3 Ways To Improve TestimonialsPositive customer feedback can help increase your conversion rate. Here are three tips for making your testimonials appear genuine, therefore increasing their effectiveness.

The goal of a landing page is to get people to convert, and one of the factors found to be most influential in priming a visitor toward that goal is to build trust. For a product or service that has some history (e.g. past sales), posting testimonials, reviews, and recommendations can be a powerful trust-building technique. But testimonials can also have the reverse effect if visitors perceive them to be disingenuous or downright fake.

So how do you know whether adding reviews or testimonials to your landing page will tip the scales in your favor or send visitors running in the opposite direction? The answer can be found in the common idiom “the devil is in the details.” In other words, adding testimonials and reviews is not in itself a trust-building action that will increase conversions. But there are things you can do to make them more believable and therefore more effective. Here are three of them.

Use Precise Numbers

The human brain has a spam filter – some people call this their “B.S. detector.” One of the jobs of this filter is to figure out what seems believable and what is rubbish. And when it comes to facts and figures, one of the easiest litmus tests for believability is how specific the statistic is. In a 2008 study comparing the believability of claims using sharp numbers vs. those with round numbers, researchers Schindler and Yalch found that even people who considered themselves to be “advertising skeptics” felt that messages or claims mentioning specific, precise numbers were more believable. According to research, round numbers generally come to mind when someone is trying to estimate something that they are uncertain about. As a result, people interpret a round number as an approximation. By contrast, specific numbers are assumed to be factually based because it seems that some sort of analysis went into arriving at such a precise figure. This assumption is what makes precise numbers more effective in testimonials than general, round figures.

Show Your Customer’s Picture

One of Cialdini’s six principles of influence is “liking.” Not surprisingly, we are more strongly influenced by people we like. This also extends to people we may not actually know but who seem similar or familiar to us. This is a powerful piece of the puzzle: your testimonials will instantly become more believable if they are written by someone who your audience finds “likeable.”

One of the best ways to add likability to a review or testimonial is to include a photo that allows readers to see the “real” person behind the written words. This works especially well if the author of the testimonial has physical attributes that will resonate with your target audience, because it allows you to leverage the rule of “similarity” as well as likability. And of course, it goes without saying that the person should be smiling – a detail that communicates not only likability but also happiness. After all, a testimonial from an unhappy person is probably not going to sway many buyers toward purchase!

A few years ago, a company called Highrise was tweaking its sign-up page and ran a series of A/B tests to determine the right formula for displaying testimonials on that page. The original design was a fairly short page that included (among other things) numerous testimonials and accompanying photos. When tested against a long form copy-dense design, the long-form design fared 37.5 percent better (note the specificity of that number!). But rather than iterate on that long-form design to see how they could eke out incremental gains, they decided to test a radically different design approach against their original page. In this new design, the page was much shorter, included far less product information, but had a huge photo of a smiling customer. The result? This new photo-centric layout garnered 102.5 percent more paid signups than the original page, and 47 percent more than the long-form page. The team then tested a variety of different customer images, as well as several other variations, and determined that including a large photo of a smiling customer significantly increased conversions.

Much of the human brain’s activity is geared toward the processing of visual stimuli. Enhancing your testimonials with a photo can help visitors feel more connected to the person who wrote the testimonial, which can make the testimonial more credible and reassure visitors that other people like them have been happy with their decision to do business with you.

Using an Authority Figure

Another way to improve credibility for your testimonials is to incorporate a testimonial from an authority figure. I’m not talking about paying millions for a celebrity endorsement and public spokesperson. In fact, for many businesses this tactic can backfire because it’s obvious that the person is being paid to say nice things about a company so whatever they say is automatically seen as suspect. Instead, think of the types of people whose job title or position might be influential to your target audience. How many times have you seen a dentist in a toothpaste commercial, or a firefighter in an ad for a smoke alarm? The individual in these marketing messages is not known to the audience, but the presence of their uniform in relation to the product being marketed speaks volumes.

What types of people would be seen as authoritative to your audience? If you’re selling a fitness product, I’d bet that a testimonial from a personal trainer or sports medicine physician would be powerful. If you sell kitchen tools, a testimonial from a chef or restauranteur could be particularly effective. But make sure that the testimonial speaks to the needs and concerns of your audience. Authority really only works if it is relevant to the reader. If you are in the B2B space, for instance, don’t highlight a testimonial from a small business customer if your ideal clients are enterprise-level companies.

Trust-Building With Testimonials

There’s no question that a large percentage of people will read testimonials on a product or service before making their purchase decision. But in recent years, companies like Yelp and Amazon have been publicly accused of publishing fraudulent reviews, making many folks look at online testimonials more skeptically than they might have previously. Follow the simple methods above to make sure the testimonials on your landing page are persuasive, trustworthy, and moving visitors toward conversion.

This article originally appeared in Tim’s ClickZ column March 3, 2015