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Reviews and testimonials - powerful marketing copy 

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful and economical forms of marketing and testimonials are a form of word of mouth marketing. If you've been in online business for a while, you've likely (hopefully) gathered a ton of glowing feedback from your customers. 

If you haven't there's ways to elicit it.

If you have - what are you doing with it?

Authentic testimonials on your site are money in the bank. While a prospective customer wouldn't expect you to post negative reviews; many people still find comments from others to be reassuring. It's part of the "due diligence" many perform when deciding whether or not to do business with you. 

Gathering testimonials and reviews

If you haven't been collecting nice comments from your clients, now's the time to start. If you have a searchable ticket system or email archive; run searches on terms like

"very pleased"
"great service"
"very happy"

.. and you may be able to dig some up.

Mining testimonials from surveys

Another way to get testimonials is to simply ask. Send an email to your customers stating you would greatly appreciate some comments from them. Ask a few questions such as "are you finding our products to be valuable?". Better still, run a quick survey that also encourages people to add their thoughts in their own words. There's some great online survey services around that can make setting up a poll a breeze and easy for your customers to participate in. The beauty of this method is that you can also gain a treasure trove of other valuable data too.

You can offer incentives in order to gain maximum participation, but be careful how it's done. It's my opinion that incentives should be confined to a random draw for a prize or prizes - that way you can honestly say you haven't paid for positive reviews. 

After you've run your survey and pulled out some positive comments, approach those customers and ask them for permission to quote. It's great if they'll allow their full name and contact details to be published as that adds to the authenticity; but some will shy from that, so be sure to also offer to just publish their comment along with their first name and last initial.
 

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Offering freebies in exchange for feedback

If testimonials are thin, considering offering a select group a free sample of your products and services. The catch is the person will also need to agree to complete a brief questionnaire or survey after receiving the item, and for their comments to be published. Encourage honest feedback, that way it also becomes an opportunity to identify issues that can be rectified to improve your products/services. 

Using photos with reviews

If a customer is prepared to supply a photo with a review, that can go a long way to shoring up the credibility of your testimonials page. However, it's a double edged sword. First impressions count and if your customer looks shifty or suspicious, or if the photo isn't really ummm.. usable.. then you have a dilemma trying to explain to the customer why you didn't use their pic :). Some people just aren't photogenic. I'm one of them. I force a smile for a camera and it looks like a grimace :).

Using testimonials and reviews

The easiest way to use this positive feedback is to have a customer reviews and testimonials page on your site. This page should be linked to from every other page. Also weave links to it into your content. For example, on a product showcase page you could have something like:

"We've sold over 3,000 Product X's - read some reviews from satisfied customers".

For those who don't need reassurance, they'll simply gloss over it. For more wary online shoppers, it may be the thing that makes the difference between getting and losing the sale.

A great place to use testimonials is in areas of your site that are common abandonment points or where the business end of a transaction occurs; such as checkout and shipping pages. 

For example on a checkout or shipping cost calculator page, a brief related snippet from one of your testimonials could be very reassuring. For example

"our flomble arrived within 2 days and we are very pleased with our purchase".

If you've gathered quite a few testimonials, you'll likely have a different comment to suit all the major pages on your site.

Using testimonials without permission

Sometimes you might get some great feedback from a customer; you ask for permission to publish it and hear nothing back. Again this is just my opinion, but I feel it's okay to reproduce this material as long as you preserve anonymity. For example, just use the person's first name and last initial and strike out any other personally identifiable information in the content.

Over-the-top testimonials

There will be evangelists among your customers; some so passionate that they probably also stalk you and have your face plastered all over their bedroom ceiling too. Avoid using these testimonials as their exuberance can seem too good to be true and can turn potential customers away. You can always kindly ask the client to tone it down a bit. If your company is the person's hero, he or she won't object.

OTT testimonials are also common on "make money online" web sites where the site owner has colluded with others to generate what can be best described as questionable testimonials. It's a part of what I call the inner circle strategy. While these are effective on the unsuspecting, more experienced surfers and discerning buyers can spot these a mile off.

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Using fake testimonials.

Don't.
Just don't.
It's not worth it.

If you need to use fake testimonials, it's time to find another career - something is wrong with your business; so get out while you can before you go broke or the feds catch you out for something else. If you're prepared to use fake testimonials, then you're likely involved in all sorts of other icky and unethical stuff too. 

If nobody will give you a positive review - something is wrong with your product or service. Fix it and try again.

Misquoting testimonials.

If you're going to publish a testimonial, ensure it's in context.

For example; a customer may write.

"I love your products, but your service is really bad".

Some merchants get clever and publish

"I love your products!"

The problem here is that:

a) it's a little misleading
b) if the customer spots it they might really kick up a stink and testimonials of the wrong sort might start popping up all over the web. 

Keep tabs on testimonials

Every once in a while, touch base with the folks who supplied you with testimonials and reviews to see if they are still happy with the service. It's not only a good PR exercise, but can save you some embarrassment.

I've seen it occur where a customer has given a rave review, their comments have been published up along with their contact details and then some months later, the love has gone. In fact, they now believe the company they praised is evil personified - and they aren't afraid to let others know too. 

You can spend a ton of cash on whizz bang marketing tools, but you may already have a gold mine sitting on your computer - what your clients have said about your business. As individual as we all like to think ourselves to be; the opinion of others can and does sway our purchasing decisions.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

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