How to make the most of social proof on your website

Just this morning, I was looking for a plumber online. Plumbers, electricians, painters – these are the types of people that I really don’t like to hire without a recommendation.

The first thing that goes through my mind is:

“Is this person any good?” Then… “Is he honest?”

…and, my least favorite, “Should I keep my 80 pound dog by my side the whole time in case this guy is a nut?”

Without a referral from a trusted source handy, I searched the Internet and looked at several websites.

Most of them were terrible (the ones that actually had websites.) They had little information and no testimonials.

I wanted social proof – something telling me that other people had used one of these guys and happily lived to tell the tale.

Social proof done right makes a difference

There are various forms of social proof you can have on your website.

Testimonials, reviews, Twitter or Facebook follower numbers, just to name a few…

…and, they help with conversions. Big time.

Robert Cialdini, the guy who literally wrote the book on the psychology of persuasion, names social proof as one of the six principles that makes up its foundation. Think laugh tracks for sitcom television shows. While annoying, they work.

People have a tendency to follow the herd. It’s no different when visiting websites. We like to know that others have taken the leap – hired, bought, etc. – first before making a decision.

But… yeah, there’s a but in all of this.

Like most things, you need to put some thought into how you present social proof on your website. Otherwise, you might find it doing more harm than good.

Add a photo to testimonials (whenever possible)

For various reasons, it may not be possible to add a photo along with a testimonial on your site. However, if you can, do it. Here’s why.

A 2012 study called Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness – don’t be put off by the title, Stephen Colbert didn’t write it – found that people placed more weight on information when a photograph was attached. This study included photographs of lesser known celebrities where claims were made. Those claims made alongside a photo were more likely to be deemed true.

One of the best ways to utilize testimonials on websites is by embedding tweets.

They provide a degree of legitimacy in so far as they come via a third party application, Twitter. Here are two that I’ve placed on my main Service page. They give insight into why these people have been happy with my work and they are clickable. Anyone can reach out to these women and ask their opinion directly.

Negative social proof is worse than no social proof

Adding a Facebook or Twitter counter that notes how many followers you or your business has is fine as long as it reads more than a handful of people.

My friend Francisco over at Social Mouths has a lot of Facebook followers. He does an excellent job of showcasing the fact that there are 19,000 reasons why you should be listening to what he has to say.

Visual Website Optimizer ran a test to see if removing social sharing buttons on an e-commerce site’s product pages would increase conversions., a Finland based hardware store, had Facebook and Google+ sharing buttons on each of their product pages with zero to very few shares.

Simply by removing those share buttons, the company was able to increase click through rates on their product pages by nearly 12%. In this case, less was definitely not more.

Make your testimonials easy to read

Words of admiration are wonderful but big walls of text are not. If your clients write you a testimonial in the form of a novel, chances are your visitors won’t read it.

The reality is that most people scan websites to get just enough information to fulfill their needs. Psychologists call this “satisficing.” You can read more about it within the context of website usability and copy on the Nielsen Norman Group site.

Like any website copy, create easily digestible chunks of information with relevant sub-headlines for your testimonials.

Think of these sub-heads as micro synopses for your testimonials. Summarize in a few words what the main message of the testimonial is so that your visitors can quickly key into what’s most important to them. For instance, one visitor might find the fact that you always deliver on time more critical than your amazing creativity. If you can alert people to it in a sub-head, they may be more likely to read the entire testimonial.

Stop procrastinating…

If you don’t have any testimonials or reviews on your website, start working on getting some. The best time to ask for them from clients is right after you’ve completed a project. Be specific in what you would like them to talk about – even loosely frame something.

Basically, make it as easy as possible for your clients or customers to write something good about you. Don’t make them work or it might not happen.

Finally, pepper those words of praise throughout your site where they are the most relevant. If you’ve got great reviews for a particular product, make sure they go with the corresponding page.

So tell me. How have you used social proof on your website? Do you think it has made a difference?