Optimizing your Google Ads strategy using SKAGs.

Written By:

Ruben Gees

July 22, 2020

In this blog post you will learn:

  • How most companies configure their Google Ads account and how Google teaches you how to configure it.
  • The shortcoming of this approach
  • How you can use the Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) strategy to make sure your ads are shown when they have to be shown.
  • How Single Keyword Ad Groups will significantly reduce your cost per conversion because of high ad quality score.
  • How you can use the SKAG approach to identify the right keywords for your ad campaigns.
  • Which tools to use to help you with running the SKAG strategy.

Earliest Google Ads days (it was still called Google AdWords) were great. There was almost no competition which allowed people to easily define some broad matching keywords and grow their business. Today you might have noticed that this strategy is no longer working. There is so much competition on all the keywords and so many granularity into what a keyword can mean (for instance, if you would have a business in Apples, how can you make sure people are not looking for the newest iPhone?) that advertisers find it hard to attract the right audience.

The next step is typically to hire an agency and outsource your Google Ads account. What happens next is a monthly presentation on the keywords and the ad copy they have created. Furthermore, they will tell you, we have had x impressions, y clicks and z conversions, where a conversion is typically someone who left her or his contact details. But are these THE metrics you should be measuring? What percentage of your new contacts are really valuable? How many sales will you close in the next days, weeks, months, years? Can an agency even do this job for you without knowing the complexity of your product?

I’m sure it's useful to let an agency help you, especially if you’re short on time and to do some brainstorming exercises. But I don’t believe it is a good idea to allow them to take over one of your lead generation channels. And that said, running Google Ads for most B2B companies shouldn't be a full time job. So how to get started?

How most people configure their Google Ads account

Typically when you just start with Google Ads you’re a little overwhelmed by the layout of the Google Ads tool. Google has a tutorial which will help you in a step-by-step process to configure your first campaign. You create the name of your campaign and you go to the next step writing your first ad copy. You write a nice short engaging text and hit the continue button. Next step? We have to define some keywords. You write a first one, for instance Google Ads and google will prompt you with some other keywords you could include, like Google Ads Expert, or Google Ads Implementation, Google Ads Management and Google Ads Configuration. You decide to go for it and you start your campaign.

At first, it looks like there is nothing wrong with this approach. First of all, Google has helped me to define campaigns like this. Every single person that ever learned about Google Ads was thought to go for this approach. I’ve worked a little with marketing interns in the past and that’s how they teach Google Ads at universities and colleges as well. So it must be right, no?

Well, let me show you what the problem is with this approach. Typically when you start with Google Ads you will get a budget from your C-level. Let’s assume we get 100 euro a day to play with and how this turns out to our experiment.

An example list of Google Ads Keywords
Table 1: An example list of Google Ads Keywords

So our different keywords have a different amount of search volume. Google Ads in this example has for instance 10.000 searches a month and Google Ads Implementation only has 100 searches.

Now what is wrong with this? Can you see how all your budget is going to the keyword Google Ads, because it has the highest search volume? But who says that Google Ads is the best key word in our campaign. And with best I mean, is it the key word that will result in the most sales? If I want to sell my services as an Google Ads Manager for instance, the very broad keyword Google Ads might also trigger clicks (and even conversions as in new contacts) from people who are just looking into using Google Ads themselves for the first time.

Everyone knows you can’t run an ad on such a keyword like Google Ads because its too broad and as such a complete waste of money. But let's have a further look at our example. The keywords 'Google Ads Implementation' and 'Google Ads Configuration' only take 0.85 euro of our budget. If showing an ad for this keyword costs 1 euro, it will probably never be shown. Maybe this low search volume keyword is a golden keyword, because it has next to no competition and results in a direct sales opportunity? But how can you make sure that when someone types in one of your golden keywords that there is still budget left into your account to show the ad? Google doesn’t differentiate. They just try to make sure that you have a max amount of impressions, a max amount of conversions (which is typically getting a new contact for longer sales cycles) and try to make sure you hit your budget on a daily basis. Furthermore, they will give priority to show high search volume keywords as they’re not going to take the risk to loose on income and keep part of your budget aside when accidentally someone types in a low volume keyword.

Google Ads will show the ads related to the keywords in red when the budget can be depleted using the other keywords?
Table 2: What are the odds Google Ads will show the ads related to the keywords in red when the budget can be depleted using the other keywords?

So the actual problem is, you can't distribute the budget being allocated to a specific keyword and often the keywords that have lowest search volume result in the best conversions. Combining low search volume keywords with high search volume keywords will cannibalize any potential traffic to your low search volume keywords which might be the better keywords.

What are Single Keyword Ad Groups?

A Single Keyword Ad Group or SKAG is what it says. It's the creation of a new campaign for every single keyword you want to advertise on.

You're probably thinking... Every single keyword? So no more broad matches and phrase matches? Well no and yes, we will still use these techniques but not to run our actual campaigns. We will discuss the use of broad matches and phrase matches later when we're talking about finding the right keywords.

But for SKAGs no, we will create a full campaign for every single keyword and every keyword is from the exact match type. But you told me I wouldn’t be spending too much time on my ad account anymore? Yes yes, further in this story we will discuss some approaches to simplify this significantly.

Image 1: A lonely keyword in a Single Keyword AdGroup in Google Ads

So, for every single keyword we now have a dedicated campaign. Great! That solves the issue above. If I want to spent 10 euro on a specific keyword, I’ll be sure that the budget will only be used to show that specific ad when someone enters my golden keyword in Google. And there are some other advantages. If there is low competition on the keyword I’m pretty sure Google will show my ad, even if my bid is low. If there is high competition on the keyword you have a high chance of getting a high quality score, because obviously all ad copy and ideally the landing page is aligned to that single keyword. This might even allow you to be positioned in first place, at a below first place bit.

Now, you might think, but if I can’t use broad matches and phrase matches, I need a massive amount of keywords. And yes, that’s true.

How to generate a massive amount of keywords to be used in Google Ads?

What follows is a little tricky to follow because it will get a little complex. Typically people will come up with keywords using the key word generator in Google Ads, use a third party tool, or talk to an agency to come-up with good keywords. Now I would strongly advise you to stop doing that. You will only know if a keyword is good, if you ran an ad with it, and you see that after running that ad, the contact converts in a sale over a period of time.

What I’m trying to say is, you should work the other way around. See what keywords work and convert them to a Single Keyword Ad Group.

So we will be spending part of our Google Ads budget on identifying what keywords are out there and which ones are working. How? Broad matches and phrase matches!

Let’s start with our example. I’ve defined 5 keywords but actually I have no clue if they are valuable at all. So what will I do? I’ll define a campaign with just the keyword "Google Ads" as a phrase match. My advice would be to start with a phrase match and later turn it into a broad match, at the end of the paragraph I'll explain why.

After a day of running my keyword like that, let’s say for 50 euro. I might have gotten 50 clicks on 30 different matches with my phrase match. For instance, one person found my website by typing ‘Google Ads Tutorial’ in Google, someone else by typing ‘Google Ads Getting Started’ and a third person with ‘I would like to hire a Google Ads expert in Belgium’.

Which of the three do you believe would have the highest chance to convert? I believe every expert will tell you that if someone is looking to hire an expert in Google Ads in Belgium the latter named keyword has the highest rate to convert and the other two are probably bad keywords.

Image 2: Keyword generation through phrase matching Google Ads and classification of keywords in Negative Keywords and SKAGs.

Now comes the daily task you need to do and which doesn’t take a lot more than let’s say 1 hour.

First, you want to make sure that your broad searches are not shown anymore to people who type in mediocre keywords. So, you include the key words ‘Google Ads Tutorial’ and ‘Google Ads Getting Started’ to a list of negative keywords. As a result, your phrase match will not be triggered anymore with those keywords, and will generate new keywords for you.

Second, you create a SKAG based on the keyword that looks good, in this example ‘I would like to hire a Google Ads expert in Belgium’. Like this you make sure that whenever someone types in that keyword, your ad is shown.

Finally, you ad the keyword ‘I would like to hire a Google Ads expert in Belgium’ to the negative keywords list of your phrase match keyword, to make sure your keyword generating ad will never be shown when the SKAG needs to be shown.

Image 3: The SKAG exact match keyword needs to be included as a negative keyword in your keyword generator to make sure it will be the only keyword in your account to trigger your SKAG.

Congratulations, if you carefully followed our step-by-step approach you just constructed a real marketing lead generation machine. Your configuration will generate keywords, the keywords get dedicated ads and in no time you will have +1000 very specific ads up and running.

Now there was one last question… why start with a phrase match and only later go to a broad match?

My answer: I would start with a phrase match, because you will be 100% sure it includes your main keyword. When it stops generating keywords (and believe me, after a while it will because you might have thousands of negative keywords added to that campaign) you can look broader by allowing Google to even change the main keyword.

The weekly Google Ads meeting

What are we currently still missing? Well, you still don’t know if a keyword is triggering sales or not? Is it generating the right contacts?

If I’m by myself I do a weekly evaluation of my keywords. When I’m steering a team I request the digital marketeer to prepare me a report on a weekly basis.

So we will be evaluating the keywords. If you're using a good marketing automation platform like Hubspot or Marketo, you’ll be able to attribute the keyword to the correct contact. So actually you can evaluate if its a really good contact or not.

It’s exactly what I require to see in the report. How many valuable contacts did we get and how many non valuable did we get per keyword. Did we get 10 bad contacts for a single keyword and 0 good ones, remove it immediately except if you really believe its that unique. If I recall my statistics courses well, you would need to evaluate around 50 contacts to make a sound decision. If on the other hand, you've noticed that out of 10 contacts you have 5 good ones, you can safely remove the budget cap you've set on your campaing and maximize the potential revenue out of a single keyword. Now its just a job to measure and improve. Which keywords can I include, how can I improve my ad copy and how can I improve my landing pages to maximize conversion.

Tools to simplify the SKAG approach

It looks very scary to start with SKAGs because how will you manage that many campaigns by yourself? Luckily there are tools that can help you significantly.

The first tool you can use is Google Sheets or Excel. Why? Because you can upload complete campaigns in Google Ads as a CSV/Excel file. You can either export it through Google Ads itself or, you can use the Google Ads Editor tool.

Instead of going through the endless screens of Google, you can now define the ads by writing lines. As 90% of your configuration will be the same (like country, time you would like to show your ad,...) this will simplify your work significantly. You will most probably even spending less time on maintaining your ad campaigns using a google sheet over using the Google Web Console.

The second tool I recommend is also free and is called Google Ads Editor Tool. Its available for download here. Why do you need it? To deactivate your campaigns for instance. If you want to deactivate 100 SKAGs in one click, this tool will make it far more easy for you to do so.

Image 4: Google Ads Editor Interface

A final tool I recommend is called Opteo. You might have noticed it is on my homepage, because I absolutely love this tool. What does it do? It will do a continuous analysis of your SKAGs. For instance, if someone else started to do a bid on a keyword it will tell you this and suggest to increase your bid. If your bid is too high it will suggest you to decrease the bid. The best thing? Every day you just have to click a few buttons and your Google Ads campaign is updated. Opteo is not free, and at a rate of at least $97 a month it looks pretty expensive. However, everyone being serious about Google Ads is probably going to spend more than $97 a month on ads and Opteo will make sure you’ll get a maximum of qualified leads for the money you’re spending on ads.

Image 5: Automating SKAGs management using Opteo

Is SKAG the only strategy you need to run Google Ads?

No, but it's definitely the most important one. SKAGs are your Google Ads engine, that will make sure that you spend your budget wisely. Some other techniques exist and can be very effective, but that’s for another blog spot. So feel free to leave your e-mail address if you would like to get notified when I publish a new one.

Where can we help?

As you probably know by now, Geezer Agency has no ambition to take over the Google Ads strategy in your company. We want you to start using SKAGs and make it part of one of your lead generation tactics. And that is where we can help. How to implement SKAGs into your bigger marketing strategy? When is the right time to start with SKAGs? I want to get started but I don't have the right skills in-house? No problem, we're here to help. Feel free to drop me an e-mail if you would like to know how your organisation could benefit from using SKAGs.

Good luck growing your business!