Google Ads works best if your ad is exactly what a person is looking for.
That sounds simple, but as an advertiser, it's not always easy to do.
There are a lot of different search query combinations and many search queries are completely new even for Google.
To run successful search campaigns, you'll need to cover a large number of keywords, ideally creating your own ad for each one.
To do this effectively, you must balance the granularity of the campaigns with the time it takes to create them.
Individual keyword ad groups (also called SKAG) provide an answer to this challenge.
However, Google ads are not identical to the first release of this strategy. So in this article we'll look at what SKAGS are, whether they're still relevant and what other options you have.
What are individual keyword ad groups?
If we look at the different ways you can organize a Google Ads campaign, it looks like this:
The two extremes are:
- Extreme 1: Mess – an ad group with all your keywords
- Extreme 2: Ad groups with one keyword – one keyword per ad group
At one end, you have a campaign with a single ad group with hundreds of keywords.
A simple example illustrates the problems with this approach:
If you're selling books and adding every keyword related to your products in just one ad group, the same ads will show for "adult novels" and "children's books."
Your ads will not match search queries, resulting in low CTR and low conversion rates.
At the other extreme, there are single keyword ad groups (or SKAGs) that are simple: Each ad group contains a keyword and has its own custom ads. This means that you can create an ad that is 100% equal to what someone is looking for.
For a long time it was a very good approach to handle almost any kind of campaign. However, the SKAG strategy has lost its effectiveness in recent years.
Before looking at the details of what has changed and how you can customize your approach, let me give you an example.
🚨 The danger of becoming too granular (case study)
The main danger to the single keyword ad group is that you get too detailed and lose control.
To show you what a too detailed presentation looks like, let's take a look at Rent the Runway's Google ad campaigns.
Rent the runway rents designer clothes. They are a fairly large company and target keywords that have a huge search volume.
Below is a list of different keywords, their keywords, and the campaign that serves the ad:
Search query 1: Kleidungsabo
Keyword: (Subscription clothes)
Campaign Name: Google – Nonbrand – Subscription Boxes – Exactly
Search 2: Kleidungsmitgliedschaftsbox
Keyword: + clothing + membership
Campaign Name: Google – Nonbrand – Subscription Boxes – BMM
From these two examples, Rent The Runway has set up campaigns for exact match and BMM keywords (modified broad match keywords). And it works pretty well.
Let's take a look at another set of keywords:
Search 3: Mietkleid
Keyword: (rent a dress)
Campaign name: Google – Nonbrand – Rental – Dress – Exact
Search query 4: Kleiderverleih
Campaign Name: Google – Nonbrand – Rental – Clothes – Exact – tCPA
The last two examples illustrate the problem we face with just one keyword in ad groups.
It seems that Rent The Runway has different campaigns for exact match for "dress" and "dresses".
This is correct in the first example. The search query is "Mietkleid" and is matched with the campaign "dress" (singular).
But the second example, even for a single search query, is served "clothes rental" from the plural campaign.
The problem I want to illustrate here is that they took the time to create two separate campaigns for one or more searches. It does not work as intended.
Since both campaigns can be viewed, it's difficult to set different bids or assign different budgets to those campaigns.
And this is a company with a huge ad budget. So if you suffer from it, you have the same problem.
Do not worry, if it's not 100% clear, we still have plenty to do cover
The benefits of individual keyword ad groups
In this section, you'll learn why ad groups with a keyword have been so popular in recent years:
- Boost your clickthrough rate
- More control over your bids
- Easy to learn and to teach
1. Upload your clickthrough rate
When acquiring SKAGs, your CTR can increase significantly.
The first reason is simple: you mention the search query in your ad.
This makes your ad more relevant compared to ad groups with many different keywords.
In the picture below you will see the search results for "Sunglasses for Men".
Of these 4 ads, only 2 advertisers (# 2 and # 4) use the keyword in the headline. Warby Parker even uses the phrase three times!
Also note that the search query is in bold in the ad. This increases the attention.
In ad # 1, nothing is mentioned about men. This affects clickthrough rate, which affects the Quality Score, and requires them to pay dearly for this top spot.
The second reason CTR can increase is that you can target the intent behind a search query.
If someone is looking for a "Flexon Garden Hose Test," he knows he still chooses this particular product.
Your ad can fix this in a variety of ways in the copy of your ads:
- High quality garden hose
- Technical data and ratings.
- Large selection of garden hoses of the highest class.
This clickthrough rate boost sends positive signals to Google and improves your Quality Score over time.
2. More control over your bids
Because you've separated all the important keywords and match types in your campaign, you can set a specific bid for them.
For example, you might find that a largely match-modified keyword outperforms its counterpart match. With this setup, you can adjust your bid accordingly.
In some industries, such as For example, dietary supplements, CPC amounts can range from $ 5 to $ 10. Then you need all the control to make sure your budget is spent effectively.
3. Easy to learn and teach
What to do next to optimize your campaigns usually depends heavily on the exact situation.
The approach of SKAGs is much easier. You can follow a checklist when to split additional keywords and start your day.
This makes teaching easier, especially in an agency environment where most Google Ads experts have a similar approach.
For this reason, in my opinion, this has made a significant contribution to the popularity of the SKAG strategy.
The disadvantages of individual keyword ad groups
But it's not just sunshine and rainbows. The SKAG strategy has some obvious disadvantages:
- Creating individual keyword ad groups is time-consuming
- Hard to keep track of
- Slower display test
- Low-volume alerts paralyze your campaign
1. Creating individual keyword ad groups is time-consuming
Setting up your Google Ads campaign with a SKAG approach takes a long time, especially if your Google Ads account contains hundreds (or even thousands) of keywords.
First, you'll need to duplicate and optimize all the different ad groups and keywords.
It's harder to create specific ads. Ideally, create 2 ads for testing in each ad group and for commonly used keywords 3.
This can be a slow process, although there are ways to move faster, especially at the beginning.
2. Hard to keep track
Similar to the previous section, it can be difficult to keep track of your SKAG campaign as the number of ad groups increases.
If you have hundreds of ad groups, each has its own report on ads and keywords to keep track of. (And continue)
This is not insurmountable, but these accounts look frightening when you open them. This can be a big disadvantage for beginners.
3. It takes longer to test ads
The more ad groups you have, the more traffic will be distributed to them.
This means that it will take longer to determine which ad performs better.
An ad group with ten keywords, achieving 1000 clicks per month, will achieve much faster results than a campaign with the same 10 keywords in 10 different ad groups.
4. Low volume alerts will affect your campaign
This is less of a disadvantage than a misapplication of the approach.
If you're a little too enthusiastic about creating new ad groups, you might get "low search volume" keywords.
This status seems harmless, but here is what Google says:
"Low search volume" keywords are associated with very low search traffic on Google. (…) For this reason Google will temporarily disable these keywords so they do not trigger your ads.
This effectively means that you will not run ads for that particular keyword. This leads to a great waste of effort.
The way is not to get too granular. Only divide keywords into their own ad groups if they receive at least 20 to 30 searches per month.
Are individual keyword ad groups still relevant in 2019?
The above-mentioned disadvantages have always been present, but the SKAG strategy has nevertheless proven itself.
In recent years, however, Google has made many changes that have had a profound effect on individual keyword ad groups.
The extent to which these changes have made this strategy useless is a current issue in the per-per-click community.
The core of SKAGS (focus on increasing CTR) still makes sense, but the approach needs to be adapted to the current landscape.
In this section, you will learn what has changed and how you can tailor the SKAG strategy to leverage this approach in Google Ads.
Further development of the matching options
Keyword options are the foundation for Google Search Ads.
They seem to be straightforward, but in recent years many changes have been made to the actual operation of these match types.
Let me give you a brief overview.
2014: Google introduces narrow variants
These Close variants are search terms that are similar but not identical to your keywords.
Examples of narrow variants are spelling mistakes, singular or plural forms, stemming, abbreviations and accents.
A search for "garden hose" would also trigger ads for "garden hoses". This meant that creating specific ad groups for single and multiple keywords was useless.
2017: exact match is extended
The close version fix has already expanded the meaning of exact match meaning, but Google has not stopped here.
Next, they added rearranged words and adding or removing function words.
This meant that (light blue jeans for men) and (light blue men's jeans) triggered the same search terms (and are essentially the same keywords).
2018: Synonyms and intentions are exactly the same
At the end of 2018, Google expanded the exact match type even further.
From then on, matching keywords could also trigger ads for synonyms and paraphrases AND searches with the same search intent.
- Robot Mower Cost = Robot Mower Price
- Garden hoses = water hoses
2019: Synonyms and intentions are formulated and largely adapted
Not surprisingly, all the exact match changes were applied to the other match types.
These changes have increased the number of impressions and clicks for most advertisers, resulting in more money for Google.
For retailers using the platform, it has become more difficult to control which searches your ads are shown for.
The consequences for SKAGs
All these changes have made it harder to create the right ad groups for individual keywords. Here are the issues I've seen in my own campaigns.
The promise of individual keyword ad groups was clarity about which ad matched which search query.
The changes discussed above have made things much more chaotic.
If multiple ad groups can serve to the same search queries, you've just done more work for yourself.
Google recognizes the keywords as duplicates and has a hard time predicting which keywords match the search term and which bid to link to.
Although your keywords and ad groups do not compete (and do not price), it's much harder for you to manage your campaigns.
Negative keywords can starve your campaigns
With the SKAG approach, you divide appropriate size searches into your own ad groups.
Then add this keyword to the original ad group as a negative keyword to prevent old ads from showing.
A problem with very detailed campaigns is that this filtering does not work as expected and the total number of clicks decreases.
If you're targeting high-volume keywords, you may not notice the difference.
However, for keywords with 20 to 30 searches per month, too many negative keywords can actually starve the account.
Problems with budget allocation and optimization
A new argument against SKAGs in light of Google's changes relates to optimizing budget allocation.
The argument is that if you skip too much (if a campaign contains hundreds or even thousands of ad groups), your budget will be thinned too thin.
Using any of the automated bid strategies will make it harder for Google to use the algorithm to decide which changes to make.
I have not seen this in my own experiments, but it's something I have on my radar.
The IBAGS strategy
After pointing out all the mistakes in the SKAG strategy, I will finally come up with some answers 😎
I used the SKAG approach as soon as I heard about it. However, due to all the aforementioned changes, I have also adapted my approach.
This is what has led to that IBAGS or Strategy for targeted ad groups,
What are Targeted Ad Groups (IBAGS)?
The IBAGS approach takes up what has worked with the SKAGS approach and adapts to the changing landscape.
The biggest difference lies in the relocation of the Focus from keywords to intent,
Instead of focusing on keywords, we'll create looser ad groups that combine keywords with the same intent.
Matching with the intent of a viewfinder means that our ads are about what a viewfinder wants to achieve.
Who is looking for "garden hose price" or "garden hose price" is price conscious. And our ads must have an answer.
This means we can not blindly focus on the number of clicks in the search term report, but need to understand what a person is looking for and whether that intention is already factored into our structure.
SKAGS vs IBAGS
Before I show you how to implement this strategy in your campaigns, let's show you how intent-based ad groups are stacked against individual keyword ad groups.
|Matched with the match types from 2019||No||Yes|
|Difficult to learn||Easy||medium|
|Negative keywords||metric tons||Moderate|
To create targeted ad groups
With all this theory behind us, it's time to crack.
In the following I start from zero. If campaigns are already running, the approach below will continue to work, but you will need to adjust it here and there.
1. Seed Keywords: Foundation
Regardless of which campaign structure you use, you still need to start your keyword research. (We will not cover it in detail here, so take a look at this article!)
These startup keywords fill your first ad groups.
I usually do a lot of keyword research, but I do not use all the keywords I found.
I always try to create ad groups for the categories, brands, and product levels, as long as the search volume for the keywords allows it.
Here's a quick and dirty check I did for "Garden Hoses":
Alone from this list already results in a rough structure. I would group the keywords in the same colored field in the same ad group.
Ad group 2 thus contains: garden hose reel and water hose reel.
Ad Group 5 contains Flexzilla garden hose.
Further keyword research would perhaps result in a more in-depth search of the various Flexzilla garden hoses that would be further split off (ibagged).
One thing you should look for is not to waste the effort of starting with ad groups whose keywords are scanned only 10 to 20 times a month.
If these keywords have interesting search volumes, they will appear in the search report. (I'll show that below.)
I'll add these keywords to the three match types of these keywords.
So for example:
- Substantial agreement changed: + garden + hose + reel
- Phrase matching: "Garden Hose Reel"
- Exact match: (Garden hose reel)
I did not include the broad match keyword in the example. This is because it is the least restrictive match type option. This means that it will be displayed for a large number of search queries. We want to avoid this with our new structure.
Pro-Tip: use the Google Ads Editor Create ad groups and ad keywords. It is much faster and makes it easier to copy / paste, replace text and samples.
2. The IBAGS and bidding strategy
Intention-based ad groups barely differ from other campaign types in terms of bid strategy.
If you start with manual CPC, set a maximum value. Ad group-level CPC.
After your campaigns have been running for a while, you'll get more insights into the performance of keywords and their specific keyword types in your campaigns.
Then you can adjust these bids accordingly.
3. Write ads for your IBAGs
It was pretty easy writing ads with single keyword ad groups. You take the keyword and repeat it a few times in your ad.
At the moment we have fewer ad groups, but all are grouped by purpose. This means that people who are looking for these keywords mean essentially the same thing, although the exact wording may be slightly different.
That means we have to be as specific as possible in the ad.
Here is the process that I follow:
Repeat the main keyword.
This will increase the relevance of your ad to your viewers, CTR, and Quality Score.
As the wording of the keywords in the ad group changes slightly: garden hose or water hose, some may not realize that this means the same thing.
This could affect the CTR. To avoid this, you can experiment with dynamic keyword insertion:
Unique selling proposition (USP) or differentiating feature. Can be something like "free shipping and return".
The description text is the part in which you can really play in the intention.
If the keywords include price or cost, talk about your pricing. If it's category searches, specify the size of your catalog. When users search for reviews, indicate how users rate your product (or store). When you write a product-specific copy, you talk about the benefits and features of the product.
Finish with a clear call to action (CTA) at the end.
The viewing path is another place to show potential visitors that you have what they need.
Usually, I try to reuse the keywords.
In this spacex poster ad I'm trying to show that I have a whole category for SpaceX posters:
In another example, a retailer shows that he has the product someone is looking for:
Give your ad groups a cherry on the cake with ad extensions.
Pro-Tip: Create at least two dramatically different ads for each ad group to improve CTR over time. Turn ad rotation to Optimize.
Pro-Tip 2: Ignore the Responsive Search ads for now. In all my tests, they fare worse than the Expanded Text Ads.
How to optimize IBAGs campaigns
As with all Google Ads campaigns, the real work starts as soon as you start your campaigns.
This is how I optimize my campaigns.
Immerse yourself in the search term report
For most of your initial tuning work, use the Search Terms report.
There you will find new keywords that you missed during your research or that you did not find.
If there is a volume (> 20 clicks in the last 30 days), add it to your existing ad group.
If there is some volume, but the intent of the keyword is different, you can split it into a new ad group.
You can then add this keyword as negative to the original ad group.
Here's the "Search terms" report (the last 30 days) for an ad group containing our launch keyword "Robotic Lawn Mower":
- Robot lawn mower – 123 clicks
- Robot lawn mower price – 42 clicks
- Husqvarna robotic lawnmower – 35 clicks
- Honda Robot Lawn Mower – 28 clicks
- Robot Lawn Mower Reviews – 25 Clicks
- best robotic lawnmower – 21 clicks
- Robot lawn mower costs – 18 clicks
- Electric Robot Lawn Mower – 15 clicks
- Robot lawnmower comparison – 6 clicks
- Husqvarna robotic lawnmower price – 5 clicks
- Robot mower for large lawns – 3 clicks
Based on the following report, I would make the following decisions:
- New Ad Group: Search for "Cost and Price"
- New ad group: Search for "husqvarna robot lawn mower"
- New Ad Group: Search for "Honda Robot Lawn Mower"
- New ad group: "Lawn mower robot"
- Add "best lawnmower robot" to the original ad group as the keyword for a phrase
The other search terms have potential but are not yet displayed.
You'll also find many negative keywords that you might want to exclude from your campaign. You can also do this via the search term report.
As you work to refine your campaign structure, you can optimize your bids.
First, your changes focus on visibility. Increase the maximum CPC if you are not receiving traffic or lower it if it gets too expensive.
But as the days, weeks and months pass, the actual sales performance will determine your choices.
You may become more detailed and set different maximum keyword-level CPCs.
Once you've achieved a consistent performance from your campaign, it's worth working with automated bid strategies such as the target ROAS.
IBAGS Ad Testing
Another benefit of using the IBAGS approach over SKAGS is that it allows testing of ads much faster.
If you've created two ads in each ad group, you should see a clear winner after 100 to 200 clicks.
Break the performance of the low-performing ad and create a new variant of the winner ad.
If the performance of both ads (clickthrough rate and conversion rate) is very similar, it's probably because these ads are too similar.
Stop one of them and write it a little bit more drastically.
Future-proof search campaigns with IBAGS
Intent-based ad groups are a solid alternative to one-keyword ad groups. They shift the focus of keywords to intent.
This ensures that your CTRs, Quality Factors and CPCs are competitive and responds to Google's evolving keyword matching options.
When used correctly, this approach increases the performance of your Google Ads campaigns.
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