Codes of best practice can help marketers go about their work in a lawful, professional and ethically sound manner. In this article, we summarise and link to some of the most important codes of best practice for the marketing profession, including government laws and regulations, and best practice guidelines from key industry players like Google and MailChimp.
- UK marketing and advertising law
- ICO guidelines on the use of customers’ personal data
- The American Marketing Association’s Codes of Conduct
- Acas best practice guidelines on social media in the workplace
- Google ‘steps to a Google-friendly site’ and guidelines
- Google’s online image guidelines
- Target Internet’s best practices for search engine optimising your writing in 2019
- Mailchimp’s best practices for email marketing
- How to use marketing industry codes of best practice
UK marketing and advertising law
Reference link: https://www.gov.uk/marketing-advertising-law
If you operate in the United Kingdom, you should take the time to study the regulations governing marketing and advertising in the country.
The most important concepts in UK marketing law are:
- accurate description of the product or service;
- social responsibility (the prime example of this is the inclusion of responsible drinking messaging in ads for alcoholic drinks).
Sticking to these principles is a must.
In UK law, regulations affecting advertising standards are divided into B2C and B2B. The importance of these regulations is underscored by the fact that those who breach them could face fines, prosecution or even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense.
Another essential document is the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing, which sets out the rules for non-broadcast ads, promos and marketing communications. This covers digital marketing activities such as sponsored social media posts, Google ads and mailouts.
The rules outlined in the Code cover:
- 01: Compliance
- 02: Recognition of marketing communications
- 03: Misleading advertising
- 04: Harm and offence
- 05: Children
- 06: Privacy
- 07: Political advertisements
- 08: Promotional marketing
- 09: Distance selling
- 10: Use of data for marketing
- 11: Environmental claims
- 12: Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products
- 13: Weight control and slimming
- 14: Financial products
- 15: Food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims
- 16: Gambling
- 17: Lotteries
- 18: Alcohol
- 19: Motoring
- 20: Employment, homework schemes and business opportunities
- 21: Tobacco, rolling paper and filters
- 22: Electronic cigarettes
Self-regulation according to the rules of the Code is overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Advertising Standards Board of Finance (ASBOF) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).
ICO guidelines on the use of customers’ personal data
Reference link: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the authority that upholds personal information rights in the UK.
From a marketer’s perspective, the ICO is an essential source of guidance on how to handle customer data such as contact details, behavioural data and order history. The most important ICO resource from most UK companies’ perspective is its Guide to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which sets out how the GDPR applies in this country. The guide covers the key data protection principles, rights and obligations relating to businesses and their customers.
You can read the full text of the GDPR here.
The American Marketing Association’s Codes of Conduct
Reference link: https://www.ama.org/codes-of-conduct/
As marketers, we sometimes need to look overseas to find the codes of best practice that most apply to our work.
For guidance on marketing ethics, we recommend looking into the American Marketing Association (AMA)’s Codes of Conduct. It lays out a set of ethical norms and values primarily for the use of AMA members, but the content is applicable to any marketer. The format is refreshingly short compared with official legal documents and regulations, and as such, the Codes could be an excellent starting point for training new employees in marketing ethics.
Areas covered by the AMA’s Codes of Conduct include:
- Ethical norms (do no harm; foster trust in the marketing system; embrace ethical values);
- Ethical values (including honesty, responsibility and fairness);
- Conflicts of interest.
There are also some guidelines referring specifically to AMA members, which the rest of us can adapt or disregard as appropriate.
ACAS best practice guidelines on social media in the workplace
Reference Link: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3375
How employees use social media might not necessarily relate to their work as marketers, but it does affect how they represent the organisation as brand ambassadors.
Considering this factor along with employee welfare considerations, it’s clear that every employer should have guidelines on the use of social media in the workplace. These can be formalised in an employee social media policy.
The UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas)’s guidelines on social media in the workplace provides an excellent starting point for formulating such a policy. Points covered include:
- Relevant legal considerations and regulations;
- Employees’ responsibilities;
- How to put together a social media policy;
- Disciplinary procedures;
- Rules on blogging and tweeting;
- Referencing social media policy in other documents;
- Using email at work.
Google ‘steps to a Google-friendly site’ and guidelines
Reference link: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/40349?hl=en
Some marketers fall into the trap of thinking of Google’s search ranking criteria are totally opaque. While it is true that some aspects of the search algorithm can only be guessed at, Google has also been completely open about many of the factors that make a site ‘Google-friendly’.
- Quality content;
- Natural inbound links;
- Site accessibility;
- Avoid keyword-stuffing, cloaking and crawler-only pages.
Any marketer who is well-versed in SEO will recognise these as basic points. However, Google expands on them in this Search Console Help blog entry.
Another key resource that can be taken as a code of best practice for search optimisation is Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These cover various factors likely to affect a website’s search visibility, including:
- Use of a sitemap;
- Outbound links;
- robots.txt file management;
- web site hierarchy.
These are just a selection of the many technical SEO factors discussed in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. We recommend you use the entire article as a checklist to measure your website development projects against.
An increasingly important aspect of SEO is the use of structured data in web content. This helps search engines extrapolate sections of content that can be used in rich search snippets such as ‘0-ranking’ definitions, recipes, reviews and event details. You can find Google’s guidance on optimising your content with structured data, along with useful information on optimising webpage titles, here.
Google’s online image guidelines
On average, images take up 68% of the data that makes up a website (source: Clickz). As such, images tend to be the content type with the greatest effect on webpage loading speed – an important factor in user experience and SEO.
The simplest thing marketers can do to lessen the impact of images on loading speed is to compress them before uploading them to their websites. For guidance on how to do this, read our complete guide to Squoosh, a free online image compressor.
In addition to compression, webmasters can take several further steps to ensure their use of images has an optimal outcome in terms of website performance. This Google Developers blog sets out some of these measures, including advice on:
- Eliminating and replacing images;
- Vector vs. raster images;
- Implications of high-resolution screens;
- Optimising vector images;
- Optimising raster images;
- Lossless vs. lossy image compression;
- Selecting the right image format;
- Tools and parameter tuning;
- Delivering scaled image assets.
Target Internet’s best practices for search engine optimising your writing in 2019
As any good search marketer knows, SEO best practices for content writers are evolving all the time, due to change in how search engines work, how people use them, and the standard of content being produced by rival publishers. This can make it hard to pin down an up-to-date code of best practice for web content writing.
Earlier this year, Target Internet published a guide on how to search engine optimise your writing in 2019, which brings together key industry practices that apply at this moment in time. The guide covers points including:
- SEO writing workflow;
- Subject-matter strategy;
- Utility of content;
- Content quality factors;
- Titles and meta descriptions;
- The role of keywords;
- Links, citations, voice search and schema mark-up.
- Content management;
Mailchimp’s best practices for email marketing
Reference link: https://mailchimp.com/help/best-practices-for-email-marketing/
Premier email marketing provider MailChimp has some useful advice on best practices for email marketing. Here’s a brief summary of the points covered:
- Test email content before you send it;
- Track your click and open rates;
- Avoid spammy content;
- Build a clean list of recipients (with email addresses of people who seem to want your mailouts);
- Avoid excessive code.
There’s much more detail in Mailchimp’s blog post.
We need to be a little cautious when using codes of best practice from service providers like MailChimp. While their advice will usually be good, it will also be geared to create the best possible results via their platform/products/services, and may not be universally applicable.
If you use a service other than MailChimp for your email marketing, try to find that service provider’s advice on best practices, to make sure the principles you take on-board will fit the platform.
How to use marketing industry codes of best practice
As we have seen, there are many marketing industry codes of best practice, stemming from authorities including governments, regulators, platform owners and other key industry players.
There is no definitive, centralised gateway to these guidelines, which makes it impractical to keep track of all the codes of best practice that could apply to an organisation. This means marketers and the brands they represent must handpick the best practice guidelines most relevant to themselves. Consider which marketing activities the business is engaged in, and which codes of best practice are best placed to ensure these activities are done properly. The notable exceptions to this rule are government laws and regulations, which must be obeyed no matter what.
Marketing teams should ideally be implementing codes of practice at multiple levels, including:
- Individual – team members are trained in best practices and made aware of the key rules their work must follow;
- Strategic – marketing strategy should be formulated in such a way as to foster compliance with codes of best practices;
- Specialist sign-off – team members with special responsibility for regulatory compliance must sign off marketing communications, processes and strategies before they are implemented.
Implementing these three steps can be challenging for lean marketing teams where employee time is limited. In such cases, the best policy may be to have marketing staff do the best job they can on a common-sense basis, then get a responsible team member, such as the Marketing Manager, to do appropriate checks and give sign-off before strategies or communications are deployed.
For larger marketing teams and agencies, which are likely to have their practices scrutinised more closely than an SME would, implementation of codes of best practice should be done thoroughly at every level. Such organisations tend to employ specialist team members to handle compliance with regulations and codes of best practice, with job roles such as Marketing Compliance Officer or Marketing Compliance Manager.
Global trends such as the development of new technologies are causing the field of marketing – especially digital marketing – to change exponentially. As new tools, channels and media emerge, marketers must continually adopt new best practices to fit their changing circumstances.
A good way for businesses to manage this is to make best practice a key consideration in situational analysis – which means the process of analysing the environment in which the business is operating. An effective, accessible way to do this is the PESTEL analysis framework, which considers the political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legislative developments that may necessitate a change in how a business acts.
Marketing best practice is a fluid, ever-evolving thing. Pay close attention to developments in the industry to ensure your marketing practice stays in-step with the times.