When we think of PPC keywords, we think of it in terms of capture versus control. On the search query side, you’re looking to find where you have profitable volume; and this is known as capturing data.
Once you have high volume, profitable words, then you need to control the keyword in terms of monitoring and bidding.
By separating out campaigns between capture and control, we can then control budgets and workflow quite easily so that we keep our clients profitable, and yet continue to grow their accounts within the constraints of our methodology.
For PPC Associates, internally we call these alpha (control) and beta (capture) campaigns.
The Alpha Beta Structure
At the core of the Alpha Beta structure are two separate campaigns (or sets of campaigns) – “Alpha” and “Beta.” Ultimately, Alphas are campaigns that have the primary goal of ‘query optimization,’ while Beta campaigns focus on the goal of ‘new query capture ’ (subject to profitability constraints). All keywords in Alpha are proven to be high-volume queries (exact match keywords), whereas all keywords in Beta are still in testing mode (non-exact match keywords, trying to find new high-volume queries).
Let’s assume that you just opened up an account in AdWords. Because you have no history of success on a keyword or query basis, you start with one campaign – a Beta. The structure of your campaign should consist of a series of highly targeted ad groups. Each ad group should have targeted ad text that speaks to the intent of the keywords in that ad group, and preferably you have landing pages that also relate specifically to the keywords.
Query Capture – Creating a Beta Campaign
The keywords that you have created on broad match modified in your Beta campaign are your “bait” – you use these to get Google’s algorithm to match you on related queries. Every time Google matches you, it’s like a fish nibbling on a lure – hence the “bait” term. In a few days, you’ll start to see a lot of different queries in your account – some converting, and some that don’t. You need to set a threshold of clicks, cost, and conversion to assess the value of these queries. For example, you might set a cost per acquisition (CPA) objective of $15 and decide that you need at least three conversions at $15 or less to conclude that a query is high enough volume for you to spend additional time on ‘query optimization.’
On a regular basis, you’ll run a search query report and assess all queries based on the query’s metrics.
The next step is to take this data and move keywords into the appropriate parts of the account. This is where the advantages of Alpha Beta will become apparent!
Targeting the High-Volume Winners – Creating the Alpha Campaign(s)
Your Alpha campaign is for proven high-volume queries, where high volume is defined by the account manager and how much how time he/she has to invest in query optimization.
In your Beta campaign, you set keywords to broad match modified, or some other non-exact match type.
Again, in the Alpha campaign, keywords (which are based on specific queries) are set to exact match. Moreover, each keyword is put into its own ad group. Internally, we call this “skagging” because you create Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs). Note: since it’s really about queries, we should call is SQAGs, but SKAGs has a better ring to it.
Putting winning queries on exact match in their own ad groups has several huge benefits. First, because you are only using exact match throughout your Alpha campaign, you should only have winning, profitable, precisely crafted high-volume keywords in your Alpha campaign (or other high-volume queries that perform near enough to the goal that they should not be negatives), and there is no way for Google to match you to ‘losers.’ Second, the SKAG process enables you to create highly targeted ad text and landing pages. For example, for the keyword “Carnegie Hall Hotels,” you can create an ad that mentions “Carnegie Hall Hotels” a couple of times. Because Google will bold any instance of the exact keyword in your ad text, your ad appears more relevant to a searcher and is likely to drive higher click-through rates and lower CPCs. You can also create a custom landing page just for that keyword or choose the most targeted landing page possible. This should result in higher conversion. Combine higher CTRs, lower CPCs, higher conversion rate, and no poor matches, and you should see immediate improvement to your ROI.
Forcing Google to Send Traffic to ‘Alphas’ – Controlling Query-to-Keyword Mappings
Now that you have great Alpha keywords with targeted ad text and landing pages, as well as very precise bids, you need to make sure Google does not serve your Alpha queries in your Beta campaign. This ensures proper keyword-to-query mappings, so that all the data for Alpha queries is housed within the Alpha campaign.
It turns out that there is often a difference in how Google says their system serves keywords and how Google actually serves keywords. According to Google’s AdWords help center, if a keyword in your account is on exact match and exactly matches a user’s query, that exact match keyword will be served, even if you have another broad match (or broad match modified, or phrase match) keyword that could potentially be served. Here’s Google’s official explanation of their prioritization process.
In truth, Google’s system will sometimes serve a broad match keyword, even if you have that query as an exact match keyword. This can be harmful to your account in two main ways: first, it may serve ad text and a landing page that is not as targeted as those in your Alpha campaign; second, it may actually cost you more per click on broad match than on exact match. Typically, Google takes every opportunity to map a query to the keyword with the highest ad rank (see the list of exceptions in the above referenced Google help article), which usually equates to sending an impression to the keyword with the highest bid. Another benefit of forcing traffic to Alphas is that it will ensure all data for one query is sent to the same place and, just as important, NOT sent to some broad match variation (which could result in the broad match version looking better than it really is, because it contains data of a ‘known high-volume query’).
The solution to this problem is quite simple: every time you add a query as an exact match keyword in your Alpha campaign, add it as an exact match negative keyword to your Beta campaign.
Don’t Forget About Optimizing ‘Query Capture’ Beta Campaigns
Creating a great Alpha campaign without simultaneously policing your Beta campaign is a recipe for disaster. So, in order to ensure an entire account (not just Alphas) has good performance, it’s important to continue with optimization efforts within Beta campaigns. In Beta, you’ll still be able to bid with some degree of precision, find the best performing ad for the aggregate of your queries in an ad group, and pick landing pages that perform best on average for the ad group. So, there are a lot optimization levers still available, but they are not as precise as ‘query optimization’ Alpha campaign efforts. In Beta, you’re catering to the mean, while Alpha queries are all independently optimized. White it’s a bit hard to stomach that Betas ‘cater to the mean,’ it’s also important to remember that they have relatively low volume. So, mathematical precision at the query level isn’t an option, thus the best available data is the ‘clustered’ data created by the original tightly themed ad groups.
Note from Brad: Mike Nelson is the next guest on Marketing Nirvana and will go over the control and capture methodology as well as many other insights into organization on the show. The show will air June 4th at 9am PST / 12 EST at Webmaster Radio.
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