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When it comes to making buying decisions online, customer reviews and testimonials can be the deciding factor that make or break a sale.

Displaying positive feedback from your customers on your website demonstrates that you have existing sales and provides social proof for potential customers who are thinking about buying from you.

In fact, word-of-mouth is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchases, while 63 percent of online customers say they are more likely to buy on sites with positive reviews.

So, what are the ingredients of a killer testimonial, and what's the secret to generating them on a regular basis?

Read on.

The Perfect Testimonial

To generate a perfect testimonial, you'll need to know what ingredients are required.

First of all, the most important aspect of any testimonial is its authenticity – so keep it real.

Fabricated reviews usually don't sound genuine thanks to their overly promotional tone. It's always better to publish honest, yet positive feedback from real customers.

And yet, real testimonials don't always come across as totally believable. So how do you make sure you don't fall into that trap?

Show Credibility

Making a testimonial credible in the eyes of your visitors is absolutely vital. However, this process goes further than just adding a quote.

When publishing a testimonial, incorporate the customer's name, a head shot, and their website or location if possible. This works well with anybody, but it goes without saying that high profile customers will also give you an extra boost in credibility.

For example, Help Scout puts this strategy to use prominently on their homepage by including a testimonial from Wistia, a well known online video marketing company:

Another great example of displaying photos with testimonials can be found Marie Forleo's B-School website:

Not only has she added photos but she has also taken the extra effort to make them consistent with her brand colors.

On the Shopify testimonial page, we make use of select customer testimonials from some of our well known brands as well as a selection of tweets from people talking about Shopify.

The key takeaway here is that adding additional information about your customers is an important part of increasing the believability of your reviews and making them more persuasive.

Publish Customer Doubt (And Then Overcome It)

Believe it or not, doubt in a review is a good thing – when used correctly. The folks over at Copyblogger covered this in detail, exposing the “reverse testimonial” method.

Reverse testimonials begin with doubt, but continue with praise and end with an eventual overcoming of the initial scepticism.

This type of testimonial sounds real because of its natural roots. In person, we give testimonials to others by starting off with the doubts we had about the product or service and then immediately follow it up with how that product overcame our doubts and solved our problem.

For example, “Do you remember that sketchy looking bookshop on the edge of town? I dropped in the other day, and they had some amazing literature. I'm definitely going back.”

Share the Story

With the credibility and doubt in place, the next step is to portray the testimonial with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Take the bookshop example I just gave. The sketchy bookshop contains the doubt and the story opener. Visiting the bookshop was the middle of my story, which was then ended with some praise. Short, sweet and natural.

Yet, a new problem now arises. How can you possibly extract all three of these core elements from your customers, and then turn it into a story?

Reach Out With The Right Questions

Positive and effective testimonials rarely roll in by themselves. To get the feedback you need, you have to reach out to your customers with some strategically structured questions.

I've compiled five of them with help form the Copyblogger post referenced above:

  • What was your main concern about buying this product? Has this concern been resolved?
  • What specific feature did you like most about this product?
  • Has this product helped you in any way? If so, how?
  • Would you recommend this product to others? If so, why?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Each of these five questions enquire about specifics which can help make up the perfect testimonial.

Question one deals with the element of doubt, while the rest can help you piece together the meat of the story from a variety of angles. Question five in particular gives the customer some freedom to express their views in a more natural manner.

Using the same questions for each customer allows you to collect testimonials with structure, making it easier to compile stories out of each review.

To piece together the story, you can carefully mesh the answers together. There's nothing wrong with tweaking the layout of the testimonial without changing the meaning, so long a you get the all clear from the customer before publishing.

Get Automated

Adding a personal touch to the customer engagement process by scheduling a time to email these questions out can really boost your response levels. Mentioning how they were singled out for a testimonial request will almost certainly produce a response.

Alternatively, making some time to call customers with the same questions can also help you capture further information.

However, such a personal approach can become more than a little time consuming in the long run. Thankfully, there is another, more automated way.

To save time on engaging with your customers, you should implement some automation. Or better yet, you should make use of existing automation.

For example, transaction emails which are automatically sent to customers after a sale are perfect for integrating the questions previously listed. The customer expects such emails, and therefore is less likely to feel like you're emailing him or her unnecessarily. This works well with digital products in particular, since the customer will have received their purchase immediately.

Alternatively, you may wish to schedule an email to be sent out to your customers after a short period following the purchase. This allows them time to experience the product before answering your questions.

In addition to reaching out to your customers to gather testimonials via email, you can also integrate review functionality into your ecommerce site. There are a number of apps that can help with this – here are a few of the more popular ones:

Reviews can be particularly powerful for ecommerce websites because they provide social proof on the buying page and show up in search engine results in the form of rich snippets which can increase click through rates to your website. 

Once on your site, reviews add a persuasive dimension to your product pages that can make your site appear more trustworthy and ultimately improve conversion rates. 

One final way to generate "mini-testimonials" is by favoriting complimentary tweets from your customers about your products or business. You can then embed these tweets on your homepage and relevant product pages.

While not automated, these mini twitter testimonials are great because they're from a 3rd party site and come complete with a photo of your customer, their location and the exact date and time the tweet was created. 

In other words, all the key elements of a believable testimonial.

Presenting the Praise

After you collect and construct the perfect testimonial, you'll need to present it professionally.

Seeing customer reviews buried deep behind a host of different pages is an all too common sight. Visitors shouldn't have to hunt in order to find testimonials, nor should they feel underwhelmed by poor presentation or lack of information once they do.

Instead, you need to ensure that the praise you receive is clearly visible on multiple pages of your website, together with all the credibility elements discussed earlier in this post. It's simply a matter of contacting the customer about your plans to publish their testimonial and asking for the added information, head shots, and so forth.

Finally, your testimonials section should be tasteful. Ensure you populate it with a variety of reviews, without cluttering the page.

Coffee Joulies does a nice job of integrating a couple customer testimonials on their homepage. This could be strengthened further by including real names and photos.

Start Generating

There you have it, a complete guide on how to compile, construct and present raving testimonials for your online store.

If you can collect such customer reviews containing the elements discussed on a regular basis, it won't be long before you possess a powerful testimonial portfolio to help convert your visitors into sales and sign ups.

So stop hesitating. Get out there and start generating.


About the Author: Mark Macdonald is the Content Manager at Shopify. Get more from Mark on Twitter.