Google Ads is an advertising lever that embodies “relevance marketing”.
- Internet users want to see ads that are exactly what they are looking for,
- and advertisers appear more often and pay less when their relevance level is high (thanks to the Quality Score mechanism ).
To achieve a high level of relevance, and ensure maximum control over its campaigns, one of the techniques used in SEA is the SKAG method. What does SKAG mean?
SKAG = Single Keyword Ad Group
This Google Ads optimization technique consists of targeting only one keyword per ad group, when normally the latter generally targets a set of semantically similar keywords.
“Traditional” Google Ads structure
Google Ads Structure ‘SKAG’
In this article :
- I am going to tell you the case of an advertiser who succeeded in reducing his cost per lead by -20% thanks to the SKAG method.
- Then, I will give you the step-by-step method to reproduce the SKAG approach for your own account,
- before concluding with the pitfalls to avoid when using this SEA optimization method.
SKAG case study: this advertiser succeeded in doing better than his Google Ads agency
Context: lead generation + search for control = conducive to the SKAG method
Before detailing this case study, it is important to set the context:
- the advertiser uses Google Ads to generate leads
- he has a fixed budget in mind, which he wants to spend each month
- his product can fulfill different intentions, but he doesn’t know which ones will give the best result for his campaigns.
To be honest, in general, I’m not a big fan of the SKAG method ( like many other Google Ads experts by the way ).
Indeed, the SKAG method is often synonymous with:
- creation of long and laborious campaigns,
- complexity of management and optimization,
- excessive granularity, which leads to poor distribution of the budget
- and finally a lot of work to save a few miserable euros in the end
But in the case of our advertiser, the SKAG optimization method fits him like a glove. Why in this specific case is the SKAG approach appropriate?
- Because the advertiser wants to generate leads, which convert 99% of the time in a single visit: the feedback loop is fast, and there are no purchase cycle or attribution issues.
- Because the target monthly budget in no way really covers the advertiser’s market in SEA; it is then necessary to keep a lot of control on the expenses and to be able to identify precisely the territories of keywords which are worth it.
Implementation of SKAG: 1 Google Ads campaign and 102 ad groups
Once the SKAG method has been determined as the most appropriate approach for this advertiser, it is time to set up the structure itself.
Initially, this involved reviewing and classifying approximately 86,000 off-brand search terms, generated by campaigns that had previously run in the account (if you’re just getting started on Google Ads, you can generate this list using the keyword generator keys).
Among these 86,000 search terms, the advertiser first identified “interesting” queries that both:
- generate a high volume of clicks,
- and have a cost per conversion equal to or lower than its target cost per conversion (CPA).
Then, these “interesting” off-brand queries are categorized into 102 different ad groups. All of these ad groups have been combined into a single campaign.
Result after 50 days: good performance that exceeds that of the agency managing the account
Once launched, the SKAG method showed very good performance:
- Despite the reduction from 86,000 search terms to 102 “interesting keywords”, the target market remains quite large (about 1M queries on which ads can be eligible).
- The click-through rate (CTR) has literally jumped and is close to 15%, which testifies to the very strong attractiveness of the ads in relation to the keywords searched.
- The conversion rate exceeds the 5% mark (at 6.5% precisely), and the advertiser garners more than 800 leads for a budget of less than €5,000
When the advertiser compares these performances with what their SEA agency managed to obtain after 2 years of optimizations, again, the SKAG approach wins hands down.
The only items on which the SKAG approach recorded lower performance are:
- costs per click (CPC) which increased by +13%
- and the volume of leads which fell very slightly (-4%) which shows that the SKAG approach has certainly brought more efficiency, but without generating more business volume for the advertiser.
How to set up SKAG in your own Google Ads account?
If possible, analyze the existing to identify profitable keywords
If you’ve run Google Ads campaigns in the past, start by uploading all of the search terms that caused your ads to appear.
To find them, go to the Keywords > Search terms section of your Google Ads account.
In the list, then identify the keywords that generate the most clicks and that are “profitable” (ie have a cost per conversion less than or equal to your target CPA).
If you are just starting your first Google Ads campaign:
- use the Keyword Planner in Tools > Planners > Keyword Planner Tools.
- Look for all the keyword ideas related to your business,
- and already identify the keywords that have more than 1000 searches per month and that have a level of competition estimated by Google as “Medium” or “Low”.
Create as many ad groups as there are search intents
Among the list of uploaded queries, categorize them by intent. To do this, go over the list and ask yourself each time “what did the person who did this research want to find”?
Obviously, the method is called “Single Keyword Ad Group” What matters in the end is to target “a single intention” per ad group (but not necessarily a single and unique keyword, stricto sensu).
Indeed, it is quite acceptable in a SKAG strategy to have around ten very similar keywords, in [exact] targeting, grouped together in the same ad group.
The following table gives the example for two keywords. By decoding the intent, we understand that it can be acceptable for the marketer to group certain variations in the same ad group (rather than making one that will garner 10 clicks per year)…
|Main keyword||Intention||Variants that can be accepted in the SKAG|
|anxiety symptom||Know the medical criteria that allow the recognition of pathological anxiety||permanent anxiety symptoms
symptom anxiety and stress
|anxiety treatment||Know, list, learn more about the remedies that treat anxiety||treat anxiety naturally
generalized anxiety treatment
Afterwards, let’s be clear: it’s not about stuffing your ad group with hundreds of variations of the main keyword either!
Customize the ads (and extensions) of each AdGroup, in the rules of the art
The next step is to customize the text ads for all the ad groups you’ve created.
- Tailor your ad’s copywriting and call-to-action based on search intent.
- Include specific AdGroup keywords in your ad.
- Change the landing page if you think a piece of content can better satisfy the user’s intent.
Finally, make sure that each ad group meets Google’s criteria for creative excellence, namely:
- 3 ad variations
- 1 responsive ad on the search network
- 3 ad extensions
- ad rotation setting set to “Optimize”
See these criteria as so many levers to make your advertising even more relevant in the eyes of your prospects: customize sitelinks, hook extensions, make ad variations that meet the Internet user’s intention from different angles. different, etc
If you need a refresher shot on the concept of Creative Excellence Google Ads.
Optimize bids on all possible dimensions
Once your SKAG structure is in place and your campaign is activated, the job is not done. In fact, it has only just begun.
You will need to monitor your campaigns and optimize them regularly :
- As soon as a word exceeds the threshold of 100 clicks, look at the cost per conversion: does it correspond to your expectations? If this is not the case, you should lower your bids on this keyword, or even pause it.
- Ditto, as soon as you have enough volume of clicks on a city, a region, a device, a time slot… you can adjust the bids up or down depending on the performance of the dimension analyzed.
- Also add all kinds of “observation” targeting audiences : this will not affect your campaigns at first, but you will have detailed performance reports by audience. This will allow you to adjust your bids even more finely.
In the case study cited above, the reported performances did not fall from the sky, just thanks to the SKAG structure… They are the result of continuous and regular optimization, as evidenced by the chronology.
Pause keywords as soon as they are proven to be underperforming
As mentioned above, do not hesitate to pause keywords that do not reach the desired level of performance.
Admittedly, you have to wait for a certain volume of clicks (the 100 clicks bar is already a good start) so as not to make hasty decisions, on a sample that is too small.
But as soon as you reach a certain “statistical significance” and you find that the cost per conversion on a keyword clearly exceeds your objectives: put the keyword on hold!
Start by filtering on the “Keywords for the search network” tab all the keywords having more than 100 clicks and which have a cost per conversion higher than your target CPA.
Review the list manually:
- if the CPA is higher than your target by 1% to 50%, lower your bids
- if the CPA is higher than your target by 50% or more, consider pausing the keyword.
The pitfalls to avoid when using the SKAG method for your Google Ads campaigns
Sacrificing volume on the altar of performance
The ambition of the SKAG method, in terms of SEA strategy, is to control the parameters as much as possible to exercise greater control over the distribution (and costs) of its Google Ads campaigns. The end goal is to maximize the advertiser’s return on investment and avoid wasted advertising budget.
However, always looking for better returns is a double-edged sword. Certainly, the SKAG method, well executed and continuously optimized, will save you advertising budget in the long run.
The important thing to remember is that gaining more yield always means losing volume.
Wanting to make everything profitable, we de facto rule out additional conversion opportunities which, although they are more expensive, would have helped the company to generate more money, in absolute value.
Let’s take the case mentioned in the first section:
- It highlights the advertiser’s efficiency gains (CPA reduction to -20%).
- However, the other side of the coin is that the drop in CPA is mechanically accompanied by a drop in leads.
We see that to get a CPA twice as good, the company is obliged to “concede” approximately 200 leads to the competition, each month.
Run campaigns (rather than ad groups) for each keyword
More than once, I have met SEO consultants, agencies or advertisers who used to employ the SKAG approach, at the campaign level. Concretely, they create a campaign, a single ad group (or three at most) and target only one keyword.
The argument they put forward: “It is then easier to control the budget spent on each keyword, by adjusting the daily budgets of each campaign (because this amounts to assigning a daily budget to each keyword).
I am against this type of practice for several reasons:
- First, because in SEA, you don’t manage your expenses with the daily budgets of the campaigns, but with your bids.
- Are you spending too much? Maybe it’s time to lower your bids, or review the keyword portfolio…
- Do you have room under your feet? So bid more aggressively on high-performing keywords…
- This is how you adjust your expenses on Google Ads, and not by putting a capping of €3 on a campaign, which will only have the effect that it will no longer be broadcast from a certain time of day.
- Then, when the keyword base has been well defined, and its performance well identified, it is wise to test automatic auctions with a “Draft & Experiment” campaign.
- If all of your SKAGs are split across dozens of campaigns (rather than having everything lumped together in one or two campaigns),
- running this A/B test with automatic bidding will be very tedious.
- Finally, if your SKAG structure is fragmented between several campaigns, it will become complicated to optimize your bids on dimensions such as geographical location, demographic profile, days of the week, hours of the day, audiences, etc.
- Firstly because it will take longer to reach a certain statistical significance
- and secondly because it multiplies the management work (instead of adjusting a bid, you find yourself repeating the manipulation dozens of times, for minimal added value).
Apply the SKAG to the letter, and put only one keyword per ad group
For me, applying the SKAG method to the letter (thus putting only one and only one keyword) is a mistake.
We can absolutely have a very granular SKAG structure, which offers great control, even if we have 10 or 20 keywords in an ad group!
In the end, the SKAG is only a way of approaching the “marketing by relevance” that Google Ads embodies…
And since always, the rule in Adwords has always been to associate close keywords with relevant text ads, SKAG or not… So it’s not because you will have 5 keywords instead of 1 that it will put your failed strategy.
Use targeting other than targeting [exact]
When talking about SKAG structure in SEA, some experts prefer to bid on a single keyword per ad group, but in all possible targeting options.
Thus, an adgroup called “Anxiety Symptom” will include the same keyword three times, in all possible targeting:
- anxiety symptom (broad targeting)
- “anxiety symptom” (expression targeting)
- [anxiety symptom] (exact targeting)
I do not recommend this tactic. Because the purpose of the SKAG approach is precisely to exercise very strong control over its advertising distribution.
If you use different targeting for each keyword, your ads will inevitably show on search terms that may deviate significantly from the precise intent you are targeting.
You then lose the primary advantage provided by a SKAG structure. This is why an SKAG structure must be considered with [exact] targeting keywords. This is the guarantee for you to keep maximum control, and it is the most sensible choice in relation to the very spirit of the SKAG technique.
Customize ads, but keep generic ad extensions
We are not going to lie to each other, setting up the SKAG technique on a large scale requires rather tedious initial work. As a result, we are quickly tempted to do the job at 80% by “quickly” personalizing the ads of each AdGroup, and using generic extensions, which remain the same for each ad group.
This is a mistake in my opinion. Ad extensions are an integral part of your AdRank (which partly determines your level of presence, position and cost). However, if you have opted for a SKAG structure, it is to have maximum relevance, isn’t it?
So to complete your strategy, make the effort to create custom extensions to the keyword you’re targeting when you can.
- Change the sitelinks,
- create relevant callout extensions with your ads,
- adapt price extensions to highlight different offers according to the intentions of Internet users…
In general, the ad extensions that can be kept in their “generic” form for each SKAG are:
- call extensions
- location (or affiliate location) extensions
- app extensions
- site snippet extensions
Do not start your campaigns manually, and use automatic bidding from the start
Let’s be clear: the direction of the story is towards more automation and artificial intelligence in Google Ads. This is something positive, and very promising. But in our case, we are discussing the SKAG method which aims to be the most “control freak” that there can be in SEA.
With this in mind, you never start an account in SKAG with automatic auctions. The best is to manually control the start, like an airplane that we are trying to get off the ground.
Doing things manually initially will give you more insights, specific to your market niche, on:
- the 20% of keywords that account for 80% of conversions and are definitely worth bidding more on,
- the precise list of profitable keywords, already optimized, on which you want to test the capabilities of the algorithm.
- the competitive intensity of the bids and the “power” of your budget (is it a drop in the bucket? Or on the contrary, do you easily manage to dominate the top 10 keywords?)
Indeed, there is no point in asking an algorithm to look for a needle in a haystack: it will force you to spend a phenomenal budget, just to give the algorithm time to learn. Before testing the auctions automatic, it is better to do a “manual cleaning” to gradually exclude poorly performing keywords, irrelevant search terms, audiences that perform best, etc.
You should therefore favor the manual with a SKAG structure to start with auctions with which you are comfortable…
Change bids when volume is not statistically significant
When you invest your own money, there is always a tension, a fear. We would like to have safety nets, guarantees that our euros will be invested in the best possible way…
And it is in response to this fear that sometimes we rush, we lack patience.
- “Whoa! a click at 5€!? I immediately cut this keyword…”
- “I tested: I put in €10, I had 15 visits and not one sale. I don’t feel it…”
- “The machine is racing, it’s 12 noon and I’ve already spent 75% of my budget! Come on, I’m stopping everything that cost more than 0.50€ per click…”
It’s these kinds of emotional reactions that actually hurt your Google Ads campaigns so much. To make the best decision, you must wait wisely until the activity of a keyword is sufficient to decide its fate.
In addition, the Google Ads system does not appreciate bid variations that are too strong, too frequent, on insignificant volumes. You must manage your bids in a coherent and progressive manner, so as to “accompany” the system in your strategy rather than sending it signals that will make no sense to it.
Not doing A/B testing on the landing page
Creating a landing page that converts is a mixture of art and science. It’s a crucial link in the SEA experience.
You can have the best Adwords strategy in the world, if your offer is repulsive, your user experience terrible and your marketing non-existent, it is almost certain that your campaigns will not be profitable.
Therefore, one of the pitfalls of the SKAG method is to focus attention on a simple story of structure and “how to manage” an account. The SKAG suggests that all it takes is this simple trick to get conversions flowing.
While the reality is that the click earned by your campaigns is only the beginning of the story. It is once the Internet user has arrived on your site that you will have to give him the reasons to stay, to trust you, to act in order to gain an additional lead / customer.
Pamper your landing pages, because they are the ones on the front lines with your prospects. They deserve to be treated, tested, analyzed, optimized. Your success on Google Ads depends on it.
To achieve this, have the reflex to do A/B tests to increase the effectiveness of your landing pages. Today, there are no more excuses when you know that free and easy-to-use tools are available to the general public, such as Google Optimize.
Google Ads SKAG FAQs
WHAT DOES SKAG MEAN?
SKAG is the acronym for “Single Keyword Ad Group”, or “Group of ads with a single keyword” in French. In summary, it’s about targeting only one keyword per ad group in a Google Ads campaign.
WHAT IS THE PRINCIPLE OF SKAG ON GOOGLE ADS?
The principle of the SKAG method on Google Ads is to target only one keyword per ad group in a Google Ads campaign. The objective is to provide the advertiser with maximum control over the distribution of their advertisements, in order to improve their return on investment.