What on Earth is a SKAG, & Why Is It The Best Thing for My Google Ads Account


Alex Corral

Aug 4, 2017


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Search Engine Marketing

I know that you are probably thinking, "what on earth is a SKAG?"

The shortest answer is that it is an acronym. The slightly longer answer is that it is an acronym used to describe how you structure your account in Google Ads. Talk about a mouthful.

This acronym can help you zero in on your potential customers in Google Ads when they are searching for your hotel. The days of targeting a broad match keyword like "hotels in San Francisco" are over. Your customers expect you to be there with relevant messaging for all of their search queries throughout their booking process.

Your property must show up during these travel mico-moments. "I-want-to-get-away moments," "Time-to-make-a-plan moments," & "Can't-wait-to-explore moments" are all part of the equation. This means that only focusing your PPC strategy on "Let' s-book-it-moments" is not going to yield better results for your hotel.

Whatever your particular case is, I will explain what a SKAG is and why it is the best thing that you can add to your hotel's Google Ads account.

What is a SKAG

The term SKAG stands for Single Keyword Ad Groups. They are a way that many paid search professionals structure their Google Ads accounts. When I implemented this structure, I could see their benefit almost immediately, and I honestly think that you can too.

A few of the things that I noticed after applying SKAG's are:

  • CPC's (cost-per-click) go down - meaning that there are more clicks to be had for the same budget -- hello opportunity!
  • Better relevancy in the accounts - The people that we were bringing over to the website were of better quality. They were staying longer, and they were performing more of the actions that we wanted them to take on our sites.
  • The account was more enjoyable - Weird, I know, but since the account was organized differently, it was easier to see patterns and trends. Getting ahead of the curve is crucial to yielding the best results.

I can continue to rave about single keyword ad groups, but first, I will show you other common structures in the industry.

Other ways of structuring a Google Ads account

The general form of setting up a paid search account.

There are a whole bunch of ways that you could structure your account. One way is that you can organize them by the general layout of your website. If you have a menu item that is titled "running shoes," then you would want to have a campaign that is dedicated to "running shoes." In this campaign you would probably have adgroups for the types of running shoes, i.e., Nike, Adidas, etc. or you would break them out by men, women, kids, etc.

This sounds like it might be a good idea, but getting a broader view comes with setbacks - especially when it comes to hotels. Think about it. How many people search for "Queen 2 Beds" or some other naming convention like that?

The other thing is managing your budget. Using our previous example, let's say that one shoe brand performs better than the others. Wouldn't you want to throw more money at that one? Then you might ask yourself, are women's shoes outperforming mens? You would be hard-pressed to find these answers quickly. Sure, you could find them, but it would be more work.

I won't even bring up the issue of negative keyword management, because that would be an entirely different article. Just know that the time savings on implementation are lost because of the need for more extensive negative keyword management 

I have chosen only to use this type of structure in one campaign in an account. I set the bids low and use it more for query mining. I look for keywords that I might have missed in the Search Queries Report. I have found some hidden gems.

If you are going to go general - for the sake of saving time, then I urge you to look at another common way of structuring your account.

Structuring the Account-Based on Your Audience

If you are at all going to go general, then you should at least layer in some audience context into your strategy. What I mean by this is, say that your company has determined that 26-35-year-old males are your best performing segment in terms of Average Order Value of Customer Lifetime Value, or whatever metric it is that you use to gauge the success of an initiative. Knowing this can help you when selecting your key terms and when you are setting up your campaigns because it adds context. The language that resonates with this type of customer is different than the language that would please that type of customer in the same age bracket.

If you want to use this type of approach, then I would suggest following something like VAL's Segmentation. It is a well-researched segmentation method that takes into account a person's values, attitudes, and lifestyle. It groups them into different categories that I have found to be very helpful when figuring out broader targeting options.

You could also structure your account based on a user's position in the marketing funnel. I am a big proponent of the AIDA model, but you could use any marketing funnel that suits your needs. AIDA stands for Awareness/Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. With paid search, almost everyone wants to go after the conversion terms. But, if you are new to the space, or do not have an established brand, then how are people ever going to know that you are an option? Setting up your account with different campaigns for each step of your marketing process will help keep the bucket of leads full at the top. The other campaigns then have to guide people over to the conversion campaign.

Structuring an Account By Keyword Type

Ahhhhhhh. Now we are getting somewhere! In my honest opinion, if you were going to use any type of time-saving structure, this is what I would recommend. This allows you the freedom to set bids at the campaign level -- making budget allocation more manageable. You could hypothetically set something up that looked like this. VERY-very low bids for your broad match modified keywords if you wanted to get some "Search Query Insight." The insights that you pull from this report could help you load up on a list of keywords that you can set up in a Phrase Match campaign group. You could bid more competitively on these words and possibly set them up with first page bids so that you can test them out. Then you could figure out which are your best-performing phrase match keywords & put their corresponding search queries into an exact match group. This group would command the bulk of your budget since these are the exact words that you know perform well for your business. You could bid for the first position, and voila!

Sounds good, right? Well, it is good, but there is one structure that I think is better. For just a little more effort, you can get a bit more.

Single Keyword Ad Groups

Holy-guacamole are these fantastic. To quote Tony The Tiger --- They're Grreeeeaat! All puns aside, though, this type of structure is powerful.

It is powerful for a multitude of reasons, but the main for me are as follows:

  • More granular control over what ads get shown with what keywords
  • More Google-Friendly (more on this in a minute)
  • More efficient, not less time spent, but more efficient use of time to deliver better ROI

The first two points kind of go hand in hand. The reason why SKAG's work so well is because you have more precise control over what the customer sees when they type in your keyword. Keywords carry context behind them. Let me repeat that - Keywords carry context. Say it with me.

Take, for example, the most basic of examples, the keywords best hotels in [insert your city] and best hotel in [enter your city]. On the surface, they look the same, but contextually they are different. The plural is looking to compare hotels and will most likely be searching for an aggregator. *shakes fist in the air at OTA' s*. The person who is looking at the singular only wants the best. If you can get that top spot, and you fulfill this promise, then you can get these customers.

Side note: Google has recently changed its rules regarding matching, read more here: Google to further dilute exact match in AdWords; will ignore word order & function words.

The reason that I still choose to use the variations is that I feel that they are contextually different. If you read that article, you will see that Google SHOULD let them be since they are contextually different. I have not seen anything with these specific keywords that would lead me to believe otherwise, so I will still offer this up as advice.

If you have single keyword ad groups, then you can control the messaging. The plural could highlight why you are the better choice among your competition. The singular could showcase what makes you the best option period. Since you are giving the searcher precisely what they are looking for, Google will reward you. This will typically come in the form of a lower CPC, better position, or more impressions. This way, you are only paying for the exact people that you want to target. Since you are giving them exactly what they want at a lower price, then your ROI should improve.

How can you start with single keyword ad groups

I think that the Google Ads interface is clunky. This feeling is amplified if you are trying to build out SKAGs regularly. It is for this reason that I suggest getting the Google Ads Editor. If you are comfortable in the spreadsheet environment (and even if you are not), then I would suggest that you get it. It will make managing these SKAG's a breeze. In one quick CMD + C to CMD + V motion, you can replicate everything about an adgroup, and just change the keywords that are associated with the group. Want to test something out? Copy and paste away. This will allow you to keep your structure organized.

Once you have the Editor, then you can start to build out your SKAG's. I like to set one campaign up in the traditional interface. I don't know why, but I guess I just feel more comfortable in that environment when setting bid strategies and whatnot. Once I have the campaign ready, I do a simple CMD + Shift + T in the Google Ads Editor to import the recent changes into that interface.

Since I have already vetted it (and so has Google, kind of) in the desktop version of Google Ads, I feel more comfortable simply copy and pasting the ad groups for my SKAGs right in the Editor. I then add my Campaign Negative Keywords to my SKAG campaign and hit CMD + P. That publishes the changes that you made. In a matter of seconds, you have built up your SKAG groups.


It might take a little more time to get the hang of things in the beginning, but once you figure it out, you will reap the rewards. Saying that it takes too much time doesn't fly anymore. The advancements to the Editor make this task much easier than it once was. If you are getting more bang for your buck, why wouldn't you use this approach? It seems like common sense to me. Just take your time learning these tools, and you will be fine. If you have any immediate questions, feel free to contact us or reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter.

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