Online testimonials, does anyone care?

Credibility on the web is a funny thing, as the medium itself can be so anonymous. Yet when people do business, or choose to initiate business on the web credibility is one of the most important factors to come up. Establishing credibility can be easy, or hard, depending on your budget.

A large scale branding campaign like web services such as, expedia, priceline, etc establish credibility pretty quickly. But not all of us have large media spends to try and establish brand recognition. Instead we must struggle with publishing expert content, developing a buzz, and having credibility indicators (a real address, 1-800 number, privacy policies, secure transactions, etc). One of the old school methods of proving credibility is showing a testimonial.

The thought is simple, some company or person has used your product or service and says it lived up or exceeded his/her expectations. However are they still effective? After all, inventing a persona and line about how you are great is pretty easy and almost impossible to disprove.

In some cases you can push testimonials further by showing an example of the work done for person/company X and combine it with a testimonial. For the web service industry this is pretty easy— if you can show you designed a site form Brand X and Brand X says “Wow I love these guys,” well chances are it is true.

However for products you really have little way to prove a testimonial other than show a video recording of it, and even then it could be someone you paid $50 to say what ever you want.

Now interesting idea here is that despite the ability to “fake” a testimonial, I have seen plenty of data sets that show quantifiable improvements in conversion based on adding testimonials. Now my hunch is that it is not always that testimonials themselves increase credibility. In some cases users expect them to be there, and if they aren’t it brings up the question “Well what is wrong with the product where they can’t even get a testimonial?”

Better safe than sorry, get some of your clients/customers to send, record, video some testimonials and put them up on your site.