All too often when I read testimonials on web sites, the fifty billions neurons in my brain devoted to being cynical wake up and say, “Sure buddy. We believe every word. Not.”
They may be cynical neurons, but they have a point.
When I read one of those long sales pages with hard-hitting sales copy interspersed with raving testimonials, here’s the longer version of what I think...
I think that the people who give the testimonials do so for the additional exposure they receive for their own names, sites and businesses.
I also think they do some mutual back-scratching, and hype each other’s products and services.
In other words, the testimonials are just additional sales text. They have no credibility as outside, third-party endorsements.
Now let’s move on to mainstream business sites which show a nice column of short testimonials. Sometimes these are from industry leaders, sometimes from satisfied customers.
How much credibility do they have?
Not as much as some publishers would like to believe.
Why not? Because they are hand-picked by the publisher of the site.
Publishers add only those testimonials which say nice things about them.
So whether a testimonial is unsolicited or not, the fact that the publisher only shows the positive ones significantly undermines their value.
How to get it right with testimonials...
If you want to be honest and transparent with testimonials, build a page through which people can give you honest feedback.
And here comes the scary part...publish the criticism as well as the praise.
The web has always been a networked community, right from the beginning.
And with the huge growth of social networks like MySpace.com, more and more people are using the web as a means to share honest, forthright views and opinions.
In time, those web sites which only publish glowing testimonials will be seen for what they are – guarded, insecure and manipulative.
Far better to get ahead of your competitors and use testimonials as a means to share the complete picture.
When you get feedback that is less than glowing, publish it and address the issue. People will respect you for recognizing your imperfections, instead of hiding them.
Or at least make your testimonials trustworthy through third-party validation
Recently I found a site and service which made me smile, simply because it is one of those smart, obvious ideas one should have had oneself.
TrustedTestimonials.com provides a service whereby each testimonial is verified with the person who wrote it.
I haven’t tried it myself, but I think I will.
Why? Because along with other credibility indicators like VeriSign, Hacker Safe and BizRate, to name just three, a third party verification of your site’s integrity increases trust.
If your testimonials are verified by a third party, your visitors’ fear of being misled will be reduced.
Transparency and trust have always underpinned success online. Being open and honest is good business. If you try to deceive people, or varnish the truth, you’ll be found out sooner or later. And if you’re unlucky, the person who finds you out will have a very widely-read blog.
By being totally honest with your testimonials...either by publishing the bad with the good, or having each testimonial validated by a third party...you are signaling your integrity to every visitor to your site.
And with recognition of your integrity comes trust.
And trust translates quickly into increased sales.
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