The path to online marketing success used to be a linear one: First, cement the audience, the message and the offers. Then, build a website, buy the media and sit back and watch the traffic come rolling in. Today, all that following a linear path will get you is a dead end, while your savvy competitors are bobbing and weaving their way to the win. In order to succeed in today’s test-test-and-retest climate, your digital marketing effort needs to incorporate one more critical ingredient: continuous optimization.

In the sales world, the tried-and-true motto is “ABC — Always Be Closing.” In today’s digital marketing world, “Always Be Changing” seems much more appropriate. Think about Amazon and Netflix with their recommendation engines. The more data they get, the more accurate their results. Further, their analytic engines have been constantly evolving to do more with the data they have. And in the early days, the gains they could make in accuracy were startling as they didn’t get it right the first time either. As marketers, we need to have the mindset of Netflix and Amazon — constantly capturing data and refining the experience.

While the individual elements of building out a traditional online campaign remain valid, the shift to continuous optimization recognizes that even the best of us can’t construct, in our first attempt, the absolute best combination of variables that will maximize the use of our marketing budget.

With ongoing monitoring and attention, though, we can make a big difference in our performance. Here are four steps to get started:

Make sure the landing page is fully optimized. Landing pages are highly critical elements to convert traffic to sales. But in many cases, landing pages are at best a missed opportunity and, at worst, a major expense hemorrhage. For every $1 spent on the landing page, an astonishing $90 is spent on media. And often, people continue to throw good money after bad, buying more and more media that’s destined to fail at the point of conversion. Before you drive traffic, determine exactly where that traffic is going, and then optimize the landing page on an ongoing basis to help increase conversion.

Test, and test again. If you’re not testing and adapting, you’re leaving significant revenue on the table. As a part of continuous optimization, we use A/B and multivariate testing to try out new offers and approaches, and – most importantly – measure results. A client was driving considerable unique visits to their website, but only converting .4 percent of that traffic. We helped them test four iterations over 45 days and increased conversion to .6 percent. That’s a seemingly tiny improvement, but it resulted in a significant revenue gain on exactly the same traffic. And we anticipate generating additional gains as we move forward with our continuous optimization efforts.

Yes, some tests do lead to a dip in results, but we use those as learning opportunities, move on, and quickly find the tweaks that result in real, measureable gains.

Scrutinize your media. Once you’re content with your landing-page conversion rates – for the time being – turn your attention to media. But leave preconceived notions behind. You may assume that paid search, for instance, will deliver the biggest return on investment, but until you test and tweak, you may be making an incorrect assumption. Investigate several types of media – from digital display ads to article-based marketing to emails – to find the tactics that work best for your offer.

Look for tools with constant optimization built in. Continuous optimization is hard-wired into some vendor/partner solutions’ DNA, which lets you reap the benefits of constant analysis without adding extra work. One example that we use for traffic generation is Adfusion, a PPC article-based marketer with multivariate testing and continuous optimization built directly into the product. Adfusion runs branded articles on news websites, and its software is continuously testing headline options, different summary descriptions, varying visuals and more to find the optimal mix of message, media and audience for the media buyer.

It can be a significant shift to apply these tenets to your landing pages, testing processes, media and vendors, but the move toward continuous optimization can pay off in a major way. And the best part: With even more testing and tweaking, it’ll pay off again and again.

Author: Scott Litman is Managing Partner of Magnet 360 and a 20-year veteran of marketing services & technology.