To use testimonials or not?
This is a difficult one.
If you are a freelancer you will find lots of advice on how testimonials are vital for business. New clients will not find their way to you without them. Put them in pride of place on your website and watch your business grow.
While this may be true for physical purchases it is perhaps less so for services. Purchases tend to be a solid investment with packaging, postage and the experience of finding that the item is just what was expected. Services are a bit more tricky. If the client has little knowledge of the service, testimonials may not give the whole picture.
The case against testimonials
Take, for example, two clients both with different needs.
One is a veteran of the service. He knows exactly what he wants, and knows how to explain it to the freelancer. He makes sure that he provides the freelancer with everything they need. He may give a glowing testimonial backed up by experience and the knowledge that the job has been done well.
The other client does not really know what he wants. He has no idea if the job has been done well but gives a glowing testimonial because the freelancer was nice to him (and didn’t necessarily do a good job).
On the face of it the two testimonials give a great reference, but one is a lot less valuable than the other. Visitors to the website will just see two valid testimonials from satisfied clients.
You will see testimonials popping up all over the place, but how do you know you can trust them? Years and years ago at an advertising seminar I was told never to put your photo on a website, or in an advert. People may not like the way you look, and this could affect business. I was also told to avoid testimonials as no-one would know whether they were fake or not. This was back when the internet was a new platform for small businesses and there were a LOT of fake testimonials flying around. Today business owners are told to show the ‘human side’ of the business with lovely headshots, and to use testimonials to show what a good job you do. A lot has changed over the years.
My personal problem with testimonials is this – although on the surface they show a happy customer, they do not guarantee that work is of a professional standard. For example, someone who hires a proofreader, and who is not confident in their writing, may think that a document comes out wonderfully readable even though it has only been through a few basic checks. The document may not have been proofread properly, and indeed may only have been swept through a computer program, but the amount of errors caught may be enough to satisfy the client.
But as I know that I provide a professional service, should I be bothered by this? Why worry about what other testimonials are out there on other websites? Am I doing myself a disservice by not having testimonials?
There is also the problem of harvesting the damn things. How do you go about asking clients to write a testimonial (it can be embarrassing and at worst sound needy), and what if you are just starting out? Are a few testimonials on your website better than none at all? Then there is always the niggle that people will think that the testimonials are fake, false and fabricated.
The case for testimonials
Having said all this, there is something to be said for having testimonials on your website.
They show that you have satisfied customers and a lot of people trust testimonials to help them decide whether to use a service. Whether or not you think people take notice, they can be a nice addition to help direct traffic to your business.
If Steve from Croydon highlights that you formatted his kindle book so well it got rave reviews, it can only be a good thing. If Morag from Moray values your skills for her business website, other business owners may decide to hire you. And if Eleanor from Aberdeen was apprehensive but your people skills, as well as your editing skills, put her at ease, then it would look great on your website.
Testimonials can work as a form of word-of-mouth advertising. Whether prospective clients know the reviewers or not, fewer people think of testimonials as fake than you would imagine. I have to admit that for years I thought all website visitors would think of them as dodgy, but you just need to look at sites that are customer-led to see how reviews and testimonials have a positive effect on business – Trip Advisor is one that springs to mind.
One thing to bear in mind though is to make sure that you have permission to post the comments on your site, and the ability to prove that they are real.
At the moment I don’t have testimonials on my website. For years I have been against them, but the tide is turning and I can see how they could be a valuable addition to an online reputation. Perhaps I should stop being so English and ask a few clients for a comment or two.
What do you think? Do you love testimonials or loathe them?