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How Testimonials Can Be Your Website's Best Friend

Nov 21, 2007
Imagine you're a tourist, strolling through a busy downtown area, looking for a place for lunch. Most restaurants seem crowded. But you find an eatery right in the middle of the block ...empty.

Do you say, "Wow! a real treat! We will have the place to ourselves!"

Or do you say, "What is wrong with this picture? If nobody's eating here, there must be a reason."

When we surf through websites, we are just like those tourists as we consider downloading an ebook, subscribing to an ezine or buying a few hours of consulting. We don't want to be alone. We want to feel we're following a knowledgeable crowd.

Therefore, testimonials form a key element of website marketing. Conversion of lookers to buyers can hinge on a strong testimonial.

Testimonials show visitors, "I've helped people who are just like you." Your challenge is to (a) show that you've helped and (b) make your website visitor identify with those you've helped.

So how do you line up those testimonials, especially if you're relatively new?

1. Recognize clients who are most likely to offer the best testimonials.

Fellow business people and professionals understand the way the game is played. Some will actually offer testimonials before you ask, if they are genuinely pleased.

And they won't worry about being anonymous. Typically they are eager to sign their names, complete with URL and maybe even a brief description. They want visibility.

But a client who's employed by a company or who is targeting a small niche often prefers privacy.

"I may be googled by a future employer," one client told me. "And the first thing to come up may be a testimonial on your website!"

So how do you create the "just like me" effect?

2. Use stories when your services are confidential.

A client hired me to discuss how to respond to a performance appraisal. He certainly doesn't want the world to know he got a bad review. Another didn't want her company to know she considered moving to another state.

These folks are not going to offer testimonials. They may not even tell their friends they called me. (Some don't even tell their spouses, but that's another topic altogether.)

So you tell their stories with details disguised. Change "Roger" to "Sally," "engineer" to "chemist," and "Phoenix" to "Pittsburgh." You might even change details of how you helped them.

I believe most readers can tell if you are writing fiction or reporting a disguised version of real facts. You can also add a note: "To maintain confidentiality, names and identifying details are disguised. Telephone references can be arranged for serious inquiries."

3. Use only sincere, results-oriented testimonials.

Kyle writes, "Your service was terrific. You had such interesting ideas. And we had an enjoyable conversation. Feel free to use my comments as a testimonial."

I would write back:

"Kyle, thank you! I am so glad you were happy with my service. How about this:

"Cathy, your service was terrific! Since we began working together, my sales have gone up by 40% and my ezine sign-ups by 60%. And you made the process fun, too." -- Kyle Kyleson, toymaker, Chicago.

In my experience, happy clients rarely question the text. Once they have agreed to a testimonial, they are flexible.

4. Use testimonials from ordinary people (mostly).

In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini says we identify with people like ourselves. We become motivated to act when we say, "If X, who is just like me, can get results from that resource, I can too." His own 5-year-old son learned to swim after watching another 5-year-old -- not by paying attention to his dad.

Your target market also seeks reassurance from people who are "just like me." If they're newbies, they want to read about others who came to you as newbies and grew their business successfully.

Sometimes my clients want to include testimonial from a famous person -- not a client or customer, but someone they've met at a conference. These testimonials can backfire: you lose the power of, "If he can do it, I can too."

One exception: Testimonials from mentors, especially when you are new. My clients said I gained considerable credibility when my copywriting mentor wrote, "Cathy was one of my best students..."

5. Make sure your copy supplement the testimonials.

Experienced web visitors will read between the lines. They will notice you have testimonials -- a good sign -- but they will want to know more.

For example, Lance Lucrative says you tripled his sales in 90 days. But how did you help? Did you give him confidence? Help with accountability? Overhaul his website? Teach him some marketing basics? Organize his office so he can find everything?

They might also want to know more about Lance. Was he a raw beginner? Did he go from 1 small sale to 3 in 90 days? Or, conversely, was he already so wildly successful he probably didn't need help?

As you accumulate testimonials, the process gets easier. As we said earlier, people like to follow the crowd.
About the Author
FREE 7 Best-Kept Secrets of Websites That Really Attract Clients: My Special Report gives you insider tips to convert tire-kickers to buyers and earn money while you sleep. From Cathy Goodwin, The Content Strategist, at Website Marketing Strategies
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