The Beta Debate

To beta or not to beta…that is the question. It is always tempting for search marketers to load up a text ad with the latest ad extensions offered by Google or Yahoo!/Bing to command more real estate on the search engine results page (SERP), but does it pay off in the form of increased ROAS? The answer is sometimes yes, but a lot of times, no. So before you jump on the beta bandwagon, carefully consider your vertical and the KPIs to which you are managing to ensure the beta will actually help you achieve your goals.

When evaluating whether or not a client should participate in a new beta, the media team at IgnitionOne takes into account the following considerations:

  • Vertical – While it makes sense for a travel or retail client to run Google’s new image ad extensions, the beta will not be as impactful for a telecomm or banking client. Google users will be interested in seeing images of a luxury hotel or fashion house’s latest line, but not as intrigued by a stock photo man on the phone or a pile of cash. Running banal stock images will not increase CTR or any other return metrics.
  • KPI (Key Performance Indicator) – To what metric are you optimizing your client’s account? If you are lucky and the answer is simply site-traffic or awareness, then the world is your oyster (the world of betas that is.) But, if your KPI is ROAS, as it is for most advertisers, then choose your betas carefully. For example, running Google’s communication extension may encourage users to sign up for a newsletter, but it also may discourage them from actually clicking through to the site and potentially making a purchase. Another recent example of a newish product that has the potential to decrease ROAS is Yahoo RAIS Video ads. Because the video does not link through to your site, you are essentially trading potential conversions for video views.
  • Tracking & Reporting Capabilities – If the results are not “trackable”, then they do not exist. While a beta may help drive incremental revenue, if you cannot track the performance and report on it, that revenue (and your effort in setting up the beta) is wasted. For example, enabling call extensions for Yahoo|Bing! campaigns may look great in the SERP and will drive traffic to your call centers, but if your campaigns are not integrated with a call tracking technology, those conversions will be lost. Most times, your technology platform will not have built in support for betas, so you may have to set up workarounds, like dummy tracking.
  • Budget Constraints – Any budget allocated towards testing engine betas should be incremental. Never rely on a beta product, like Google’s DSA (dynamic search ads) or Yahoo|Bing’s in-stream ads to spend your core budget or drive revenue towards your overall goal. Betas should always be tested with a small incremental budget before they are launched across an entire account and expected to boost performance.
  • Client’s Level of Risk Aversion – Now I am scared of many things, including heights, public speaking and tick borne illnesses, but engine betas are not among them. However, many clients prefer to stay with the tried and true and are hesitant to enable betas before they are a proven success. For example, clients with highly particular brand guidelines tend to stay away from betas that have any type of dynamically generated ad-copy, since the predictability of how the brand will appear is low during the beta period. Other clients are not satisfied unless they are on the cutting edge of something, even if the risky behavior costs them performance. Of course, the smartest advertisers fall somewhere in the middle, but always consider your client’s risk aversion when proposing that they test an engine beta.

The bottom line for betas is to proceed with caution. Marketers should carefully consider their vertical, KPI, tracking and reporting capabilities, budget constraints and risk aversion before opting into the latest and greatest engine offering.

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