Customer stories - not customer testimonials - are what matter for future SEO

Posted by Ken McGaffin on 21 Nov, 2017
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Customer stories can have a far greater impact than testimonials. Ken McGaffin explains why, and how you can collect your own stories.

The need for quality content has never been greater and as content marketers we have to up our game if we are to succeed. And one way to increase the quality of our content is to use real customer stories collected directly from customers.

Take this example of a blog post from, How a Mother’s Etsy Shop Saved Her Family From Eviction . It uses a customer story to create a powerful and emotional post.

Etsy story

The post tells the real story of a mother who started an Etsy shop in desperation after she faced the threat of eviction. The piece is filled with emotional quotes that tell the story but also explain the benefits of Etsy:

try Etsy

The quote is powerful and explains that you don’t need to have any experience to set up an Etsy shop.

The writer then goes on to reveal the excitement of the first sale - something that any potential user of Etsy can identify with:

the first sale

This content attracted a lot of attention, winning the honour of The Best Content Marketing of July on

Best content marketing

And the story is just one of many that are featured in Etsy’s Seller Handbook which has attracted hundreds of links, including this one from the personal finance blog, Wisebread, The 5 Best Sites to Sell Your Arts and Crafts:


Etsy have created a fantastic set of emotionally charged customer stories that sell the company’s products much more powerfully than traditional sales copy.

And you can do the same if you follow our simple tactics below.

How to Collect Customer Stories: 8 Easy Tactics

Customers are the easiest group to approach for stories – and the most numerous. However, it's not testimonials we’re after – people don't notice or believe testimonials anymore. What we want are real ‘people stories’ - experiences, opinions and words that resonate with our audiences, draw them into our content and inspire them to take action.

So where do you start collecting customers stories?

The first step is to become familiar with what stories actually are. In their simplest form, stories start with quotes from real people – they add color and human interest to what would otherwise be dull facts. Readers relate to these stories and that means your content is more likely to be read through to the end.

See the Etsy video here. We’ll continue to give you lots of examples that will inspire your own story content – and we give you detailed insights in our course, The Story Approach to Link Building and Content Marketing.

Also spend time looking at stories published on quality media and in your trade press. Build a swipe file of ideas that will give you more inspiration.

Think how you could adapt these ideas to your own industry.

Once you’re familiar with stories, imagine the type of stories you'd like to get for your client.

The clearer you can be about the type of story that you're after, the more likely that you'll get them. So what are you after? Are you looking for detailed case studies? Are you looking for short anecdotes or quotes? Are you looking for single stories or multiple people exploring the same topic? Are you looking to drive sales or attract traffic?

Here are 8 methods to collect customer stories

1. Ask your client for stories (especially customer service staff)

Clients probably won’t have ready-made stories that you can just drop into your content. So ask them informally for interesting customer stories. Talk to the customer service team or anyone who deals with customers. They will have experiences, anecdotes, examples – and even some ideas about customers you can talk to. This in-house source is a great place to start collecting stories.

2. Ask for customer stories on your client’s website

Make sure your request is prominent and inviting. Add some urgency by setting a deadline, “we need your stories this month”. Respond promptly to any submissions you get, pick some of the best and publish them on the site to encourage others to submit their own.

3. Start conversations with your customers on social media.

Monitor mentions of your brand or products. Respond to their posts and questions in helpful, friendly ways that encourages them to keep the conversations going. Publish regularly and ask questions that encourage people to respond. Ask them directly to share their stories.

4. Invite customers to contribute by email

So far we’ve been informal in looking for stories, and now might be the time to move to a systematic approach for your client. Send a short series of emails to your client’s customer list or newsletter subscribers, asking them to share their stories for publication. When customers respond, pick the best and follow up by phone so that you can really polish their stories.

5. Organize a story contest

Offer a decent prize, publish some examples of the type of story you’re after and thank people for their efforts in advance. Acknowledge that it will be really helpful for your marketing. You could turn this into an event, say for your 5th or 10th anniversary. Publish not only the winners, but runners up as well. And if you have a large enough audience, consider having regional heats and regional winners.

6. Conduct a customer survey designed specifically for stories

This takes a lot of effort to do well, but it can generate a lot of customer stories as well as insights and charts with which to illustrate them. If you do decide to do a customer survey it is essential that you include these three questions:

●      a question that allows you to categorize (so you get stories from different sectors)

●      a question that asks them to share their story (make it a big box so they see you’re interested in detail)

●      a question that asks for permission to follow up (you can’t quote directly from surveys, but you can from follow-up interviews).

7. Look for opportunities to meet customers in person

Does your client have a retail store? Do they attend trade shows or conferences? Do they take part in events in their local community? Could you create a pop-up event that gives you the opportunity to engage with people? Chat to people, have fun with them, interview them, record them on video – whatever you can do to stimulate stories.

Be sure to keep detailed records – you'll want to be sure of your facts and the context in future, and you may want to contact people again.

8. Build a story bank to use in future content.

The stories you collect can be used in multiple pieces of content and at different times. You don't want to lose any stories so it's a good idea to create an organised story bank that you can dip into and get great quotes and stories to include in future content.

Final words

‘Customers’ are one of four rich sources of stories. The others are Staff, Founders, and Influencers. If you’re interested in your team developing content around stories, look out for our email next week on Ken’s latest video course at The Story Approach to Content Marketing and Link Building.

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