Much like non-alcoholic beer and downing wild animals that wander where they shouldn’t, providing testimonials that proclaim the wonders of your company are usually seen as unfortunate but necessary. Some even call them totally unnecessary (much like non-alcoholic vodka).

And yet, wanting to hear from peers before committing to a purchase or business agreement is hard-wired in our psychology. Whether in the neighborhood bookstore or a UX agency site, people want to know that others like and recommend products before they buy. I know I do. For sake of example, according to Econsultancy 64% of consumers would read online reviews when purchasing technology items such as MP3 players and cameras.

This underlies the importance of social proof–as long as there is some kind of community, we feel an urge to fit in with it and its opinions. Rankings, reviews and positive remarks from others go a long way. When hearing peer reviews as opposed to a company’s description of a product, consumers are 12x more likely to buy. The goal of social proof is to bring together positive connections that increase trust between the user/customer and companies (not to mention boost those conversion rates).

Why Testimonials Work

According to the findings of social psychologist Robert Cialdini there are six principles of influence that guide our decisions; No. 4 is the origin of the term social proof. On that point, he elaborates:

“We’re particularly susceptible to this principle when we’re feeling uncertain, and we’re even more likely to be influenced if the people we see seem to be similar to us. That’s why commercials often use moms, not celebrities, to advertise household products.”

How Testing Simple Landing Page Elements Yielded a Triple-Digit Improvement

Because many customers approach sites with a degree of skepticism, validation of an app, service or company is super important. Today’s web economy has been accused of being glutted with good-looking but disappointing services. Since companies so often look good but fail to deliver, showcasing your customers’ pure, unadulterated glee with social proof proves critical.

Tips for Titillating Testimonials

Certain companies have the luxury of showing you all you need to see in a portfolio or work page. For instance, many web design and branding agencies (look at Phoenix, Wild, and Demodern) provide visible, tangible products that can be seen in their entirety on the web when browsing those sites, so their portfolios do the trick. If their designs lag or clash, or conversely are functionally beautiful, then you as the user, will be able to tell. But when your company deals in intangible services like SaaS products, or when every aspect of your work cannot so easily speak for itself, including testimonials is key.

Statistically speaking, the average website conversion for companies with defined processes is more than twice that of companies without (5.9 percent vs. 3.8 percent).


Speak to the Intangibles.

This testimonial page for a Seattle-based freelance writer speaks to what cannot be seen: the quality, professionalism, and candor of the person, in addition to quality of his product.


Back Up Your Brand

Effective testimonials can even be useful as a way to confirm brand character, as well as the work of the agency. Take quirk-forward Swedish brand Snask’s testimonial: “Snask is like Titanic played backwards…”


Efficient, Effective Comments

DT’s redesign of New Relic’s site showcases New Relic’s many talents and the companies that love them. Remarks from New Relic’s client, Yellow Pages Group: “The bottom line is that New Relic isn’t just for developers. It’s intuitive enough to deliver value across the organization.”


Think About Placement

Like King Willy, this design/architecture site puts testimonials at the very end of their long-scrolling page. This keeps accusations of braggadocio at bay, but remains visible for any user.


More Specific Than, “The Best Ever!”

Take a page from Built By King Willy’s “happy brands” section, committed to relevant, specific testimonials. It’s visible (but not overly attention seeking) at the bottom of their page, and its comments speak to the very specific help: “Our unique interactive menu, fantastic food photography and restaurant videography have had a hand in improving the website traffic by over 550 percent.”


Convey the Celebratory

Comments on the Digital Embassy’s page ring out positivity.


Think Long Term

One of Bad Assembly’s testimonials points to “five years” of reliable awesomeness from the 9-year-old digital agency. In a world of flash-in-the-pan startups, that is sure to stand out.


Put Faces to Names

Coulee Creative cycles through five affirming comments from industry leaders, matched with pictures. This builds confidence and puts a face to each name, which studies have shown to increase our inclination to trust.


Stay Consistent

The site for best-selling author Tim Ferriss stays on the same page. His testimonials all speak to the same qualities: energetic, unexpected and seriously effective.


Link Back to the Source

Linking to Twitter feeds and brand pages, like Toi Agency does, is another way to keep comments accountable and real.

Say Something.

The above pages do something very tricky, very well. The truth is that testimonials are a bitch to get right. In fact, doing it well can be as important as whether or not to do it. A classless testimonial can actually work against you. Put them front-and-center, and risk banging everyone over the head with your superiority, which will start to look bad (i.e. pushy, snotty or insecure). Hide them in an out-of-the-way subsection, and your social proof goes unheard.

It’s hard to get someone else’s words in the first place, it’s really hard to get them to supply something that perfectly fits the aesthetic and feel of your website and brand. But when obtained and presented in an effective way, testimonials as a form of social proof can build trust for services, especially those that can’t be seen upfront. When a trusted CEO says something genuinely positive about working with your company, you can bet on upping your credibility.

By leveraging human psychology, great testimonials build-up the user’s experience. In a way, testimonials pick up where design leaves off.

What do you think?