Single keyword ad groups aka SKAGs are one of the top weapons you’ve been looking for to crush your Google Ads competition. 🚀
By skyrocketing your Google Ads results to new heights you maybe only dared dream of. I dare you to let me convince you! 🤓
The following chart depicts the immediate growth we’ve seen when adding SKAGs to a company’s Google Ads account:
By now, you must have realized that Google Ads is a marketing channel that’s worth targeting at least some portion of your budget and efforts to. Surely, you’ll want to do it in the most cost-effective way.
Granularity, precision, relevancy, cutting costs and all those fancy terms basically mean more of them Benjamins in your pocket – sounds good? No? Yes? Yes!
Sounds difficult? No need for worries. Keep reading and in approximately 10 minutes you’ll be ready to handle the force.
In this post, I’ll proactively answer all the questions that you may have regarding SKAGs. Literally, all the questions there are in the English language and all other languages I know (Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why? & How?):
- Who can benefit from SKAGs?
- What are single keyword ad groups?
- When to use SKAGs?
- Where to use SKAGs?
- Why use single keyword ad groups?
- How to set up single keyword ad groups?
All will be answered.
Watch the article in video format and follow our setup instructions step-by-step
Who can benefit from SKAGs?
You. You should be using them. Your PPC agency, marketing specialist, marketing manager and assistant should all be using them. Heck, even your grandmother should be using them if she has an online presence with a product/service.
So… Anyone that is using Google Ads should also be using the SKAG structure.
More of this under the “Why” section.
What are single keyword ad groups?
It’s quite self-explanatory actually. They are ad groups. And they have a single keyword. In other words, every keyword should have its own ad group. But that single keyword can (and should) enjoy the company of its different match type friends. (More of this under the “How” section.)
SKAGs can also be defined as a method to increase two out of three components of your keywords’ Quality Score – Ad Relevance and CTR. (More of this under the “Why” section.)
Noone’s single-single if that’s what you were hoping for… Sorry.
As opposed to using SKAGs the most common and widespread approach is to create one ad group for all keywords that fall under a similar theme.
Then “stuffing” it with all the related keywords you can think of and creating just one, two or maybe three different ads (if you’re at least feeling bad-ass enough to want to A/B test your ad copy). Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but that’s kind of a no-no.
So here’s what your account structure would look like using this no-no method:
No need to be ashamed, I know you were taught this way. Even Google recommends this approach in their materials. But worry not, you’ll soon be convinced to leave these old habits behind and embrace the new single-keyword-ad-group-ways you will have learnt in about 9ish minutes.
When to use SKAGs?
You should start considering the SKAG structure for your Google Ads account when you have reached a point that requires some more clear structuring, cutting costs and increasing quality scores.
If you’ve already been “Google Adsing” for quite some time now, don’t be afraid to take on some restructuring if you’d like your results to improve. Yes, it’s a bit of work to get everything set up properly (again), but it’s well worth it.
So when?… Now! 3-2-1 single keyword ad groups go-go-go!
Where to use SKAGs?
Hmm.. It’s quite obvious but would’ve been weird to leave this one question out. Just in case though…
In your Google Ads account.
Why use single keyword ad groups?
More relevant ads to the customer → better ad relevance ratings from Google → higher click-through rates → higher quality score → lower cost-per-click → lower cost per conversion → better ROI.
If you can’t be bothered understanding that long line of associations, then just understand this: → more revenue! And if you don’t like better performance while lowering costs… Then do you even business?
If you want an even more detailed answer, read on.
Google Ads evaluates keywords and ads before choosing which ad should be shown every time someone searches for something on Google.
Naturally, Google wants to provide people with relevant and useful information (and ads) so that’s why the quality of your ads is assessed alongside your bids aka how much you’re willing to pay for a click.
So there’s justice in the world after all. It doesn’t help just having loads of money to spend. If you work hard (sounds extreme, it’s not that hard) you can actually see better results than someone who pays no attention to quality and just likes spending their buck.
More of Google’s justice and fairness in the World, please. Thank you!
Is there also a reason not to use SKAGs?
It all comes down to time and whether you can be bothered putting in the effort. So what are the downsides or cons of single keyword ad groups?
- It can be more complex to handle and optimize (at least at first) when you’re only just getting used to SKAGs. But ultimately the SKAG structure is more “precise” and precise data is easier to analyse or at least the analysis is more informative and accurate.
- Set-up is sometimes time-consuming. (But it’s not that bad if you do it in bulk using Google Ads Editor.)
- Ad testing takes longer as you need to wait longer to get a significant number of clicks (and other information to rely on). When you presumably used to have around 20 keywords in one ad group, all those keywords were “gathering” clicks for your ad variations.
Now, as you have only one keyword triggering one ad group’s ad, you need to wait longer to be sure you’ve reached statistical relevance with the number of clicks or whatever other data you’re using to compare ads. But, if this sounds intimidating, you can consider starting with the alpha/beta structure (mentioned in a few paragraphs). It’s a bit easier to do ad testing with that.
- It’s easier to start with the SKAG structure if you already have some data in your account. Meaning you already have a broad idea of which keywords perform and how.
But my question is: can you afford not to SKAG in today’s highly competitive markets?
And no one is saying you’d need to change your entire account to the SKAG structure. Single keyword ad groups could first be tested for your top performing keywords. The keywords you want to have in your account kinda “just in case” can be left as they are. For now. 🙂
It’s highly likely that pretty soon you’d want to change them to SKAGs as well.
How to set up single keyword ad groups?
Now drumroll, please… How to put the S in SKAG.
First things first, I’m the realest. 🎶 Ok-ok. Got carried away there. First things first, make sure your campaigns are set up properly. Read this post on how to set up your Google Ads search campaigns.
Once that’s all clear we can move on to the next step in creating a perfectly structured Google Ads account.
So as mentioned before, the whole point behind SKAGs is that there is a single keyword in every ad group.
Obviously, that will ultimately result in quite a lot of ad groups but if you’ve set everything up with a nice clear structure then it’s no problemo at all. Again, read this post about setting up your Google Ads search campaigns.
Now, let’s say you’re selling cars. For the sake of this example not getting too complex you’re only selling two types of cars – sports cars and minivans. So you’d most likely have one campaign for sports cars and one for minivans.
Let’s look at the sports car campaign. Cause who would rather look at minivans? 🚗
Sorry, all awesome dads who have made this sacrifice for their family, you rock!
Your single keyword ad groups should look something like this:
When you create your ad groups, they are all named after the same keyword that they include.
Ad group name = keyword.
The keyword isn’t entirely lonely in the ad group though. You should have three match types of the keyword in there as shown in the image above. Exact match, phrase match and broad match modified.
You could also add the regular broad match in there for extra important keywords. But it shouldn’t be added for all keywords, cause you’d most likely end up getting a lot of irrelevant traffic that spends your budget but doesn’t really bring much back.
Now back to looking at sports cars:
Campaign: Sports Cars
Ad group 1: sports cars (keywords: [sports cars], “sports cars”, +sports +cars)
Ad group 2: sports cars for sale (keywords: [sports cars for sale], “sports cars for sale”, +sports +cars +for +sale)
Ad group 3: luxury sports cars (keywords: [luxury sports cars], “luxury sports cars”, +luxury +sports +cars)
Ad group 4: cabrio sports cars (keywords: [cabrio sports cars], “cabrio sports cars”, +cabrio +sports +cars)
So how does this benefit you? Coming back to the aforementioned ad relevance. According to Google itself, ad relevance is “a keyword status that measures how closely related your keyword is to your ads”. So what we want to do is increase that “closely related” factor by having the keyword included in the ad that we create for it.
When you think about it, you’d want your potential customer to see an ad that lets them know you’re offering them exactly what they are searching for.
So if they’re searching for “luxury cabrio sports car” you wouldn’t want to show them an ad that says you’re just selling cars in general. If they are already searching for something so specific they’d also want to see ads offering them this specific type of car.
Pushing them back in the purchase funnel by directing them to a general all cars landing page would understandably be pointless and could potentially hinder the conversion.
If we had one ad group that included say 15 keywords we couldn’t possibly create an ad that included them all. And we’d be losing ad relevance. So the natural solution is to have a different ad for all our keywords. A bit time consuming to set up? Yes. Worth it in the long run? Hell yes!
Let’s look at ad group 3: luxury sports cars. To get the most out of your SKAGs you’d want to include the exact term “luxury sports cars” in the ad. For ad group 4 you’d want the ad to include the phrase “cabrio sports cars” etc.
How to include the keyword in the ad?
Use the keyword in Headline 1 (and 2 if it’s such a long-tail keyword that it doesn’t fit in just one headline due to the character limits that we all love. #sarcasm) and the path (formerly known as display URL).
If possible at all then do not change the keyword’s word form. For example, if the keyword is “luxury sports car” have it in the Headline(s) exactly like that as opposed to something like “Luxurious Sports Cars”. This is again a factor that influences the ad relevance we’ve already spoken about.
This way Google sees that you are useful to the customer as you are providing them with exactly what they are looking for.
And Google will gladly show them your ad instead of someone else’s who is advertising something general like “Buy cars here” or “Great car deals here”. The customer is also more likely to click on the ad as they too see that what you offer is highly relevant to them.
If you can’t think of all the potential keywords people may search for, or it just seems too time-consuming, you can always start with more generic so-called short-tail keywords. As mentioned earlier, you will have three match types for all keywords in every SKAG.
So phrase and broad match modified match types will help you “catch” long-tail search terms when analysing your Search Terms Report (found under the Keywords tab).
Say for example you want to start with an ad group called “sports cars” that includes the keywords:
- “sports cars” – phrase match
- [sports cars] – exact match
- +sports +cars – broad match modified
Then even if someone searches for something like “yellow sports cars with 2 doors” your ads will be triggered as you have the phrase and broad match modified match types in your ad group.
Learn more about different match types and how they work here. And if you see people searching for this phrase repeatedly (from your Search Terms Report) you can add it as a keyword in a new single keyword ad group.
This way you won’t need to think of all the possible keywords that could ever apply to what you’re offering. You can start wide and analyze the Search Terms Report and keep creating new ad groups (and ads) for Search Terms that bring you quality traffic and/or conversions.
So instead of creating ad groups and ads for all possible colors and number-of-doors combinations you only need to create them for the ones that are already proven to be searched for.
My personal strong guess is that no-one is searching for something like “brown sports car with 6 doors”. But you can never know until you see your Search Terms report.
Alpha/Beta Account Structure + SKAGs
Similarly to the “starting wide” strategy, account managers also use the alpha/beta structure.
In short, it means starting with “wide” beta campaigns that consist of the “starting wide” keywords (in the broad match modified match type to catch as many search phrases as possible) which are used for gathering performance information and new keywords.
Then creating an alpha campaign which contains SKAGs for the best-performing keywords. This way, you’ll only have SKAGs for the best-performing keywords and have the rest of your keywords in a beta campaign that usually has a lower budget and gets a bit less attention and effort.
You can also structure your campaigns based on performance. Keywords that bring you a sufficient amount of conversions, would all be in the alpha campaign. Keywords that aren’t performing as great but you’d still like to have in your campaign just in case (or for mining for new keywords) would be in the beta campaign.
Here’s a 5-minute video created by team Opteo that explains the theory:
Read more about the alpha/beta structure here.
How To Eliminate “Internal Competition” With Ad Group Level Negative Keywords?
A little solvable problem that could occur when using single keyword ad groups is that your own keywords could start competing against each other for the same searches.
For example, when someone searches for “yellow sports car”, you’ll have your own keywords [yellow sports car] and “sports car”/+sports +car competing to have their corresponding ads shown in the search results.
You’d obviously want the [yellow sports car] ad to be shown (as it has the best ad relevance and it’s offering exactly what the person is searching for) but life doesn’t always go our way.
Unless you take matters into your own hands and don’t allow Google to make these “rookie-mistake-decisions” for you. To do this, add [yellow sports car] in exact match as a negative keyword in the ad group level of the sports car ad group.
This way, when someone searches for “yellow sports car” the “sports car” ad group ads aren’t triggered.
While you’re at it, you might as well add all keywords in your account (in exact match) as negative keywords to all other ad groups. This way, you eliminate the threat of forgetting to add some negative keywords somewhere and you can do it in bulk with Google Ads Editor.
As long as you’re adding the negative keywords in exact match, you can count on always having the most relevant ads shown for all searches.
So let’s say you have 100 single keyword ad groups in your account. In that case, you’d have 100 different keywords (x3 if we count different match types). So in every ad group you’d have 99 ad group level negative keywords. That is all other keywords except the one that the SKAG is created for.
Stay tuned for a tutorial on how to add all your keywords as negative keywords to all ad groups. In bulk of course.
Summing it up
What to remember from all this?
- Granularity is good. SKAGs enable you to be more specific and match your ads exactly to what the potential customer is searching for.
- It takes time and effort to set up, but it’s very much worth it.
- You don’t need to dive in head first. You can start testing single keyword ad groups for your most important keywords and take it slow.
- Don’t underestimate the power (and necessity) of ad group level negative keywords.
The inspiration for this post came from the articles written by well-known Google Ads practitioners:
- 24 Reasons Why Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) Always Win [3.0] – written by Johnathan Dane, Klientboost
- How to Use Single Keyword Ad Groups in AdWords – written by Wesley Parker, Clicteq
- The Alpha / Beta Structure – written by Guillaume Devinat, Opteo
- Awesome AdWords Account Structures – created by David Rodnitzky, 3Q Digital
- How Many Keywords Should Be In My Ad Groups? 4 NBA-Inspired Strategies – written by Michael Bartholow, Lunametrics
- You’re Doing AdWords Wrong (Here’s How to Make It Right) – written by Johnathan Dane, Klientboost
So there you have it, single keyword ad groups aka SKAGs defined, explained, justified and taught. Please post any additional questions that you get in the comments below and I’d love to give you even more tips and new ideas.
I wish you good luck, my little Padawan, may the force be with you!
P.S. If you have any questions, feel free to write them in the comments below.👇