What are SKAGs? Single Keyword Ad Groups

A guide to Single Keyword Ad Groups, how they work, and when to use them.

Single Keyword Ad Groups, or SKAGs as they are popularly known, are a PPC marketing strategy for Google Ads that involve creating ad groups with just one keyword in them.

SKAGs differ to the traditional recommendations provided by Google which call for creating ad groups consisting of between 15-30 keywords organized around a common theme.

In this article we are going to explore why many PPC marketers choose to ignore Google's advice and adopt SKAGs as their main way of organizing their paid search campaigns.

While SKAGs are traditionally used for Google Ads campaigns, they are equally relevant for Microsoft Ads. Offshoots have also been created for ecommerce called SPAGs (Single Product Ad Groups) which marketers are now applying for Amazon Ads and Google Shopping Campaigns.

Why Single Keyword Ad Groups?

Dividing your keywords into their own individual ad groups improves CPC and CTR and your ROI overall.

The strategy rose to prominence in 2012-2014 back in the days when Google Ads was still Adwords. It quickly was picked up by several leading marketers such as Neil Patel and agencies too.

Perhaps the most important metric that SKAGS improve is your Quality Score. Quality Score is one of the most important elements to your Google Ads campaigns that determines success or failure.

If SKAGs have one saving grace that justifies the extra work it takes to set them up, it is that they can massively improve your Quality Score. A higher Quality Score is what leads to higher CTR, more conversions, and ultimately makes your Google Ads campaigns profitable.

SKAGs and Quality Score

Keeping your Quality Score high is something that is easier said than done. But it is ultimately necessary if you want to get the most out of your Google Ads campaigns.

Ad relevancy is what determines how high of a quality score you will get.

Creating ad groups with only one keyword makes it much easier for the PPC marketer to control the relevancy of the ad to the searcher.

With only one keyword to worry about, you can get craft ad copy that is more creative to that one kewyord, and that in turn is more relevant to your potential customer when they use that keyword in a search on Google.

While SKAGs do not solve everything with PPC campaigns, marketers wouldn't continue to use them if they didn't consistently reduce cost-per-conversions and provide higher ROI.

Quality Score and Google Ads performance

At its core, Google is a search advertising company. This is where Google derives the majority of its revenue. As such, it is vitally important for the company to provide the best possible customer experience to its users when they search for information.

Google realized long ago that users aren't fundamentally opposed to ads. What they hate are ads that are not relevant.

As such, the company goes to great lengths to favor ads that match what a person is searching for. These ads have a higher click through rate, and the more clicks that are generated, the more revenue Google generates with each click.

Quality Score is the metric Google uses to assess how relevant an ad is to a search query. The company uses an algorithm to quantify this relevance, and the higher the quality score, the more likely your ad will be shown.

To get a high quality score, campaigns need to be worked on. Google favors those campaigns that are constantly optimizing ads to make them more relevant to the keywords that are bid on.

Tweaking ad copy, adjusting campaign settings, optimizing bidding will pay off in the long run and fundamentally make your Google Ads campaigns worthwhile.

What determines Quality Score?

Quality Score assesses how good or bad your ads and landing pages are based on their estimated performance during ad auctions.

Ads that lead to answered search queries and clicks will be picked up by Google's algorithm. The more of these that are collected, the lower your CPC will be, and the higher your ad rank.

Luckily, the majority of metrics that determine your Quality Score are easy to improve with the right Google Ads strategy.

Google uses three metrics to determine your Quality Score:

  1. Expected CTR:  This looks at how likely a person is to click on your ad given the search query they used. Expected CTRs are calculated during bidding and are mostly determined by a keyword’s past performance and the position of your ad.
  2. Ad Relevance:  This involves how relevant your ad is to a search query. The more tailored your ad copy is to the keyword that has been bid on, the better chance it will be connected with a user's search and that it will be clicked on. While this may seem obvious, in actual fact it can be difficult to implement without a properly structured campaign. For example, if you have an ad group consisting of 30 keywords, which keyword should you emphasize in your ad copy? What will the effect be on the other keywords? How do you make sure that your ad copy is relevant to all the keywords in your ad group?
  3. Landing Page Experience:   Your ads are only part of the search experience. Your ads are useless if the landing page a user is taken to isn't relevant to the ad the ywere shown. Landing pages with a well-organized structure will lower bounce rates. A user that is taken to a well-organized and clear landing page will signal to Google that this is not only a good ad, but also a good webYour landing page should have a well-organized structure and contain useful information pertaining to the subject. Irrelevant and difficult-to-consume content means a bad experience for the user which Google is trying to avoid at all costs, hence taking the landing page experience into account when assigning Quality Score.

SKAGs and Quality Score

SKAGs improve the quality score metrics mentioned above that are related to your ads (expected CTR and ad relevancy). Landing page relevancy is outside of the scope of SKAGs.

The way SKAGs do this is by having only one keyword in your ad group. This enables marketers to create tailored ad copy for each keyword. The tailored ad copy in turn improves ad relevance and expected CTR.

But beyond Quality Score metrics, SKAGs offer other benefits by creating a campaign structure that is simple and easy to set up without much research.

Let's say you find a new keyword you think will perform well. In traditional Google Ads account setups, a marketer may face the dilemma of which ad group to add it in.

In a SKAG setup, the structure is simple. You find a keyword, you create an ad group. And that is it.

In any case, as long as Google continues to use Quality Score as the main factor for determining ad rank and CPC, SKAGs will remain the best possible way of improving your ad campaigns.

SKAGs vs regular campaign structure

Beyond the obvious difference of limiting the number of keywords per ad group, SKAGs rely on using multiple keyword match types at once to achieve the required reach.

Because the ad group is using only one keyword, it needs to reach the widest audience possible. To do this effectively, your SKAG should put your keyword in three different match types (BMM, Phrase and Exact). You should skip broad match, as it is mostly useless in 90% of search campaigns.

Keyword match types in Google Ads

Keyword match types determine how wide of an audience you want your ad to be shown to. The appropriate match type will ensure that your ad is shown to the right audience and prevent your ad budget from being wasted on useless clicks that don't convert.

There are 4 main types of keyword matches:

  1. Broad Match:   this is the default match type that Google provides and is the broadest. A keyword in this match type will be shown on synonyms, related searches, misspellings and anything else Google deems relevant. Unless you have a large budget and are focused on brand awareness, broad match is utterly useless as a keyword match type and most marketers avoid it.

  2. +Broad +Match +Modifier:   One level down in reach is broad match modifier. BMM keywords give marketers more control over who their ads are shown to while also offering more flexibility by also having the ad triggered on search terms that contain additioanl words in betweeen keywords or before and after the keyword.

  3. “Phrase Match”:   One level down from BMM is phrase match, which matches your keyword with the specific phrase you use or a close variation (more on this later). Phrase match limits unwanted impressions by not allowing words to appear within between words in a keyword, but remaining flexible as to what comes before or after a keyword.

  4. [Exact Match]:  This is the narrowest match type and limits your audience to those searchers that use exactly your keyword, or a close variation. Many marketers prefer exact match as this offers the most control over which eyeballs will glance over the ad they have created.

Keyword match types and SKAGs

The traditional approach to organizing campaigns would require you to have a few different ad groups with several keywords, where, perhaps you would have one ad group focused on discovery where all the keywords were in broad match and another where the keywords were in exact match.

Under a SKAG model, you will always have your keyword in three match types: +Broad +Match +Modifiers“Phrase Match” and [Exact Match].

Let’s say you are a bike shop in New York City looking to attract more customers who want to make the switch from driving to cycling. If you choose to use Single Keyword Ad Groups, your keywords would look like this for one ad group:

+bike +shop +NY

“bike shop NY”

[bike shop NY]

You would then create separate ad groups for any other keywords you'd like to have in your campaign, and put them all in three match types: exact, phrase and BMM.

How many SKAGs should you create?

You could create as many Single Keyword Ad Groups as you want. Google caps it at 20,000 per campaign, but the likelihood you would reach this is pretty low.

The fact that you don't have to think about how many keywords you create SKAGs for is one of the advantages of the SKAG model.

A conventional approach to ad groups is to add 15-30 keywords per ad group. If you have 30, and you find another keyword you'd like to add to the ad group, you then have to spend time thinking about which keyword to take out of that ad group to replace it with your new keyword.

Under the SKAG approach, you simply find a keyword, SKAG it, and you are done.

How to find new keywords for SKAGs

There are two ways to find new keywords to create SKAGS for:

  • Google's Keyword Planner
  • Google's Search Term Report

Each offers their own advantage toward keyword research.

You can use Google's Keyword Planner before you launch a campaign to find out expected impressions, clicks and CPC for the dates and locations you choose to run your campaign in.

After your campaign has been running for a month, another very helpful place to look is Google's Search Terms Report. Here you will be able to find the exact searches that triggered your ad and how many clicks and impressions they got. If you find a search term that is getting a lot of impressions and clicks, you should SKAG it and go from there.

Conclusion

Single Keyword Ad Groups are designed to focus on a single keyword per ad group in an effort to make your ads more relevant and tailored to the search terms that trigger them. Higher ad relevance leads to improved Quality Scores which in turn contribute towards lower CPC rates.

Using SKAGs in your paid search strategy will create a quick, easy-to-understand campaign structure that is easy to expand and optimize. Using the search term report to find new keywords to create SKAGs for will ensure your campaign grows and optimizes over time.

While the setup may take longer than a traditional campaign approach, the extra work pays off in the long run by creating a campaign that is easy to scale up and ensure ads are shown only on the search terms that are relevant. If you’re looking to get more out of your Google Ads budget while investing less time into managing your campaigs, SKAGs are a worthwhile addition to your PPC workflow.

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