Note: This is not a comprehensive answer or legal advice. If you have questions, always consult an attorney. My answer here is based upon experience and what I’ve read over the years and my first assumption is that the testimonial/review is intended for display at your website.
Client testimonials are a powerful tool in your marketing kit. As a form of social proof, they build trust and goodwill towards your brand that can be hard to achieve through other marketing. 88% of consumers will use online customer reviews when making any kind of purchase decision. That’s how much we trust even strangers to tell us what we should buy or do.
The question is, however, whether you compromise that goodwill if you make changes to your client’s testimonial.
Editing testimonials is first and foremost an ethics question. The power of character references is that they are supposed to come from a place of honesty. In fact, the word ‘testimonial’ comes from a similar root as ‘testimony’ — an account made before a court of law and sworn to be true.
Can a testimonial still be true if the words published aren’t the same as they were originally written?
The short answer is yes, but with concessions. Here are some tactics you should consider when soliciting and publishing endorsements from your clients.
Ask for Permission
Always make it clear to your customers that this is a testimonial that you’re sharing publicly. Get written permission from your client that they understand the arrangement and how you plan to use their words.
You can also use a Terms of Service agreement in whatever form you use to collect reviews. It should explain that reviews can be used for marketing and that they can be lightly modified for your purposes.
Also, be careful about copying and pasting reviews taken from third-party sites like Yelp or Facebook. That user-generated content may be considered licensed material that belongs to the platform. Avoid potential legal trouble and use links, plug-ins, or widgets that go directly to those pages instead.
Be Careful about Attribution
Disclosing names, companies, locations, and head-shots are valuable for connecting with prospective customers. Studies show that we tend to like and listen to people who are similar to us. However, these details are not yours to share — they belong to your client.
Make sure that you and your client are clear on how much you can share about their identity. You should never share more than they’ve permitted you to give. You should also have safeguards in place to prevent that data from getting out — just ask Facebook, Marriott, Yahoo, Equifax, and other companies that lost consumer trust from losing control of their data.
Stick to the Original Text (as Much as Possible)
Now to the meat of the question: yes, you can modify client testimonials — up to a point.
Here’s a short summary of changes that can polish your testimonials:
- Fix any grammar and spelling mistakes.
- Make style changes, such as bolded words, italics, etc.
- Reorganize passages that could confuse readers.
- Change pronouns to names for added clarity.
- Shorten the review so it’s easier to read.
- Add SEO keywords.
These small tweaks will let you work testimonials into your marketing materials more naturally while preserving the original message in the review.
Here’s what you should never change:
- Anything that alters the intent or meaning of the review.
That’s it. It sounds simple, but it’s very important. If you’re changing words like “great” to “amazing,” adding phrases that your client didn’t use, or otherwise embellishing on the existing content, your testimonial will lose its power. These types of edits harm your integrity and goodwill with the client who left the review and with future clients.
Be very, very light with your edits.
Consider a Third-Party Collection Source
One tactic that covers all of the above is using a separate, centralized review platform to collect client references. Platforms like these are built for publishing users’ content publicly and letting them control how much personal information to disclose. They also have the benefit of being seen as more objective sources of client feedback, since they are completely detached from your brand.
To follow this method, you might consider using a platform like Clutch, a reviews site that specializes in collecting feedback on B2B service providers. Unlike Google or Yelp, they offer in-depth interviews that give buyers an expansive window into other online businesses.
What are your thoughts on client testimonials and reviews?