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Sep 11, 2008
How To

Make Testimonials, Reviews Work for You: 6 Tips that Boost Subscribers

SUMMARY: Media coverage, third-party endorsements and customer testimonials can differentiate your online subscription product. They also can help convince visitors to give your service a try.

Read about a subscription-based photo and video sharing service that has made PR and customer testimonials a big part of their visitor conversion strategy. Includes tips on:
o Gaining recognition from technology vendors
o Targeting TV coverage
o Displaying customer testimonials
Like many online subscription marketers, Michael Sawtell, CEO,, uses search marketing to attract prospects to his online photo and video sharing site that lets families create their own websites. But what really differentiates his site in the competitive photo-sharing market are his customer testimonials.

Sawtell and his team use a strategy that highlights customer testimonials and third-party reviews. The input endorses the service and helps convince visitors to try a free trial. To date, they’ve landed dozens of vendor awards and media segments, which are prominently displayed across the site.

“When you get those kinds of accolades from large third-party players, it validates what you’re doing,” says Sawtell. “It gives the consumer instant comfort that these guys have been checked out; these guys are the real deal.”

Those endorsements helped the team achieve a 304% increase in subscribers in one year – between August 2007 and August 2008. And Sawtell is converting 87% of free-trial members into paying customers – while only churning 1.5% of those customers a month.

Sawtell and Mike Malone, Director, Media Relations, share their strategy for piling up third-party endorsements.

Top six tips for earning third-party endorsements:

Tip#1. Target outlets relevant to your customer base is an automated, user-friendly way to build and share family websites. The primary customer base is women in their 30s to 50s who are not as technologically savvy as many Web users.

Knowing those characteristics, the team sought reviews and recognition from outlets relevant to those customers. That meant avoiding coverage in niche technology outlets or tech-savvy blogs.

Instead, the team went after traditional media and technology brands that are household names, including:
o Major newspapers, such as The Chicago Tribune and The Orange County Register
o Well-known technology publications, such as PC Magazine
o Local TV stations in major markets
o Technology vendors that provide third-party recognition programs for websites, such as Dell and Adobe.

“Some tech companies tend to go after obscure blogs,” says Malone. “We always go after the stuff we can relate to -- even non-techy people can relate to PC Magazine or Dell. We don’t have to explain what these things are.”

Tip #2. Identify recognition programs from major vendors and partners

Besides traditional media relations, the team sought recognition from its major technology vendors and other industry partners. For example:

- makes extensive use of Flash, which is owned by Adobe. For that reason, the team submitted their site as a candidate for Adobe’s Site of the Day program, which recognizes websites that use the company’s technology.

They received that recognition in 2007, and placed an Adobe Site of the Day logo on the homepage. It links to the Site of the Day archives on Adobe’s website.

- Dell’s Best of the Web program also became a target while negotiating with the firm for a possible B-to-B partnership based on their website-building platform.

The program recognizes third-party vendors whose services support items sold in Dell’s online store. They received Dell’s award, which linked visitors to’s free trial signup and offered a $20 credit for the Dell online store.

Tip #3: Do your homework and legwork for print media write-ups

To land articles in major newspapers and magazines, the team used a long-term, targeted strategy. Effective tactics included:

- Finding a writer or editor to be a product champion
The team studied editorial teams to find the contact most likely to take interest in their story. For example, they identified personal technology columnist Eric Gwinn of The Chicago Tribune as a high-profile writer focused on low-cost, easy-to-use technology products. Gwinn wrote a feature article about the website.

- Providing a local angle.
When pitching city newspapers, the team provided a local angle for the story. Angles included a family using the service or a partnership with a local business that was using the company’s platform to provide photo-sharing services for its customers.

- Scheduling in-person demos for writers and editors
Sawtell and Malone didn’t just pitch news outlets by email or phone. They went on media tours to meet with reporters and editors and provide demonstrations of the service. When possible, they scheduled multiple visits. For example, on a trip to New York, they met with PC Magazine and Walt Mossberg from The Wall Street Journal.

- Being patient.
It can take months for efforts to pay off. For example, the team first contacted PC Magazine in January, 2007. They visited editors in April, and were included in an article in November.

Tip #4. Provide strong visuals and human interest for TV coverage

The team had identified television coverage as an important piece of their media strategy. For their core demographic, Sawtell says, a television report provides another layer of relevance and legitimacy. Their tactics for pitching TV programs included:

- Strong emotional and human interest angle.
Besides focusing on the website's technology, the team presented TV programs with a compelling human interest angle. In particular, they used television reports to help spread the word about a non-profit service they offered called 'Websites for Heroes.' The service provided photo-sharing for military personnel stationed overseas.

The subject was timely because the military had blocked access to Facebook and YouTube and needed an approved channel for sharing photos and videos.

- Offering a strong visual component.
In addition to screenshots of family websites, the team lined up customers and their families who could appear in segments.

Tip #5. Give customer testimonials prominent placement

Besides third-party reviews and coverage, the team emphasized customer testimonials on their website. Here’s how they did it:

- Testimonials were culled from customer comments received through email or customer service calls. Whenever a customer had a positive comment, they would select a one- or two-sentence blurb highlighting a compelling benefit of the service or a differentiator for the product, such as ease of use and strong customer service.

- They labeled testimonials with a customer’s first name and last initial, home city, and details about their subscription, including:
o Membership level, such as Standard, Classic and Premium
o Website theme, such as “Family Reunion” or “It’s a Boy!”

“[Those details] make it all more real,” says Sawtell.

- They didn’t place testimonials behind a separate link. Rather, the team displayed them in an automatic, scrolling section of the homepage and in the header of the site’s sub pages. That way, a visitor on each page of the site would see a host of members’ comments scroll by as they examined the site’s features.

Free-trial conversions increased nearly 20% when the team added the scrolling endorsement feature.

- Testimonials were dated, and new ones were added about each week. Visitors would see the most recent comments first.

Tip #6. Look for latent effect, not immediate traffic spike, from news reports

The team says they saw a slight increase in traffic each time the company received a print write-up, third-party award or television coverage. But the real impact came when visitors landed on the site and evaluated the service.

To maximize the impact of their media coverage, the team created an “In the news” section of the website – where they collected a library of print and television reports. That way, customers from beyond local coverage areas could see a wide range of reviews.

“The value-add is to be able to demonstrate that validation on the site for the thousands of people who will come later,” says Sawtell. “We do get a lot of people who say, ‘Wow, you’ve been on TV and have been proven.' They have lots more confidence going into that purchasing cycle.”

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from's Media Relations Strategy

DigitalPost Interactive, parent company of

See Also:

Comments about this How To

Sep 11, 2008 - Neil Sequeira of : Complete B2B Lead Data Management says:
This was a useful insight on making testimonials work for you.

Sep 16, 2008 - Rebekah Donaldson of Business Communications Group LLC says:
Hmmm! Honestly I'm not wowed by this particular article. And the only reason I mention it is that posts here are so consistently outstanding. (Nothing like raising expectations eh?) The article title made my brain light up! My company and our client companies have oodles of testimonials in the can; the challenge is making them work harder for us. The main thing I take away from this piece is that a scrolling sidebar correlated with boosted conversion rates. I'm betting that optimization of their trial offer page per Sherpa guidelines in a resource like the Landing Page Handbook 2008 had to come first and is where their heavy lifting occurred?

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