Is There ANY Value in Digital Marketing Best Practices?

Best Practices

This morning I participated in my first #PPCChat in a long time, and it reminded me of both the good and bad that can come from trying to create value in 140 characters.

But first, I wanted to bring your attention to PPC Chat, in case you were not aware of how it works. Each Tuesday at 9 AM PST/12 PM EST, Matthew Umbro poses questions to a group of search marketers on Twitter. Everyone participating answers the question by indicating their answer number and including the #ppcchat hashtag to identify.

This week the chat was around “best practices” and the value they provide. The term best practices was in quotes purposely, because most seasoned marketers find best practices to be underwhelming. More on this in a moment.

To get an idea of how a twitter chat works, here was the first question:

There were somewhere around 50 responses to this question, with most of them offering similar responses: you should be skeptical when paying attention to best practices. I agree. From my experience, best practices are usually just the experiences of a small, but vocal group of people. I answered the question accordingly.

I have seen many cases where a best practice is established within an industry (everything from SEO/PPC/Analytics to travel) and those practices are then spewed by thousands of others as the only way to look at a problem. While the intention of sharing is pure, these best practices were never really meant to serve as a definitive guide to the topic. After all, how could you provide a definitive guide to SEO if you don’t work for Google?

An example would be the Moz beginner’s guide to SEO being treated like an SEO bible. It is an excellent guide I send people to often, but it is still just a very educated guess.

Best practices serve as a proxy for tangible experience, for those who don’t have experience to draw on themselves. This can be both dangerous and damaging if left unchecked.

Continuing with the chat, all is going well…

We finished the chat and I was ready to call it a day. But 5 tweets of 140 characters didn’t feel like enough to really summarize my thoughts on best practices. I wanted to summarize my thoughts on when best practices are necessary.

This tweet was challenged by another participant as being vague. As if I was participating in the chat only to be seen (and not saying anything of substance).

He was not wrong. Here I was, participating in this chat for the first time. Trying to share experiences with absolutely no context. Using an assumed name (PPC Course, not Jeff Sauer or Jeffalytics). Of course there was reason to be skeptical.

I didn’t mention that I was an adjunct teacher who has had over 500 aspiring marketers in my classes, often asking me for best practices around digital marketing programs. I didn’t mention the 8 years building an agency that created our own paid search best practices and published alongside teams at Google.

None of that happened, and it’s clearly my fault. You only get 140 characters on Twitter. Not enough time to tell a life story, or build trust.

Where I think that best practices belong

It’s hard for me to end anything in disagreement, even when it comes to comments on Twitter. In this case I wanted to rebuild trust and understand the psyche of the other person.

So I decided to say what I really meant to say in the first message (needing 9 messages to come close to a coherent response).

Interesting you feel that way. 140 characters is not a lot to work with. I’ll expand for you… 1) Newbies love best practices

it gives them a sense of security, confidence and comfort with the results of others. These best practices are often dated

2) Once you get into PPC (or anything, really), you start to see that best practices are not practical. They don’t stack up

they are not practical, they contradict each other. When you seek more enlightenment, you have to dig deeper.

I have gotten tons of insight from reading case studies of others (with real numbers). I also learned from conferences

but not the conference itself. From the hallway conversations with other people who are in the weeds every day.

I love when people share their real secrets over a beer or two. It helps us all get a competitive advantage. Hallway convos

Last, I have found people revealing competitive advantages on private forums. No public exposure, but share for greater good

btw, I am a sir and I apologize for arriving late and not qualifying anything I was saying first. My bad. Let’s be friends!

It took 9 tweets to try and qualify my stance, and I’m still not sure I have proven the point.

Best practices are a proxy for experience

Marketers seek best practices when they don’t have their own experiences to draw upon. As we get more comfortable with our own experience, we realize that best practices are far too situational and offer little value for our business. To provide continued value from our businesses, we need to get more specific. This means hands on experience or candid conversations with others who are at an equal or greater level of expertise.

When we are getting started, best practices are all we have.

When we become more experienced, we create our own best practices.

About the Author

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of a suitcase somewhere in the world. Formerly of Minneapolis, MN and San Francisco, CA.

  • It’s an interesting point Jeff.

    I’ve got a Google Partner account and it is showing it’s status is “at risk” due to best practises.

    I’ve been a PPC practitioner since 2000 and often find that what is best for clients site is not what is considered best practise from Google’s perspective, and now it is confirmed.

    I failed the Adwords Qualification exam twice before complying with the best practise requirements and I am now looking to do the same type of thing and compromise my own beliefs on what is best practise for the sites I manage to maintain a Google Partner status that doesn’t yield new leads at all.

    If you know the sites you work on then you will know what works and what doesn’t.

    As an example, if a site doesn’t have a bricks and mortar business, doesn’t take calls, doesn’t have an app and has an average position of say 6 what sitelinks could you add to the account to comply with best practise? Callout extensions? Review extensions (what if they have never sought reviews, so don’t have any).

    Another example, if you are hitting the clients budget limit with exact match terms and they are happy with the results, why add in phrase match terms to comply with best practise?

    I’m almost inclined to hand the Partner badge back in protest. The badge might be lovely to have, but I think if you walk the walk, clients are happy, then a badge is meaningless.

    Big fan of the blog btw Jeff, you need to write a lot more!

    • Yes, when best practices are in place as a “one size fits all” strategy, they defeat the purpose. All that really matters is getting results. Although it is always good to have a refresher on what it means to have good results!

  • Stephen Slater

    I’ve been working in PPC for only two years and I have learned that the only thing that really has a “best practice” to it at all would be your very first campaign set up for a client. Even that has plenty of variables. My general best practice for PPC is control as much as you can. From the landing page to the campaign settings.

    • Good point. Maybe best practices are just there to guide us until the reality of life intervenes.

  • Best practices makes a man perfect and All that really matters a lot to getting best results.