Single Keyword Ad Groups - Search Scientists

Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) –
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Hey, Search Scientists friends! Welcome to Day 50 Of 100 Days Of Google Ads Help! Quite a journey we’ve had so far!

In this post, we are going to cover a topic that is kind of a buzzword in the PPC industry: SKAGs – Single Keyword Ad Groups – an alternative, more granular way to structure your PPC account.

Why is this topic in the spotlight? Well, there are different marketers who have different opinions over SKAGs. There are declared fans of this kind of account structure and people who are totally against it. There’s also the marketers who used it and after a while moved away from it.

My own journey with SKAGs started a while back, after I read about them in an article written by one of the best  marketers out there – Jonathan Dane.

When it comes to search campaigns structuring, are SKAGs really the cream of the crop? Do they translate to sales? Most of the times, yes, they are improving the metrics.

Read on, though, I’ll tell you more about what I learned about SKAGs during all these years, the good part and the bad part, plus other discoveries. You’ll find out how to take advantage of them and how they can help you with your search campaigns’ strategies.

But first things first.

WHAT IS A Single Keyword Ad Group?

So there’s option one – the regular Google Ads account structure, as we know it, with ad groups organized by commonly themed keywords.

According to Google’s recommendations on regular ad groups, you should start with 10-20 keywords and get to up to 50 keywords per ad group. Here at Search Scientists, we’d say no more than 10 keywords for any given ad group.

And then, there’s option two – the Single Keyword Ad Groups approach to search campaigns segmentation. Google Ads SKAGs represent a more granular form of segmentation of your PPC account.

A Single Keyword Ad Group, also known as a SKAG, is the ad group containing (as you probably figured out) only one keyword. Most of the times this keyword is added with all three match types: broad match modifier, phrase match, and exact matchAs you already know, it is generally best to avoid the fourth one, the broad match type

Example of single keyword ad groups

Let’s say you sell mirrorless cameras. An example of a Single Keyword Ad Group would be:

  • +mirrorless +camera
  • “mirrorless camera”
  • [mirrorless camera]
Some marketers go even further, as they separate their SKAGs into a one keyword – one match type structure, meaning they separate [mirrorless camera] from +mirrorless +camera. Yup, that’s a lot of work right there.
 
What’s interesting is that Google doesn’t adhere to SKAGs – you won’t find any Google Ads help documentation written about them.

Now, you might ask yourself: why would marketers and eCommerce business owners prefer this second option? Let’s find out.

THE BENEFITS OF USING SKAGS

Here’s the good side of Google Ads Single Keyword Ad Groups. Among the top benefits of using this structure are:

  • Skyrocket CTR. Your ad will exactly match what the searcher wants to find, hence it will be more relevant and likely to get more clicks. Otherwise, having different keywords in each ad group means they are all competing to be relevant for one ad.
  • Better Quality Score. As QS is determined by ad relevance and expected CTR (along with landing page experience), improving these factors will also improve QS.
  • Lower Cost per Click. Having a better Quality Score, you also get a cheaper CPC, even without lowering your bid. So no more wasting money here.
  • Lower Cost per Acquisition. SKAGs = money savers. If you lower your CPC, of course, you’ll lower your CPA too.
  • Better ROI. All of the above translate into more revenue. With campaign performance going up and costs going down, you are making more money.
Single keyword ad groups - Better ROI
SKAGs bring you more cha-ching
Image source
  • More control. With AdWords SKAGs you have more control over ad message and landing page experience, plus easier bid management.
  • A cleaner structure. They help you keep things organized, very clean, and structured in your PPC account. It’s like having Marie Kondo helping you tidy up your account, clear out the clutter, and choose joy.

THE DRAWBACKS OF SKAGS

Obviously, there are a lot of benefits, but there is also a dark side of using SKAGs. So let’s cover the disadvantages:

  • This strategy requires a longer time to implement. However, setting up Single Keyword Ad Groups can be pretty easy in Google Ads Editor, by simply copying, pasting, and replacing the keywords and ads. You should be careful not to reach the maximum number of ad groups in your GAds account – although that’s unlikely considering the limits:
    • 20,000 ad groups per campaign
    • 10,000 campaigns per account (including active and paused). You do the math 😉
  • It makes ad testing a bit more difficult, especially due to data dilution. This means that by having so many ad groups, your data can get thin when testing and most probably you’ll have to wait longer to see test results.
Waiting to draw conclusions from SKAGs results
Waiting to draw conclusions from the SKAGs results
Image source
  • Some might say that the amount of effort beats the actual results. You’re making granular decisions based on looking at keywords one by one, not at ad group or campaign level, so you’re optimizing on a micro-level.

You can also check the Paid Search Podcast out, where Jason and Chris are debating around SKAGs in The Truth About Single Keyword Ad Groups episode. In their opinion, there is no magical account structure and SKAGs are not a shortcut to your success. The solution is instead, they’re saying, to focus on the quality of your search traffic.

WHEN IT’S NOT ADVISED TO USE Single Keyword Ad Groups

From our experience, there are four SKAG traps you should avoid:

  • Trap #1: 
    • They’re not good for new accounts. It’s easier to test SKAGs if you already have some historical performance in your account, rather than just start with a super granular segmentation.
  • Trap #2:
    • Don’t use them when you already have an account with a high Quality Score. As one of the main benefits of using SKAGs is the QS increase, why bother set them up if you already have a high QS?
  • Trap #3:
    • When the keywords have little to no impressions. It would make no sense to create SKAGs for keywords with low search volume. You’ll end up stuffing your account with ad groups and see no results. With the risk of repeating ourselves, test SKAGs only for the high traffic, best-converting search terms.
  • Trap #4:
    • When you have very similar keywords and it’s not worth it to segment them. Especially now, when the exact match is not quite exact anymore.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR SKAGS IN TIP TOP SHAPE

Now that we’ve seen how to use SKAGs, how they can help improve your metrics, and situations when it’s not recommended to use them, let’s move on with three super actionable SKAG optimization tips:

  1. Create ads that closely match your keyword. Make sure you include the keyword in headline 1 and in the path.
  2. Check the Search terms report and create new ad groups. This one is your best friend when having active SKAGs in your PPC account. Find new search queries that bring you high quality traffic and conversions and create new ad groups for them.
  3. Add negatives.
    • Step 1 – add these new, high performing keywords (from point 2) as negatives to the other ad groups.
    • Step 2 – add the keywords from the original ad groups as negatives to these newly created ones. This way you ensure there is no overlap between them.

Many PPC experts are advocating for the three-keyword SKAGs, meaning the keyword in its three match types, as exemplified at the beginning of this article.

Test it out

Now, having built and scaled multiple successful search campaigns, there’s one more trick you need to know that has helped us and will surely help you too in your advertising efforts:

  • Start by testing only the exact match type of your keyword inside a SKAG. But not any keyword from your account. Choose some (let’s say 5) of your high traffic exact keywords with conversion intent and test them as SKAGs. Let them run for about four weeks and then compare the results.

The reason behind this test is that there are many cases when all three match types inside an ad group behave very differently. There are times when the broad match modifier would not work as intended and jeopardize the relevance.

USE OF SKAGS IN A DIFFERENT ACCOUNT STRUCTURE

There is another approach to structuring search campaigns: the Alpha-Beta approach developed by David Rodnitzky.

This form of segmentation is similar to the multi-campaign structure that we recommend for Shopping campaigns, which we thoroughly described in one of our previous posts.

According to this methodology, in a Beta campaign you would use broad match modifier keywords to quickly discover top-performing search queries. Then you would create an Alpha campaign that contains SKAGs with these profitable, top-performing search queries, in the exact match type, with targeted ad messages and landing pages. To prevent Google from matching a Beta (or bait keyword) to a profitable Alpha keyword, you simply add all your Alpha keywords as exact match negatives to your Beta campaign.

The Beta campaign will have a lower budget, while the Alpha campaign, where the best performing keywords live in SKAGs, will have a higher budget.

The Alpha-Beta approach, combined with SKAGs proves to be quite effective for optimizing budgets and generating conversions.

THIS GRANULAR STRATEGY's EFFECT ON OTHER ADVERTISING PLATFORMS

This granular segmentation approach proved to be effective not only for Google Ads Search campaigns but also for Google Ads Display campaigns, Facebook Ads, Twitter, and also LinkedIn.

Segmenting your targeting by breaking out individual placements, topics or interests can increase the performance of your campaigns. In most cases, granularity will help you gain more control and achieve a higher performance.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON GOOGLE ADS Single Keyword Ad Groups

If you’d ask me how I feel about SKAGs, the truth is I’m an optimist. In terms of performance, most of the times they are a good tactic, helping with increasing your ecommerce ROAS. In terms of management, they help you keep control and have a better-organized account.

As a conclusion, don’t underestimate the power of SKAGs. They are definitely worth testing. And rest assured that if implemented correctly, you shouldn’t run into the problem of having duplicate keywords.

What about you? Do you use Single Keyword Ad Groups? If yes, let us know how they work for you. Need help setting them up? Leave us an email and we’ll gladly help you out.

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Andreea Popa

Andreea Popa

Andreea is an enthusiastic full-stack marketer. She enjoys connecting multiple facets of a business. She's mixing and connecting data from multiple channels, from PPC campaigns to content creation, audience engagement, and different inbound strategies. She'd like to have more time for writing about PPC.
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