Alpha/Beta Campaign Structure

There’s an elegant process that anyone can use to ensure their search campaigns are performing at their absolute best. This process that makes it easy to generate data about your campaigns and use it so your account hums along like a kitten. A high-performance kitten.

What you’ll learn in this post

This post will describe how to use the alpha/beta campaign organization technique.

  • Create alpha campaigns that focus on keywords known to deliver quality traffic
  • Create beta campaigns to explore search queries and uncover new valuable keywords


Where you once had only one campaign, you instead create two complementary campaigns. One campaign (the “Beta” campaign) is designed to gather data. The other (the “Alpha” campaign) uses the data from the Beta campaign to optimize performance. Beta campaigns use broad modified keywords to attract a wide variety of search queries. They work like a dragnet, capturing all sorts of garbage and the occasional gem. You run the Beta campaign for a bit, it generates a bunch of search queries based on the broad modified keywords. Alpha campaigns use these search queries – the ones that are highly relevant and generate traffic – as exact match keywords. Because the Alpha campaign contains only exact match keywords, you can build especially relevant ads and landing pages within it for highly effective lead generation. (This technique was popularized by David Rodnitzky. You can see the presentation he used to introduce it on slideshare.)

A step by step example

Imagine that you are preparing a campaigns for an education institution that wants to promote their various schools.

Step 1: Create different campaigns based on business value

When building out a campaign structure, we recommend that your first consider the business value of the products or services being advertised. Create separate campaigns for items with different business value. Doing this helps clarify the ROI of the campaigns and makes it easier to allocate budget. For example, Faber College might prize law and medical students because their lengthy coursework represents move overall tuition. Create a campaign for these schools, and a second campaign for all other schools. You now have two campaigns: Faber HiValue and Faber MdValue. Note: Create more campaigns if it makes sense. The idea is to create tiers of business value, but keep it manageable. Typically two or three campaigns is sufficient.

Step 2: Create different campaigns based on device and network

We recommend you also separate campaigns based on device and network. To keep things manageable, it’s usually best to begin with a search network (not display network) campaign that targets desktops (not mobile). Later you can add additional campaigns for mobile devices and the display network. It’s a good idea to name your campaigns using a system that helps you keep track of this: Faber HiValue|D|S Faber MdValue|D|S Where D=desktop and S=search. Note that business value and mobile/desktop divisions are sometimes the same. For example, to a tow-truck service a mobile customer is likely more valuable. In this case the high value campaigns will also always be mobile campaigns.

Step 3: Create different campaigns based on location

Location targeting is defined at the campaign level, so if you are targeting different locations you need to create separate campaigns for those as well. For example, Faber College might want to target local students differently from out of state students. Now you have four campaigns: Faber HiValue|Local|D|S Faber MdValue|Local|D|S Faber HiValue|OutOfState|D|S Faber MdValue|OurOfState|D|S

Step 4: Create Beta and Alpha campaigns

You’ve now created a foundation campaign structure with divisions by value, device, location, and network. The next step is to identify these campaigns as Alpha and Beta. Faber HiValue|Local|D|S|Beta Faber HiValue|Local|D|S|Alpha Faber MdValue|Local|D|S|Beta Faber MdValue|Local|D|S|Alpha Faber HiValue|OutOfState|D|S|Beta Faber HiValue|OutOfState|D|S|Alpha Faber MdValue|OurOfState|D|S|Beta Faber MdValue|OurOfState|D|S|Alpha Make sure you add alpha and beta tags to each campaign as appropriate. They’ll make it a lot easier to slice and dice your the data later on.

Step 5: Create ad groups

Create ad groups within your Beta campaigns. We’ll deal with the Alpha group a bit down the line. Remember, ad groups contain keywords and ads. In AdWords, any keyword in an ad group can trigger any ad within an ad group. In this way you can rotate between various ads in an ad group and test which copy works best. Because of this, ad groups should be tightly themed. For Faber College, you wouldn’t want to place a medical school keyword and a law school keyword in the same ad group. You’d have to write an ad vague enough to apply to both med and law school searches. That’s death in AdWords, where relevance is everything For example, in the HiValue campaigns we might create two ad groups: Medical school and law school. Perhaps in the MdValue campaigns we might create ad groups such as: Psychology school, Art school, and CompScience School. These are still pretty high level. But no matter. We’ll use the data from these campaigns to create even more granular ad groups in the alpha campaigns.

Step 6: Add keywords to your ad groups

Do some keyword research using online tools such as the keyword suggestion wizard in the AdFury campaign launcher or SEMRush. There’s going to be a lot of campaigns. Don’t get tempted and add more than a few keywords for each ad group. Too many keywords, and you risk Google allocating more budget to one keyword vs. another. This will muddy your data. For example, you might choose: +Law +School +Preparation +Law +School +Degree +Study +Law +Online +Study +Law +Night Place these broad modified keywords into the appropriate ad group, and do the same for the remaining ad groups.

Step 7: Create ads, landing pages, and go live with the Beta campaigns

Write your ads, create your landing pages, and go live. Ad writing techniques and landing page creation are covered elsewhere, so we’ll drop the details here. Now you are collecting some data that will serve your alpha campaigns.

Step 8: Monitor search queries in your Beta campaigns, using the best in your Alpha

Wait a bit. Wait a week. Get some data. Then look at the search query report. AdFury has a good one, or you can use the regular AdWords interface. You’re looking for two things:

  • Search queries that are irrelevant to your campaign. For example, “free law advice from a law school” is irrelevant. These you want to add as NEGATIVE exact match keywords at the campaign level.
  • Search queries that match your campaign goals and generate reasonable traffic. Just like irrelevant traffic, you also add these queries as NEGATIVE exact match keywords at the (Beta) campaign level. Importantly, you next add these queries as exact match keywords into your Alpha campaign.

By doing this you are eliminating irrelevant traffic from your campaign. And you’re directing the most relevant traffic through your Alpha campaign, while ensuring that relevant traffic isn’t accidentally sent through the Beta campaign. Some people like to build SKAGs (single keyword ad groups) in their Alpha campaigns to maximize relevancy. This can improve performance, but can also increase administrative burden as you create ads and landing pages for every ad group. Once again: Bad queries get negative match keywords in the Beta campaign. Good queries get both exact match keywords in the Alpha campaign AND negative match keywords in the Beta campaign. **A note: **When you exact match a keyword in an Alpha campaign, negative match it to ALL Beta campaigns. An efficient way to do that is to add it to a shared list of negative keywords that all Beta campaigns use. That way you ensure you don’t have two campaigns competing with each other.

Step 9: Keep an eye on budget distribution between keywords

If a keyword is dominating a Beta campaign and consuming much of the budget, consider pausing it and sending some traffic to other keywords so you can fairly evaluate performance. Sometimes a keyword has value that’s hidden because another one gets all the glory.

**That’s it! Here are some notes **

As you manage your account over time, be aware of the implications of your budget allocation between Alpha and Beta. Investment in a Beta campaign generates growth, and investment in Alpha campaigns generates profit. You might want to shift budget between one or the other depending on your business context – and if your budget gets tight, make sure the Beta campaigns get the throttle first. The Alpha campaigns are the money makers. Besides, if you drop their budget the Betas won’t have anywhere to send their discoveries.