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Category: Digital Marketing

Is SKAGing Still a Formidable Paid Search Keyword Strategy?

February 27, 2021

As paid search evolves with Google Ads’ continuous advancements, is Single Keyword Ad Grouping (SKAG) still a viable strategy for effective paid search management? This is a question many paid search marketers are grappling with.

Paid Search Marketing Technology Has Evolved

Over time, Google Ads has worked to revolutionize its bidding algorithm and ad serving sequences by applying its deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI). Leaning much more on its AI than its machine learning, Google has evolved its technology to better understand user intent. Therefore, Google Ads has slowly moved away from semantic keyword query relevance.

This move started some years ago with Google’s implementation of responsive-based text ads, which allows for the most relevant headline and descriptions to be served that align most with the search query.

Subsequently, Google Ads made a major pivot with the introduction of dynamic search ads, which are not keyword-based but based upon landing page or website content. This major shift truly indicated Google Ads’ underlying interest in taking more control out of the advertiser’s hands and causing many to rethink their paid search keyword strategy.

The introduction of dynamic search ads indicates Google Ads’ underlying interest in taking more control out of the advertiser’s hands and causing many to rethink their paid search keyword strategy.

The Future of Paid Search is Dynamic

google user on laptop about to be targeted by paid search marketing

While keyword-based campaign strategies are still viable and effective, Google Ads is placing more emphasis on its dynamic approach.

This appears to be part of a larger vision for Google Ads to move towards its dynamic search ad direction.

Industry experts contend that in five years, paid search marketing will be a keyword-less environment, which is more strictly controlled by Google and how it intent-based methodology will supersede advertisers’ ability to control search relevance.

Further evidence of this has shown by way of Google Ads’ multi-variant match concept.

Review of Google Ads’ Paid Search Match Types

In years past, Google Ads maintained strict adherence to its keyword match segments: broad, phrase, and exact match types.

Google then slightly deviated with the addition of the broad-match modifiers, which was a welcome improvement for advertisers to more accurately specify keyword matching. This, however, wasn’t recognized as a deeper intention of Google Ads to shift control.

Most glaringly evident was Google Ads’ implementation of its multi-variant match.  This allows Google to determine, based upon its AI, which is the most relevant match that’s based upon the query itself and website content.

While convenient and requiring less manual attention in terms of keyword mining and extension, it’s another example that Google Ads intends to take greater paid search control, leaving the advertiser less able to manage more strategically and surgically.

So, all of these changes have impacted more tried-and-true traditional paid search keyword strategies.

The Birth of Single Keyword Ad Groups

meeting table with google’s quality score keyword measurement data report on it

In past years, when Google Ads maintained strict adherence to its match-type segments, an exact match was indeed just that — an exact match. Single Keyword Ad Grouping was a revolutionary paid search keyword strategy that was devised to capitalize on Google’s Quality Score keyword measurement protocols.

Quality Score, consisting of expected click-through rate, expected ad relevance, and expected landing page relevance, is the key to a successful paid search keyword strategy.

Advertisers quickly understood that an increased Quality Score led to high ad ranking and more cost efficiencies.

The most direct and effective way of influencing the Quality Score was — and still is — making text ads as relevant as possible.

The most direct and effective way of influencing the Quality Score was — and still is — making text ads as relevant as possible.

Thus, the concept of keyword SKAGing originated.

chart showing single keyword ad group SKAG method

How the SKAGing Method Works

The main focus is to add one keyword — and only one keyword — to only one ad group, allowing for the specific tailoring of that ad with that one keyword layers deeply into the headlines and text ad descriptions.

This approach maximizes text ad relevance to influence the Quality Score.

Optimization of the landing page is also a priority to impact overall Quality Score.

Thus, the combined effort of improved text ad relevance and landing page relevance impacts the expectant click-through rate.

This methodology has been a trusted approach to paid search management for years. Most recently Google Ads announced the suggestion of leveraging more broad match keyword types to  drive wider intent appeal, allowing its Smart Bidding to capitalize on that intent rather than keyword semantics.

Single Keyword Ad Groups: The Final Analysis

So, with all of the recent advancements of Google Ads’ attempts to improve paid search marketing outcomes, do Single Keyword Ad Groups work?

While Google intends to evolve its deep-learning integration in its smart bidding processes and its match variants, there’s still a useful, meaningful need to SKAG keywords.

While Google intends to evolve its deep-learning integration in its smart bidding processes and its match variants, there’s still a useful, meaningful need to SKAG keywords.

Testing your paid search keyword strategies is the best option. Test single keyword ad grouped campaigns against full broad-matched campaigns with multiple keyword sets across categories. Using Google’s Drafts and Experiments is a perfect way to test out performance. Setting both SKAGed campaigns against broad-match campaigns over a two-month period will give ample time for the algorithm to understand nuances in matching queries to the best-represented keyword selections.

Measuring outcomes should provide indications as what’s best performing and will allow for data-driven decision-making as a course for ongoing optimization.

In the final analysis, keyword SKAGing will always be relevant — though maybe not to its past extent.

Until Google Ads goes all-in on a dynamic search ad model, test and retest to find the right combination of campaign setup and structure. Finally, prepare for Google Ads’ advancements and embrace change.

Brian Lange
About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience, Brian is a seasoned marketing professional with a proven track record of delivering insights and action that drive client success. His specific areas of expertise include programmatic digital display media planning and buying; search engine marketing; social media/content marketing; search engine optimization; website development; and customer relationship management.

Connect with Brian on LinkedIn. Brian Lange has written on the Blast Digital Customer Experience and Analytics Blog.

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