There Aren’t Any Best Practices

    July 9, 2007

Did I catch your attention? Actually best practices for website usability, landing page optimization, pay-per-click marketing – are excellent “first steps” when starting a new web business or just a new advertising campaign. However, it seems that many businesses start with best practices and never move away from them. They fall victim to the deception of best practices.

Best practices provide a place to begin and a benchmark to compare against. For example, when designing a new landing page or analyzing a poor converting website without being able to gather any insights from website analytics, historical campaign performance or market/customer research, using best practices helps pinpoint low-hanging fruit. These are design, technology, usability or conversion elements that a majority of high performing web businesses employ and have been proven and trime-tested to generate results.

However, it is important to not sit back and rest on the expected results achievable from best practices alone. I have been surprised on more than one occasion when split-testing (or multi-variate testing using Google Website Optimizer) various best practices for landing page optimization. Elements including font sizes, headlines and call-to-action button text and color.

During one split-test, the client and I created a number of strong, benefit-focused headlines based on best practices and pulled from customer research the client had recently performed. We split-tested these headlines against very simple ones like presenting only the keyword used in the visitor’s search query as the headline. To our surprise and under a statistically valid sample, the simple headline that used only the keyword query out-pulled all of the benefit headlines! The best practices worked – it did generate some results – but through split-testing different headline strategies outside the scope of best practices, the client achieved far greater results.

The key is to start with best practices and then test variations even ones not aligned with the best practice. In another example, I had read that the best practice for landing page body text font size is typically 10 pt. or higher (12 to 14 pts. for older target markets.) However, through testing, I have clients realize stronger sales lead results with font sizes less than 10pt. I had actually read that smaller fonts are better because it forces people to focus on what they are reading!

Don’t rest on just implementing best practices. Know what they are, implement them but seek to better understand your target market and what they require to act. Test, test and test your way to higher performance.