The structure of your Google Ads campaign can make or break your success. That’s why there’s some contention among PPC marketers around the two most popular structures: SKAG and Hagakure.
SKAG, or Single Keyword Ad Group, was born out of a lack of faith in Google’s broad match keywords. On the other hand, Hagakure, inspired by the ancient samurai text, is a call back to simplicity and minimalism — and to give Google Ads’ algorithm another chance.
But which method is the best to structure your Google Ads campaigns?
Let’s explore the key differences between SKAG and Hagakure, their pros and cons, and share insights and perspectives you need to make your smart choice today.
SKAG stands for Single Keyword Ad Group. It's a PPC advertising strategy where you create separate ad groups for each targeted keyword, with only one keyword in each ad group. Here’s an example of how this type of structure looks like.
An important point to note is that Quality Score is priceless in Google A
ds. Wordstream proved this when they analyzed over 30,000 Google Ads accounts and found that a 1-point increase in Quality Score led to a 16% reduction in cost per conversion.
For Quality Score gains, PPC experts invented the method of isolating each keyword in its own ad group. This translated to highly targeted ad copy and landing pages that closely match the user's search query (meaning higher Quality Score), increasing the likelihood of a conversion.
However, SKAG lost some of its popularity due to updates in Google’s algorithm and constant changes in Search engine optimization (SEO) rules.
This called for more flexible approaches which would allow marketers to create more relevant and targeted ads for their audiences. One such approach is the Hagakure method.
The Hagakure Method takes advantage of the modern capabilities of Google's Ads machine learning algorithm through dynamic search ads (DSAs) to simplify campaign setup and management. And it promises great results.
Below is an example of how the Hagakure structure looks like.
Unlike the SKAG method with one unique keyword on the ad group level, the Hagakure Method simplifies the account structure by putting all keywords that use the same landing page in one ad group. This structured storage of data helps Google's algorithm recognize patterns and make connections, leading to faster and better results.
So, which method is better?
Let’s weigh them side by side according to vital campaign structure characteristics:
Which is better?
Now let’s look at each of these in detail:
The SKAG structure requires setting up individual ad groups for each keyword, which can result in a complex account structure that’s time-consuming to manage.
Hagakure is the opposite. It simplifies the account structure by sorting ad groups by keywords that use the landing page. This is incredibly easy to manage in comparison.
Also, while SKAG relies heavily on manually optimizing different keywords and their match types (often exact match keywords), Hagakure allows Google's algorithm to automatically optimize campaigns based on data collected through broad match keywords, smart bidding, and goals such as maximizing conversion or targeting ROAS.
“In the good old days, running SKAG campaigns on Google Search was so much fun and satisfying. You could modify every single aspect of your campaigns and those technical changes would make a big impact.
The downside is that it was time-consuming and sometimes made the PPC campaign manager role more of an executioner than a marketer that sees the big picture of the brand's strategic goals.”
Shalev Morag, Director of Performance Marketing at ThriveDX (via LinkedIn)
If you’re looking for a Google Ads structure that is easier to manage, opt for Hagakure.
Here, the Hagakure method has the advantage. With SKAG, each keyword has its own ad group, which can lead to a very complex and unwieldy account structure, especially when dealing with a large keyword list. This can make it difficult to scale up campaigns efficiently.
This is a known issue in Google Ads circles:
“Time is money. The monetary gains that you might get from SKAG campaigns are not worth the time that it takes to set up and manage them.”
Matt Davidson, WordStream Customer Success Specialist in The Case Against SKAGs
On the flip side, the Hagakure method has a more set-it-and-leave-it style. This makes it easier to scale into hundreds of keywords. Plus, it allows Google's algorithm to recognize patterns and make connections more easily, resulting in faster and better results.
SKAGs win here most of the time. This is because they are structured in a way that allows for specific ad copy to be written for each keyword. Sometimes close variants of the copy are adapted for similar keywords.
This leads to a higher level of ad relevance, which in turn can result in higher Quality Scores and lower cost per click (CPC).
But SKAG is an older approach from 2015-2016. Since then, Google has improved its Natural Language Processing (NLP) ability to understand long-tail keywords and more complex queries.
It has also shifted away from a keyword-centered world and prioritizes the idea of search intent over keywords. That’s why broach match keywords are more favorable today.
The Hagakure takes advantage of this by relying heavily on Google's algorithm to determine which ads are shown to users and which keywords are more relevant.
But some PPC experts today still prefer not to leave this to Google’s algorithms and swear by SKAG.
“We put a lot of effort into building out SKAGs for top driving keywords, and it pays off every time. It's the opposite of leaving the account to the Google gods to run, but the epitome of why PPC is such a profitable marketing channel. We give the searcher exactly what they're looking for, which ensures the highest chance of conversion.”
Kat Sale, Co-Founder at House of Performance (via LinkedIn)
And some believe Hakagure would benefit Google more than it benefits your business:
“Google offers us not to bother with campaign settings, keyword selection, and separate remarketing at all. Simply create one All-in-One campaign and rely on Google's algorithms. Why does Google consider this approach the right one? Because it will make more money for Google. Everything is simple.
…In fact, the truth is somewhere in the middle and successful advertising combines elements of automation and manual control.”
Igor Ivitskiy, the Founder of Google Ads School (via LinkedIn)
With one keyword to one ad group, SKAG allows for more granular ad testing and optimization. Hagakure doesn’t afford such liberties since you have to step out of the way of Google’s algorithm as it automatically optimizes ads based on the data collected.
This saves your time and effort but it means much less control over ads and landing pages for each keyword, which some advertisers may not be comfortable with.
The SKAG method gives you control over your ad spend, allowing you to allocate more budget to high-performing keywords, fully utilize negative keywords, and pause poor-performing keywords.
This level of control can lead to a higher cost per conversion since you are bidding more aggressively on the keywords you think will perform best.
The Hagakure method, however, relies on Google's machine smarts to optimize your campaigns automatically, which can sometimes result in a lower cost per conversion, especially when it’s still gathering data to learn.
Regardless of the ad campaign structure you choose to go with, there’s a right way to make the most of your choice.
Regardless of structure, if you have clear visibility of your ad campaign’s health in real-time, you’ll achieve and often exceed your campaign goals.
Think of a central marketing dashboard that doesn’t overwhelm you with data but instead gives you an instant glimpse of vital campaign metrics and alerts you whenever KPIs trend up or down.
Adriel’s marketing dashboard does that for you and more. Aggregate all your ad campaign data, not just from Google Ads, but from 650+ channels in one place. Set goals and track performance in real-time. White-label reports and the actual dashboard in a few clicks!
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The choice between SKAG and Hagakure Google Ads campaign structures heavily depends on your goals and budget. Some marketers prefer SKAG because it reduces their reliance on Google’s often unreliable algorithms, while others prefer Hagakure because it’s more flexible and scalable.
You can always run test campaigns for each method and see which campaign produces better results. On Adriel, you can launch campaigns, analyze and compare results, and turn campaigns on or off natively – without having to go in and out of different ad platforms.