Beyond Testimonials – Using Social Proof To Boost Your Conversion Rates

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Imagine you come across a website from a company you’ve never heard of, but you see that thousands of people have liked and retweeted its posts and its email list has almost quarter of a million subscribers; you also notice several glowing testimonials.
What would you think? Would you be willing to give the company a chance, trust that its products or services were good quality and value? …Probably a lot more so than a company with little to no shares, subscribers, or positive feedback.
Social proof is powerful. Big name companies like Amazon, MailChimp, and WordPress know this well and most other businesses also use some form of social proof on their websites, as social proof “is the marketing tactic for easing the minds of worried customers,” says Gregory Ciotti.
tyler ellisonTyler EllisonConsumers see advertising and immediately become skeptical of what the merchant claims about the product. Social proof, such as testimonials, demonstrations, and before & after photos, helps break down the skepticism.  The fact that the product performed as claimed for other consumers similar to themselves makes the merchant’s claims more believable.
Having multiple people as witnesses will always be more persuasive than a single person making product claims, especially if that one person is the merchant—since consumers realize there’s self-interest behind the merchant’s claims.”

So what should you know about social proof and what are some of the most effective types of social proof at increasing conversions?

What You Need To Know About Social Proof

Social proof, which is also referred to as informational social influence, is a “psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”

Positive Social Proof Persuades Buyers More Than Saving Money

gregoryciottiGregory Ciotti of HelpScout“In a fascinating environmental study published in the Washington Post, researchers examined the effectiveness of signs (yet again!) on persuading customers to use less energy in the summer by turning on fans instead of air conditioning. Before we get into the results and implications, check out the 4 types of signs they tested:

  • Sign #1: Informed the customer that they could be saving $54/month on their utility bill.
  • Sign #2: Told customers that they could prevent the release of 262 pounds of greenhouse gasses every month.
  • Sign #3: Encouraged customers that saving energy was a socially responsible thing to do.
  • Sign #4: Let customers know that 77 percent of their neighbors were already actively using fans to save energy.

Which sign do you think was the most effective at getting people to use less energy? Surprise, it was sign #4—the one that invoked the positive social proof. That means that in this instance, the positive social proof was more persuasive than saving money (sign #1), protecting the environment (sign #2), and making responsible choices (sign #3), all of which are positive behaviors, but none of which could stand up to the power of group influence.
This lines up quite closely with some related pricing research on savings; in particular, a Wharton study that shows how customers are growing more and more concerned with ‘saving time’ and headaches over saving money.”

No Social Proof Is Better Than Low Social Proof

Many businesses incorporate an array of social sharing buttons on their websites, allowing visitors to easily spread information to their respective Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ spheres. Is this a practice that’s actually helping these businesses, though?
If you’re garnering scores of retweets, likes, and shares, then absolutely, it’s a good thing. But if your buttons are collecting cobwebs, then their lack of action may actually negatively impact how your customers perceive your company.
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joanna wiebeJoanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers“The ease of sharing a post today—with Buffer and Flares—means that a lack of shares is worse than ever. It takes a max of 2 clicks to tweet someone’s post…so if you’ve got no tweets, you’re saying this: My content is so bad that people won’t even waste a click on it…and you shouldn’t either.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all content that fails to get shared is poor content. Not at all. There’s tons of amazing stuff out there that no one tweets or talks about. But the actual quality isn’t the point; the perception of quality is.”

How To Keep A Lack Of Social Proof Under Wraps

  • Remove social sharing buttons from your posts and reinstate them only once your pages start to gain more traction.
  • Never add social sharing buttons to pages that are unlikely to ever be shared, such as your squeeze or lead generation page.
  • Don’t show the number of email or RSS subscribers you have if those numbers are low.
  • In lieu of testimonials, share the most complimentary tweets or Facebook messages your company has received.

Pictures Make Your Social Proof More Trustworthy

Customer testimonials are one of the most influential forms of social proof that you can use. But a paragraph of laudatory text standing alone isn’t always all that believable. After all, you could’ve written those testimonials yourself and made up fake names. How can your customers be sure that Sarah G. from Wisconsin and Phil R. from Boston are actual customers and not just names you pulled from thin air?
Well, for starters, research shows that pictures increase the perception of trustworthiness, or “truthiness” as comedian Stephen Colbert would say.
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Accordingly, testimonials are considered more believable when a corresponding photo accompanies them. Plus, it’s already been established through other research that people enjoy looking at pictures of human faces, especially when those faces are expressive.

So if you include quotes from customers or brand advocates as social proof on your site, make sure to supplement their remarks with high quality, friendly photos, like in the example below.

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6 Types Of Social Proof That Will Increase Your Conversion Rates

Product Reviews

Product reviews are a hugely important form of social proof for ecommerce businesses, and it should be no surprise that including reviews on your product pages boosts your conversion rates.
According to a Nielsen global study, “92% of people will trust a recommendation from a peer, and 70% of people will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know.” Customers want to make sure they are getting the best deal possible, and reviews help them feel informed and confident about their purchases.
So including the reviews right on your product pages allows customers to make the best buying decision because when people see positive feedback from other satisfied customers, they feel like there’s a good chance that they’ll enjoy the product too.
sidSid Bharath, Marketing Consultant“In an experiment conducted on Figleaves.com, it was found that products that had reviews had a 12.5% higher conversion rate than those that didn’t. The more reviews a product had the higher the conversion rates were, with an increase of 83.85% for 20+ reviews.
Authentic reviews signal to consumers that others have used your product and that it has worked for them. Showing reviews from real people, and including negative reviews, builds trust as well.
By merely adding a reviews widget to their product pages, Express Watches increased sales by 58.29%. On their site they made claims that their watches were authentic and came with a warranty, but consumers were still not convinced. Once they saw reviews by other customers, it became clear to them that this was the real deal.”
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Celebrity And Expert Endorsements

The concept of using a popular or well-known personage to endorse a product and convince customers of its quality and value is by no means new. In fact, IBSCDC.org reports that “the history of celebrity endorsement of products dates back to the 1760s” and it happens across a wide variety of product niches.
From soda…
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To cars…

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To fitness apparel…
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…celebrity faces pop up all over the place, helping companies promote their goods.

nat eliasonNat Eliason of SumoMe“Celebrity and expert endorsements work off of the ‘Halo Effect.’ When someone sees a brand or product being associated with or endorsed by someone they have respect or admiration for, those positive emotions extend to the brand as well.
But it works better with someone the viewer is familiar with. Celebrities are effective for big brands because they’re trying to appeal to millions of people. But when you’re a smaller company, with a more targeted audience, you can instead use people that audience trusts.
For example, Brian Dean’s blog, Backlinko, is a top resource for SEO advice and strategy. It doesn’t make sense for him to get a random celebrity to endorse him because they don’t know anything about SEO.
Instead, he has endorsements from Neil Patel of Quicksprout and John Jantsch, the author of Duct Tape Marketing. Both are industry experts that readers of Backlinko are likely to recognize.”

Trust Seals

Adding a trust seal to your website, specifically on your checkout page, can lead to a significant increase in sales. According to Syed Balkhi, “Blue Fountain Media did a split-test, and they found that by adding a Verisign trust seal, their conversions increased by 42%.”
Check out the chart below to see which seals customers trust the most, based on a study conducted by the Baynard Institute.
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Certificates And Badges

This won’t apply to everyone, but if your company has received any industry accreditations or certificates, you should showcase that information on your website. Go ahead and brag a little. Most organizations that offer certificates or accreditations have badges that you can display.
Pagely, a WordPress hosting platform, received an Amazon Web Services Partner badge, which it displays on its homepage, providing credibility to its claim that it’s “the most scalable WordPress Hosting platform on the planet. Fast WordPress Hosting in the Amazon Cloud.”
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“FoMO” Marketing

Ted AmmonTed Ammon of Hubspot“Fear of missing out, or FoMO, is a very real emotion that has gripped the world. From the ability to keep up with live news and friends’ social feeds to making purchases from wherever we are, the internet has both created that fear and given us ways to appease it. As annoying as the term may be by now, the fact is the phenomenon is here to stay—this in spite of blog after blog giving tips on how to beat the fear.
You can use that fear to encourage sales on your ecommerce site. We’ve seen several popular ecommerce companies implement new and ingenious ways to encourage sales, simply by pointing out how close buyers may be to missing out on great deals.”

How To Make FoMO Work For You

Only A  Limited Amount Remain

Showing limited quantities is a technique that’s often used by travel websites, including Expedia and Hotels.com, to incite customers to act quickly before they miss out on a particular hotel room or airfare price. Take a look at the screenshot below: 

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As you can see next to two of the flight options, a message in red indicates the number of seats that remain at those time and price options, with the message appearing next to only those flights with a limited number of tickets available, making the warning more credible to customers. So if you’re shopping for a flight at a particular time and price point, then you need to act fast—otherwise, you could miss out. 

Some clothing stores also leverage FoMO marketing to increase their conversion rates, as signaling that a limited quantity remains of a particular dress or shirt is an indication of the item’s popularity, making it appear like more of a “safe bet” in customers’ eyes. Sometimes these warnings occur on the category page and other times customers need to click through to the product page to see that quantities are limited.

Stores that do this include ModCloth, Express, and Lulu’s, which also warns customers (even when quantities aren’t currently limited) that “Items in your bag are not reserved and may sell out!”

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Time Is Running Out
When it comes to using time limits to coax customers into making a purchase, the first company that comes to mind for me is Groupon. With countdown clocks and “Limited time remaining!” stamps, customers know if they don’t click the “BUY!” button soon, they risk missing out on a great deal, such as going whale watching or attending a Brad Paisley concert, as in the example below.
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At the time this screen capture was taken, customers had just one day and nine hours to make a decision before the deal would be gone for good. And Groupon takes it one step further to let customers know that with this deal, they’re not just up against the clock—there’s an additional caveat of having a limited quantity available. So even though there’s plenty of time remaining, if customers wait until the last minute, they could still miss the opportunity if the tickets sell out.

While Supplies Last 
Even if you don’t reveal a precise number of items that are left in stock or if using time limits doesn’t make sense for your business, you can still illicit the fear of missing out in your copy. By adding a line akin to “while supplies last” below your offer, you can create a sense of urgency by letting customers know that the deal is going to end once the product supply runs out.
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You can also encourage customers to act quickly by following in the footsteps of Mizzen+Main, which leverages FoMO marketing in the way they describe their collection of new gingham shirts in the image below, with the company further justifying their claim by saying, “Our last product launch resulted in our fastest sellout ever. Get them quick!”

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Case Studies

Also known as long-form social proof, case studies are a more formal, in-depth form of social proof that typically pack more authoritative punch. Case studies can also help you back up any claims you make about what your products or services can do for people, especially if those claims may seem too good to be true.
For example, on his consulting website, Neil Patel promises that he can show you “how to create marketing campaigns that sell like crazy!” in addition to teaching you how to grow your business and make a lot more money, which may seem like a lofty claim, but he backs his promise up with case studies, showing the specific results he’s helped his clients achieve.
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Here are some tips to make your case studies as effective as possible:

Sid Bharath“When creating case studies, make sure to include actual data. If your product helps companies increase conversion rates, show what their rates were before they used your product, and what the rates became after. Include a problem statement, how your product solved the problem, and then the final results.

Try to publish a variety of case studies, each one highlighting a different benefit of your product or service. When potential customers come to your site, they’ll look for the one that most resembles their problems.
Fitbit creates case studies in the form of success stories. Each story shows how a customer used their fitness tracking devices to lose weight and become more active. The stories are inspirational and they in turn convince other consumers to buy the product.”

Conclusion

So there you have it, six types of social proof, aside from testimonials, that you can implement to increase conversion rates. And to conclude, here are a few words from the Conversion Fanatics Co-Founder, Justin Christianson.

justin christianson 1Justin Christianson“When making a buying decision, nobody wants to be first.  They want to know that who they are buying from is credible and there have been others that have come before them that have experienced the benefits that your product or service has to offer.
Social proof is a great way to give your potential buyers a sense of comfort in their decisions.  Social proof comes in many different forms, though—from customer testimonials, videos, media mentions, number of happy customers, years in business etc.
It is up to you to find out what your audience responds to best through optimization and split-testing.  We have shown up to 280% increase in conversions by leveraging social proof and we have also shown up to 90% reduction by trying to place too much proof.  But nine times out of ten, social proof in one form will help conversions and engagement.”
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