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24 Reasons Why Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
Always Win [3.0]

UPDATE: This post has received an upgrade. Now we’re showing you how we create and manage single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) as well as some more of their benefits since tons of questions have been asked. Scroll down to the “How To” sections and enjoy!

Or, better yet, check out our new free SKAGs Tool Kit to start building your own single keyword ad groups today 🙂


Get Your Free SKAGs Tool Kit

— — — — — — — —

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.



This is me…. – image source


But what does bread have to do with your Google Ads account?(yes, it’s Google Ads now)

Well, you also don’t have to be a Google Ads lover to understand the value of slicing up your Ads account in a more granular way, to make it more manageable, and, to have it perform much better.

If you embrace that, then your AdWords campaigns will start looking like this: 



Just like this.


That’s what makes single keyword ad groups just like sliced bread, and the best thing in AdWords, since, you guessed it,
sliced bread (you were waiting for that one, weren’t ya?).

See, your AdWords account structure is vital to your PPC success.

And because of that, the Single Keyword Ad Group (SKAG) approach is one of the fastest ways to elevate your click-through-rates, quality scores, and most importantly, the money that you’re making.

I have over 350 comments to back up that claim, from when I originally wrote about this tactic back in 2014. Not to mention, hundreds of AdWords accounts across different verticals that are all benefitting from this strategy.

But the best thing? 

This Single Keyword Ad Group approach isn’t just for AdWords, it works for social (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) and display networks as well, and it’s insanely easy to take advantage of.


Otherwise, keep reading…


What Single Keyword Ad Groups Are & Why You Should Care

To put it simply, SKAGs are a way for you to gain more control and achieve higher performance from your AdWords account.

And as the name implies, Single Keyword Ad Groups are ad groups with just one keyword in them. Here’s why:

By pairing your keywords into their own unique ad groups, you can make sure that the keywords you’re bidding on, match the search terms you’re paying for.

If you don’t take care of this, you end up with something I call “The Iceberg Effect” (urge you to read that article). And if you’ve ever watched the Titanic, you know that icebergs are not a good thing.

Like I mentioned earlier, Single Keyword Ad Groups are for one keyword per ad group. But (and this is a big BUT), you’re allowed (and should) include multiple match types of that one keyword in that specific Single Keyword Ad Group.

Let’s take an example.

If you sell custom made Speedos (as many people do), here’s what the keywords inside one of your SKAGs should look like:

+custom +made +speedos
“custom made speedos”
[custom made speedos]

This SKAG will then be called “Custom Made Speedos” (same name as the keywords in the ad group) and will act as the root keyword ad group for those search terms (notice how I didn’t say keywords. Again, read The Iceberg Effect if you’re not sure about the difference).



These are the Speedos you’re selling – image source


If you find that your search terms (and Speedos) are longer tail than the keywords in that SKAG, then you simply extract those search terms and create a new SKAG, following the same formula (this is what we call “keyword refinement”).

Now, once that new SKAG (let’s call it – “Custom Made Glitter Speedos”) is created from the search term report of the “Custom Made Speedos” SKAG, you’ll want to make sure that ‘glitter’ is an ad group level negative keyword to your original “Custom Made Speedos” SKAG.

This will make sure that your shorter tail keywords don’t steal away impressions from your longer tail, more specific keywords.

Now here comes the good part…

Once you’re controlling your search terms and keywords, you’ll have the ability to make your ad copy insanely specific to your keywords.

In my original SKAG article from 2014, I used Nutella as an example to showcase how your headlines should attempt (hoping that you don’t run out of character space) to include the keyword in the headline and display URL, and if not that, somewhere in the description lines.


negative keywords

The keyword for this SKAG is “nutella crepe recipes” – image source

Effectively with SKAGs, you’re reducing your discrepancy ratios from search to keyword, and from keyword to ad (which is the opposite of The Iceberg Effect). 
adwords help

Notice how the Search terms never match the Keyword. That’s bad.


When that happens and your Search terms start matching your Keywords, your click-through-rates (CTRs) can skyrocket because you don’t have 10-50 keywords in one ad group all competing to be relevant to one ad.

And when your CTRs improve, a few other nice benefits happen as well, which we’ll discuss in the Pros and Cons section here in a few.

Here’s what some other AdWords accounts look like when using the SKAG approach:


AdWords skags

Not bad, right?


How The SKAG Approach Works For Social & Display

Not only is the SKAGs approach a solid way of improving managed PPC performance, but it immediately allows you to have a much more stronger foundation than your competitors.

And it’s not just for the Search networks. The same focus of granularity works wonders for social marketing ads and display SEM agency campaigns as well.

If you’ve ever broken down your Automatic placements within an AdWords Display campaign or segmented your audiences and interests in your Facebook campaign, then you can quickly start to see what’s performing well and what isn’t.



Are your Automatic placements all over the place?


You can then break out individual placements and interests to create micro-segments of targeting that produce predictable results week over week.

When making things more granular in your agency PPC account (with SKAGs and other types of micro-segmenting), your next big PPC wins will be on the landing page side, allowing you to stop finagling with silly bid modifications and pointless ad tests that don’t move the needle.

This is because you’ve created such a strong account structure that many of your competitors are too lazy to even attempt it.

They’re still stuck trying to slice their bread with a door stop. N00bs.


adwords guide

Total n00bs – image source


How To Create Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)

There are two things you’ll want before you create your single keyword ad groups: root keywords and AdWords Editor.
Root Keywords: Root keywords are the shortest tail of keywords that you’re willing to bid on.
Let’s say that you’re an online college and you want to use SKAGs to attract potential students. Your root keywords could look like this:
– online college
– online university
– online degree
– online school
In the list of keywords above, you’ll 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.
Take your root keywords and multiply them with other synonyms that you might find. 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
Then, copy and paste and 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, then keep going:
– digital college
– digital university
– digital degree
– digital school
– digital academy
– digital seminar
– digital classes
– digital courses
Here’s the best part: you don’t need to do any keyword research around average CPCs or competition levels, because a SKAG set up allows you to get out of the gates with a high quality score. So research here is a waste of time. Only research the synonyms and the like to expand your root keyword list.
Now that we have those done, next step is to use AdWords Editor.
If you don’t have AdWords Editor installed yet, then grab it here – you’ll need it for this next step.
Next step is to open up AdWords Editor and download your AdWords account.
Once there, we’ll create our first new SKAG. Here’s how it will be set up:

The Keywords:

You’re going to use modified broad match, phrase match, and exact match around the same keyword (you’re not going to use broad match).
So it would look like this:
+online +college
“online college”
[online college]

The reason why you want three match types is two-fold:
1) Even if someone searches for a longer tail version search term that is triggered by the phrase or modified broad match type keyword, then your ad will still be the most relevant ad possible in your account.
2) If you split up your SKAGs by match type (turning one ad group into three), then you further dilute your data collection and ad testing will be even harder. SKAGs by nature already dilute your ad testing potential, so don’t worsen it.
Next, you’ll want to set all your bids at the same amount. Then adjust the bids later based around performance.

The Ads:
Once you’ve set up your keywords and their match types, it’s time to create your ads.
Here are the only rules you need to follow:
1) Keep the keyword in the headline and path (used to be called Display URL). This will make the ad more relevant to the searcher leading to a better chance of higher CTR, which leads to a higher quality score and many other benefits.
2) Anything you write in headline 2 and the description is up to you. You just want to make sure that the ads are different enough to split test. It’s okay if your headlines and paths are the same for the two ads (could be from your keyword being too long and takes up too many character spaces), just aim for difference between the two ads when it comes to headline 2 and the description.

The Cloning:
Here comes the fun part with AdWords Editor, the cloning.
With AdWords Editor, you can quickly copy and paste ad groups so you don’t have re-write or re-work much.
As you can see in the GIF below, all you manually need to create is the first SKAG, and then you can go crazy with cloning them, which is why you need your list of root keywords first.
In AdWords Editor, you can literally create all your “online” SKAGs, and then copy and paste all of them and just replace “online” with “web” or “digital”.

Pretty easy, right?


How To Optimize Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)

The beautiful thing about single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) is that improving their performance is the simplicity.
A lot of people worry about creating hundreds of different variations of their keywords and if they should include singular/plural variations.

Like this guy

And the answer is no. All he needs is to have the SKAG of “dry cleaners” and the search term report will take care of the rest.
Because “dry cleaners” is his root keyword, the modified broad match and phrase match versions 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 little text sheet for me to write down the search terms that don’t match the keyword (this is a discrepancy we’re intentionally looking for) – these are the new SKAGs I’ll create.
Quick Note: Notice how I skipped the search term “electric bicycle electric bicycles”? That’s because it’s a bot search that usually has very low CTR. I’m not going to create a SKAG for that.
Essentially, you’re extracting search terms to turn them into SKAGs based around the impression volume in descending order.
Then, you’ll simply add those search terms as ad group level negative keywords (to eliminate internal competition) and your performance will continue to improve over time because your new SKAGs have more specific ads which leads to higher CTRs.
That’s it!

The Positives of Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)


1) Easiest Blueprint For Success

When you create all new campaigns in the Single Keyword Ad Group format, then you make it very easy to choose and judge where your keywords should go.

There are no themes or groupings of keywords to consider. Since you’ll never add new keywords to a SKAG, you’ll only be creating brand new SKAGs.

This makes your campaign creation blueprint super simple to follow and easy to teach.


2) Compounding Improvements

The AdWords graph screenshots I shared earlier show early improvement from using the SKAG methodology. But eventually, you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns.

But diminishing returns in this case are more like compounding improvements.

As you continue to create SKAGs in descending order of Search term impressions, you’ll find that over time, your overall account health continues to get stronger as all the important metrics in your account, start improving.


3) Improved Click-Through-Rates

When you lower your discrepancy ratio between Search terms to Keywords and Keyword to ad, you immediately start to see that visitors are more likely to click on your ads because you’re using your ad as a “keyword holder”.


skags adwords

Notice Vitacost’s headline and the bolded display URL.


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

You hopefully know by now that the biggest part of the AdWords Quality Score is CTR.

Once you’re able to improve your Quality Scores with SKAGs, you’ll start seeing that your average positions, cost per clicks, impression shares, and other great things improve as well.

If you’re not familiar with the AdWords Quality Score, then read this post:
29 AdWords Quality Score Factors – Facts, Myths, and Quick Fixes


5) Improved Average Positions

Once your CTRs and Quality Scores start improving, you’ll notice that Google starts rewarding you with higher average positions.

This is where you’ll start outranking your competitors, even if your keyword bid is lower.

That’s because Google cares a ton about visitor experience. And your improved CTRs are a great indicator that people are liking the ad results that you’ve been working hard to create.


6) Improved Impression Shares

When your Quality Scores and your average position improve, then your impression shares start growing as well.

This means that of the impressions available for certain keywords, your ads are showing more often and more frequently.

Especially now that there are no longer 11 text ads on (but a max of seven), it’s even more important to care about your impression shares and how they may be declining.


7) Lowered Cost Per Clicks

If you’ve ever wanted to lower your average cost per clicks (CPCs), without lowering your bids, then this will make you extremely happy.

One of the great benefits of SKAGs that improve Quality Scores, is that improved Quality Scores give you lowered First Page Bids (FPBs) as you can see in Optmyzr’s calculation below:


keywords help

The lower your Quality Score drops, the higher your costs – image source


This is because Google will discount your CPCs when they see that your Quality Scores are higher than your competitor, with your relevancy being better too.


8) Lowered Cost Per Conversion

When you lower your cost per clicks, you ultimately lower your cost per conversions. No more explaining needed here.

But here are two cats that enjoy bread as much as my wife and I do.


lower cost per conversion

Acquire bread at all costs. – image source


9) Potentially Higher Conversion Rates

When you expose Search terms as new Keywords and decrease your Search term to Keyword discrepancy ratio, then you immediately increase your control and are able to bid differently for different keywords that have different conversion rates and intents.

This also helps you pause any wasteful Keywords or lower bids on lower performing Keywords that then increases your conversion rates because more of your clicks have a higher likelihood to convert.


10) Increased Conversion Volume

Higher CTRs mean more clicks, and more clicks mean more conversions.

That’s so simple that you can high-five your mom after coming home from the grocery store with the biggest loaf of bread.


increased conversions

Winning – image source


Side note: I’m seriously impressed with how many amazing bread GIFs there are.


11) You Know Your Traffic Better

As mentioned above, increasing the CTRs of your paid campaigns will help increase your conversion volume. Add a little landing page testing to ensure strong message matching and you should see your conversion rates start to climb as well.

Another great benefit of SKAGs is that they actual help make this split testing easier.

How? Well, because when you’re using SKAGs you have a much clearer picture of who your visitors are and what they want. This can help guide your CRO efforts and educate which changes you decide to test.


12) Control Your Landing Page Experience Better

Because you now have a better understanding of the users who’re clicking on your ads, you can better prepare your landing page to provide a personalized experience for these users. Most landing page best practices tell you to keep your landing page experience focused on a singular goal. And they do this for good reason — in fact it’s the same reasoning behind SKAGs.

Ideally, you can create a streamlined experience that keeps your potential customers focused on the same goal all the way from clicking on your ad to converting on your page. .


13) Less Ad Spend Waste

When all your important AdWords metrics are moving in the right direction and your Search terms are being exposed, then you’ll find that you’ll have to add less and less 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 and their level of granularity mean that you’re giving Google less control and taking 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.



Bad advice from Google, but that’s how they make more money.


15) Simple To Scale Opportunities

I mentioned this earlier in this post in the section about optimizing your SKAGS. But it really is a great benefit that you’re able to scale up your search presence so simply by using SKAGs.

Instead of creating entirely new campaigns, ad groups, and ad variants to target new opportunities, all you have to do is look to your search terms report for your new, soon-to-be SKAGs.

Then 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) Identifying Retargeting Opportunities

Just as growing and optimizing your SKAGS is made easier because of their organized segmentation, so are your wins and losses. What does this mean? It means that it’ll be easier to identify which singular keywords (or products if you’re running eCommerce SPAGs) are generating the highest CTRs and conversions.

More importantly, it should make it easier to identify certain keywords where there’s a drop off between the two.

SKAG keywords with discrepancies between your increased CTR and conversion rates aren’t losses. They’re simply golden opportunities for retargeting.

You can have more confidence in these retargeting campaigns as the audiences you’re (re)reaching will be built on users who have already shown interest in your brand on a search level (where conversion intent is often highest).

Then 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.


17) Troubleshooting Improvements

With Single Keyword Ad Groups, it will be much easier and more black and white to figure out why certain keywords or ad groups are stealing away impressions or not showing up on Google at all.

This is because you’ll know that every single ad group will only have one keyword in it, making it quick and easy for you to run a keyword diagnosis to see what might be wrong.


18) Joining In On the Bandwagon

One small benefit of SKAGs that will pay large dividends is that you get to join in on the SKAG bandwagon.

Now, I know that in most cases being unique and making yourself stand out from the crowd is the key to digital marketing success. But in this case, there’s a very good reason why so many different agencies have followed are lead and embraced SKAGs:


When we first started writing about SKAGs back on our Unbounce guest post, we were the first to coin the term. Now if you look at the SERP for “single keyword ad groups” you can see the flock of competitive agencies fighting to rank for our term.


single keyword ad groups SERP

But don’t worry, we don’t plan on leaving the top anytime soon 😉


And all of these benefits add up to our final, and favorite perk of using single keyword ad groups.


19) More Money Being Made

Now, with all the great positives we just covered, you and I both know that there’s no better metric than the ultimate one – money being made.

When you lower your cost per conversions, you immediately increase your profit margins.

When you increase your conversion volume, you can immediately increase your revenue as well.


The Negatives of Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)

There are a few down sides to Single Keyword Ad Groups. But trust me, the positives severely outweigh the negatives.


1) Data Dilution

One of the bigger negatives around SKAGs is data dilution.

Because you’re creating more and more ad groups, your data is spread more thin, which means it can take you longer to test ads.

But don’t worry, SKAGs is a scientifically more accurate way of testing anyways (to isolate one variable at a time).


2) Takes More Time

It’s no mystery that creating Single Keyword Ad Groups takes much more time than just adding regular keywords to an existing ad group from the Search term report.

And this is what has many people questioning to begin with creating SKAGs in the first place.

The fastest way to remove this fear however, is to test the SKAG approach in your top five keywords and compare their metrics (apples to apples) against the same keywords who are not set up in SKAGs.

If performance does improve, then you have the proof to continue.


3) Takes More Effort

To get the biggest benefit from SKAGs, then they do require you to keep a closer eye to Search terms that don’t match the keywords and to use ad group level negative keywords to make sure your shorter tail SKAGs aren’t stealing away impressions, like the cats were stealing away bread earlier.


4) Ad Testing Can Take Longer

As I mentioned in the Data Dilution section, your actual ad testing can take longer since you’re not getting a condensed level of clicks from multiple keywords in the same ad group.

If you find that you’re constantly able to test ads with continual improvements (which is rare), then you could take your high traffic volume keywords as SKAGs and keep the lower traffic volume keywords in broader ad groups.


5) Stupid People May Laugh At You

People who are lazy will always be hating on people who get things done. Just look at Jon here:


single keyword adgroups

Don’t be hatin’


Moral of the story? Don’t worry about Jons. Worry about your account and only doing things that actually make you more money.

I’ll bet that SKAGs will definitely help with that endeavor 😉


In Closing…

At the end of the day, you want to make more money. And the SKAGs approach (as proven above) will definitely help you get there.

Because just like myself and Oprah, you gotta eat.

So here’s to getting more bread…


skags advice

You and me both, Oprah – image source

Klientboost Blog Author <br>Johnathan Dane

Johnathan Dane


We help our clients make more money


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