The great account structure debate at SMX West 2016


The opponents glowered across the stage at each other, nostrils flared and muscles poised for action. The tension could be felt as keenly as an over-tuned mandolin string. This was the Great Account Structure Debate at last week’s SMX West conference, in which winners would be winners and losers would be losers.

That is how I would have started this article had the debate come to physical blows. Thankfully, no violence occurred, and in fact, it all went down quite amicably.

Whether planned or unplanned, this debate centered primarily around the use of Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs), and there were several good points made all around.

The participants and their arguments took place as follows.

Caitlin Halpert, 3Q Digital: SKAGs

Caitlin Halpert is an employee of 3Q Digital, and as PPC legend John Lee pointed out, it means “she has drunk David Rodnitzky’s Kool-Aid” of SKAGs. Halpert presented on SKAGs, and her obvious enthusiasm for them is a tribute to their success (as well as her willingness to drink Rodnitzky’s Kool-Aid).

Throughout the presentation, Halpert used the term “Alpha Beta” to refer to the core of her strategy. Alpha Beta pairs an Alpha 1 Exact match SKAG ad group with a Beta 1 Broad or Broad Match Modified SKAG ad group and utilizes negative keywords for mapping.

She began by introducing the “why” of it all. Why would a perfectly reasonable and intelligent PPCer consider changing their entire strategy over to SKAGs? The crux of it, as aptly demonstrated by Halpert, rests in the all-important keyword intention (and thus conversion capability), as well as in account efficiency. Match types have different intentions (a point all agreed upon), and thus should have different ad groups. However, the SKAG argument by Halpert also had an account efficiency aspect to it.

That is, with a SKAG mindset, you are eliminating a large amount of non-essential account “fat” (ad groups, keywords, ads), which also reduces required account management in these areas (so you can better focus on the most important parts of your account… which is what you have built into SKAGs).

What, then, do you do about the rest of your account? Why, you use DSAs (Dynamic Search Ads) to fill in the holes in your account with non-essential keywords and as outreach for finding new keyword opportunities. This is, after all, what DSAs were made for, so why not use them?

The final part of Halpert’s presentation was answering misconceptions to the SKAG strategy. I thought this was a profitable way to spend part of her session, since it is not without controversy.

The main misconceptions she answered were:

  • Alpha-Beta is not scalable (Answer: Select your keywords carefully, then aim for data density, and be willing to review and update your keyword lists).
  • Betas are “lesser” keywords (Answer: Betas mine new queries and roll-up data from lower-volume queries that would never be promoted to Alpha).
  • Alpha-Beta requires massive keyword buildout for full coverage (Answer: This is what DSAs are for.)
  • It’s hard to maintain clean query mapping in Alpha-Beta (Answer: As with any strategy, you need to maintain your keywords to keep up on queries shifting into the incorrect Ad Group).

Amy Bishop, Clix Marketing: Flexible structure based upon client goals

The next contestant up on the Campaign Strategy Debate was Amy Bishop from Clix Marketing. I think the Clix Marketing crew is one of the nicest you’ll find in PPC, but don’t let the niceness fool you. They know their stuff, and it shined on the debate stage.

Rather than taking a hard stance on one particular strategy, Bishop began by focusing on the client. What are essential aspects of your client? What are their goals? What is their business structure? What kind of performance do they see? Where are they located or where is their audience located? All of these will affect an account, and thus your decision for how best to structure their campaigns.

It’s not that SKAGs are evil (She even admitting to using them when they make sense), it is that Bishop believes an account manager should take a look at the context of the account before making a structural decision. Bishop gave a few helpful tips to determine context, then spent time using actual client examples (redacted for privacy, of course).

These clients examples were:

  • Client A: Brick and Mortar Location.
  • Client B: Online Lead Gen (No brick-and-mortar locations).
  • Client C: Online B2B.
  • Client D: E-commerce only.

This was particularly helpful to me, since it helped demonstrate actual instances where one would potentially see value in organizing an account separately. In essence, an e-commerce company and a B2B company have very different goals and objectives, different query types, different website structures for products/services and so forth — and should thus be considered uniquely.

How does one determine these things? Well, experience, of course, but also testing. Bishop relies heavily on testing in her own accounts as a means of identifying what account structure will work best for that individual client.

The key to understanding Bishop’s presentation was “it depends,” since various account structures work well with various types of clients and accounts.

Justin Freid, CMI: Match your query to your ads

Justin Freid took the SMX stage ready to rumble. He noted that this was a debate, and thus should have varying opinions, so he said SKAGs are not for him. Results and efficiency were both key factors in his dislike (hatred is perhaps too strong a word) of SKAGs.

Rather, he posited, our accounts should have a laser focus on the search queries used by customers. We need to ensure we are showing the right ad to the right query. He called it “a Meticulous Granular Approach” to account structure.

The key here is to note that an account is targeting two entities: the Search Engine and People. Because of that, the ideal account will be the one that’s most focused on the people who will see ads, and the way they see ads is by typing in queries. Thus, the query is the key.

In terms of actually building out an account or campaigns, Freid noted that it is called “Ad Group” for a reason, because the ad is the only thing a person will see in our accounts. Therefore, he said that he prefers to build out ad groups with the ad text first, and then add keywords to the ad groups after the fact.

Query being key, Freid then focused on the different ways our keywords can be matched to queries, match types. He utilized an analogy the crowd found giggle-worthy to describe the various match types: the different levels of drunkenness.

Exact match is like a person on their first beer who’s enjoyable to be around and talking with friends. Phrase match is the person who has a few more and is a little braver, willing to spread their influence out a little more. Modified broad match is the “life of the party,” attracting the most attention. Broad match? Broad match, according to Freid, is the person who’s so drunk they have no idea what is going on, even if they do something good once in awhile.

Freid noted that he prefers exact match, though he utilizes phrase and modified broad match sparingly to find long-tail and new terms. The key to it all is to ensure that the ads match up directly to the search query. He noted more than once that this is the key to PPC, showing the right ad to the right query (person).

All in all, it was an enjoyable interchange. I found myself naturally agreeing with Bishop in terms of my own personal experience, though I enjoyed Freid’s focus on matching ads and queries, and I am more intrigued by SKAGs than I had been in the past. I can more easily see the efficiency argument for SKAGs because of the minor amount of campaigns and DSA campaigns, so I may have to give them a try someday.

All in all, the three contestants did a great job, because I learned PPC better. And “learning PPC better” is why we went to SMX.

The post The great account structure debate at SMX West 2016 appeared first on Search Engine Land.