Best practices are called "best practices" for a reason, there is a large dataset proving they work. However, it's important to understand the effectiveness of best practices over time and looking at their potential usefulness within context.
Best practices work because they emerge out of learning
Provocative title, check. Sub-headings that make the post easy to skim, check. No more than 4 sentences a paragraph, check. This blog post will follow all the best practice conventions (well, maybe not all) that hopefully help to make it an interesting and engaging post.
Best practices are a good thing. These “rules of thumb” emerge out of the experience and learning from many past points of success and failure. Like many things in our society, those learnings are shared and grow in general acceptance.
Best practices are like stocks–you have to know when to buy, sell and hold
Also like many things in our culture, any given best practice has a span of usefulness. Increasing best practice adoption will eventually drive a peak in parity and by definition become less useful. As innovators try new content types or distribution methods (the “innovation inflection point”), they learn from those experiences. Soon those experiences are passed on, and emerging, nimble content marketers adopt those practices. Over time, more and more content marketers adopt the practice. Learning from the practice declines while adoption of the practice itself grows.
For example, we track a blog post best practice that a post should at least 300 words and no more than 1000 words (one of over 5,000 content business rules in our engine). This length is a best practice cited by many experts and makes good sense. Keep your post and your paragraphs short, then your post is easily skimmed.
72% of the thousands of blog posts we have processed pass this rule. Combined with a lot of other blog best practices we track, we are here to tell you, most blog posts we analyze have a very similar tone, feel & style.
Similarly, short copy length in web site copy is achieved by 80% of the brands we have run. As more brands adopt the shorter web copy style and emulate similar design looks and feel, everyone starts to look and sound the same (us included by the way!).
Homogeneity is an enemy of marketing effectiveness. Does it mean we should all begin testing blog posts of under 300 words and over 1000 words? Should we make web copy even shorter? Or maybe longer? Or non-existent? Maybe.
The answer may not be in breaking the best practice rule, but establishing new ones
The variables that affect a best practice are in a continuous state of flux. Technology enables new ways to create, distribute and access content. Preferences change. Content consumers become overwhelmed or desensitized. As a practice grows in adoption, these variables impact effectiveness.
Widespread adoption may be the signal to channel your efforts in an innovative direction. For example, interactive content experiences are a differentiating alternative to traditional written blog posts. In effect, the same information can be presented in a much more compelling and engaging way (a fact supported by data). Podcasting is also an interesting alternative. While podcasts are gaining in popularity, they are still a far less competitive space than written blogs.
This very blog post is pretty standard, following many of the accepted conventions of a written blog. Because we recognize the wide adoption of written blog standards, we ourselves are testing alternative methods to get our message out (podcasts, illustrations with interactivity and more to come). We plan to share our successes and failures to help you decide on your next innovative path.
The key is to adopt a best practice before its peak and to innovate a new best practice while others becomes a norm.
Gauge best practice adoption in the market
Watch best practice adoption in the market and you will have a sense as to when the maturity inflection point is imminent. By looking at most corporate blog posts, anyone can now assess that blog post creation and distribution best practices are well understood and used. This, combined with the emergence of alternatives to classic content practices, is an indicator of an inflection point.
We at 8-Point Arc have a unique vantage point in the content marketing universe. With an engine that can process thousands of pieces of content every day, we pick up on trends the market in general doesn’t see, or at the very least before the rest of the market can spot the trend.
We see what works and most importantly can ascertain why it’s working. So keep your eye on the adoption level of best practices in your industry. Ask yourself whether you are now in an industry-wide rut of producing content that looks and sounds like everyone else.