The Case Against SKAGs

As summer is heating up, let’s talk about another HOT and controversial paid search strategy: SKAGs! SKAGs have been a hot topic among the PPC community for some time now. Some would argue that this form of account organization allows you to get extremely targeted with your AdWords campaigns. Who wouldn’t want to keep everything tightly wound together so money is only spent on those searching for the EXACT keyword that speaks directly to your products or services?

While some PPC people love SKAGs, they’re not right for everybody… After speaking with several of WordStream’s most experienced customer success managers and consultants, it was clear that there’s a case to be made against using SKAGs in your paid search accounts.


Before we dive into the case against SKAGs and why you might want to consider other keyword grouping strategies, let’s talk about what in the world SKAGs are!

What Are SKAGs?

SKAG stands for Single Keyword Ad Group. These are just as they sound: One keyword per ad group, with its own set of ads.

The idea might sound a bit nutty, but many marketers find that setting up their ad groups in this manner allows them to keep everything tightly focused.

Back in the day when I worked closely with WordStream customers, I can remember seeing several messy accounts where there was only one or two ad groups with up to 500 keywords in each of them (sometimes even more!). Often these ad groups also only came with a few ads to choose from.

As an example of why this approach doesn’t work, let’s say you’re selling athletic gear at a retail store. Your ad group contains every keyword under the sun related to the products you sell. You might have several ads under this group, but if someone searches for “men’s soccer clothing,” an ad for “women’s lacrosse sticks” could appear. This bad intent match is an instant turnoff to the searcher, and the chances of them clicking on that ad and converting are slim to none.

Taking the complete opposite approach, some paid search marketers implement SKAGs so that when someone searches for “women’s lacrosse sticks” they will only see the women’s lacrosse sticks ad, since that is the ONLY keyword in that ad group with its own set of ads (usually 1-3 ads with slightly varying copy all around that one keyword). Check out the graphic below to see how these compare to tradition ad groups.


In theory, this seems like a good idea, right? There are many PPC people who believe so. SKAG promoters often rave about this strategy. “By pairing your keywords into their own unique ad groups, you can make sure that the keyword you’re bidding on matches the search terms you’re paying for,” says Johnathan Dane, Founder and CEO of Klient Boost, in a post titled 19 Reasons Why SKAGS Always Win.

And yes, on paper SKAGs sound like a great idea. Ads specifically tailored to individual keywords improve ad relevance, lead to higher click-through rates, more conversions, and better Quality Scores, right? What could be wrong with that?

Well, according to long-time WordStreamer and Director of Customer Programs, Zina Kayyali, this is FAKE NEWS! “You want your ad and landing page to speak to a searcher’s intent. Not necessarily a specific keyword,” says Zina.


Google has gotten better at breaking down longer-tailed, more complex queries. Zina explains how Google is adapting to longer tailed search queries like “Who was the US president when the Angels won in the World Series?” Google has gotten smarter at “natural language search.”

Google has also made changes to shift away from a keyword-centered world. For instance, exact match is no longer as exact as it once was. Google opened up exact match to include re-ordered word and function words like “the” and “for.” They did this to help prioritize the idea of intent over keyword.


Google is also encouraging advertisers to think about targeting audiences rather than keywords; this might even be a motivating factor to them rebranding “AdWords” as simply “Google Ads,” without the words!

Here are some additional reasons why you might want to avoid the SKAG approach in your own paid search account…

#1: SKAGs Are Time-Consuming to Create

The first, probably most obvious reason why single-keyword ad groups are not always a good idea is because they are extremely time-consuming to set up and manage. Just think about all of the keywords already in your account. Unless you’re new to AdWords, you likely have several hundred keywords, if not more. Now think about putting each of those keywords into their own ad groups with their own sets of ads. Sounds like a management nightmare to me…

“Time is money. The monetary gains that you might get from SKAG campaigns are not worth the time that it takes to set up and manage them,” says WordStream Customer Success Specialist Matt Davidson.

Another senior WordStreamer, Navah Hopkins, made a valid point regarding the time suck that SKAGs truly are to a PPC marketer.Google needs there to be at least three ads in each ad group, and it is incredibly time-intensive to create at least three unique ads for the volume of ad groups a SKAG structure represents,” says Navah.

#2: They Create a Mess of Your Account

One common myth around SKAGs is that they are better for organizational purposes. That is another clear case of FAKE NEWS! At WordStream, we find the most successful clients have a very clean and structured account, but with SKAGs your account can quickly spiral out of control with the mass of ads, keywords, and ad groups that accumulate.

“People break these ad groups up way too much so the account has 50 to 100 ad groups, where those ad groups could be easily consolidated in similar themes,” says WordStream Customer Programs Manager Chris Pierce.

“For example, let’s say the advertiser sells TVs. They might want to break down their ad groups to ‘TV warranties,’ ‘best TV warranty,’ or even just ‘warranty.’ But these keywords all encompass the same intent, so muddying up the account with single ad groups is messy – especially when all your ads will be basically the same regardless. So what’s the point? There is none!”

#3: SKAGs Actually Increase Your Odds of Duplicating Keywords

Wait, what? You may have been misled to believe that SKAGs help against duplication, but with Google’s new close variants rules and changes to match type structure, you can end up with more duplicates! And your duplicate keywords will consequently duplicate your ad groups too.


“You could end up bid against yourself with the new rules of close variant: for example ‘marketer’ and ‘marketing’ are now considered the same, and many SKAG ad groups are just variants of other keywords already in the account,” says Navah.

#4: SKAGs Are an Inefficient Way to Manage Your Budget

We’re sure that budget allocation has not left your mind, right? A solid case against SKAGs is the fact that this strategy is an inefficient way of managing your allocated AdWords budget.

“A really valuable keyword might miss out on budget because another campaign/ad group has more data,” says Navah. “By consolidating similar keywords into the same ad group, lower search volume terms can benefit from the halo effect of being in a data-heavy ad group/campaign.”

The last thing to consider is the fact that the more ad groups and campaigns you have in your AdWords account, the thinner your budget is going to be stretched.

“It’s really hard to get a budget to support more than 5-7 ad groups reasonably,” says Navah.


Saying No to SKAGs

OK, so now that you’ve seen some of the downsides of SKAGs, you may be wondering: How many keywords should you have in each ad group?

The answer goes back to intent. “Stop think about single-keyword ad groups and start thinking about single-minded intent,” says Zina. “Keep it old school; tightly knit ad groups with closely related ads will always be a staple for AdWords.”

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