Arguably the oldest form of marketing is word of mouth. As long as people have been able to speak, they’ve been able to recommend items, products, and services to others. These word of mouth, endorsement-style pieces of marketing most often appear in digital form as either testimonials or reviews. There are different types of testimonials and reviews, but for our purposes we’ll be a little bit reductive, and put them in two categories: onsite and offsite.
Onsite includes testimonials or product reviews appearing on a company or group’s own website. Offsite essentially appears anywhere else, whether we’re talking about review sites, social media, or other stores. So the question is, are testimonials and reviews, especially onsite, still relevant? If so, how should businesses be leveraging them?
“Are testimonials and reviews still relevant, in general?”
Short answer: absolutely. However, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Users interact with different types of endorsements in different ways. Depending on age, industry, on/offsite, etc., a user’s impression of the quality of an endorsement can vary greatly. There is, however, one overarching trend: users don’t care what testimonials you pick for your own site. In specific situations, they care about what product reviews live on your website, but definitely not always.
So, why don’t users care about onsite company testimonials? The answer is simple; most users assume that your onsite testimonials are cherry-picked to endorse you.
There are actually a few compelling stats to back this assertion up, especially in the world of B2B marketing. According to BusinessToCommunity.com, 57% of B2B purchase decisions have been completely made before users even visit a company’s website. That means the vast majority of vetting, including reading testimonials and endorsements, occurred completely offsite.
In our own experience at Steadfast, testimonial pages are often the least interacted with, and with our sites primarily being B2B, that data would appear to support the previous statistic. According to ReputationLoop.com, 92% of users read online reviews, but only about 10% of total reviews read are on the actual company’s website.
So, if you’re in the B2B world and aren’t selling physical products (and most B2B businesses aren’t), you should be much more concerned with your total brand reputation offsite than with what reviews you’ve chosen to put on a largely unseen testimonial page.
Product reviews are a slightly different animal, in terms of onsite benefit. For whatever reason, the general consensus is that onsite product reviews are quite a bit most trustworthy than onsite company testimonials.
As eConsultancy.com reports, 61% of purchasers read product reviews on consumer products before making a purchase, regardless of whether or not they are purchasing on a product’s own website or on a store site like Amazon. That benefit is extremely compelling. Additionally, there is a much larger SEO benefit to onsite product reviews than company testimonials. Every year for the past half-dozen years, the searches for “[insert product here] review” have been rising. That means if you can attach product reviews with unique URLs to your consumer products, you’re likely to rank very well for relevant searches for product reviews. If 61% of folks are looking for that content, you should do everything you can to put that content on your own website or product-specific microsite.
“If users aren’t reading endorsements on my site, where are they reading them?”
This question’s answer is extremely varied, as the honest truth is that there isn’t one location. More than ever, users are looking all across the internet to locate valuable opinions of your brand, products, or services.
Hubspot has some great pieces of information on this topic. According to the inbound marketing experts, 61% of users research products & services online, and 80% of social media users prefer to meet brands for the first time that way. The takeaway here is that new users, especially young new users, are doing research on your brand and a lot of that is happening on social media. By nature, you have no real control of your social brand perception, but it’s helpful to know exactly how important it is to curate your social presence.
According to ReputationLoop, the single most important piece of endorsement content to the majority leads is the Google or Facebook star rating. This is obvious if you think about it, as someone who wouldn’t read reviews will still see your star rating. It’s quick and blindly trusted.
Speaking of Google, search is just as important as social when in comes to brand reputation. Most business owners and marketing professionals understand this, but they don’t always have the right frame of mind when they consider search reputation. That star rating we’ve discussed is very important, but it’s also important to consider that search also pulls in reviews from review sites. That means you have to keep just as close an eye on sites like Yelp, Thumbtack, and the numerous others like them.
When most people think of search, in general, they think of Google, followed by (typically) Bing, Yahoo, AOL, and Ask. But that’s a bit outdated as a frame of reference. Naming Google first is spot on, but behind that is actually YouTube and Facebook in that order. Yes, it’s true. In fact, according to Hubspot, YouTube has for several years been the second largest search engine, and has more monthly searches than Bing, Yahoo, AOL, and Ask combined.
Let that sink in.
When was the last time your brand created video testimonials or reviews? When was the last time you urged your loyal customers/clients to create video endorsements, unboxing videos, or reviews? If your answer is never, or not recently, it would be a great time to get started on that.
“Okay, I understand where users are reading endorsements, but what should I do?”
There are a handful of things (we’ll name 5) you should start doing to manage your brand reputation, and use endorsements in a way that people actually care about. Luckily, there are even some items on this list you could start doing immediately.
- Invest in Your Website.
- Create SEO-Friendly Product Reviews.
- Spend More Targeted Time on Social.
- Encourage Users to Review You, and Often. (And on Video)
- Create a Thought Leadership Plan.
Invest in Your Website.
When we talk to most companies who question the value of a modern website, their comments usually center around ROI. Well, a big part of the ROI that a website is built to handle is establishing trust with a potential customer. If nothing else, a good corporate site should establish trust and be informative.
Similarly, those are the two key goals of a solid endorsement. That correlation isn’t just a bit of serendipity, it’s actually a hard piece of data. According to BusinessToCommunity.com, just over half of users (yes, half) say that website design is the most important element in establishing brand credibility. So, if you’re looking to your website to create that sense of trust and buy-in with a lead, stop thinking about testimonials & endorsements, and start thinking about great, modern website design. Especially with consumer good, 50% of shoppers engage in what’s called showrooming, or comparison shopping products on a store shelf via their mobile device.
If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re losing out on sales due to a bad user experience, and due to a nerfed search ranking.
Create SEO-Friendly Product Reviews.
Our first suggestion actually segways to this one very well. This would be true regardless, but is especially true when you loop in the showrooming trends. If your site’s product reviews aren’t showing up in search, they may as well not be there at all.
Either your company, or the SEO agency your company is partnered with, should be taking the time to ensure that all of your individual product reviews are crawlable. By that, I mean a product’s reviews should be an overt element of the product page itself. As an example for reference, model your product interface after the way that Amazon handles product reviews. And don’t be afraid to feature poor reviews. According to eConsultancy’s research, a product or service with mostly positive reviews, but a small amount of negative reviews, had an increase in consumer trust by 68%, compared to products or services with unanimously positive reviews, which users trust 30% less. Featuring your negative reviews conveys to a user that you aren’t just cherry-picking the good stuff.
Spend More Time on Social.
The biggest painpoints that a business will have on social, in relation to reputation, is the fact that they can do nothing to rid negative reviews from their page. The most proactive approach, however, is to simply be more active on social.
If you’re regularly engaged with your users on social, you’re staying top-of-mind with your most loyal fans, which makes them that much more likely to take the time to leave a positive review or testimonial. BusinessToCommunity asserts that 47% of Americans of all ages view FaceBook as the #1 influencer on their purchase decisions. That includes endorsements from friends and thought leaders, encouragement and education from the brands themselves, as well as becoming aware of a brand through social advertising.
You should also strongly consider ramping up your presence on Pinterest. Now sitting as the #3 social media platform, Pinterest is essentially a digital community completely based around sharing and endorsing.
If you stop and consider that every single pin represents a product endorsement, and the fact that there are billions of pins on the site, it seems like a no-brainer to engage with Pinterest, especially if you’re a B2C company.
Encourage Users to Review You, and Often. (And on Video)
As opposed to cherry-picking what reviews and testimonials fall into your lap, you should be encouraging users to review you offsite. If some come up that you feel are strong enough to live on your site, then great, but your focus should be offsite.
You could do this through social campaigns, email campaigns, and incentives. No matter what kind of push you make, you must do it often. This shouldn’t be a Q4 marketing goal, or a twice a year goal, or anything like that.
Part of your monthly marketing mix should be a review/endorsement campaign. I can hear you saying “But are they really that important?” The answer is yes, they are. According to research done by Web.com, 84% of users don’t consider reviews & testimonials to be relevant if they’re older than 6 months.
Additionally, 44% of users say one month is too old to be relevant. In the instant-gratification era, you’ve got to be current to be relevant, even in terms of endorsements.
Create a Thought-Leadership Plan.
If the goal of your marketing efforts is to elicit more trust in users, and be more visible in search with sharable content, you should shift your focus away from testimonials and reviews, and over to blogging and thought leadership.
According to Hubspot, the forefathers of inbound marketing, 46% of users read blogs daily, and 79% of companies that blog report inbound ROI. Adding high-quality, value-driven pages to your website can only help to make you more visible on search and more shared on social.
Additionally, Hubspot says that marketers who prioritize blogging report that their clients are 13 times more likely to see ROI on the efforts. All that said, if you’ve got a few hours and can’t decide between typing up that review that was mailed to you, or writing a piece of thought leadership content, pick the thought leadership content.
“That all makes sense, but what do I do with all these testimonials and reviews?”
The point of this blog is not to stay that testimonials and reviews on your own site are useless. That’s far from the case. The purpose here is more to convey that there are better, more valuable ways to approach brand reputation management. Your onsite testimonials are far from useless. Their primary purpose, according to research done by SocialFresh.com, should be content marketing. When you attach testimonials and reviews to pieces of print collateral, email marketing, blogs, white papers, and pretty much any other pieces of content marketing, the results can be seriously impressive. SocialFresh argues that customer testimonials have the highest content marketing success rate, at around 89%. That number is far too high to be ignored. Additionally, if you have customers who feel strongly enough to send you reviews, it’s very likely that they would take those same reviews and post them elsewhere online.
If they are uncomfortable posting them themselves, see if those loyal customers would sit in for a video testimonial, or at least have their words read by an actor in a video testimonial. As we’ve discussed, video is far more valuable than print with this content.
As you can see, testimonials, reviews, and endorsements have been around forever, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, brands need to take a step back and reconsider how the think about brand reputation, and reputation management. It isn’t as simple as taking the best reviews, posting them, and forgetting about them.
As with all elements of digital marketing, it’s important to be persistent, innovative, and creative with pieces of reputation-centric content. If you’re looking an agency that understand that principle, visit us at SteadfastCreative.com, and check out Steadcast, the Digital Revenue Podcast, for more information relevant to you.