Few things put customers as at-ease with using a brand as a testimonial from another customer. Some studies peg the boost to conversion rates at as high as 200%, though most caution that a 25-50% increase is more likely. With these kinds of numbers, marketers should be leveraging every opportunity they have to add “social proof” to their conversion process, and a good number of them have. According to the Marketing Sherpa Landing Page Handbook survey of marketers, on a scale of 1-5, marketers rated customer reviews a solid 3.5 for effectiveness.

The big caveat to the testimonial subject is that as the trust level of the testimonial decreased, so did the boost to the final conversion rate. Trust, when it comes to product and service reviews, is fairly simple to quantify:

Third-Party Reviews > On-Page Reviews > Video Testimonials > Audio Testimonials > Text

It seems that consumers have figured out how easy it is to fake a testimonial not long after businesses figured out the same. So as the ease of fabrication increases, so too does a potential customers’ skepticism. Since it’s noticeably harder to record audio and video than type out some text, those formats get a higher level of trust, and all three “testimonial” formats dwarf in comparison to obvious user-generated reviews, both on the site in question and on third party sites like Yelp, Google Products and Places, and Amazon Reviews.

For e-commerce sites, the majority of testimonials should be user generated to ensure maximum trust and foster a positive attitude towards your brand.

Not all Reviews are Created Equally

As with any tool, customer testimonials have their benefits and their dangers. Overuse of the testimonial or review can easily lead to “customer review fatigue”, wherein customers become so overwhelmed with reviews that making a purchasing decision actually becomes more difficult. Another potential risk is negative reviews: on the one hand, allowing negative reviews means letting customers post potentially damaging opinions; on the other hand, not allowing negative reviews is seen as a major breach of trust and can be even more damaging than a one or two star testimonial. Finally, if you allow public reviews and a product isn’t getting any attention, the lack of reviews might actually deter potential customers by giving the appearance that the product isn’t popular.

To Review or Not to Review

Despite the potential pitfalls of customer testimonials and user generated reviews, the pros tend to outweigh the cons when measured up to the overall benefits. Moving forward with generating reviews – how can companies begin collecting them?

After determining what form of testimonial will work best for you, the next step is to collect. For many businesses, this can be difficult. However, this is where a good set of transactional emails is vital since most customers won’t give a review unless they’re asked. Even well-established brands with hundreds of thousands of customers like Netflix and Amazon still send out requests for product reviews. Even though many brands are afraid of forcing reviews, most studies suggest that not only are customers not offended at getting asked to review products, they’re generally happy to do so.

When is the best time to ask for a review or testimonial?

Most studies suggest that immediately after the product arrives is the ideal time: this is when the customer is at the highest point of engagement with your brand. A strong marketing automation program can sync up with your shipping and fulfillment to deliver a review request shortly after the purchase arrives, and drastically increase review rates (by as much as 10 percentage points, according to some studies).

The Bottom Line

Reviews, testimonials, and other user generated content can be an incredibly powerful tool for convincing potential customers to make a purchase. As with most things, though, with great power comes great responsibility, and care must be taken to provide a high quality and trustworthy review process.