. If many of your visitors are still in need of a basic understanding of what you do by the time they get to your homepage, the testimonials shouldn’t be the first thing they see. They need to know what, exactly, your past customers are gushing over before they get a sense for whether that gushing is convincing or not. If using video, then it’s not typically necessary for the thumbnail image to be the width of the full page, as they’ll have the option to enlarge it once they start playing it (as in the example above, from our own homepage).
In terms of the actual geographic placement, there’s a lot of flexibility. If your home page is scrollable, the block of space that comes immediately after your “main” block is typically the most functionally sound. Once what you are offering is highlighted and explained (to whatever degree you think necessary for your audience) testimonials are a great immediate follow-up.
Another option is to give the testimonials their own page, typically linked-to from the main navigation. Personally, I think their potential effectiveness warrants home page placement. However, giving them their own page has its merits as well. If your site menu is well-designed and attractively labelled, that link will be more of a billboard for your testimonials than anything else.
Tone: Tone is important in all things related to your brand. Testimonials are no different. As we’ve discussed, the key to a successful ‘Testimonials’ section is to make your content (and, let’s be honest, your sales pitch) human. Try and avoid hyperbole. In fact, scratch that, don’t try and avoid it. Don’t try and avoid anything. Let the person write their own testimonial. Let them feel comfortable knowing that you want their genuine thoughts about their customer experience. If it was a negative one, take that as a customer engagement opportunity and find out what could have been better. If it was positive, they’ll come off as such in what they say and how they say it.
Testimonials help humanize your brand by adding tangible confirmation of your selling points. All of the strategies that you’ve come up to sell your product or service need a little support from real-life examples, and testimonials provide that. Keep them strategically placed and visually engaging, and their effectiveness will be even greater.