Step by step guide to setting up single keyword ad groups

Step by step guide to setting up single keyword ad groups

It’s an addiction of mine to look for maximising time and making processes more efficient. One such process which I’ve been trying to speed up is creating my single keyword ad group (or SKAG) campaigns. No feeling is worse than knowing that you’ve wasted time doing a task when there are easier and quicker ways of getting the same results.

It’s a bit like getting that dream beach body. If there was a quick way to get those ripped abs or peachy beach bum, we would all take it, right? Of course we would. Now let me take you through my SKAG gym routine which I believe is one of the more efficient ways of creating perfect campaigns with minimal loss of time.

Single Keyword Ad Group Keyword Research

Now, one of the main benefits of running SKAG campaigns is the reduction of endless time spent doing keyword research (hallelujah),

The SKAG Secret Weapon: SEMrush

Let’s crack out the big guns with my biggest time saver – SEMrush. I’ve been a user of SEMrush for a number of years now and I’m consistently impressed with the new tools they bring to the platform year on year. 

I’ve you’ve not tested out their ppc keyword and ad builder tools then you’re in for a treat. What’s even better is these features are included in the free version of the platform. Of course, the free version has limitations in other areas, but you can get what you need done using the free version.

Anyway, let’s begin.

First, you’ll need a SEMrush account

Feel free to sign up to your free SEMrush account – They offer a 7 day free trial, so you can try the full version before your account gets converted into a free version.

Once you’re in, you’ll be greeted by the dashboard. From here you’ll want to head over to the projects drop down menu and click “create my first project” button. Alternatively, you can fill in the details on the massive green action box in the middle of the screen – up to you!

Creating your first project

I’ll admit, this step is actually an obstacle which we have to overcome to use the juicy tools we’re hunting for. The ppc keyword and ad builder tool isn’t actually affected by the information you place into the new project. However, if you want to use the SEMrush platform beyond just abusing it for it’s fantastic tools, then creating a project with all the necessary information would be recommended.

Enter in your domain address and the project name. 

Now we’re starting to cook with gas! After you create your project you’ll be presented with the project dashboard. Don’t get yourself overwhelmed with all the options you have available, we’re interested in just the ‘ppc keyword tool’ and ‘ad builder’

PPC keyword tool

Oh baby, now we’re talking. This tool is AMAZING.


Say goodbye to your excel spreadsheets (well not quite) and get ready for some streamlined single keyword ad group creation which is golden.

The first step is to upload all the keywords we identified from our original keyword research. You can do this in a few ways, but my preferred method is to copy and paste it manually. The main reason for preferring the manual method is for two reasons 

  1. I don’t have to play around with formatting my Google Sheet document
  2. The totally awesome ‘create groups: 1kw = 1gr’ radio button.

Now, I can’t stress the importance of the ‘create groups: 1kw = 1gr’ radio button. This button is pretty much the reason why SEMrush is such an awesome tool for SKAG creation. Consider it the diamond in an engagement ring, without it, the ring would just be ‘meh’.

I’ve not experimented with the SEMrush open API, but I imagine you can do some clever coding wizardry which allows you to connect your actve Google Sheet keyword data into a project and the ‘ppc keyword tool’. If this isn’t a feature, someone tweet SEMrush the suggestion.

Once you’ve copied and pasted your keywords, you’ll need to enter your location settings. These settings are to allow SEMrush to pull keyword data for the keywords you’re uploading to the platform. This step is necessary to continue, but isn’t particularly useful if you just want to use the tool for creating your SKAGs.

The ppc keyword tool dashboard

After you’ve uploaded your keywords, you’ll be presented with the ppc keyword tool dashboard. Now, don’t let the layout confuse you, the whole tool is easy enough to get your head around once you get going.

The left hand column lists all of your ad groups. If you notice, your manual keyword upload will be placed into a new campaign called ‘default campaign’. To rename the campaign, simply click on the campaign to highlight it and then double click on the text. 

NOTE: The name of the campaign you choose here will be the name of the campaign you create in Adwords.

If you’re eagled eyed, you will have noticed that all of your keywords have been added to the campaign column as single keyword ad groups – great. Now, with the campaign selected (it should be highlighted from when you renamed it), you’ll be able to see all your keywords in the main dashboard area to the right.

With the campaign selected, head over to the main tool area and click on the top radio button to select all the keywords in the list. After doing this, you’ll have all your keywords selected even though they are located in different ad groups. 

Once again, if you’ve been eagle eyed, you’ll have noticed that the default match type (or modifier) when you upload your keywords is ‘broad match’. Adwords principles still apply here when you upload your keywords. If you’ve added the correct match type modifiers into your keyword data, SEMrush will upload your keywords as the match type you’ve specified. However, if you’re lazy like me and copy and pasted your keywords without modification, your match type will show up as ‘broad match’ 

You’ll be pleased to hear that changing the match type is very, very easy.

With all the keywords selected, click on the ‘actions’ button and go to the bottom of the menu. Click the ‘set match type’ drop down menu and change them to either ‘phrase match’, ‘exact match’ or ‘modified broad match’. In this instance, I’ve changed mine to ‘modified broad match’

Hurrah! We now have 1 correct keyword (with the match type ‘modified broad’) in each of the single keyword ad groups. Now it’s time to add the final two match types (‘phrase match’ and ‘exact match’ 

Make sure you have the campaign selected and select all your keywords again.

Click on the actions button and you’ll notice there is an option to ‘add match type’. Click the ‘add match type’ option.

You’ll now be presented with the above area which allows you to add the match type of your choosing. Our goal here is to add ‘phrase match’ and ‘exact match’ to all our keyword ad groups.

At the top of the pop-up, click the match type radio buttons you’re missing from your ad groups (in this case, we’re missing ‘phrase match’ and ‘exact match’) and click ‘apply’. After clicking apply, click the green ‘add match type’ button.

Back to the ppc keyword tool dashboard and all our ad groups have the three match types we need.

Quality of life 

There are a few really nice ‘quality of life’ features of the PPC keyword tool. For example, you can ‘clean’ your keywords and remove any duplicates you may have accidentally uploaded from your keyword list.

However, one of more useful ‘quality of life’ features is within the negative keyword manager.

Uploading negative keywords

In your PPC keywords tool dashboard above the orange action button is the negative keyword tab. Click on the negative keyword tab to be presented with the negative keyword management panel. 

On the negative keyword panel, you can see that the main keywords panel is now split into two; one panel for ‘group level’ negative keywords, and the second panel for ‘campaign level’ negative keywords.

To upload your negative keywords, click ‘+ negative’ green button and import them the same way you would import keywords which we covered previously. 

However, if you want to be proper cheeky and effectively ‘cheat’ your way to a list of negative keywords (who doesn’t want to do that?), let SEMrush do it for you!

Click on the ‘cross-group negatives’ button on the right hand side of the tool and you’ll be presented with the ‘cross-group negatives’ pop-up.

What the ‘cross-group negatives’ tool does (and does relatively well) is scans your all your keywords and suggests where negative keywords should be placed within your single keyword ad groups. 

I’ll admit there are some negatives which it misses, but it certainly captures the bulk of the negatives which would cause your SKAGS to compete against each other. As a rule of thumb, I’ll use the ‘cross-group negative tool’ and also have a scan through my keywords list for any potential negatives which need adding.

The Ad Builder Tool

Right, we’ve got our keywords organised into individual ad groups with all three match type modifiers for each keyword. The next step is to create the expanded text ads to go with our ad groups.

We all know that one of the key selling points of using single keyword ad groups is to boost relevancy score by fully tailoring your ad text to your keywords. Now this part of the process is still time consuming, but SEMrush ad builder does help make the process somewhat quicker. 

You can of course continue to create your expanded text ads using the traditional method of an excel spreadsheet (or within the adwords editor itself), but the ability to export all your keywords, negative keywords and ad creatives from SEMrush before uploading them to the Adwords editor (which we’ll talk about later), really is the breadwinner.

The Ad Builder Dashboard

Getting to the Ad Builder tool dashboard is relatively simple and it can be accessed form the main project dashboard in SEMrush. 

Upon first clicking the Ad Builder tool, you’ll be asked to list your competitor domains and the search database you wish to compare these against. Again, this isn’t necessarily the reason to use the Ad Builder tool, but it certainly is a nice-to-have. 

Why is it nice? After adding your competitor domains, SEMrush will scan your competitor domains for ads which are related to the keywords you’re targeting. This is great if you need some inspiration when writing ad copy for your expanded text ads.

NOTE: Bear in mind that some of your competitors may not have text ads, so don’t expect SEMrush to pull the competitor information all of the time. I’ve often found this the case when doing Adwords campaigns for niche industries.

Within the Ad Builder dashboard we are presented with a few options. The most important options for our purposes are the ‘text ads’ and ‘extensions’ tabs. Let’s start with the ‘text ads’ section and get our ad building underway.

Text Ads

Hey, look! All our single keyword ad groups we created in the ppc keyword tool have come over to the Ad Builder to join the SKAG party.

Great – Now it’s time to embrace our inner Don Draper and get creative. Click on the big green ‘+ new ad’ button to start creating your first text ad. You have two options here, manual or import from .csv or .xlsx. We’ll go with the manual option.

After clicking the ‘+ new ad’ button, you’ll be presented with the Ad Builder pop up. Fundamentally, this is where the magic happens and you’ll be able to build your ad. 

The text ad builder allows you to fully create your expanded text ad. Headline 1, Headline 2, Description, URL paths, it’s all there. The builder even creates a UTM code based on the campaign and ad group. 

NOTE: On the right hand side of the builder, you can select the competitor domains you detailed when first loading the builder to see what text ads they’ve been running.

Before writing your ad copy, you’ll want to make sure the correct campaign is selected as well as the correct ad group you want to write the ad for. When clicking the ad group drop down menu, you can select individual or multiple keywords to create an advert for.

My usual tactic for creating ads with different variants for A/B testing is to do the following:

  1. Write two descriptions which can be created for all the ad groups. 
  2. Use the Headline 1 and Headline 2 areas to place your ad group keywords into.
  3. Write two different headline text variants for AB testing. 

Using this tactic, you’ll end up with 4 ad variants testing 2 different descriptions and 2 different headlines.

Take a look at the table below if you’re having a hard time visualising it.

Ad 1Ad 2Ad 3Ad 4
Headline AHeadline BHeadline AHeadline B
Description ADescription ADescription BDescription B

The method above is more time consuming (because you’re creating more ads), but the rewards for being able to AB test different variants doesn’t need to be explained.

Once you start putting in some ad copy into the builder, you’ll notice the preview box giving you a live example of what the ad will look like on Google.

Posted by Phil in PPC, 0 comments