Reviews vs Testimonials: The Difference Summed Up In Just Two Words

Rob Woodgate



The words testimonial and review are often used interchangeably, even in some of the top ranking articles on the subject..

But they are not the same!

That’s why, in this article, I thought I’d lay out the full picture, and put the reviews vs testimonials debate to rest once and for all.

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Reviews vs Testimonials: Why the confusion?

To be fair, it’s hardly surprising there is so much confusion… after all, both customer testimonials and reviews:

  • can be solicited by a business
  • are a reflection of a customer’s experience
  • can be published on social media and/or the business website (see also ‘5 Powerful Reasons Testimonials On Websites Work‘)
  • can be faked or manipulated by unscrupulous individuals

The crucial but subtle difference between testimonials and reviews can be summed up in just two words.

Editorial Control

A business has editorial control over their testimonials, but not over their reviews.

In other words, reviews are complete, unabridged pieces of customer feedback.

Testimonials, on the other hand, are usually cherry picked endorsements designed to support marketing claims or encourage conversions.

That makes reviews a thousand times more credible than testimonials.

Reviews are so powerful, 79% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family.

They are like beacons of trust, guiding customers towards quality businesses, the same way a lighthouse guides ships to the safety of harbour.

And that makes them a powerful force that can make or break a business.

Let’s dive a little deeper… you’ll discover the good, bad and ugly of reviews, and how you can combine the credibility of reviews with the flexibility of testimonials.

3rd Party Review Platforms

As customers have turned away from testimonials, 3rd party review platforms have seen explosive growth. There are now over 300 online review sites in different niches worldwide.

Google is the “800lb gorilla” of local business review sites (see also ‘How To Delete Fake Google Reviews‘). No doubt, in part, because of its status as the largest, most trusted search engine.

Close on its heels is social media giant, Facebook, with its 2.8 billion audience.

TripAdvisor, TrustPilot, Yell and Yelp have also become dominant.

3rd Party Reviews – The GOOD

If your 3rd party ratings are good, they can act like web of influence, funnelling a steady stream of new customers to your business.

3rd party reviews
3rd party reviews build your web of influence

Great ratings on Google can also give you more weight (6.47%) in their organic local searches, which is another reason why Google is the big daddy when it comes to 3rd party reviews.

3rd Party Reviews – The BAD

On the flip side, if your 3rd party ratings are bad, it can drive potential customers away.

In fact, businesses risk losing as many as 22% of customers when just one negative article is found by users considering buying their product. If three negative articles pop up in a search query, the potential for lost customers increases to 59.2%.

Problem is, happy customers don’t always remember to leave reviews… and unhappy customers are more motivated to make themselves heard.

That’s why you you have to proactively ask customers for reviews.

If you leave it to chance or ignore the 3rd party review sites, you’re highly likely get burnt by a fake or negative review or suffer a slow death as your competitors ratings eclipse yours.

TIP: Trust Vega makes it simple to request reviews on the 3rd party review platforms both you and your customers care about most. All from a single, automated invitation.

And because it’s a predictable and consistent way to get more reviews, you’ll quickly build up a strong average rating that protects you from the odd negative review.

3rd Party Reviews – The UGLY!

Like it or not, 3rd party review sites have influence, and you can’t ignore them.

But while taking a proactive approach to collecting 3rd party reviews delivers significant benefits to local businesses, there is a major drawback.

The reviews don’t belong to you...

You are, as the saying goes, farming on someone else’s land.

Testimonials are under your control, reviews are not

Every review you collect on a 3rd party site is an asset for your “digital landlord”.

You live and die by their rules and risk eviction at any time. And all your efforts are wasted if your landlord shuts down, or becomes an internet backwater like Digg or MySpace.

See, as valuable as 3rd party reviews are, there is one inescapable truth…

You are the PRODUCT… not the customer

It doesn’t matter to them whether you are flying high or facing ruin because an unscrupulous competitor hit you with a bunch of damaging fake reviews.

You are just part of a stream of content designed to attract and keep visitor eyeballs in front of their advertisers. Just one of a million data points.

(And bad news sells, so there isn’t much incentive for them to act quickly if a malicious or unfair comment from a disgruntled competitor scares away your customers…)

So whilst it pays to proactively collect 3rd party review sites, you need to be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket.

Instead, make sure you collect reviews on multiple 3rd party review platforms. That way, you won’t be wiped out if something happens to one of them.

If all that sounds like you’re between the rock and a hard place when it comes to of testimonials and reviews, don’t despair… there is also another type of review you can collect:

1st Party Reviews

1st party reviews are a relatively new development in the review space, and they combine all the credibility of 3rd party reviews with the flexibility of testimonials.

Like 3rd party reviews, a third party service (like us: Trust Vega) is involved to ensure the business has no editorial control over individual reviews, or the overall rating.

The key difference is that 1st party reviews are displayed on the business website itself, and the business can organise and display their reviews.

This allows the business the flexibility to strategically place verified reviews in ways that boost conversion rates. For example, grouping and displaying reviews by:

  • Product/service used
  • Staff member
  • Location
  • The marketing promise being delivered

Done properly, 1st party reviews are trusted the same as Facebook reviews (60%), vs 72% for Google reviews and 73% for TripAdvisor reviews.

TIP: Some regulated professions are restricted from posting any kind of customer feedback on their website. For these clients, we offer a hosted review option, where we display reviews like a regular 3rd party review site.

Using Reviews And Testimonials Together

Using 1st and 3rd party reviews together gives you the ultimate leverage and protection.

Your web of 3rd party reviews draws visitors to your website, and your 1st party reviews then help convert them into customers.

Trust vega offers both 1st and 3rd party review collection
Trust Vega offers both 1st and 3rd party review collection

Trust Vega’s automated followup process gets you valuable customer feedback and 1st party reviews you can display on your website, as well as reviews on the 3rd party sites you care about most – all from a single request.

And the best part – you are the owner of all the 1st party reviews you collect with us, making them an asset to your business nobody can take away. If you ever decide to leave us, you can take all your data with you to use as you wish.