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"Best practices" is one of those dry as dust phrases that conjures up a consultant orating at you and a dozen co-workers sitting in uncomfortable chairs, each one wishing you could go back to work. If you missed Adam Audette's interesting article entitled, "SEO 'Best Practices' Are Bunk," you should pull up a chair and follow the link to read it. (I'll wait right here.) Adam alluded to my Do It Wrong Quickly concept as a way to do things right (if that isn't an oxymoron in itself), and on the whole I think he is on the right track. His title is a bit audacious (link-baiting must not be a best practice), but what he is saying is important for anyone in Internet marketing, not just organic search.
The problem with the "best practices" concept is that it assumes a relatively static and homogeneous world, where situations are mostly the same from company to company, and they don't change that fast. Neither is true in Internet marketing.
We all know how fast the Internet changes. If you ever discover a best practice, just wait ten minutes and it will be outdated. But we often overlook how unique our companies are. We think that there is some magical success place that other companies have arrived at, and we just need to get there and we can relax. Wrong.
The point of Do It Wrong Quickly is to try things and then fix them. For that, you need a feedback loop—usually in the form of a metric that tells you that your business is succeeding, such as sales (online or offline). When you try something new, you see whether sales go up. If they do, do it some more. If not...
But people so want the best practices so they don't have to think. And they especially want some benchmark that tells them they got it right and don't have to focus on it anymore. I've often had people ask me, "What's a good conversion rate?" And my answer is, "Higher than what you had yesterday." Snarky, yes, but also true. It doesn't make any sense for you to benchmark your company against your competitors, because they probably aren't as comparable to you as you think. Instead, you need to keep your eye on your own business, and continually modify what you are doing to see what works better.
The truth is that you never stop experimenting because the Internet keeps changing, your company keeps changing, your competitors keep changing, and most importantly of all, your customers keep changing. What most people call best practices are no more than rules of thumb—you can think of them as a smart place to begin your experimentation. But they are nothing more than that, in most cases. They are a jumping off point for you to start your improvement process.
If you continually focus on creating a better feedback loop and you make your decisions based on how they fare with that feedback, you'll end up doing something far better than implementing someone's hackneyed idea of best practices. You'll do what's best for your company with your customers.
And then tomorrow, you'll try another experiment to see if your best practices can be made even better.
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.
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