How to Make Customer Testimonials (and Reviews) Work Harder

Posted By on April 22, 2014

Cynthia Hartwig's selfie proves she's a real Rivet and Sway customer

My #selfie proves I’m a real customer in my sassy new Rivet and Sway sunglasses.


Most customer testimonials live in the land of awful rather than artful. Yet they’re amazing sales tools if they’re done right. Studies have shown that testimonials and reviews above the fold make everything from landing pages to your LinkedIn profile more effective.

Customer Testimonials Provide “Social Proof”

People prefer to do things in a herd–particularly when they’re making purchase decisions. It is safer to buy what everybody else is buying (think of the death of superior technology like beta players). A good review from someone who bought your product is the online equivalent for the humans who used to greet us at the fish market saying, “That one’s fresh,” or “Beware the stinker.”

Specific is Better than General.

The great thing about humans is that we think God is in the details. If someone points out the small stuff that pleases them about your product, consider it gold. Do they like the extra inch you’ve provided in the inseam of a pant? Do they rave about extra elastic in the waist that allows them to breathe deep after a big meal? Those are the testimonials you put above the fold–rather than weighting reviews based on recency or general good will.

Bad Testimonials are Really Good.

uranium ore available from Amazon

Bet you didn’t know you could buy uranium online. And who knew that the product reviews would be dynamite?

uranium critical review: "I purchased this 4.7 billion years ago and when I opened it today, it was half-empty."

Found this funny review of uranium on Amazon. The tongue-in-cheek “poor” review is worth more than a lot of praise


I have had to arm wrestle clients away from the delete button when they read less-than-complimentary comments. Here’s the deal: a bad review says you and your site are honest and confirms that buyers can trust you. Think of your own skepticism in the face of gushing paeans of praise: admit it, you believe the reviews are paid for, not earned. So even if someone slams you, suck it up and leave it for your customers to decide. Just do something to fix the problem next time you update your product (this is research people pay big money for.)

Look for Sound Bytes and Keep Videos Short

Our attention spans are short–and getting shorter. You can make customer testimonials work harder on video by highlighting the “quotable” quote within a great review. Be sure to include a short and pithy recap in the caption to the video (captions are always better read) and make customer testimonial videos under :60 seconds. I prefer to make videos of one customer at a time, rather than editing a string of customers together; that way the buyer can click on as many reviews as they want, and you get better viewer data.

Show Your “Typical” Buyer in Either Still or Moving Pictures

A lot of people prefer video testimonials because they pass the reality test. They’re much harder to fake than say, a photo with a written statement. I think both work, especially if you use first and last names on your written reviews (with permission, of course). The important thing is to make sure the people talking about your product or service are representative of your main buyer demographic. In other words, don’t show the guy in dreadlocks holding a skateboard if mostly grandmas buy your product. And if you’re shooting real people on video, hire somebody who knows how to frame and light because a low rent, lame video makes your product look equally lame.

Share your great or greatly awful testimonials in the comments. And any tips you’ve found successful when you make customer testimonials.

Cynthia Hartwig