There Are No Best Practices in Digital Advertising

by | Jan 2, 2024 | Fallacies

Every day we’re bombarded with ad platforms and agencies telling us about the “Best Practices” we should follow. But here’s the thing… A cookie-cutter approach to digital advertising just doesn’t work.

In some arenas, there truly are optimal solutions that are always correct. In business marketing, there are none. Think about it. There is such a diversity of human experience in this world. Customers in one niche respond to “X” positively. But in another, they despise “X”. Businesses have to adapt their marketing to the pragmatic reality of what works for them in the real world with their real customers, not what some ivory tower intellectual says they should do in a theoretical lab environment.

The so-called “Best Practices” heaped on us by the ad platforms are overgeneralizations that work often, for many firms, but stand no chance of truly working for everyone. We cannot blindly follow them. Only some of them will work for us. They may be called “Best Practices” but, really, there are no best practices in digital advertising.

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

I’ve been humbled over and over on this front. Sure, I know a lot of things, and I advise the clients that I work with based on what I know. But I also don’t know it all. And I don’t know every client’s customers or business perfectly. So, when a client asks me to do something that I think is a mistake, I’ve learned that maybe I should just give it a chance, even if I don’t think it’s a good idea.

It makes sense to explain what I think will happen, and why that might not be the best approach. But if a client really wants to try some new idea when it’s something I strongly disagree with, it’s actually a wonderful thing. It’s permission to try something new. Sometimes I’m right, and it fails. I would like to think I’m right most of the time, actually. But I’m wrong sometimes. Sometimes a strategy that I thought would fail actually works. And those are times in my life that I get the opportunity to learn something new.  

It’s a weird paradox, really. We accumulate a lot of experience going forward in life that helps us make good decisions most of the time. Those are the “Best Practices” we bring along with us in our life and work. And we have a duty to explain to those we serve how things are likely to play out. But we never truly know it all. There is always room to learn something new. When we’re challenged to try something different, we often learn something we hadn’t known before.

Best Practices Really Aren’t “Best”

What is a best practice, anyway? It’s something that’s probably true most of the time. True enough that it gets repeated, codified, and turned into default strategies that most people follow.

But so-called “Best Practices” are rarely the true “best” practice. They are just examples of the Pareto Principle, perhaps, also known as the “80/20 Rule”.  They are right enough to become useful defaults. But they’re still wrong that other 20% of the time. So, what kind of arrogance results in us calling them the “best” practices?

Incentives Matter

Most of the “Best Practices” promoted by the major ad platforms are practices that are great for the ad platform, and generally good for many advertisers. But they are by no means the best practices for all digital advertisers, in every situation.

Pay attention to what the major ad platforms want you to do. Read between the lines. Consider the impacts of what would happen if you follow them. At this point in time, following most digital advertising “Best Practices” means turning over more control to machine learning algorithms to try different ad combinations and optimize your bidding for you. Ad platform best practices often advise you to increase your spending, but they never advise you to cut back. Most of this advice is clearly in the interest of the ad platform, and it’s not always so clear that it is in the interest of the advertiser. Interesting, isn’t it?

Ad platform best practices say, “Let us do all the thinking for you, and give us all your money. Trust us. We’ll work it out. And if things don’t seem right, well, don’t worry your pretty little head over it.”

When we’re presented with that kind of patronizing approach telling us what is “best”, I would suggest that the true best practice is to be very skeptical. Ad platforms have an incentive to skew the best practices they preach to us quite a bit in their favor. It’s how they make money.

Breaking Rules for Fun and Profit

When you’re learning how things work, following digital advertising best practices can be a powerful way to ramp up your skills quickly, learn what can be done, and get into the field. But at a certain point, you start to notice when they just don’t work for some situations. The right thing to do, when you know a “Best Practice” isn’t really best, is to break the rule without a second thought.

Following the rules is easy. Knowing when to break them is a bit more complicated. It requires more experience and a more nuanced understanding of how everything truly works under the hood. In a crowd of ad agencies that all follow the rules, working with someone who knows when and how to break them can be quite the competitive advantage.

Resist the Constant Nagging

These days, we are bombarded with emails telling us what to do, automated systems wanting to do things for us, notifications clamoring for our attention, and ad platform account reps constantly emailing and calling us to try to get us to do what they want us to do. We’re being nagged, nonstop.

Our best practice in the face of all this nagging about “Best Practices” might just be to resist a little bit more… to not take every notification quite so seriously… to not take the recommendations of that junior salesperson leaving voicemails for us every day very seriously. It’s okay to take a breath and question whether what they’re pushing on us actually matters.

Most of the time, it simply doesn’t matter. Most of the notifications and voicemails and emails clamoring for our attention aren’t really best practices for us. They’re just what someone else wants us to do in order to benefit them.

The Real Best Practices in Digital Advertising

What are the real best practices? It really depends on your business and what you are trying to achieve. It is impossible for an ad platform that caters to everyone to know precisely what is right for you. Although there are many commonalities, every business is unique. What matters is what actually works in the real world to achieve your particular goals.

Every ad platform will bombard you with recommendations about what to do. Some are great. But most of them probably aren’t good recommendations for your firm. What matters for you is to keep experimenting, keep engaged with new features coming out that might be right for you, and to keep clear on what your goals are. Run experiments. Challenge yourself. But don’t accept these “Best Practices” without proving they actually work.

The strategies that actually work for your business in the real world are the best practices for you. Even if something works for 80% of the firms out there, that doesn’t mean it’s right for yours as well. It might be, sure. But it might not be.

Stay curious.

Tags: Google Ads | PPC

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