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STAG vs. SKAG Google Ad Campaigns

Not sure which Google Ads setup is best in 2021? We break down STAG and SKAG campaigns and reveal our findings on which one is best. A data-driven break down of SKAG and STAG Campaigns.

Photo of Brodey Sheppard
Brodey Sheppard
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Google Ads or PPC marketing is always updating the way it works, so you have to 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. In fact, many say that it’s one of Google’s best approaches as it leads to more traffic, more data and higher conversion rates.

Stag Vs Skag Campaigns

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

In this guide, we provide 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 campaigns and the difference between their match types.

Example Of Keyword Types

What Are Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs)?

As the name suggests, SKAG is an ad group campaign with one keyword per campaign. It includes a target keyword for specific ad groups and can, hence, improve ROI, CTR and ad relevance. This, in turn, improves overall the quality score and reduces costs, allowing website owners to drive traffic, leads, boost conversion rates and sales.

Example Of Skag Structure

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

  1. Ad groups with a huge 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. Here the budget will be set strategically according to the represented products and services.

That said, consider the keywords “training” and “trainer” - traditionally, they should have their individual ad groups with negatives to drive traffic. This was a strategy that let advertisers craft an ad copy, leveraging language on the website landing page and ad group.

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

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 campaign leads to the poor allocation of budgets.

Furthermore, SKAGs were designed to help create a match between 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 conducted the search using those specific terms.

Simple Google Ads Account Setup Structure

However, ever 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 is what created the problem for SKAG campaigns. Before this, an advertiser would bid for exact match types. However, now 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 to this, it was challenging for even the most experienced copywriters to create unique and interesting ads for SKAGs. Nonetheless, SKAG campaigns can still work as effectively as before, provided they are not overdone.

How Do SKAGs Still Work?

Advertisers can display a specific ad for a search query as exact match keywords in any SKAG campaign. They can also add close variants of the keywords in the ad group, setting them up as negative keywords so that the ad doesn’t appear for any of the close variants that Google may suggest.

However, it’s important to oversee the process and make sure the SKAG isn’t overdone. Otherwise, it might make the account structure difficult to manage, 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 the grouping of up to 20 keywords into matching themes with the help of numeric metrics.

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

What Are Single Theme Ad Groups (STAGs)?

STAGs help drive Google Ads and PPC (pay per click) campaigns; they are ad groups that focus on themes. In other words, keywords are categorised into groups based on specific themes rather than syntax. They have been successfully replacing Single Theme Ad Groups since Google Ads updated its definition of close variants, which was first introduced in 2014 for bypassing plural keywords and spelling errors.

Example Of Stag Structure

Unlike single keyword ad groups, STAG campaigns don’t have any limit to the number of keywords. However, the keywords have to match the distinguished themes, which are basically the base keyword modifiers.

For example, if the base keyword is a type of profession, while the modifier is “services”, then 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 keyword ad group. Plus, you get to allocate budgets aligning them with profits.

Keyword Match Examples

How To Structure 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. Remember, keyword research is the key here and the ad group will be governed by the audience.
  2. Use the probability of profit to structure your ad group campaign around. Here the corresponding 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.

How To Build STAGs?

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

  1. Start by conducting keyword research, compiling a list of keywords relevant to your business, brand, product or service.
  2. Once the list is created, remove keywords that might be over-lapping 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

With SKAG campaigns, you might find it challenging to group keywords based on priority. 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 score 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 number of keywords in one group, so you won’t have to wait for the keywords to drive traffic. Plus, you’ll get to test ad copy on a higher number of impressions per week, leading to informed decisions related to 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 make use of 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. As such, 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 By 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 good conversion rate. This will help you get stability instead of having to build a whole new structure.

Keep in mind that it’s best to use the 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 group important keywords that are not covered by long-tail extensions.

3. Duplicate The Ad Group Campaign

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

We’d suggest making changes 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, it’s equally important to give the new structure time to prove its worth.

Conclusion on SKAG vs STAG Campaigns

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

On the other hand, STAGs work better with a higher number of 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 cost per ad group 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.


Photo of Brodey Sheppard

Brodey Sheppard

Brodey is the CEO of sitecentre and a data-analyst in the SEO, Paid advertising space who uses machine learning and AI to advance sitecentre as an industry-leading digital marketing agency across Australia.

Find them on their website: sitecentre, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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