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SEM for SMBs: The Alpha Beta Approach

Published: December 30, 2015

Author: Evan Routzong

Gaining traction through search engine marketing efforts is a common struggle for many small & mid-sized businesses, and rightfully so – they’re often competing with major corporations touting massive advertising budgets. So how do SMBs become relevant players in such a competitive environment? The simplified answer is with greater targeting and continuous optimization. The Alpha Beta approach to campaign management can do just that, and undoubtedly gives SMBs the most bang for their buck in SEM.

What is the Alpha Beta process, and how does it work?

The Alpha Beta process is 3Q’s proprietary approach to campaign management where the aim is to gain full control over which queries trigger our clients’ ads. We do this by harvesting profitable keywords through ‘Beta’ campaigns using broad match and promoting those to exact match within ‘Alpha’ campaigns. Essentially, the idea is to test keywords and queries in Beta and then isolate performers in Alpha campaigns where they can be closely controlled and optimized. Typically, campaigns should be split into categories (brand, non-brand, remarketing, by product, by geo, etc.), and there will be both Alpha and Beta campaigns for each. Here’s a closer look at the Alpha Beta approach:

Beta – Explore & Capture

Beta campaigns are created to identify profitable queries and to eliminate unprofitable queries. This is done through the use of broad & broad modified match keywords. These flexible match types allow Google to serve your ads up to a variety of user queries that can then essentially be grouped into three categories: those that performed well, those that performed poorly, and anything between that did not have sufficient data to make a decision. Of course, you’ll have to decide what parameters make sense for your business – target CPA, CTR, volume of conversions, profit margin, and other metrics can all be considered. Top-performing queries should be entered into Alpha campaigns as exact match keywords, queries that are proven poor-performers should be added as exact match negatives at the campaign level, and those with inconclusive data should remain in the beta campaign and monitored over time.

Alpha – Isolate

The purpose of Alpha campaigns is to isolate your profitable keywords and exercise greater control over them since we know they drive higher performance. In order to gain greater control, we use single-keyword ad groups, or “SKAGs,” using exact match. This allows you to optimize bids and targeting and to create highly relevant ad copy at a more granular level.

Exact Negative Keywords

Since Alpha and Beta campaigns are running simultaneously, it’s important to note that broad match keywords in Beta could potentially be competing against your Alphas for a place in the search results, and you want your Alphas to win that battle 100% of the time. Remember, your Alphas will serve up highly relevant ad copy and send users to landing pages that match their specific intent. So, in order to prevent any unnecessary competition between your Alphas and Betas, you can apply a list of exact match negative keywords to your Beta campaign that will mirror your Alpha campaign. This will effectively block any Beta ads from being served when an Alpha is eligible.

Benefits of SKAGs (single-keyword ad groups)

Utilizing Alpha campaigns with exact match SKAGs creates the greatest advantage for clients on a tight budget. This allows us to focus efforts on keywords that are proven performers, and to tailor ads to the specific intent of user queries. This means your ad copy and landing page will be highly relevant and likely result in greater click-through rates and conversion rates. Within Google, relevant ads and landing pages translate to a higher quality score, and ultimately better Ad Rank and lower CPC. Another added benefit of SKAGs is the ability to include your keyword text within the ad copy, and Google will automatically bold those terms in the search results.


The Alpha Beta approach has been a proven method for success with many high-spend accounts but certainly should not be discounted for smaller companies. In fact, the tactic may provide even more value for smaller accounts with a sensitive budget. This account structure also lays a great foundation for future growth and tactfully building out campaigns.
For a handy guide on Alpha Beta structuring, check out our whitepaper here.

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