More businesses than ever are scrambling to harness the power of customer reviews. Can you blame them? Almost 90 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and 85 percent of customers read as many as 10 reviews when they're searching.

People want reassurance that they're making a good choice when they buy, and including reviews and testimonials is an easy way for businesses to add content and increase conversions on their website. But what legal steps do businesses need to take when collecting customer reviews and testimonials? What permission do they need, and what incentives can they create? Keep reading to find the answers to all these questions and more.


The Testimonial Must Be Truthful and Reflect a Typical Experience

Before you get into the nitty-gritty of how to attribute customer testimonials, make sure they meet two specific criteria:

  • The testimonial is truthful.
  • The testimonial is a typical user experience.

What do these two statements mean? The first means that the statement actually happened — and that it could be re-created. If a customer uses hair growth shampoo and claims that he saw hair growing back the next day, the brand needs to make sure that actually happened — and that it could happen again.

The second statement needs to reflect what typically happens during use or else should specifically note that the described results aren't typical. The hair growth shampoo brand would have to either claim that most customers' hair would grow back the next day or else come with a disclaimer stating that most customers will see hair growth in two to three weeks.

Pulling Testimonials From Online Review Sites

Can You Use Testimonials without Permission?

Image via Flickr by James Provost

Once you find reviews that meet the above criteria, you can determine whether they're usable on your website. If you find reviews on a page like Yelp that specializes in curating customer experiences, check the terms of service. Most companies state that the review is property of the person (this prevents businesses from holding review sites liable) and can't be used without permission.

However, it is possible use reviews from these websites. You have two options for doing this. You can link back directly to that review without quoting it on your webpage, thereby crediting both the website and the customer for their comments. The section option is to use third-party sites with APIs to share what customers say about you. For example, BazaarVoice collects customer experiences and shares them with the company so the company can make improvements, but also so the public can find unbiased opinions on the company. When customers use these third-party sites, they agree to the terms of service, which means they give you consent to use and public the reviews they submit. These two options can save you a lot of frustration and keep you on the right side of the law. 

Consider Creating a Testimonial Release Form

Many companies send feedback surveys to their customers to improve their business and collect testimonials. If this is your plan, ask the customers when they take the survey for their permission to share any comments they send to you. To prevent any ambiguity, you should make it clear where the review will be posted and how their personal information will be displayed.

Some businesses send release forms to customers that explain in detail how the testimonial will be used. This protects both the business and the customer by letting the business update the review and publish it multiple times while giving the customer freedom to have it removed if they choose.

Avoid Paying for Testimonials or Reviews

If you're looking to boost your profile on blogs or websites like Yelp, check the terms of service before creating an incentive plan for leaving reviews. Yelp recently started cracking down on companies trying to buy customer reviews, saying that the practice skews results and fails to paint a clear picture.

For example, one company was offering $15 off tennis lessons for each five-star review, and another business was offering Amazon gift cards for positive testimonials. While a customer might be inclined to leave an honest three- or four-star review, the paid incentive makes the customer boost the rating just to get a gift card. Even customers who have had terrible experiences might write a few sentences if they know they're getting something free.

It's no surprise that so many companies are trying to find ways to get from four to five stars: a one-star bump on Yelp can increase a company's revenue by 9 percent. Companies that are found to be purchasing reviews can get kicked off the site or fined by the local government.

To recap, when adding testimonials to your website, always make sure to ask permission from your customer. Make sure that reviews are truthful and reflect a typical experience, and never pay for a good review. If you follow these guidelines, you shouldn't experience legal trouble regarding online testimonials.