27 Reasons Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)
Always Win [UPDATED]

Johnathan Dane
Johnathan Dane

4.0 UPDATE: Our Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) post has been re-updated with new links and content. Unfortunately, the jokes haven’t changed.
ALSO, check out the evolution of SKAGS – Keyword Tapering – in our next trademarked blog post 🙂

Original Publication Date: May 30, 2016


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? (And yes, it’s Google Ads now. “AdWords” is so 2017.)

Well, you don’t have to be a Google Ads lover to understand the value of slicing up your Ads account in a more granular way. Segmentation makes your campaigns more manageable and easier to improve.

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


Google Ads

Just like this.


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

We’ve been testing new versions of SKAGs along with other ad group structures. If you’re curious to learn more about them (before we release them), then get your free proposal from us right now.


What Are Single Keyword Ad Groups?

Before we answer that, let’s agree on something: how you structure your Google Ads account is vital to your PPC success.

With that in mind, the Single Keyword Ad Group 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 250 comments to back up that claim, from when I originally wrote about this tactic back in 2014.

Not to mention hundreds of Google Ads 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 Google Ads, 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…


Why You Should Care About SKAGs

To put it simply, SKAGs are a way for you to gain more control and achieve higher performance from your Google Ads 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.” (Seriously, read that article.)

If you’ve ever watched Titanic, you know that icebergs are not a good thing when you’re trying to get somewhere.


3 Match Types For Single Keyword Ad Groups

Like I mentioned earlier, Single Keyword Ad Groups are just that — one keyword per ad group. But you can (and should!) include multiple match types of that one keyword in that specific Single Keyword Ad Group.

Let’s look at an example.

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


  1. +custom +made +speedos
  2. “custom made speedos”
  3. [custom made speedos]


Call this SKAG “Custom Made Speedos” (same name as the keywords in the ad group) and it will act as your root keyword ad group for those search terms.

(Notice that 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


What if you find that your search terms (and Speedos) have a longer tail than the keywords in that SKAG? Then you simply extract those search terms and create a new SKAG by using 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 more specific long-tail keywords.

Now here comes the good part…


Connect Your Keywords To Your Ad Copy (The Iceberg Effect)

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 SKAGs article from 2014, I used Nutella as an example to showcase how your headlines should attempt to include the keyword in the headline and display URL. If you run out of character space, add it somewhere in the description lines.


negative keywords

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


With SKAGs, you’re effectively reducing your discrepancy ratios from search to keyword and from keyword to ad, which is the opposite of The Iceberg Effect.


single keyword ad groups Google Ads 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 Google Ads accounts look like when using the SKAG approach:


Google Ads skags

Not bad, right?


How Single Keyword Ad Groups Work 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 stronger foundation than your competitors.

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

Even if you haven’t broken down your Automatic placements in a Google Ads Display campaign or segmented your audiences and interests in your Facebook campaign before, you’ll still start to see what’s performing well and what isn’t quickly.



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 trying to slice bread with a doorstop.



single keyword ad groups google ads guide

Total n00bs – image source


Pre-SKAGs — What You Need To Get Started

There are two things you’ll want before you create your single keyword ad groups: root keywords and Google Ads Editor.


Root Keywords

Root keywords are the shortest-tail 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
  • etc.


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. A SKAGs set up allows you to get out of the gates with 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

Now that we have those done, the next step is to get Google Ads Editor.

(Pro Tip: 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.

Here’s how it will be set up:


1) 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]



Two Reasons You Need Three Match Types

Including the above match types in each of your SKAGs is important for two reasons.

One, if someone looks for a longer tail version of a search term that triggers your phrase match or modified broad match type keyword, your ad will still be the most relevant ad possible in your account.

Two, 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. The granularity of SKAGs already dilutes your ad testing potential, and you’ll need enough data from testing to establish statistical significance.


2) The Bids

Next, you’ll want to set all your bids at the same amount. As performance data starts to come in, you can 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.

Here are the only rules you need to follow:


1) Put the keyword in the headline and path/URL. This will make the ad more relevant to the searcher, which can improve your CTR, which leads to a higher quality score and many other benefits.

2) Anything you write in the subheadline 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, especially if your keyword is long and takes up a lot of character spaces. Just differentiate the two ads in the subheadline and description.


single keyword ad groups


4) The Cloning

Here comes the fun part with Google Ads Editor — the cloning.

With Google Ads 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 Google Ads 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”.


single keyword ad groups cloning


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 simple.

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.


Turns out the answer is no. All he needs is to have a “dry cleaners” SKAG, 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”.


single keyword ad groups electric bike keywords


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.

You’re essentially extracting search terms to turn them into SKAGs, based around impression volume in descending order.

Then, simply 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.

That’s it!


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 be creating brand new SKAGs.

This makes your campaign creation 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.

But in this case, diminishing returns 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 ratios of 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”.


skags Google Ads

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 Google Ads 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.

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 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.

Since text ads on Google were reduced from 11 to seven, it’s even more important to monitor your impression shares.


7) Lower Cost Per Click

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

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:


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 bid options for keywords with different conversion rates and intents.

This also helps you pause any wasteful Keywords or lower bids on lower-performing Keywords, which can increase 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.

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 a strong message match and you should see your conversion rates start to climb as well.

Another great benefit of SKAGs is that they make 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 inform which changes you test.


12) Control Your Landing Page Experience

Because of single keyword ad groups, you’ll have a better understanding of the users who are clicking on your ads. And with that information, you can provide a personalized experience on your landing page for them.

And speaking of your landing page, most 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’ll 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 Wasted Ad Spend

When all your important Google Ads 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.

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

The granularity of your SKAGs makes it easier to grow and optimize your campaigns. It does the same for identifying your wins and losses.

Wait, what?

In other words, it’ll be easier to identify the specific keywords (or products, if you’re running eCommerce SPAGs) that 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) Jumping On the SKAGwagon

One small benefit of SKAGs that will pay large dividends is that you get to join in on the SKAGs bandwagon — or “SKAGwagon,” as we like to call it.

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. THEY WORK.

When we wrote about SKAGs on Unbounce, we were the first to coin the term. Now, if you look at the SERP for “single keyword ad groups,” you can see a flock of agencies fighting to rank for the phrase.


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) Make More Money

Now, with all the great positives we just covered, you and I both know that there’s no better metric than this 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 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. (See? It’s catching on!)


1) Data Dilution

As we touched on earlier, one of the most notable drawbacks of SKAGs is the dilution of your tracking data.

Because you’re creating significantly more ad groups, your clicks and conversions will be spread across a wider pool of ads, which means it can take longer to run trustworthy tests.

But don’t worry, SKAGs is a scientifically more accurate way of testing anyways (since you’re isolating one variable at a time).


2) SKAGs Takes More Time

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

This makes many people second-guess SKAGs before they even get started.

The fastest way to remove this fear, however, is to test the SKAGs approach on your top five keywords. You can see how they perform against the same keywords that aren’t set up in SKAGs.

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


3) SKAGs 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) 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 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

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


single keyword ad groups comment

Don’t be hatin’, Jonny.


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

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


The Next Step For SKAGs?

SKAGs are a great place to start, but every PPC strategy can only go so far before it begins to hit the maximum potential of it’s traffic generating power. And, sense we’re so hungry for more clicks and conversions, we couldn’t stop ourselves there.

So, we created a few more tactics to evolve even further beyond SKAGs to the next level of PPC optimization.


goku going even futher beyond his normal super powers

To go “even further beyond,” if you get what I’m saying – image source


The Bottom Feeding Approach

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 level 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 it 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.” 


But of course that’s only to eat up the last bits of conversion ready traffic that’s leftover.

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 evolved response to the adapting environment of Google Search – the next step for Single Keyword Ad Groups. What does it mean? It means that as Google adapts its search algorithms to simplify things for advertisers, we need to 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 twin campaigns both targeting the same keyword, one +Broad +Match +Modified, and one [Exact Math]. They should be alike in every other way, even budget.

What Keyword Tapering does is use the first +Broad +Match +Modified campaign to mine for all the relevant, high quality, high converting search terms with low Cost/conv.

You then extract these terms from your first campaign and add them into your secondary [Exact Match] campaign.,

As you shift search terms you also get to shift your budget towards the [Exact Match] “winners circle” campaign.


It should look something like this as you progress – image source


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.

But of course, if you want to read up a bit more on either strategy, you can read our Bottom Feeding Approach blog post or Keyword Tapering posts for themselves.


In Closing…

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’re cool with that.)

The SKAGs approach, as proven above, will definitely help you get there.

Because, just like me and Oprah, you gotta eat.


skags advice

You and me both, Oprah. – image source


So here’s to getting more bread…