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Improve Your Google Ads Performance By Using SKAGs

written by

Gleb Karpovich

Digital Marketing Freelancer at SoftwareSupport

Take Control of Your Ad Performance

We live in the world of automation. There are more and more tools that require minimum input from humans to work, and online advertising is certainly an area where a lot of automation and simplification have been happening.

It is not to say that this is in any way bad, or that you don’t need professional marketers, and I would argue that in the world of automation, they have even more value now. Anyone can use automated tools to create a simple ad, but only an expert would know if the algorithms are working as they should or not. And sometimes you need to get your hands dirty.

What are SKAGs?

SKAGs mean single keyword ad groups. The basic idea is very simple: let’s say you want to use the keywords “best men's shoes in Dublin” and “best women’s shoes in Dublin” you create a separate group for each keyword, instead of putting them into one group.

First and the most obvious benefit of this approach is that you will have separate ads for each keyword and you can optimize ad copy for each keyword. This way you target a specific audience and show them the specific message that is relevant to them.

SKAGs are very specific – only one keyword triggers an ad.

How SKAGs help break Iceberg Effect

In simplest terms, Iceberg Effect is when the keywords in your ad campaign don’t match the search terms your ads appear for.

Why is that bad? Well, because you are really paying for search terms and not for keywords, and if your search term doesn’t match your keywords, then you are attracting the wrong traffic.

Match types in Google Ads help control the size of your “Iceberg” to some extent, but it is not perfect, and SKAGs allows marketers to have even more control.

Other benefits of SKAGs

Even though SKAGs are all about keywords the core of the idea is a granular approach and you can extend it beyond keywords. You can use a granular approach based on location, time, device, day of the week, etc. For example, you can have a separate ad campaign to promote your online commerce store for London and Dublin; or a separate campaign for computers and smartphones.

And to go even further, you will have very precise control of how you spend your budget on ads. You can use different bidding strategies for different campaigns, you can have different budget limits for each ad campaign.

Another benefit of SKAGs is higher CTR. If you ever had a problem with ad campaigns not generating any traffic (or very little traffic) it’s time for you to try SKAGs.

Of course, all of this takes time. SKAG approach is all about granular control of different elements and with how many options are available to us, things can get too complicated. So you have to be very deliberate in how much control you really want.

Setting up SKAGs

When you create your first SKAG campaign there are two basic steps: 

1. Creating ad groups, based on root keywords.

2. Keyword refinement.

Root keywords are very simple and basic short-tail keywords. If you are selling online music mixing services for musicians, you can start with a very simple keyword, like “online mixing services”, and you don’t need to have a hundred keywords and can start with as low as one keyword. There is also no need to do extensive keyword research at this stage, we will make Google give us the best and most relevant keywords at the refinement stage.

Once you have several root keywords (or one) you start creating your ad groups. A general rule of thumb is to name Ad Group the same as the keyword. For the keyword “online mixing services” you need to create an Ad Group name “online mixing services”. 

When you create an Ad Group, add root keyword in phrase match and exact match. Your Ad Group will look like this:

“online mixing services”

[online mixing services]

The next step is Ad Copy. This is where you can be as creative as you’d like, but the rule of thumb is to use the keyword as one of the headlines in your ad copy (preferably pinned as Headline 1). When you are done with creating ads you can just launch your campaign.

Keyword refinement

What you will see is that your SKAGs will start to generate different search terms. This is good. Let’s say our initial SKAG generated the following search terms:

  • online mixing and mastering services
  • mix and master online free
  • fiverr mixing
  • mastering and mix music online

The first thing you do is identify completely non-relevant search terms and add them to a negative keyword list for the group. In this case “mix and master online free” is the first choice for a negative keyword list, since we are selling the service and want only paying customers. 

Then you identify relevant search terms, for example, “online mixing and mastering services”. What you need to do next is to add this keyword as a negative keyword on an Ad Group level (not a campaign level), and then create a separate Ad Group for this search term. That way, your shorter-tail keywords won’t steal impressions from your more specific long-tail keywords.

If you want your new SKAG to generate more search terms, you can add a keyword as a phrase match and exact match. If you want your SKAG to be as precise as possible use only exact match. But the most important thing is not to let shorter tail keywords steal impressions from long tail keywords (or any new SKAGs you added to your campaign). 

I really like this approach because you base your keywords on real search terms used by real people. You don’t need to use any 3rd party service for your keyword research or spend days collecting keywords. Google will tell you how people actually look for products and services.

Is it magic?

Yes and no. SKAGs can be helpful in a number of ways. The most obvious benefit is that they can generate more traffic and generally have higher CTRs. You know your traffic better and you can target your ads with more precision. It’s easier to get high quality scores for ads with SKAGs, which in turn can improve average positions, CPC and impression shares.

With the SKAG approach you decide how much control over your ads you want, and how much leave for automation. But SKAGs take more time to set up and they can dilute data. SKAG campaigns can be hard to manage and can be time-consuming. Even though personally I really like this approach, sometimes it is not necessary.


SKAG approach can seem like a very simple concept on the surface, but in reality, it can be incredibly complex and complexity can come not just from having one hundred Ad Groups in a campaign, but from multiple places. With this article, I wanted to introduce you to this idea and show some concepts of how it can work, but in practice, there are so many ways SKAGs can work that it would be impossible to cover everything in one article.

And you are not just limited to search campaigns and can be used for social media ads and display ads. The core idea of SKAG is creating a granular structure, but how exactly you will implement it is up to you.

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written by

Gleb Karpovich

Digital Marketing Freelancer at SoftwareSupport

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