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Website Testimonials: Weapons of Influence

By Rick Sloboda |

Testimonials are critical to any website that's marketing or selling products or services.

They provide "social proof," suggests author Robert Cialdini in his insightful social psychology book called Influence: Science and Practice. This principle states we determine what's correct by finding out what other people think is correct.

It extends from the hectic pace of a complex society, where consumers are often forced to make decisions based on limited information. Add to this the hyper velocity of the Web, and you can begin to understand how people tend to automatically comply with the masses.

"As a rule, we make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than by acting contrary to it" stated Cialdini. "Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do." Safety in numbers! It's a convenient 'shortcut', requiring little time and thought, in exchange for plenty of comfort.

Influence offers various samples of social proof strategies at work:

  • Bartenders lining up tip jars at the beginning of a shift with dollar bills to suggest folded money is the norm.
  • Churches do the same, and even have select audience members rehearsed to come forward at specified times to give witness and donations.
  • Advertisers are quick to tell audiences that a product is the "fastest growing" or "largest selling" because they don't have to make the case that the product is good, only that many others think so.

Indeed, people can sometimes be more effectively persuaded by the actions of others than the proof or technical information you can offer.

Consumer see, consumer do

Here are some tips on creating effective testimonials to earn trust, confidence and credibility with prospects and clients alike:

Keep it real. Always use full names, and identify the company when suitable. Donna M. just doesn't cut it. In fact, it diminished your credibility on the already suspect Web.

Get to the point. Stories are valuable, but leave lengthy ones to case studies and other features. Trim each testimonial down to one or two key points. Concise web writing promotes scanability -- which is a key ingredient to web writing -- and delivers the core message with maximum impact.

Tackle uncertainty. When people are uncertain, they increasingly look to others to decide how to act. So be sure any of your prospects' potential concerns are covered in your website's testimonials. One could speak to the quality of your product or service, reassuring consumers they'll be pleased with their purchase. Another testimonial could touch on turn-times, if that's important to your prospects, demonstrating you meet deadlines every time, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Mind your market. People are more inclined to follow the lead of people with similar opinions, personality traits, background or lifestyle. Cialdini noted the increased use of "average-person-on-the-street" testimonials on TV because advertisers know an effective way to sell a product to ordinary users is to demonstrate other "ordinary" people like and use it. Going after the average Joe? Quote average Joe. Is your market upscale? Showcase sophisticated people. Do women make up 90% of your target market? Then 9 out of 10 customers providing testimonials should be female.

Exposure to the max. Don't bunch your online testimonials on a buried page that few will find. Webcopyplus encourages clients to include a short testimonial on every page on their websites. Visitors are more likely to scan or read the rave reviews -- likely several of them -- as they navigate through your website. Plus, simply placing them front and centre transmits the following message on conscious and subliminal levels: "We've got nothing to hide. People trust us. So should you."

Make your clients' words work for you

What others say about you can carry much more weight than your own words. Arm your website with your clients' words. It's a powerful and economical way to generate trust, credibility and sales.

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