A Convenient Truth in Marketing

“All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Why are website search engine rankings like the Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary about global warming? Because they are awarded by bodies unqualified to determine whether the subject matter they are judging is accurate. In other words, search engines like Google, MSN, etc. rank a Web page based on factors other than the accuracy of its content.

And you can use this fact to your advantage.

As a result of several studies, one in particular conducted by Forrester Research, we know that Web users consider a top placement in search engine results as being tantamount to a third-party vote of credibility. Basically, a top ranking on Google or Yahoo is the same thing as getting another customer to endorse your product. People subconsciously think, “If Google thinks enough to place this site at the top, that must mean (1) the site is highly relevant for my search term and (2) Google gives it their seal of approval.”

But as every good Internet marketer knows, that’s not what it means. And, although it’s increasingly difficult to do, you can manipulate your site’s placement in any search engine’s results.

Getting to the top of Google is certainly one strategy for attracting customers. But the reason the strategy works is because of the perception of third-party credibility it bestows. .

Why is third-party credibility so important? Well, if I say my products are great, it’s less impressive than if I can show you other people who think my products are great. I’ve seen countless A/B split marketing tests where the judicious use of customer and third-party testimonials in one split almost always outperformed the split without those testimonials. And third-party credibility is one reason the reviews on Amazon and Epinions are so popular.

Aside from high search engine rankings, there are many practical ways to achieve the benefit of enhanced credibility for your product, including:

1. Customer Testimonials

If you can get even a few good testimonials from satisfied customers, adding them to your marketing materials is a powerful way to add credibility to your products. There are a number of ways to get these testimonials, including sending out e-mails and letters with questionnaires or forms for customers to complete. I believe the best way is to telephone your customers and talk with them directly. Ask what they like about your product, how your product has been useful, and which of your product’s benefits they like most. Be sure to get their permission (in writing) to use their comments. (For more on how to use testimonials to your advantage, read Michael Masterson’s recent article, “Using Testimonials for Maximum Effect.”)

2. Scientific Research

Some years ago, I taught a meditation technique that’s been supported by over 500 scientific research studies. Quoting those studies in our advertising greatly improved response rates. Even if your product (or service) has no research to back it up, you can bring in findings from other research studies to strengthen your case. For example, if you provide time-management or goal-setting consulting, you can find studies that say something like: “Research indicates that professionals who set goals are X% more likely to succeed.”

3. Existing Media Coverage

Similar to citing scientific research, quoting a reliable media source can get potential customers to pay attention to what you’re selling. If you run a small business and can add a relevant “pull quote” from The New York Times or some other media, your advertising message will have an incredible boost in effectiveness. The implication, as with getting a top search engine ranking, is that the source you’re quoting “endorses” your offering.

4. Published Books

If you can find any published books that refer to your type of product, you can also use quotes pulled from that book. Quotes from well-known books or best-sellers will have the best effect on your response rates.

5. “As Seen On”

If a TV or radio show mentions something even remotely connected with your product, you can piggy-back onto the PR by associating your product with the good things they are saying or implying. For example, if you’re selling a certain brand of tires and a consumer-safety study finds that the material your tire is made from is safer or longer lasting, you could quote those findings in your advertising.

Any business can strengthen its advertising by improving the credibility of what it’s saying or implying. And doing so doesn’t have to cost a dime. All you need to do is foster confidence in your customers’ minds by associating your products with third-party sources that can provide that credibility.

There is real power in this simple fact. Michael Masterson’s recent article on the value of third-party testimonials highlights the power of having other people give your product a “thumbs up.” An endorsement is even stronger when a person or organization that appears to be impartial is giving it.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant to the Agora Publishing group of companies.]