How to Use Single Keyword Ad Groups in Google Ads

Single keyword ad groups

Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs) are ad groups in Google Ads with just one keyword in them. They help PPC marketers gain more control and a cleaner account structure.

Improving your Quality Score, increasing your click-through rate (CTR), reducing your ad spend without compromising results… These are all top-of-mind for PPC marketers using Google Ads.

We increased our CTR by 28.1%, improving our Quality Score from 5.56 to 7.95 (out of 10). How did we do it?

Through single keyword ad groups. While this tactic is not as widely-known as some others, smart marketers are using it to maximize their PPC spend. Here’s what you need to know to do it too.

First, what is Quality Score?

Quality Score is one of the most important metrics within your Google Ads account as it has a significant impact on the cost per conversion you pay.

When Wordstream analyzed over 30,000 accounts, they found that increasing your Quality Score by even just one point could result in a 16% decrease in your cost per conversion.

So, what is Quality Score? At a high level, it’s made up of three distinct factors:

  1. Expected CTR;
  2. Landing page experience;
  3. Ad relevance.
Quality Score factors and example results.

A significant amount of research has been conducted on the weight of these factors in the Quality Score algorithm.

Wordstream once found that CTR and Quality Score were directly correlative.

Similarly, AdEspresso found that increasing ad relevance and CTR drives down the cost per click (CPC), likely signalling a Quality Score improvement.

Adalysis found that ad relevance and CTR make up 61% of the Quality Score algorithm.

What are single keyword ad groups?

As the name suggests, single keyword ad groups are ad groups with just one keyword in them.

At the moment, you likely have several keywords per ad group. In fact, for a long time, Google suggested that you add 10-20 keywords per ad group.

But the problem with doing this is that it’s very difficult to write ads that are highly relevant to all of the keywords within your ad group.

Multi Keyword Ad Group example.

That’s what is holding you back from achieving the high Quality Score you’re looking for.

For example, you can see below that there are several different keywords that trigger one ad…

Example of all keywords triggering an ad.

You will notice that the ad is not actually all that relevant to all of the keywords. It would be impossible to write an ad that is highly specific to all of those keywords.

To show you how this translates, here is Google’s search results page for the term “women’s red dresses.”

Example of red dresses search results

You will see that the only advertiser that has written a highly specific ad is Asda, who has the search term (“women’s red dresses”) right in the headline and in the display URL, making it appear the most relevant.

With single keyword ad groups, there is only one keyword that can trigger your ads, so you don’t have to create generic, vague ads.

Instead, you can actually include the keyword that people are searching for within your ad copy, improving ad relevance, just like Asda.

The impact is that your increased ad relevancy triggers a CTR increase and, eventually, a Quality Score increase.

How single keyword ad groups improve Quality Score

At Clicteq, we conducted a study that looked into the impact of implementing single keyword ad groups. We paired this with an ad copy testing strategy as well.

We found that single keyword ad groups increased CTR by 28.1% over the two month test period. They were also instrumental in improving Quality Score from an impression weighted average of 5.56 to 7.95 (out of 10).

Average Quality Score graph

The graph below shows the improvement in CTR from 3.85% to 4.93%.

CTR Improvement graph.

The research was carried out on a Google Ads account in the education sector.

During the test period, the average position of the ads stayed constant at 2.4, which would suggest the improvement in CTR came from implementing the single keyword ad groups. There were also no changes to the ad extensions or keyword set, which could result in an increase in CTR, polluting the data.

How to ensure data reliability in single keyword ad groups

With PPC, testing works a little differently. The main issue with ensuring that test results are reliable is the fact that search results are never static—they are all dynamic.

For example, if you search for something and then refresh the page, you will find that there are different ads. Most advertisers have their ads showing in 50-80% of searches, depending on their budget.

Most advertisers have several different ad copy variations, too. So you are likely to have 40 or so different ads in a pool. Then your ad will be selected by Google to show in some select searches along with ~10 other ads.

So, you tend to get some pollution and you have to work with an average.

The key things to take into account are:

  1. The average position, which makes the biggest difference to CTR;
  2. The number of extensions shown.

How to implement single keyword ad groups

Before we get into how to create single keyword ad groups, it is worth noting that you may not want to put every single keyword into a single keyword ad group.

Creating single keyword ad groups is very time-consuming as you have to create two tailored ad copy variations for each of your keywords.

Instead, you should consider applying the 80/20 rule. This states that 80% of the output of any given campaign is achieved through 20% of the input.

In the case of Google Ads, you are likely to find that 80% of your conversions are generated by the top 20% of your keywords. So you will want to focus your efforts on those keywords and add them to their own single keyword ad groups first.

The four-step single keyword ad group process

Now, on to the step-by-step process.

Step 1: Run a search terms report

Go into your Google Ads account and navigate to the Search terms report after clicking on the Keywords tab.

Search terms report in the Keywords tab in Google Ads.

Step 2: Prioritize

You need to order your Search terms report by the number of conversions. You can do this by clicking on the conversion column header as shown below.

Ordering by the number of conversions in the Google Ads report.

Once you have done this, you will now want to add all the top performing keywords to their own single keyword ad groups.

Step 3: Add all three match types

You will want to add the keyword in all three match types (i.e. exact match, phrase match and broad match modifier) to the single keyword ad group.

Example of adding all three match types.

Step 4: Create specific ads

The final stage is to create ads that are highly specific to your keywords. Here is an example for a training course provider that is selling “3D studio max training.”

An example of an ad highly specific to chosen keyword.

You can see that the advertiser here has included the exact keyword in the headline and the display URL.

The rest of the ad talks about the USP and brings attention to the call to action, which urges visitors to “learn more now.”

You have to be very careful here if the keyword you’re targeting includes the brand name of a competitor.

You need to make sure that you do not include the brand name within the copy of your ad. Otherwise you are likely to get into trouble for copyright infringement.

How to improve the performance of single keyword ad groups

Creating the highest performing single keyword ad group is an iterative process that requires you test different ad copy variations, just like any other PPC strategy.

The only way to see which USP and call to action resonates with your audience the most is to run a test to see which combination improves CTR and ad relevance the most.

Wordstream analyzed data from 30,000 people and found that only one advert in 100 has a CTR six times higher than the average. It also found that only one in 20 ads have a CTR three times higher than the average.

In other words, to achieve CTRs that are three times the average, you will need to test 20 different ad copy variations (on average) before you find the right one.

When we improved our Quality Score from 5.56 to 7.95, we tested 24 ads in the process.

Most people skip a strategic testing process. They end up testing random, insignificant changes to their ads, which results in very little improvement, and they give up.

Start by testing wide

The trick is to start wide, making significant changes to your ad copy. Change your offer or USP. Don’t make small changes, like testing title case vs. sentence case just yet.

Note: Testing single keyword ad groups can take longer than the alternative. But you will likely notice an improvement even before you begin testing.

Choose your three to four strongest USPs and test each one to see which one performs best with your audience.

Here is a good example of a wide USP test.

Ad Copy 1: This focused on the advertiser’s strong customer satisfaction rating.

Ad Copy - first variation.

Ad Copy 2: This focused on their 18 month class retake offer.

Ad Copy - second variation.

When testing, your ads should look something like this:

What ad testing looks like inside a Google Ads account.

Calculating the validity of your results

To determine when your ad copy tests have enough data and have finished, you need to make a quick calculation to determine if there is statistical significance. There are several waysyou can do this, both manually and automatically.

For smaller accounts

If you have a smaller Google Ads account with a few hundred ads, then manually will be the best option for you. Perry Marshall has created a tool, Splittester, which lets you enter the number of clicks and the CTR for your first and second ad. It will then tell you the confidence with which you can determine if one ad is a winner.

Splittester screenshot.

It will then tell you the probability that your ads will have a different long-term response rate. Act with certainty because changes to your USP generally have a large impact on your CTR.

For larger accounts

If you have a larger Google Ads account with thousands or even tens of thousands of ads, then using a tool such as Adalysis that will automatically do this analysis for you and create reports is a better option.

Archiving test information

To keep track of all of your tests that you have run, it’s a smart idea to pause (instead of delete) the previous ad copy variations so that the ad test data will be stored within Google Ads. This will ensure that you don’t end up testing the same offer twice on large scale accounts.

Changes can also be seen within the change log in your account. This can be accessed by clicking Change history from the left-hand side menu in Google Ads, as shown below.

Change history option in the Google Ads menu.

Now, start testing narrow

Once you have done 5-10 wide tests, you should be able to determine which offer resonates best with your audience and attracts the highest CTR.

The next step is to focus on smaller changes. Note that these will not have such large impacts on your CTR.

Here are some factors you can consider testing:

  • Displaying trademarks within the ad copy;
  • Utilizing seasonal headlines;
  • Capitalizing the first letter of every word;
  • Using different punctuation;
  • Using localized keywords;
  • Using dynamic keyword insertion;
  • Using synonyms of words.

The list goes on and on. In fact, these are the types of alternations people make most often to their ads in Google Ads, hoping for huge CTR payoffs.


Single keyword ad groups are an incredibly effective method for increasing both your ad relevance and CTR, which are two of the most important factors in the Quality Score algorithm, making up over 60% of it.

And when Quality Score improves, your CPC decreases.

Here are the five basic steps to follow if you want to set up single keyword ad groups:

  1. Find your top performing keywords.
  2. Add the keywords in all three match types to single keyword ad groups.
  3. Create specific, targeted ads for each single keyword ad group.
  4. Start by testing wide, making significant changes to your ad copy (e.g., your offer, USP).
  5. After that, start testing smaller, more minor factors (e.g., punctuation, capitalization).

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  1. Hey, this looks like a decent tactic, thanks so much for sharing! I have a question, though. Why would you add all three match types? Wouldn’t a BMM cover phrase match keywords anyway?

    1. Hey Justin, They would do yes, You will want to tier your bids so that the exact match keyword would pick up the exact match searches though. This is as the exact match ones are likely to convert better and therefore you might want to appear in a higher position. Alternatively you can instead segment the campaigns by match type and add the exact match keyword as a negative in the broad match modifier campaign if that makes sense?

    2. Thanks for your reply Wesley, thank makes sense. I usually segment campaigns by match type for my clients, so I was just wondering if there was a benefit to have all three match types in one ad group :) Really good strategy!

  2. Thats generally what we do, we segment by the 3 match types. Thank you :)

  3. Thank you for this article. This is exactly what we promote in our agency as well. Makes me quite angry that there are a lot of AdWords Premier Agencies who don’t do this and are just wasting money.

    But oh well, more clients for us and it’s our job to educate them :)

  4. Exactly Marek, there are far to many Ads Premier Agencies that don’t do this, but it makes taking accounts from them a lot easier when you can turn them around very quickly.

  5. I have a question I need an answer to that I have been searching all over for. We have a roofing company that services say 7 specific towns. Each campaign is labeled per town, then adgroups per services, and two ads per adgroup.
    Ex. Campaign: X,Y,Z(Town) Roofing Company
    Ad Group: X,Y,Z(Town) Roof Installations
    Ad Copy 1: X,Y,Z (Town) Roof Installations
    Keywords: The town name, roof, installations
    Ill do an ad group for each service..installation, replacement, repairs, etc .

    My questions are this:
    1. Is this process correct from what you can see?
    2. Am I accurate in terms of the keywords I’m using (only 3 from example above)
    3. And the most important questions of all are….A.) For the two ads that you build….should the headline be different and how so in my case? B.)Because I’m changing the town name for each campaign, do I need to add the other towns that we’re servicing as a negative. And in what manner? ” ” [ ] or + ?

    1. Hey Cory, the set up looks correct to me, I would segment them by location as you have. Keywords wise look to expand your list as it is very limited at the moment, maybe aim for 20-30 keywords. With regards to your third question, I would keep the headline with the keyword in the same and then change the second headline around to create a variant. Yes you should add the other town name as a negative in broad match modifier so +town name. Hope that helps

  6. Wesley, thanks for the reply. I thought that when using the SKAGS method….you only used the keywords that were in the header. For instance the ad from above “Mens Blue Socks”, the keyword (phrase) was Mens Blue Socks……and nothing more. So now I’m completely lost as to why I would have 20-30 keywords in one Adgroup. 20-30 keywords could build another 8-10 Adgroups. Maybe I mis interpreted. For instance, If my Ad is X,Y,Z Roof installations…..why would I have any other keywords beyond those 3?


    1. Apologies If I’ve mislead you here. you can still use longer tailed keywords that contain more words. each of these should be put in their own ad group. So if you had 20 – 30 keywords you would have 20 – 30 ad groups. You might want to have “roof installers in {insert area}” or “Roof installation service”, “roof installation company” for example. Hope that clears things up!

  7. Gotcha. Yes. I have Adgroups for all services as well as those for “company”, “services” etc. Thanks

  8. Nice list buddy . Thanks for sharing with us . It will help me in future

  9. Great insight on using AdWords Wesley, thanks for sharing!

  10. great article! I am learning so much.
    Hi there, my company (party supplies) is new and so I do not know my best keywords at this point. Where do you think I should start in this scenario? Is there a way to see my competitors best keywords or is it likely that they won’t be using SKAGs so therefore it won’t be possible to ascertain? Or any other approach? thank you

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How to Use Single Keyword Ad Groups in Google Ads