You don’t have to be a bread lover like me to understand the value of a perfectly sliced loaf.
Slicing bread makes it easier to handle, easier to enjoy, and way easier to rub on your face.
Yes, I picked a bread analogy on purpose: A loaf of bread is easier to visualize than a SKAG strategy.
We’re going to slice up your Google Ads account into Single Keyword Ad Groups because segmentation makes your campaigns more manageable and easier to improve.
Sliced neatly, your Google Ads campaigns start to look like this:
Here’s what some other Google Ads accounts look like with the SKAG approach:
SKAGs are the best thing to happen to Google Ads, since……………sliced bread.
Let’s kick things off with a 16-point list of positives. At the end, we’ll break out the benefits, the biggest of those being higher click-through rate (CTR), higher impression share, lower cost per click (CPC), and lower cost per acquisition (CPA).
16 ways that Single Keyword Ad Groups are a smart strategy
- More manageable
- Easier to improve
- Ad relevance
- No message mismatch
- Super specific
- Works for display network
- Higher performance
- No Iceberg Effect
- Keyword refinement
- Decrease discrepancy ratio
- Stronger foundation than your competitors
- Micro-segmentation produces week over week reliability
- No research required (you only work on root keyword variations)
- Cloning in the editor makes SKAG work easy
- Optimize SKAGs with little effort
- Allows you to track which keywords lead to sales with higher confidence (for SaaS or lead gen advertisers)
Since we’re a digital marketing agency, we’ve tested different versions of SKAGs and some other ad group structures (because that’s how we bake), and we want to share them with you in this post. If sharing is your favorite, ask us for a free marketing plan.
And if turning your ad campaigns into a fine-tuned bread-making machine is your favorite, give me 10 minutes to show you how to do that, starting……
What are Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)?
SKAGs sound like dirty keywords, but they’re actually one of the best ways to get more ad clicks. More ad clicks is great because that increases your click-through rate (CTR), quality score, and the money you make.
How you structure your Google Ads account is vital to your PPC success. SKAGs is the way to go because an ad group with a single keyword makes your ads more relevant.
You could be a lazy baker, baking whole loaves and leaving them in the pan. Or you could divide that loaf into slices (which takes a little more work but makes eating bread easier).
Bundles minimize message match
Bundling a bunch of keywords in one ad group makes it next to impossible to win a message match—that’s the bolded text that makes your ad the most noticeable of all the ads. That bolding happens when a search query exactly matches the keyword you bid on that triggered your ad to show.
If your bid keyword matches the search term, you’re rewarded with an ad that stands out. Get it slightly wrong though, and your ad doesn’t get any special treatment.
A Single Keyword Ad Group is like a crazy bronco in a pen waiting for that gate to open so it can buck in front of clickers’ faces. But stuffing many keywords into one ad group automatically relegates your ads to that guy in the clown suit.
Some people in the crowd notice when Clownsy dances around, flailing his arms to get the bull’s attention. But Bobo isn’t the main attraction. If you’re putting money down on ads, bet on the bull, not the clown.
SKAGs are super-specific—only one keyword triggers an ad.
And here’s the best thing:
The SKAGs strategy isn’t bound to Google Ads. It works for social ads (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) and display networks too.
Why you’re switching to SKAGs
You want more control and higher performance from your Google Ads account. SKAGs are how you get that.
Giving a keyword its own ad group guarantees the keyword you bid on matches the search term you pay for.
If you give me exactly 5 minutes of your time, I’ll break it down in video:
If you don’t do it this way, you’ll suffer something I call “The Iceberg Effect.” (Seriously, read that article.)
You’ve seen Titanic (don’t pretend you haven’t). You know that icebergs aren’t so great when you’re trying to get somewhere.
Two Match types for Single Keyword Ad Groups
Single Keyword Ad Groups are just that—one keyword per ad group.
But you’ll select two match types for that one keyword in that specific Single Keyword Ad Group.
You follow me?
Let’s say you sell custom-made Speedos (because many people sadly wear them). Here’s what your SKAG should look like:
- “custom made speedos” (phrase match)
- [custom made speedos] (exact match)
Call this SKAG “Custom Made Speedos” (same name as the keyword in the ad group). This will be your root keyword ad group for that search term.
Notice that I didn’t say keywords (plural).
If you didn’t already, read about The Iceberg Effect so you appreciate the difference.
But what if you find that the search terms people use when searching for Speedos have longer tails than the keyword in your SKAG?
Well then hooray, and way to observe what’s going on.
This is good.
Extract those search terms and create a new SKAG.
That’s called “keyword refinement.”
Let’s walk through it:
Say you notice quite a few people search for “Custom made glitter Speedos.” [Shudder]
First of all, that’s some fancy clientele there, savvy Speedo seller.
Secondly, go ahead and create a SKAG out of the search term report for the “Custom Made Speedos” SKAG.
Make sure glitter is an ad group-level negative keyword to your original “Custom Made Speedos” SKAG. That way, your shorter tail keywords won’t steal impressions from your more specific long-tail keywords.
Now here comes the good part…
Connect your keywords to your ad copy (Iceberg Effect)
You control your keywords. That means you get to make your ad copy insanely specific to your keywords.
In my original SKAGs article from 2014, I used Nutella as an example of how you should include the keyword in your headline and display URL. If you run out of character space, add it somewhere in the description lines.
Decrease the discrepancy ratio
With SKAGs, you reduce something called the discrepancy ratio. That’s the amount of disconnect from search to keyword and from keyword to ad. Reducing that discrepancy is a good thing. It’s the opposite of The Iceberg Effect.
When you reduce discrepancy, your search terms start matching your keywords.
Go grab a celebratory sandwich or something, fellow PPC marketers, because getting to this stage means you’ve fixed a major problem in your PPC campaigns.
This is when your click-through rates (CTRs) skyrocket because you don’t have 10-50 keywords stuffed into one ad group, all competing to be relevant for one ad.
And when your CTRs improve, there are other spinoff benefits too.
Like what, Johnathan?
Well, I didn’t want to half-ass that answer, so I listed 19 benefits below. But first, I want to talk about how SKAGs work for social ads and display ads.
SKAGs improve managed PPC search performance and build a stronger foundation than your competitors’ campaigns.
But guess what?
Maybe you haven’t broken down your Automatic placements in a Google Ads Display campaign before. Maybe you haven’t segmented your audiences and interests in your Facebook campaign before. But if you use SKAGs, you’ll start to see what’s performing well and what isn’t quickly.
You can then break out individual placements and interests to create micro-segments of targeting that produce predictable results week over week.
After your agency PPC account is granular (with SKAGs and other types of micro-segmentation), your next big PPC win will be on the landing page side.
That’s the side that completes your conversion—so get your landing pages right. Completed conversions mean you can stop finagling with silly bid modifications and pointless ad tests that don’t move the needle.
You will be confident that you have a strong account structure that many of your competitors are too lazy to set up—they’re still baking whole fluffy loaves.
Pre-SKAGs: how to get started
You need two things to create your Single Keyword Ad Groups:
- root keywords
- Google Ads Editor
Also called seed keywords, these are the shortest-tail keywords you bid on.
Let’s say that you’re an online college and you want to use SKAGs to attract potential students.
Your root keywords look like this:
- online college
- online university
- online degree
- online school
Notice that these are root keywords because you wouldn’t want to bid on “online” by itself or “school” by itself. They’re the shortest of short-tail keywords that you want to use.
Now, take it one step further.
Branch out your root keywords with synonyms. Your original root keyword list might look like this:
- online college
- online university
- online degree
- online school
- online academy
- online seminar
- online classes
- online courses
Now, replace “online” with “web”:
- web college
- web university
- web degree
- web school
- web academy
- web seminar
- web classes
- web courses
If you have more synonyms, keep going:
- digital college
- digital university
- digital degree
- digital school
- digital academy
- digital seminar
- digital classes
- digital courses
Here’s the best part: don’t worry about keyword research, average CPCs, or competition levels. A SKAG setup gets you a high-quality score, so research here is a waste of time. You’ll only need to research synonyms and the like to expand your root keyword list.
Google Ads Editor
If you don’t have Google Ads Editor installed yet, grab it here. You’ll need it for this next step.
How to create a Single Keyword Ad Group in four steps
Open up Google Ads Editor and download your Google Ads account. That’s where we’ll create our first new SKAG.
1) The keywords
Crash course on keyword match types:
Keyword match types give you ad flexibility. With Broad Match, related keywords trigger your ad. With Phrase match, your ad triggers when the keyword is included in the search term. With Exact match, your ad triggers when the search term exactly matches the bid keyword.
But what happened to Broad Match Modifier (BMM)?
If you’ve advertised on Google before, you’re used to adding + modifiers to your broad match keywords. But BMM got the axe in July 2021.
Google Ads merged broad match modifier (BMM) into phrase match.
“The updated phrase match simplifies match types by combining the control of phrase match, and the expanded reach of broad match modifier. The new matching behavior will be more expansive than phrase match, but slightly more restrictive than BMM.” — Google Ads
But why give broad match modifiers the boot?
Google says it will make managing ads easier and give advertisers more control.
But many advertisers have been vocal about how this smells like a move toward automated smart bidding (which gives Google more control). Advertisers worry about wasted ad spend (lower ROAS) without modified broad match.
Your phrase match keyword may trigger your ad for searches that aren’t as easily controlled, which will potentially lower ad relevance.
We’ll have to test it out to tell.
What’s important is that you know that you now have two match types to play with.
How you set up your SKAGs in the Google Ads Editor:
Use one keyword with two different keyword match types
- “phrase match”
- [exact match]
Three reasons you need two different match types
Including the above match types in each of your SKAGs is important for three reasons:
- If someone looks for a longer tail version of a search term that triggers your phrase match keyword, your ad will be the most relevant ad possible in your account.
- If you split up your SKAGs by match type (turning one ad group into two), you dilute your data collection, and ad testing will be even harder. The granularity of SKAGs already dilutes your ad testing potential, and you’ll need enough data from testing to establish statistical significance.
- Each match performs differently, so it allows you to adjust bids to achieve your desired CPA.
2) The bids
Next, set your bids at the same amount. As performance data starts to come in, adjust the bids to improve your campaigns.
3) The ads
Once you’ve set up your keywords and their match types, it’s time to create your ads.
There are only two rules:
1) Put the keyword in headline 1 and URL path
This is a best practice. Add your keyword in different spots to make the ad more relevant to the searcher and to improve your CTR, which leads to a higher Quality Score and a waterfall of other benefits.
2) Creativity reigns for Headline 2, Headline 3, Description 1, and Description 2
Be creative here, but make sure that the ads are different enough to split test. It’s okay if your headlines and URL paths are the same for two ads (especially if your keyword is long and takes up a lot of character spaces) but differentiate the two ads in Headline 2, Headline 3, and the descriptions.
Here comes the fun part with Google Ads Editor—cloning.
Quickly copy and paste ad groups, then use Replace Text so you don’t have to rewrite or re-work much. Simply go to your first SKAG and clone it as many times as you have similar root keywords (which is why you need your list of root keywords first).
Let’s clone the “Online College” SKAG to make a new SKAG for “Online University.”
Create a new ad group called “Online University.” Copy the ads under “Online College” and paste them into the Online University SKAG.
Now use Replace text from the top dropdown.
Pretty easy, right?
How to optimize Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
You’ve already done the heavy lifting by cloning your SKAGs and replacing text. Now reap the benefits of optimizing SKAGs by tweaking their performance with very little effort.
A lot of people worry about creating hundreds of different variations of their keywords. They also wonder if they should include singular/plural keyword variations, abbreviations, and prepositions.
Turns out the answer is no.
All he needs to have is a “dry cleaners” SKAG, and the search term report will take care of the rest.
Because “dry cleaners” is his root keyword, the phrase match version of that keyword will automatically trigger the longer tail keywords in his list above.
So why create the SKAGs if there’s no search volume for that keyword? The search term report will tell you if there is.
If you look at the example GIF below, you’ll notice that the search terms here are variations of the keyword “electric bike.”
I have a text sheet where I write down the search terms that don’t match the keyword. I intentionally look for discrepancies because these are the new SKAGs I’ll create.
Quick Note: Notice how I skipped the search term “electric bicycle electric bicycles” in the image above? That’s because it’s a bot search that has very low expected CTR. I’m not going to create a SKAG for that.
When you decide what search terms to extract and turn into new SKAGs, look at impression volume in descending order.
Add those search terms as ad group-level negative keywords to eliminate internal competition.
Your performance will continue to improve over time because your new SKAGs have more specific ads, which lead to higher CTRs and a host of other benefits.
19 benefits of Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
The specificity of SKAGs ads will improve your PPC performance in a few different ways. We’ve collected some of our favorites here:
1) A simple blueprint for success
When you create all-new campaigns in the Single Keyword Ad Group format, you make it easy to control where your keywords go.
There are no themes or groupings of keywords to consider. Since you’ll never add new keywords to a SKAG, you’ll only focus on creating brand new SKAGs.
This makes your campaign blueprint super simple to follow and easy to teach.
2) Compounding improvements
The Google Ads graph screenshots I shared earlier show early improvement from using the SKAG methodology. But, eventually, you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns.
Diminishing returns with SKAGs are more like compounding improvements.
As you continue to create SKAGs in descending order of search term impressions, you’ll find that your overall account health continues to get stronger over time as all the important metrics in your account start improving.
3) Improved click-through rates
When you lower the discrepancy ratio for search terms to keywords and keywords to ads, you’ll start to see that visitors are more likely to click on your ads because you’re using your ad as a “keyword holder.”
This means that your click-through rates (CTRs) will improve since no one reads all the ads in their entirety before clicking.
And when you improve your CTRs, other magical things happen…
4) Improved Quality Scores (QS)
You hopefully know by now that the biggest part of the Google Ads Quality Score is CTR.
Once your Quality Scores improve with SKAGs, you’ll start seeing that your average positions, cost per click, impression shares, and other great things improve as well.
Pro Tip: If you’re not familiar with Google Ads’ Quality Score, read our post on Google Ad Quality Score Factors.
5) Improved average positions
Once your CTRs and Quality Scores improve, you’ll notice that Google starts rewarding you with higher average positions.
This is when you start outranking your competitors, even if your keyword bid is lower.
That’s because Google cares a ton about user experience.
Your improved CTRs are a great indicator that people like the ad results you’ve worked hard to create.
6) Improved impression shares
When Quality Scores and average position improve, your impression shares start growing as well.
There are a certain number of impressions available for certain keywords, and your ads are showing more often and more frequently.
7) Lower cost per click (CPC)
You want to lower your average cost per click (CPC) without lowering your bids. One of the great side benefits of SKAGs is that improved Quality Scores give you lowered First Page Bids (FPBs), which you can see in Optmyzr’s calculation below:
Google discounts your CPCs when they see that your Quality Scores are higher than your competitor, with your relevancy being better too.
8) Lowered cost per acquisition (CPA)
When you lower cost per click, you ultimately lower your cost per conversion. Further explanation not required.
9) Potentially higher conversion rates
When you expose search terms as new keywords and decrease your Search term to Keyword discrepancy ratio, you immediately increase your control and bid options for keywords with different conversion rates and intents.
You can pause any wasteful keywords and lower bids on lower-performing keywords. That increases your conversion rates because a larger share of your clicks are likely to convert.
10) Increased conversion volume
Higher CTRs mean more clicks, and more clicks mean more conversions. High fives. More winning.
11) You know your traffic better
As mentioned above, increasing the CTRs of your paid campaigns will increase your conversion volume. Add a little landing page testing to ensure a strong message match and you should see your conversion rates start to climb as well.
Another great benefit of SKAGs is that split testing is easier. When you’re using SKAGs, you have a much clearer picture of who your visitors are and what they want. This guides your CRO efforts and informs what changes you test.
12) Control your landing page experience
SKAGs point out which users click on your ads. With that information, you can personalize their landing page experience and narrow in on the one thing you want them to do when they land there.
Ideally, you’ll create a streamlined experience that keeps your potential customers focused on the same goal, from clicking on your ad to converting on your page.
13) Less wasted ad spend
When all your important Google Ads metrics are moving in the right direction, and your search terms are being exposed, you’ll have to add fewer and fewer negative keywords over time.
Having your search terms as keywords also helps you understand the closing and sales rates of your keywords (not conversion rates) if you’re in the SaaS or lead gen space.
14) Increased levels of control
Single Keyword Ad Groups are granular, which means you give Google less control and take that control over yourself.
Since Google recommends that you use 10-20 keywords per ad group, you’re immediately able to make sure that all your keywords have less search term variance.
15) Scale simplicity
Scaling your search presence is easy with SKAGs.
Instead of creating entirely new campaigns, ad groups, and ad variants to target new opportunities, all you have to do is look at your search terms report for new, soon-to-be SKAGs.
Ensuring that there’s no cross-over by using ad group level negative keywords will keep you safe from internal competition and allow your SKAGs campaigns to scale up easily.
16) Identify retargeting opportunities
The granularity of your SKAGs makes it easier to grow and optimize your campaigns. Granularity also works well when you identify your wins and losses.
It’s easier to identify the specific keywords (or products if you’re running eCommerce SPAGs) that generate the highest CTRs and conversions.
More importantly, it should make it easier to identify specific keywords where there’s a drop-off between the two.
SKAG keywords discrepancies between your increased CTR and conversion rates aren’t losses. They’re simply golden retargeting opportunities.
The audiences you (re)reach will be built on users who have already shown interest in your brand on a search level (where conversion intent is often highest).
Ensuring there’s no cross-over by using ad group level negative keywords protects you from internal competition and allows your SKAGs campaigns to scale up easily.
17) Troubleshooting improvements
SKAGs make it black and white to figure out why certain keywords or ad groups are stealing impressions or not showing up on Google at all.
Every single ad group only has one keyword in it, making it quick and easy for you to run a keyword diagnosis to see what might be wrong.
18) Jump on the SKAGwagon
One small benefit of SKAGs that pays large dividends is that you get to join in on the SKAGs bandwagon — or “SKAGwagon,” as we like to call it.
Being unique and making yourself stand out from the crowd is the key to digital marketing success. There’s a very good reason why so many different agencies have followed our lead and embraced SKAGs.
When we wrote about SKAGs on Unbounce, we were the first to coin the term and the execution. Now, if you look at the SERP for “single keyword ad groups,” you see a flock of agencies fighting to rank for the phrase.
All of these benefits add up to our final (and favorite) perk of using single keyword ad groups.
19) Make more money
You and I both know there’s no better metric than this one – more money.
When you lower your cost per conversion, you immediately increase your profit margins.
When you increase your conversion volume, you immediately increase your revenue as well.
SKAGs are the right dough to make more bread.
But there are a few things I want to point out.
Five negatives of Single Keyword Ad Groups
There are a few downsides to Single Keyword Ad Groups. They don’t outweigh the positives (by a long shot), but they’re still worth mentioning if you’re going to get on the SKAGwagon.
1) Data dilution
I touched on this earlier: one of the most notable drawbacks of SKAGs is the dilution of your tracking data.
You create a lot more ad groups. That means your clicks and conversions will spread across a wider pool of ads, and it will take longer to run trustworthy tests.
But SKAGs is a scientifically more accurate way to test things out because you isolate one variable at a time.
A little more time, a lot more accuracy.
2) SKAGs takes more time
So, yeah, Single Keyword Ad Groups is more time-consuming than adding regular keywords to an existing ad group from the search term report.
But don’t second guess SKAGs.
And if you can’t help it, test the SKAGs approach on your top five keywords. See how they perform against the same keywords that aren’t set up in SKAGs.
If performance improves with SKAGs, there’s your proof in the bread pudding. Continue confidently.
3) SKAGs require more effort
To get the biggest benefit from SKAGs, you keep a close eye on search terms that don’t match the keywords. And you use ad group-level negative keywords to make sure your shorter tail SKAGs aren’t stealing away impressions. That’s extra work. But well worth the effort.
4) Testing takes longer
Ad testing might take longer since you don’t get a condensed level of clicks from multiple keywords in the same ad group.
If you find that you can consistently improve the ads you test (which is rare), you can make your high traffic volume keywords into SKAGs and keep lower traffic volume keywords in broader ad groups.
5) Stupid people may laugh at you
You know how objects in your side view mirror are closer than they appear? Well loud, lazy people will always hate on those who get things done. Just look at Jon here:
Don’t worry about the Jons. Do things that make you more money.
SKAGs is a worthwhile endeavour in that regard. 😉
Next step for SKAGs
SKAGs are a great place to start, but every PPC strategy only goes so far before it begins to hit the maximum potential of its traffic-generating power.
We’re hungry for more clicks and conversions, so why stop at SKAGs?
We created a few more tactics that take your SKAGs to the next level of PPC optimization.
The Bottom Feeding Approach (H3)
To capitalize on the few leftover scraps of relevant search traffic that your SKAGs may have filtered out, we first created the Bottom Feeding Approach. This allows you to leverage Exact Audience Targeting with Broad Match keywords to eat up the last bits of relevant search traffic for your campaigns.
“You never know what random search term may have a symbiotic relationship with your keyword, so when you’re looking for that next bump in traffic gen, don’t be afraid to look at the bottom of the barrel for those last golden nuggets.”
The golden nuggets are the last bits of conversion-ready traffic that’s leftover.
But what if you want to truly evolve past SKAGs?
Well, that’s where Keyword Tapering comes in.
SKAGs evolved: Keyword Tapering
Keyword Tapering is our response to the always-changing Google Search landscape. It’s the next step for Single Keyword Ad Groups.
Google adapts its search algorithms to simplify things for advertisers. That means we simplify things on our end to better capture leads.
So, to make the most of Google’s updates to [Exact Match] and Close Variants, we developed the Keyword Tapering strategy.
Keyword Tapering leverages Broad Match and [Exact Match] campaigns.
First, use Broad Match in Keyword Tapering to mine for all the relevant, high-quality, high-converting search terms with low cost/conv.
Extract these terms and add them to your secondary [Exact Match] campaign.
As you shift search terms, you also get to shift your budget toward the [Exact Match] “winners circle” campaign.
By using the Close Variant script to eliminate any non-exact exact matches, you’re left with a highly functional, highly tapered, and highly efficient [Exact Match] campaign.
Slice that bread
At the end of the day, you want to make more money. You might even want to make more money at the beginning and middle of the day too. We like that. Go for it.
The SKAGs approach will get you there slice by slice. It’s good dough that makes great bread.
And ask us any questions about SKAGs below.