When Best Practices Aren’t Best

There’s a term I really hate in business.

It’s called “best practices”.

What it’s meant to convey is that a certain method the best way of doing something. The unspoken side of that coin is that other methods aren’t optimal.

The truth of the matter is that marketing is half art and half science.  For all the efforts to quantify marketing activities, much of the success sometimes comes down to “intuition” or “gut feeling” (terms many marketers may shun or shy away from).

Try a simpler method for marketing success. Get rid of “best practices” and switch to “test small, keep what works and chuck what doesn’t”.

Here are two examples where success was found in contradiction to “best practices”.

Conventional wisdom in Search Engine Marketing states that the best lead generation is found by driving traffic to landing pages and not a general homepage. On the surface, it makes sense; landing pages are more tailored and relevant with clear call to actions. But landing pages don’t always outperform homepages, and you will never know unless you test.

It’s as simple as setting up two identical ads and having one destination the landing page and the other the homepage.

A previous campaign we ran for a client actually had significantly better conversion rates for ads that directed to the homepage, bucking “best practices”. Our best guess was that the services being offered were of such a complex nature that prospects wanted to browse around the website to gather enough info before submitting a form to contact them.

Another broader example of how best practices might not always be best is Craigslist, the popular online classified site. Looking at Craiglist, the user interface is exceptionally sparse and (some feel) ugly. Where are the graphics? Where are the drop down navigation menus? Where was any color?

Instead, Craigslist built a plain white website with nothing but links. Every city in every country had the same look and feel. Yet simply by using this type of barren, spartan site, Craigslist became one of the most trafficked sites
on the Internet.

The rationale in retrospect was simple. People browsing classifieds wanted their pages to load as quickly as possible. By shunning anything that would bog down loading, Craigslist was a lean mean website machine. They laughed all the way to the bank when eBay took a 25% stake in 2004.

Today, Craigslist serves over twenty BILLION page views per month and has over forty million new classified ads per month.

What “best practices” are you taking for granted that might be suppressing extraordinary results?

You’ll never know until you buck conventional wisdom and boldly test where some have not tested before.