Why SKAGs still matter

A look at the pro-SKAG and anti-SKAG debate.

SKAGs are dead.

SKAGs suck.

SKAGs are not worth it.

In recent months Single Keyword Ad Groups have gotten a bad rep.

Several articles, podcasts, twitter feuds and reddit threads have come up attacking SKAGs as an inefficient way to set up your ads accounts.

Why the sudden change? If you look at articles from just a few years ago, SKAGs were all the rage.

Neil Patel discussed it as the best way to do Google Adwords.

All of the major PPC news sources touted SKAGs as the best way to set up your campaign.

Skags were even compared to sliced bread.

All over the place, you heard the same exact thing.

The Google recommendation to use 10-20 keywords per ad group does not work. They give it for beginners. They suggest it so that your ads are inefficient. And Google makes money when ads are inefficient.

SKAGs solved this by going against Google's logic and 'gaming' the system.

But alas that was several years ago, the golden years of SKAGs.

What are those same news sources saying now?

Now they claim SKAGs no longer work. And the reason is that Google's exact match update renders them obsolete.

But how true is all this?

Are SKAGs really dead?

We are going to look at the debate between the pro-SKAGGers and the anti-SKAGGers and try to see what it is all about.

Argument Against SKAGs #1: Can't test ad copy

When you SKAG your campaigns you end up diluting a lot of data. Let's say you have a traditional ad group setup with 20 keywords that gives you 1,000 impressions every two weeks.

If you were to SKAG that ad group and make 20 separate ad groups for each of those 20 keywords, then all of a sudden you go from 1,000 impressions in the last two weeks for the entire ad group consisting of 20 keywords to perhaps 50 impressions for each ad group based on one keyword.

With so few impressions, it becomes really hard to test ad copy without a lot of data.

In contrast, the traditional ad group set up consisting of 10-20 keywords allows you to easily test new ad copy and instantly get data to see which ad copy brings results and which ad copy isn't effective.

If you have a big account where you are testing ads on a daily basis, it becomes impossible to test ads on all these different ad groups. Once you have a highly optimized campaign, one of the only things you can do to boost performance is to find that great ad copy.

Argument Against SKAGs #2: They take forever to set up

Everything in life is an opportunity cost. So too with SKAGs

When a PPC marketer takes all of that time to SKAG his campaign, he is taking away time from something else he could be working on.

Some ad groups have as many as 100 keywords, some even more. And there are some PPC marketers that create SKAGs for not every keyword in their account, but each match type for each keyword as well.

Things can quickly spiral out of control, with SKAGs looking more like a collective case of PPC marketer OCD than a best practice.

Argument against SKAGs #3: Target CPA doesn't work

Target CPA is a Google Ads Smart Bidding strategy that sets bids to help get as many conversions as possible at the target cost-per-acquisition (CPA) that is set. The strategy uses advanced machine learning to automatically find an optimal bid for your ad each time it's eligable to appear.

The problem is, for Google's Target CPA to work well, it needs impression data. If you take an ad group with 20 keywords and 1,000 impressions and slice it up into 20 ad groups with 50 impressions, you may not be able to use Target CPA and be forced to perform manual bids, thus taking up more of your time.

Argument against SKAGs #4: Google exact match update killed SKAGs

Google updated its exact match setting to match to close variants of keywords back in September 2018.

This means your keyword will match to close variants of the keyword.

For example, the keyword "best icecream USA" would match with "best icecream United States" and so on.

As a result, PPC marketers have lost control over what keywords their ads will show up for.

Even if you add negative keywords to your account, you have no guarantee that you thought of every single possible close match alternative of your keyword and Google might still show your ad on those close variants.

Basically, Google is moving away from exact match and keywords and moving toward to the 'intent' of the searcher.

This renders SKAGs useless because its no longer about keywords but about intent.

Argument defending SKAGs #1: You don't need to SKAG every keyword

SKAGs were never about skagging (is that a word?) every single keyword in your campaign.

Skags are about optimizing the keywords that get a lot of traffic.

Often times traditional ad groups consisting of 15-20 keywords will have a ton of traffic coming in from two or three keywords.

When you see a keyword that is performing very well, you SKAG it. It's as simple as that.

And while it may take a little longer to accumulate data to test ads, the ability to get super specific with the ad copy trumps this drawback.

And it's not like you can't test ad copy in a SKAG, just have multiple ads per keyword.

Argument defending SKAGs #2: You can automize SKAGs

SKAGs can take a long time to set up, but usually that is the case if you are trying to manage everything yourself using the Google Ads Editor and Microsoft Excel.

Fortunately, much of the SKAG setup process can be automized. Aori's SKAG generator can create hundreds of SKAGs for Bing and Google in a matter of minutes. Negative keywords are automatically added to every new SKAG campaign and cross checked with existing SKAGs so that your SKAGs do not compete with each other for the same search terms and end up eating each other's traffic.

Other SKAG tools are increasingly being created too that help organize your SKAGs.

Argument defending SKAGs #3: SKAGs are more organized

SKAGs give your account more clarity. One keyword, one ad group. It's simple.

Compare that to the extra time it would take to decide which pre-existing ad groups you should add a new keyword to all the time and you actually end up saving time.

Of course, restructuring an existing account into a SKAGs system may be tiresome and difficult, but once this is done you are left with a clean account structure where you have one keyword and one ad group.

Argument for SKAGs #4: Google's exact match update isn't effective

In reality, Google's exact match update is no different to other exact match updates Google started implementing in 2014.

And while you can have a keyword like 'best ice cream USA' show up for 'best ice cream United States', if you add in 'best ice cream United States' as a keyword in your SKAG and pause it, then Google will not show your ad on that keyword.

So PPC marketers still have control, and all it takes is effective use of negative keywords to get an exact match between your ad, the keyword and the ad copy.

Argument for SKAGs #5: SKAGs focus on high-performing keywords

Again, SKAGs work best on high-performing keywords, and with a high-performing keyword, Google will have enough data to pull from to implement smart bidding strategies on.

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