What is a testimonial? And how to write questions to get good ones

How you can get customer quotes, videos, reviews that engage and convert buyers.

We've now covered the science behind why customer testimonials are so powerful, and how your business can attract more buyers to your site and convert them at a higher rate by employing them liberally in your marketing. In this chapter of The Definitive Guide to Testimonials we'll get on the same page as to what we mean by customer testimonials, and review some examples and guidelines for creating a good one.

Definition:  Customer testimonials are written or filmed statements from a current or former customer describing their use of a product or service and the benefits, performance, quality, and/or value that they have witnessed.  

In short, testimonials are evidence of customers talking about your product or service in their own words.   At their best, they are authentic, descriptive, and specific so that future buyers can identify with the customer, the problem, and how they solved it.

Check out real video testimonial examples from customers like Google, Comscore, and Martha Stoumen Wines.

In business, testimonials usually take one of three forms:

Customer quotes (written)

Marketers feature the words that a customer said or wrote and provide the customer acknowledgement as part of their website or marketing communications.

Quotes can be extemporaneous (e.g. the customer was caught in the moment or posted on social media or sent via email) or often they are scripted by the marketer and then approved by the customer.

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Customer videos

Marketers film a customer speaking on camera.  Typically, a marketer asks a set of interview questions that a customer may or may not have seen prior and then gives his opinions on camera.

Learn more how marketing teams use Vocal Video to streamline the creation of customer testimonial videos.

Customer reviews (written or video)

Marketers may cite a review that was posted online on a review site, ecommerce site, or solicit it directly from the customer.  Often times, reviews include a rating on a 5 star scale (1 star being the worst and 5 stars being the best) and an explanation of why the customer gave the rating.   Reviews can either be written or captured on video.

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That said, there are still plenty of other marketing tactics that build trust.   Here are a couple:

Trust logos

Customer logos and other trust marks, such as Better Business Bureau or ePrivacy marks.

Case Studies

Long form, written 3-4 page documents describing the challenges, use case, solution, and benefits realized by a particular customer or firm. Check out this testimonial example & template.

Data & Statistics

Original research or 3rd party conducted research or statistics on your customer base or market.

Customer logos

Variety of customer logos featured to show the breadth of customer types, typically on home page and customer pages.


  • Take inventory of your current marketing presence. Identify three areas that could benefit from the use of a testimonial.

Key Results:

  • Improved conversion

The Difference between Celebrity Endorsements, Influencer Marketing, and Testimonials

Testimonial and social proof marketing are often confused with influencer and paid celebrity endorsement marketing techniques.   Let’s try to draw a clear dividing line between the two practices.  

Celebrity endorsements are the practice of paying a celebrity to appear in an advertisement, infomercial, or at a promotional event to both create buzz and also lend their credibility to the product or service.    Celebrity endorsements are common on TV whereby models or actresses, like Jennifer Garner or Cindy Crawford will extol the benefits of a shampoo or beauty product, implying that it’s part of their daily regiment.   Ryan Seacrest (an American TV host and radio personality) is paid to promote Ford products.  The dirty truth is that most celebrities don’t actually use the products that they endorse on a daily basis.

The promise and practice of influencer marketing on social media has increased this practice of pay to play endorsements.   Influencer marketing is when marketers hire, pay, or provide free product samples to influencers to get the word out about their product or service to the influencer’s followers.   Influencers typically have large dedicated followings on a social platform like YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter.    By having the influencer endorse a product on social media, the marketers hope to reach a broader audience and stimulate organic demand for their product.

Paid endorsements and influencer marketing blur the line of what is true word of mouth marketing.   Influencer marketing is focused on finding, recruiting influencers with large social reach, not on finding real life users and consumers and placing their stories front and center in your marketing.  And, the promise has not panned out for many businesses with reports of high costs and diminishing rewards for their influencer marketing campaigns.  

Use of genuine testimonials in your marketing focuses on showcasing advocates for your brand, giving them a voice, and not compromising truth and believability by compensating them directly for their statements.  Testimonials subjects are selected not for their expansive social networks, but for their true experience with your product or service.   Done right, testimonial based marketing is genuine, authentic, and highly trustworthy.

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What Makes a Good Testimonial?  

6 Attributes of a Kick Ass Testimonial

Most of us probably feel like we instinctively know what a good testimonial is when we see it.   However, it turns out there is a science behind what makes good testimonials.   The cardinal rule is always put yourself in the shoes of the buyer.   What will appeal to them?   What matters most?   So let’s dissect the key traits of a great testimonial:

  1. Short and to the Point -   Whether we are talking about a video or a written testimonial or review, they must be short.   Buyers are distracted, lack patience, and want the dopamine hit of information immediately.   No one wants to read through a 2 page review detailing every minute detail or watch a 20 minute video.   So as marketers we must err on the side of creating short, concise testimonials.   Quotes should not exceed 2 sentences, videos should be less than 4 minutes in length, and reviews should be no more than a paragraph of text or 4 minutes of recorded video.  
  2. Evoke Both an Emotional and Logical Reaction - The buying process is both emotional and logical.   Ideally, we want our testimonials to connect with both sides of the brain.   The best testimonials connect to the reader or viewer on an emotional level.   For example, if you are marketing diamond rings, you want testimonials that describe when someone proposed to their fiancé  and what the fiancé's reaction was.  That is marketing gold.   In B2B, oftentimes you want testimonials that describe the challenge or problem and how painful it was before the product or service.   Your testimonial should appeal to both the emotional and reasoning capacity of the prospective buyers in order to spur action.
  3. Emphasize a Key Message with Each Testimonial -  Great testimonials reinforce and amplify the key messages and value propositions of the product or service in question.   If a key benefit of the product is cost savings, then a testimonial quantifying how much money was saved and the ROI is ideal.  Marketers should strive to have several testimonials that back up or prove out each of their value propositions.   Carefully think through your value messages before asking for a testimonial and figure out what questions to ask the customer to elicit those messages.  
Pro tip: One trap marketers often fall into is that they try to cram all value messages into a single testimonial.  A better strategy is to have a focussed testimonial that solely speaks directly and clearly to one value point.

4. Focus on Authenticity and Sincerity (not polish and scripts) - You want your prospective buyers to connect personally with the customer in the testimonials.   It is ok if they stutter or stumble over words as long as they deliver the intended message.   Marketers often fall victim to targeting perfection with the most charismatic or polished speakers and invest thousands of dollars on professional lighting, staged appearances, and scripted performances.     However, these subjects and productions can come across as either overly scripted, less knowledgeable and lacking substance.   We naturally connect and trust individuals who show some vulnerability and are more like “real people.”   Thus, always err on the side of creating trust through sincerity and authenticity and focus less on polish and glamour.

5. Visually Compelling -  Yes, substance matters (authentic, concise, specific testimonials are super important), but don’t skimp on form either when it comes to testimonials.   That means don’t just type a customer quote in plain text into the body of your web page.   Create designs with stylized quotes and rounded corners to set your testimonials off from the rest of the content and make them stand out.   Add pictures of your customers, clearly cite their name, title, and company affiliation to their quote.  For videos, invest in video production and motion graphics to break up the video and provide a professional feel.   The visual aesthetic of your testimonials is a great way to draw attention to your customers in your marketing.

6. Use Video Whenever Possible - Invest in making customer videos.   While video can be time consuming to make and it adds complexity in terms of how to shoot compelling footage, especially when customers are not local to you.   Nonetheless, the research on the power of video is overwhelming.   According to Forbes, 90% of customers say video helps them make buying decisions and 64% of buyers say that seeing a video makes them more likely to buy.   Plus, viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in text. (Wirebuzz).    

Net net: customer videos engage buyers at a higher rate than other types of content forms and positively influence purchasing decisions. Read our definitive research on video testimonials.

3 Other Factors Buyers Consider to Build Trust

The 6 guidelines above are important considerations for producing compelling testimonials.   But, buyers aren’t just myopically evaluating each testimonial individually.   They are sizing you, your site, and its product or service up overall.   They won’t be swayed by a single compelling testimonial if there are no other customer markers.   Prospects want to see that there is a wide and deep outpouring of support and love from your customer base as a whole, not just one or two individuals.  Buyers will scrutinize 3 other factors to gauge the depth and breadth of the customer base’s love and how much trust they will award your brand.

  1. Quantity of Reviews and Testimonials - Buyers not only consider the quality and relevance of each individual testimonial, but also the overall number of reviews or testimonials directly influences how much they trust the company.  For example, one research study found that 50 or more reviews or testimonials on a site can boost conversion by 4.6% or more.    Think about it.   It stands to reason that buyers believe that more reviews indicate that the product is in wide usage and beloved by many happy customers.   These factors further de-risk their purchase decision.  
  2. Freshness - No one wants to read an old, outdated review.    Buyers will scrutinize when reviews and testimonials were posted and how recent the last submission was.   Dated reviews and testimonials are a huge turn off and indicate that the company may not be thriving.   As a result, the best marketers set up automated programs that constantly solicit new reviews and testimonials.   The benefits are threefold:   1) it passes the buyers check for fresh. recent testimonials and 2) creates a steady stream of new content for social media promotion 3) benefits SEO with new content
  3. Visually Appealing Galleries and Customer Pages - Put your customers front and center in your marketing and at the heart of your site.   Top marketers create customer pages or sections on their site dedicated to showing off happy, satisfied customers.   These pages are often titled “Customer Love” or “Our Customers.    They are chock full of videos, testimonials, and reviews and are often interactive so buyers can search, sort, and find customers just like them.  The presence of a gallery with lots of testimonials is another tried and true strategy for building trust and boosting conversions. You can check out some great testimonial examples here.
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