Best Practices

A principle in psychology called “semantic satiation” refers to when you repeat a word or phrase so many times that it basically loses all its meaning. As a B2B digital marketer, I came to this point with “best practices” years ago.

With frequent technological advancements emerging from web giants like Google and Facebook, it seems like many of the best practices floating around out there are losing their impact. For instance, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Do hashtags really matter anymore?”. I know I have. I’m a “best practices skeptic,” you could say.

But my skepticism isn’t unfounded. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with clients who felt totally overwhelmed by the different “best practices” being sold to them from vendors or tools. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve reviewed two totally separate “best practices” that would completely negate one another if they were to both be deployed.

Notice how many times I’ve already written “best practices”? It’s probably starting to lose a little meaning to you by now … and if so, good! Rethinking what they mean can save you some serious headaches.

The true meaning of “best practices”

When I first heard the term, I almost envisioned some governing panel of wizards, commiserating under a full moon as they etched new laws into the stones of time. They presented their claims so authoritatively that there were no reasons to doubt their hallowed tactics.

Over the years, I noticed how different the definition of a best practice tended to be from wizard to wizard. Some were well-intentioned; others not so much. Here are some examples:

  • An SEO expert: Do what the robots want.
  • A social media guru: Do what Zuckerberg wants.
  • A nervous client: Do whatever our competitors are doing — but do it better.
  • A web-based tool: Do whatever the tool I’m selling you is capable of doing.

At any given moment, you could easily have all four of these definitions rattling around your brain as you struggle to give life to your project. How do you allocate budget to accommodate them all? What do you do if one definition directly conflicts with another?

To answer the title of this article, “best practices” definitely exist to some extent, but probably not in the way you think they do. The word “best” is frankly an oversell, because it implies there is certainty that the practice will work as intended. At the end of the day, they are just tactics you can try. They’re not some mystical laws you have to follow — and results are never guaranteed.

That being said, how do you know what tools to use and when?

Prioritize the practices that can tie directly back to your campaign goals.

You’re scanning the marketing plan of your SEO vendor and boy, does that list look impressive (and lengthy). At a glance, it looks like all of your bases are covered: link building, 301 redirects, site disavows, etc. You must be ready to start crushing it in the search engines, right?  

The answer to this is “probably not”. Let’s imagine you’re about to have contractors build your dream house. If they don’t show you blueprints, but instead give you a list that reads, “hammer, tape measure, cement mixer, etc.”, they’re probably going to build you a pretty weird-looking house.

Contrast that with a more strategic application of those SEO tactics. Let’s say you recently changed your brand name, and consequently need to migrate your current website to an entirely new domain. A proper SEO strategy would say, “301 redirects will be needed to ensure any relevant content is moved to the new site while avoiding any disruptions in the user experience and protecting our links from external websites. While we’re at it, let’s do an audit of all existing content to make sure only relevant stuff is in fact making the move. And to be extra considerate of our users, let’s build a custom 404 page, so if they do reach an error, they can quickly be set back on the right path to continue their research.”

Other scenarios may look totally different and not require 301s, audits or custom 404s at all. Proper strategy starts by identifying a problem or goal and catering your solutions to best address them, regardless of the channels you’re working with.

Do your best to deal with the practices that are required for participation.

Eventually, you will have to play ball, depending on what platforms you decide to engage with. For example, we know a tweet’s maximum character length is only 280 characters — no exceptions. There are a lot of ideas out there to help you deal creatively with this limitation.

Some experts may encourage you to use “texting language”: drop the punctuation, use abbreviations, emojis, etc. That very well could work for a movie actor or a musician, but it likely isn’t the right tone for a Fortune 500 company.

There may be better ways of dealing with this without sacrificing your brand’s reputability. For example, perhaps you thread a series of concurrent tweets together in order to convey multiple points. Maybe you could try presenting the same ideas visually through a compelling infographic or video, rather than relying exclusively on text. The point is, you shouldn’t have to cheapen your brand appearance just because there are limitations with a platform. Often, navigating limitations can spark our most creative ideas.

Don’t overthink the technology; it’s probably outpacing you anyway.

A lot of the advice on digital marketing blogs tends to sound more like algorithmic gymnastics than actual marketing: methods for tricking platforms into giving your content more visibility than it otherwise might. This mindset is likely to suffer some unintended consequences, usually in wasted time, penalization from those platforms, or worst of all: a cheapened brand image.

Although I may be a best practices skeptic, I am a technological optimist. I genuinely believe you can drop a lot of these bells and whistles and still earn visibility and traction. Google has around 130 trillion pages in its index; you probably don’t need as many keywords as you think. Twitter receives about 500 million tweets per day; you probably don’t have to slap dozens of hashtags on it. Give these platforms the credit they deserve. They’ve seen it all, and they know what you’re trying to say.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t test new features out. These platforms are constantly rolling out new methods through which you can engage your audience that may warrant experimentation. For instance, Google started including lead gen form extensions to their pay-per-click ads back in October 2019. LinkedIn added “stories” to their app last year. A savvy digital marketer can and should assess these features as they become available in order to determine if they could be used to help achieve a campaign’s objectives.

Don’t be afraid to try new things out, even if they aren’t “best practices” yet.

In addition to being technologically optimistic, I’m optimistic for new ideas. Ironically, this further solidifies my identity as a best practices skeptic. Nothing makes me cringe more than when I hear an out-of-the-box idea get shut down just because nobody has thought to try it before. A mindset focused on best practices can sadly be a more unpersuadable mindset than it may intuitively seem.

This is where testing, tracking and optimization can come in handy. With an analytical framework in place, we can free ourselves of the assumptions, biases and fears that may prevent great ideas from coming to life. Why speculate when you can know if something is working or might need to be tweaked?

Just do what you know is best.

At the end of the day, B2B marketing is a juggling act among considerations, questions and needs. Whatever tactics you decide to explore, make sure they can tie directly back to your campaign goals. You may have to work within certain confines, depending on the nature of the platform you’re working on, but it shouldn’t require you to cheapen your brand’s positioning. Ultimately, be sure to make room for new ideas to thrive.

And who knows? You may just develop the latest and greatest “best practice” that the blogosphere will rave about next.