Making It To The Big Leagues: How To Run A Successful “Alpha / Beta” Ad Campaign

It’s summer! Which also means it’s baseball season. And what better way to celebrate the sport than use it to help explain the great, potentially lucrative, and underutilized search engine ad campaign of model of “Alpha / Beta.” Alpha / Beta campaigns are one of the most productive and cost effective advertising structures available to your business. And understanding how to effectively craft a campaign puts you and your business at a huge advantage. So, let’s play ball!

Dinosaur catching a ball

In professional baseball, players (for the most part) spend years tediously working their way up through an intricate minor league system. Think you have what it takes to be a New York Yankee? Before donning those world ­famous pinstripes, you might first be a Charleston River Dog, a Trenton Thunder, a Scranton/Wilkes­ Barre Rail Rider, or a member of any other number of developmental teams. Prove your worth in Tampa or Staten Island and you may one day run the bases at Yankee Stadium. Fail, and you may be out of baseball altogether.

So how does this relate to Alpha / Beta campaigns? Here we go:


Keywords are your players. If you were setting the line ­up for your hypothetical baseball team, you would obviously pick those skilled in baseball (as opposed to say tennis, hockey, or ping ­pong). For your campaign, you are also going to pick applicable keywords that match your business objectives. For example, applicable keywords for a company that sells shoes could be:

“casual shoes”

“dress shoes”

“work shoes”

baseball fooling around

With your keywords selected, you now send them up to bat. For your “batting order” to work, the query used in the search engine needs to relate to your keywords.

You’re going to try to match this with the most profitable search queries with data from your customer base.

For example, if I sent paid search traffic to the “casual shoe” page, the breakdown might look like this:

Keyword Research from UberSuggest (free tool!)

Keyword Research from UberSuggest (free tool!)

In AdWords, you have the ability to control how specific you’d like to match queries to your keywords. Having some flexibility in how stringent your queries are matched to keywords is beneficial, as unexpected queries might work with your keywords. For our Alpha / Beta campaign, we’ll adopt the broad match modifier type.


You could throw all your money away experimenting with keywords and queries to find the one that worked best for your business. Many people do. This would be like sending a new line ­up out on the field, game after game, trying desperately to find that M.V.P. What would be the point of having a major and minor league if you were just going to haphazardly throw together a winning team, regardless of the cost and effort? The Alpha / Beta Structure is the solution to help cultivate your talent (successful keywords) in a methodical, cost ­effective way. Think of Alpha / Beta as the sabermetrics of search engine marketing. By utilizing the structure and analyzing the data, you can find the keyword equivalent of this guy :

swinging bat

­­ without breaking the bank.

Let’s take a step ­by ­step look at how to formulate, evaluate, and run a successful Alpha / Beta campaign:

Step 1: Research Keywords (The Scouting Report)

Use a keyword research tool to research your competitor’s keywords (such as SEMrush or SpyFu). From these keywords, handpick a number to test (depending on your budget). For my campaign, I’ll use six keywords in a modified broad match type. This is much smaller than recommended, but a good number for demonstration purposes:

Casual Shoes

Dress Shoes

Athletic Shoes

Work Shoes



Step 2: Group Keywords (Spring Training)

With my keywords chosen, the next step would be to group them into themes. These will be the line­ ups we’ll experiment with and from which we’ll gather data. For your own groupings, you’ll want more keywords so that you can gather more comprehensive data. However, for the sake of the demonstration, we’ll use three groupings.

Casual Shoes

casual shoes for women
casual shoes for womens online
casual shoes for womens amazon
casual shoes for dress pants
casual shoes for dresses
casual shoes for diabetics

Dress Shoes

dress shoes
dress shoes for women
dress shoes for boys
dress shoes with jeans
dress shoes men
dress shoes for girls
dress shoes with shorts

Athletic Shoes

athletic shoes
athletic shoes for women
athletic shoes for men
athletic shoes near me
athletic shoes for flat feet
athletic shoes online
athletic shoes made in usa

Step 3: Go Live, Wait for Data (Batter Up)

This is the easiest step. Once you have your keywords and have them grouped, turn them loose and let them perform. This is you beta launch. It’s a test to see how well your keywords perform. Just sit back and wait for the data to accumulate, for a minimum of a week up to a maximum of a month and a half. You’re also waiting for your keywords to act as “magnets” where they will attract more profitable, longer-tail keywords. 

While we wait, let’s have our seventh inning stretch ­­

Baseball dancing

Step 4: Analyzing the Data (Reviewing the Stat Sheet)

Once our determined amount of time has passed (the game’s over, the players are showering in the locker room), we’re going to check to see how our keywords performed within the beta test. We’re going to break these performances down into three categories ­ Winners, Losers, and Neutral.

In order to do this, you’re going to perform a Search Query Mine.

Adwords Search Query Repor


We’ll grade performance on their ROAS or cost per conversion and then group them into like buckets. Some search queries that users will be typing in will do extremely well, whereas others will not.

Let’s take a look at our three groupings to see how they fared. 

athletic shoes – high traffic, low ROAS
athletic shoes for women – high traffic, med ROAS
athletic shoes for men – high traffic, high ROAS
athletic shoes near me – low traffic, low ROAS
athletic shoes for flat feet – low traffic, high ROAS
athletic shoes online – high traffic, low ROAS
athletic shoes made in usa – low traffic, high ROAS

For neutral performers, we can do a number of things. We can give them more time to accumulate more data. Basically, we need to investigate and test more before we can make a good determination. In baseball terms, we’ll keep these keywords in the minor leagues for a few more games before making the call in either direction.

For the losers (those who strike out consistently, commit errors, and are generally duds), we will add them to a “negative beta list” and then cycle back to the beta phase. If they are flat ­out failures, we can pause them and/or remove them from the campaign. This is the baseball equivalent of kicking the player off the bus and leaving them behind. If these keywords are high traffic opportunities, we can also evaluate the landing page as well as the customer experience to see if there’s something we can do to convert this traffic stream. 

Breaking Bat

But enough with this talk of the minor leagues. Let’s talk about the winners ­­ those high performing keywords that are getting the call up to the big show.


When your winning keywords are identified, the first thing you are going to do is add them to a “negative alpha list.” This seems counterintuitive; but doing this pulls your M.V.P. out of the minor leagues (i.e. ­ removes it from your beta campaign) so that it isn’t accidentally triggered when you re­-run your beta campaign and costs you unnecessary money.

With this done, you are going to create your “alpha campaign.” Your alpha campaign will consist of your S.K.A.G, or your Single Keyword Ad Group, which features your top performing keyword. This is your Babe Ruth. Your Willie Mays. Your Bryce Harper. You are now going to write an ad specifically for this S.K.A.G to milk it for all its worth. You are going to ride this campaign all the way to the World Series, or whatever success means to you and your business. At least ­­ until the next S.K.A.G comes along. S.K.A.Gs can also gain a much more effective market share since you can control and manage them and hit them with high bids.

Let’s take a look at how the alpha / beta campaign worked for our test campaign:

Regular performance vs. SKAGs

From this data we can see the drastic differences in performance between our alpha and beta (highlighted in yellow) groups ­­in conversion rate (and subsequently) the cost per conversion. And we were able to find this data through targeted testing that didn’t cost much or require extensive shot­-in­-the-dark testing.


There are many advantages to using an Alpha / Beta Campaign:

  1. It gives you ultimate control over your paid search traffic. If you rely on Google (or any other search engine) to handle your search engine marketing, you lose all of this control and disaster usually follows.
  2. You can not only push harder for a larger market share of effective keywords, but you can also stop pursuing less effective ones.
  3. You can constantly seek out and mine for new, highly ­effective keywords as you look to find S.K.A.Gs that perform well and are cost effective. A traditional research ­based campaign might allow you to use a low budget, but it also must be aggressive enough to feel out the market and collect an applicable amount of data. While using S.K.A.Gs may initially require a larger budget, you immediately command a higher market share with very little risk involved.

With all of that said,­­ and if you’ll humor me one last time the Alpha / Beta approach is a definite home run for your search engine marketing.

Home Run


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