STAG vs. SKAG Google Ad Campaigns

Not sure which Google Ads setup is best for 2024? Find out which is better between STAG and SKAG for your grouping of your Google Ad campaigns.

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard — 10 minute read.

Google Ads or PPC marketing constantly updates how it works, so you must keep up with these changes.

A notable shift in strategy is the transition from SKAG (single keyword ad groups) to STAGs (single theme ad groups), the latter being more profitable for PPC advertisers. Many say it’s one of Google’s best approaches, leading to more traffic, data, and conversion rates.

Stag Skag Campaigns

But then again, SKAGs with only one keyword per ad group are famous for their exact match keyword strategy. So, the ongoing debate of which is better — STAG or SKAG, continues.

This guide provides a detailed comparison between both ad group campaigns. We’ll be discussing the basic concepts of single keyword and single theme ad groups.

Let’s jump in and compare STAG vs SKAG type of Google Ads campaigns and the difference between their match types.

Keyword Types

What Are Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)?

SKAG is an ad group campaign strategy involving separate ad groups for each keyword. Assigning a target keyword to specific ad groups enhances ROI, CTR, and ad relevance. This approach improves the overall quality score, reduces costs, and enables website owners to drive traffic, generate leads, and increase conversion rates and sales.

Skag Structure

Moving on to its account structure, SKAGs usually follow any of the below formats.

  1. Ad groups with a massive budget in a single campaign.
  2. A single ad group per campaign with a shared or micro-budget.
  3. A varying number of single-keyword ad groups in one campaign, with each keyword having its own ad group. The budget for each ad group will be set strategically based on the represented products and services.

Consider the keywords “training” and “trainer” — traditionally, they should have their ad groups with negatives to drive traffic. This strategy lets advertisers craft ad copies, leveraging language on the website landing page and ad group.

This should have improved quality scores and helped advertisers control their budgets. In reality, the strategy would deprive the crucial parts of businesses by concentrating the budget only on a few selected ad groups and keywords.

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Are SKAGs Really Dead?

SKAG campaigns have to place all ad groups in one campaign, or advertisers should have micro-budgets for a single ad group per campaign. The latter leads to significant losses, and dumping ad groups in a single Google Ads campaign leads to the poor allocation of budgets.

Furthermore, SKAGs were designed to help match specific search terms people use while conducting a search and the displayed ads. For example, if a user searched for “sugar-free energy bars”, the SKAG would display your ad only to the users who searched using those specific terms.

Simple Google Ads Account Setup Structure

However, since Google updated its concept of close variants in 2018, the ads for the keywords “sugar-free energy bars” can also be displayed to users searching for “zero-calorie energy bars”. The search intent of both users was the same — finding healthy energy bars that won’t add calories.

The shift of Google’s primary focus to keyword search intent created a problem for SKAG campaigns. Before this, an advertiser would bid for exact match types. However, the search term “exact” could also mean “broad”.

Google Ads Match Types Breakdown

The only hope for SKAG accounts was “phrase match”, but even that couldn’t stand against other PPC marketing strategies after the alteration of close variants.

In addition, it was challenging for even the most experienced copywriters to create unique and exciting ads for SKAGs. Nonetheless, SKAG campaigns can work as effectively as before, provided they are not overdone.

How Do SKAGs Still Work?

In any SKAG campaign, advertisers have the ability to show a specific ad for a search query by using exact match keywords. Additionally, they can include close variants of the keywords in the ad group. Still, these close variants should be set as negative keywords to prevent the ad from appearing for unintended variations suggested by Google.

However, overseeing the process and ensuring the SKAG isn’t overdone is important. Otherwise, it might make managing the account structure challenging, reducing returns on investment.

Note that keywords with a high search volume improve the account’s average quality score. So, it’s crucial to strike a balance between scaling the accounts with ad groups and creating a manageable account with the primary keywords grouped in each SKAG campaign.

As an advertiser, you can also build a new SKAG campaign using Google’s 20KAG or 20 keyword ad groups as a starting point. It’s an effective technique and involves grouping up to 20 keywords into matching themes with the help of numeric metrics.

Another impressive strategy we support is the single long-tail broad keyword, with other keywords as exact match type negatives. This will enable you to pick up data on how your target audience might be searching. You’ll also be able to secure them by knowing the right auction price.

What Are Single Theme Ad Groups (STAGs)?

STAGs play a crucial role in driving Google Ads and PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns. These PPC campaigns focus on themes, categorising keywords into groups based on specific themes rather than syntax. STAGs have become a preferred replacement for Single Theme Ad Groups since Google Ads updated its definition of close variants in 2014, which aimed to address plural keywords and spelling errors.

Stag Structure

Unlike single-keyword ad groups, STAG campaigns don’t limit the number of keywords. However, the keywords must match the distinguished themes and the base keyword modifiers.

For example, if the base keyword is a type of profession, while the modifier is “services”, the terms such as accounting services, car hire services, plumbing services etc., will be grouped accordingly. Here “services” is the common theme these keywords share.

Note that a single theme ad group is the best approach for a successful ad campaign as it doesn’t place every keyword into the same ad group. Plus, you get to allocate budgets aligning them with profits.

Keyword Match Examples

Structuring STAGs

Here we’ll discuss the three ways to structure single-theme ad groups (STAGs).

  1. You could use the product or service category as the ad group campaign. Keyword research is the key here, and the audience will govern the ad group.
  2. Use the probability of profit to structure your ad group campaign around. Here the related products and services are the ad groups.
  3. You may also use the location and market as your ad group campaign with products and services as the groups.

Building STAGs in Google Ads

The process to set up STAG account structures is quite simple; follow the steps:

  1. Start by conducting keyword research and compiling a list of keywords relevant to your business, brand, product or service.
  2. Once the list is created, remove keywords that might be overlapping while keeping themes and the match type in mind. Make sure you identify the primary themes and group them accordingly.
  3. Match the keywords to similar-themed groups while adding specific details.
  4. Write an ad copy for each based on the theme and search term variations.

Keyword Research Understanding

Benefits Of A Single Theme Ad Group (STAG)

1. Better Control

You might find grouping keywords based on priority with SKAG campaigns challenging. Using Excel sheets to group keywords and create combinations of match types, producing more than a hundred SKAGs, can make it tedious to choose which ones matter the most.

On the contrary, STAGs can organise these keyword lists to have a group of ten ads instead of hundreds, making it easier to manage.

2. More Impression Data

The strong connection between ad copy and keyword improves quality scores and ensures higher ROI, allowing SKAGs to thrive. You’ll then have to wait for the data to gather on the different ad groups to test ad copy.

This isn’t the case for STAG, as it has more keywords in one ad group, so you won’t have to wait for the keywords to drive traffic. Plus, you’ll get to test ad copy on more impressions per week, leading to informed decisions about which ad copy isn’t working well.

3. Better Automated Bidding Strategies

The Google Ads automatic bidding strategies, like target ROAS and target CPA, are gaining immense popularity. It’s better to use a SKAG account structure instead of overdoing SKAG. The latter will only divide the conversion data across more ad groups, making machine learning and bidding less effective. It will lead to a slower and less comprehensive learning process.

Roas Definition Explanation

You also need impression data for Google’s target CPA to work efficiently. Suppose you create a STAG with three to five similar-themed keywords, having around 1,000 impressions per week. In that case, the target CPA for this ad group will be the most effective. However, the outcome wouldn’t be the same if each similar-themed keyword was placed separately.

Costs Conversions Equals Cpa

Switching From SKAG To STAG

Here are a few tips to transition from SKAG to STAG; this will help you run successful Google ad campaigns.

1. Avoid Pausing High-Performing Keywords

Restructuring or shifting ad groups may not always ensure the best results. Refrain from pausing keywords for SKAGs with a reasonable conversion rate. This will help you get stability instead of building a whole new structure.

Keep in mind that it’s best to use high-performing keywords as the base while setting up a STAG.

2. Pause Low-Performing Keywords

A close variant of any keyword should be paused. Even keyword concepts that may not fit your budget can be scrapped. Dedicate your time to essential group keywords not covered by long-tail extensions.

3. Duplicate The Ad Group Campaign

It’s better to duplicate your ad group campaign before making drastic changes. This is a standard error in PPC; whenever you change, the structure disappears, so there’s no way of returning to the old account.

We’d suggest changing to a duplicate copy of the campaign to keep everything safe. If, by any chance, the new STAG structure doesn’t work well, you could always return to the original STAG as a backup.

Nonetheless, giving the new structure time is equally important to prove its worth.

Conclusion on SKAG vs STAG Campaigns in Google Ads

Despite the changes made by Google, there’s no denying that SKAG is an excellent way to organise ad groups. However, they work best when there are fewer keywords and search terms.

On the other hand, STAGs work better with more similar-themed keywords per ad group. But if you ask us, SKAG and STAG can work side-by-side, provided you get the right balance between the two.

This can help you get an optimum account structure while reducing ad group costs and improving manageability. That being said, STAG account organisation still gets favoured more than SKAGs because of machine learning/automatic bidding and keyword matching strategies.

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is the CEO of sitecentre®, leading his distinguished Australian digital marketing agency using data analytics and Artificial Intelligence in SEO and Paid Advertising. His adept use of machine learning and AI has gained industry-wide recognition, Brodey has received several industry awards for SEO, Web Design and business, including the Young Small Business Champion Entrepreneur 2023 award. With 15 years under his belt, Brodey is amongst Australia’s most influential digital marketers.

Find them on their website: sitecentre®.

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