The Law of The Instrument: Stop Using The Same Strategy For Everything
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“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” - Abraham Maslow

It’s Time to Use a New Tool

The law of the instrument is a cognitive bias that says we have an over-reliance on a familiar tool or tools. This law is also known as Maslow’s Hammer because it was Abraham Maslow, who once stated “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” 

I spent one summer helping my father’s friend with construction projects. I learned a lot during that summer. When my father’s friend had to get people to help he would ask them about the tools they use. I didn’t know it at the time but sometimes people think they can do construction projects with only a hammer. 

I’ve seen people show up to constructions with only a hammer and say let’s get to work. So talking to people about tools they use was his way of weeding out people who only used a hammer. He wanted to know they had tools to get the job instead of a tool. 

No shady to the hammer. A hammer is a useful tool and you need to have it in your toolkit, but it can’t be the only tool you have. 

Everyone has a hammer in life. It’s what you know best. 

Our habit to use what we know best, our hammer, is natural. But sometimes using our hammer isn’t the best method, especially when we’re facing new challenges. That’s when we need to use a new tool and approach our problem with new thinking. 

I’ve seen SEO professionals committing the law of instrument the most. 

When most SEO professionals run into an issue they use the same strategy. If they see the page is not ranking well, they turn to acquiring backlinks, their hammer. This can be an issue leading them down a dangerous route of using shady black hat methods to acquire links and your website will receive low-quality links, running the risk of being penalized.  

It can mean they’re overlooking a bigger issue of the content not being good enough and rather than repairing the content, they are dumping money into a page with no volume. 

Placing a high priority on backlinks can also mean there’s a chance they’re ignoring search intent. 

In short, as an SEO professional, you can’t always rely on acquiring backlinks to get higher ranks. 

The same can also be said of content. Creating more content isn’t always the answer. Sometimes the best thing to do is outreach or make improvements to the content you have already. 

It’s a case-by-case situation. The point I’m making is you can’t rely on the same strategy to work all the time. You need a toolkit of strategies because what worked yesterday, or 5 years ago, won’t work today and making the best decision means having more than a hammer in your toolkit. 

One way SEO professionals can avoid the law of instrument by creating a problem-solving checklist. The checklist should include the problem, the information you have and do not have, and several possible solutions with the resources necessary for each.

While creating a checklist might seem simple and it is easy. The checklist will help you stop approaching every problem the same way. 

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