Every business wants to see positive reviews. Customer review statistics show that 77% of buyers research reviews before a purchase, and 90% say what they read makes or breaks their buy. With this level of influence, many businesses try to “bend” testimonial guidelines. What’s the worst that could happen?

Besides lost customers and a tarnished reputation, unethical businesses also risk prosecution from government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Simply put, unethical practices aren’t worth it. So how do you gather testimonials or beat back bad reviews without crossing the line? These testimonials guidelines answer the most common questions about collecting and showing reviews lawfully.

This isn’t a comprehensive list or legal advice; if you’re uncertain, always consult an attorney.

Testimonial Guidelines: The 10 Biggest Questions

1. Is Making Up Testimonials Illegal?


Some businesses are tempted to make up testimonials if they don’t have any, or have bad ones. However, using fake testimonials is not only false advertising, it’s fraud. The FTC, Department of Justice, consumer protection groups and other organizations can impose thousands in fines, fees, and even jail time. The number one testimonial guideline is this: testimonials should be honest statements made by real customers, no exceptions.

2. Can I Bend the Truth?


Customer testimonials should always be an accurate representation of your business. Some businesses may ask customers to exaggerate, or some customers may unknowingly make false claims—both of these are false advertising. While you can’t police every review site, you are expected to only use true testimonials on your website or marketing materials. If a customer makes a claim about your business that isn’t true, don’t use that testimonial, or ask them if they can rephrase.

3. Can I Tell Customers What To Say?


The FTC makes clear that testimonials “must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser” (FTC 16 CFR Part 255). While it’s okay to pose questions about your business or make suggestions to make customers more comfortable, you cannot tell your customers what to say.

4. Can I Leave Out The Bad Parts?


You don’t have to use the exact words of the testimonial, but the testimonial “may not be presented out of context or reworded so as to distort in any way the endorser’s opinion or experience.” There are better ways to handle negative feedback than covering it up.

5. Can I Ask For Testimonials?


Happy customers are your best ambassadors, and asking them to give their honest opinion is perfectly lawful. You might ask in an email, phone call, or in person.

6. Can I Pay For Testimonials?

Yes, with disclosure.

You can incentivize customers to give testimonials, however the testimonial must still be true and made by a real customer. The payment—or “material relationship,” according to the FTC—must also be clear to potential customers reading or viewing the testimonial.

Note; while the FTC allows this, many websites explicitly forbid paid testimonials of any type in their Terms of Service agreements. 

testimonial guidelines giving gifts7. Can I Give Out Free Products For Testimonials?

Yes, with disclosure.

The FTC puts gifts, such as a free sample or a free trial, in the same “material relationship” category as payments. However, this practice is common and doesn’t necessarily detract from the testimonial. If you give a customer a free trial or free product, it’s okay to request a review, but be sure this is clear to potential customers who may see the review.

Note; again, while the FTC allows this, the Terms of Service agreements of many websites do not.

8. Can I Ask For a Testimonial In The Store?


This might be the perfect way to collect quality customer testimonials. These should be as spontaneous as possible, and customer’s opinions shouldn’t be influenced by the chance to be on TV or in an advertising video. Always get the customer’s permission before using their testimonial (see below).

9. Can I Include My Customer’s Name in the Testimonial?

Yes, with permission.

Including a name, picture or video with the testimonial makes it more trustworthy, but you must get your customer’s permission first. This is not only a legal requirement, but it will also make your customers more comfortable. Never include your customers’ email address, phone number, or other contact information.

10. Can I Put Yelp Reviews On My Website?

Usually no.

This is a commonly misunderstood testimonial guideline. Many businesses will copy and paste reviews from sites like Yelp onto their own websites. Though these are, presumably, honest reviews from real customers, they technically belong to the customer and Yelp. Reusing them is copyright infringement. However, several plugins allow you to show Yelp reviews in their source format on your website, and this is generally acceptable.

The FTC, other government branches, consumer protection groups, and other organizations make strict laws about testimonials, however this shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Ask respectfully for your customer’s honest opinion, and tell them where and how you plan to use the testimonial. If a practice seems dishonest, don’t do it. The best testimonial guidelines are honesty and transparency; you won’t land in legal hot water and your customers will appreciate your integrity.

Testimonials: Testimonial Request Toolkit

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