How To Optimize Customer Testimonials Part 1: A Framework

The wonderful thing about testimonials is that they have the ability to increase conversion rates across a wide variety of applications: direct-response landing pages, B2B lead generation, eCommerce, etc.

Study after study has indicated that when we make purchase decisions, we listen to our friends and peers more than we listen to “experts.” Our social networks carry an amazing amount of authority, and testimonials tap into the authority of the crowd and give us ‘social proof‘ that our peers vouch for a product or service.

When I think about optimizing customer testimonials on client websites (which is quite often), I break my efforts down into 4 categories: Content, Authenticity, Placement, and Presentation (CAPP). The good news is that all 4 are great things to make a part of your ongoing testing efforts, either in isolation, or combined in a multivariate approach!

Let’s drill down into each part of the CAPP, shall we?


I define “content” as the words in the testimonial, whether they’re text on a page, spoken words in an audio file, or the presentation in a video testimonial. Like in most persuasive web content, specificity is a great way to make testimonial content shine. Instead of saying “I had no problems getting help from tech support and a quick resolution to my problem,” encourage the customer to be more specific so the testimonial comes out something like “It was 11:45pm on a Tuesday when I discovered that my SSL certificate had expired. I was losing roughly 17 orders per hour that I was without encryption. By 1:04am, I had a new certificate installed, tested, and running…phew!”

Another trick I learned about long ago was that testimonials that show “skepticism overcome” are extremely good for conversions. For example, instead of saying “I love this software and couldn’t live without it!” encourage your customers to be honest about any misgivings they had up-front. Your testimonial might end up saying something like “When I first downloaded the free trial, I was counting the days I had to cancel and uninstall. I just didn’t believe it would save me that much time. Let’s just say I’ve renewed by license for three years running, and you’d have to pry this software out of my cold, dead hands.”

My examples may be overly-creative in their attempts to be illustrative. It’s important to allow customers to use their own words and write whatever they’re comfortable with. I’m just saying you can do some gentle encouraging and guiding 🙂


“Authenticity” refers to the perceived authenticity of the testimonial content. I have to assume the testimonials themselves are authentic, but keep in mind that ‘perception is reality’ when it comes to those you’re trying to convert. Besides getting good testimonial content out of your customers, as detailed above, the best way to optimize the authenticity of your quotes is to increase the amount of detail about who’s giving them.

Again, you can’t force a customer to divulge information about themselves, but the more they’re willing to have posted on your site, the better. Non-monetary incentives could be an option here? Start by asking for first and last name, and city/state. Bonus points if you can get them to send in a picture of themselves!

For eCommerce testimonials (or product reviews), ask for product purchased, how they use it, favorite features, etc.

For B2B marketing testimonials, ask for company name, job title, LinkedIn profile, product/solution purchased, etc.

A note about Twitter: Tweets can be wonderfully authentic due to the informal tone and spontaneous outpouring of emotion. I believe we’re just starting to understand, via testing, the effectiveness of tweets as persuasive testimonials. Authenticity is great, but 140 characters can’t get very specific, especially when space is taken up by a lot of “@” and “#”.


“Placement” refers to where in the core content the testimonial is located. This has to do with things like information hierarchy and eye path. While some have indicated that having testimonials in a “right column” is a best practice, I’m not convinced. If a testimonial is highly relevant, why shouldn’t it ‘interrupt’ the body copy, or have body copy ‘float’ around it like in print publications?

Since there is no established design pattern or mental model for where these testimonials should be located, this is a great aspect to test.


“Presentation” is how I think about the look and feel of the testimonials. For example, font size, type, and weight all contribute to the presentation. Adding a colored background and over-sized quotes does, too. Then there’s deciding on the style of the over-sized quotes. And what about italicizing? You can see how presentation variables can add up quickly!

Since I’m not a designer, I’ll refer you to a good roundup on this topic at Smashing Magazine: Block Quotes and Pull Quotes: Examples and Good Practices.

Coming Up Next

Now that I’ve laid out the mental CAPP framework I’ve used to optimize customer testimonials, you can start thinking about how your own testimonials could be optimized. Or, how you could put your best foot forward when you start acquiring testimonials.

In an upcoming Part 2 post, I’ll take all the aspects of the CAPP framework, and explain how I would pull them all into a bad@ss multivariate test on a web page. If you haven’t already, you can use the buttons on this blog’s homepage to subscribe via RSS, FeedBurner, or Email and make sure you’re notified when Part 2 is posted.


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