Do you need to improve your AdWords Quality Score? Do you want to understand what Google wants from you as an advertiser in exchange for a decent Quality Score and lower click prices? Today I will teach you the ins and outs of the algorithm and show you how you can tweak your account and site to influence each Quality Score factor.
*Update: I have been contacted by a source inside Google and updated two points in the post accordingly*
I am constantly surprised at how little advertisers really understand Quality Scores. If you put in a little effort, you can reap some very tangible benefits and come out leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.
SECTION 1: QUALITY SCORE BASICS
While Quality Score is relatively simple to grasp as a concept, it’s a little more complicated in practice. Stasia, an AdWords Seminar leader, gives you a nice introduction to the basic concept of Quality Score in the video below:
Get the Flash Player to see this Google AdWords tutorial about building your keyword list.
Back in the good old days, AdWords was based on a pure auction-based model. If you bid more than another advertiser on a keyword, your ad would appear higher and ultimately get more clicks (and hopefully sales). Back in 2005 when Google introduced the Quality Score, it changed everything.
No longer could search results be flooded with irrelevant ads of those with massive budgets. Many advertisers were very upset, but a unique opportunity arose for those with smaller budgets and the inclination to put in a little hard work — perhaps people like you. With the refinement of the Quality Score algorithm and the great scam / affiliate flush of late 2009, there has never been a better opportunity for those advertisers with a quality product or service and a little time to try to understand Quality Score to really reap the rewards. Are you ready to learn more about Quality Score? Let’s get started.
Why Quality Score Is Important.
Quality Score is extremely important because it can make or break your campaign (and in some cases, your business). Quality Score determines how much you pay for your advertising on Google and how much exposure you get. You wouldn’t place a TV or magazine ad without knowing how much you have to pay or how much exposure you would get, would you? Brian Carter, a humorous motivational speaker and the Director of Search for Online Marketing Agency Fuel Interactive shares some interesting client information over on Search Engine Journal on the inverse relationship between Quality Score and cost per click (CPC). I have reformatted the data below:
As you can see, the higher your Quality Score, the lower the price you pay per click. Also, as you will see below, the higher your Quality Score the more exposure you will get as AdWords uses Quality Score to determine what Ads are placed in the coveted 1-3 search results above the organic and local search results.
SECTION 2: QUALITY SCORE FACTORS
Types of Quality Score And What They Impact.
According to Google, there are two “types” of Quality Scores. The AdWords help documentation goes into a little more detail, but the guys over on PPC Hero pretty much nailed it in their Quality Score Handbook (Essential reading by the way) when they said:
Search Network Quality Score is different from Content Network Quality Score. Also there are different Quality Scores for setting minimum bids and ranking ads for the Content Network, Quality Score and the maximum cost-per-click determine the ad rank on content pages. For search, Quality Score, along with maximum CPC, determines ad rank and determines promotion to top of page.
The Google & Search Network Variations/Exceptions.
There are slight variations to the Quality Score formula when it affects ad position and first page bids:
- For calculating a keyword-targeted ad’s position, your landing page quality is not a factor. Also, when calculating ad position on a Search Network placement, Quality Score considers the click through rate (CTR) on that particular placement in addition to the CTR on Google.
- For calculating first page bid, Quality Score doesn’t consider the matched ad or search query, since this estimate appears as a metric in your account and doesn’t vary per search query.
- CTR on Google network, CTR on Google Network impacts QS on the Google Network, not on Google.
The Content Network Variations/Exceptions.
The Quality Score for calculating an ad’s eligibility to appear on a particular content site, as well as the ad’s position on that site, consists of the following factors:
- The quality of your landing page
- The historical CTR of the ad on this and similar sites
The Quality Score for determining if a placement-targeted ad will appear on a particular site depends on your campaign’s bidding option.
If your campaign uses cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) bidding, Quality Score is based on:
- The quality of your landing page
If your campaign uses CPC bidding, Quality Score is based on:
- The historical CTR of the ad on this and similar sites
- The quality of your landing page
Brad Geddes of bgTheory has a handy Quality Score chart with all of this information (reformatted for this post) :
SECTION 3: IMPROVING YOUR QUALITY SCORE
Now that you know as much as Google is prepared to share about Quality Score, how it is calculated, and roughly how much weight is given to each factor, what factors can you as an advertiser realistically influence? As it happens, quite a lot! Let’s go into each of the major factors and look at what we can improve.
Improving Your Quality Score for the Search Network
The CTR and historical CTR of the keyword and the matched ad on Google
The CTR of your ad / keyword pair is by far the largest factor in determining Quality Score. The important thing to remember is that the CTR is normalized to your position so your CTR is judged good or bad for Quality Score reasons based on the performance of other ads currently and historically in this position.
Bidding more to move up to the number one position will more than likely improve your CTR, but it will rarely do you any good if your ad doesn’t get a better Quality Score than other ads have received in that position in the past. The goal here is to make your ad so relevant and enticing that the searcher just has on click on it. You can explore the topic of Improving CTR in more depth in some of my previous posts.
It is also important to aggressively research and add negative keywords. This will increase your CTR and reduce your exposure to those searching for something you do not provide. Consider running an AdWords Search Query Performance report daily or weekly, mining your server log files, or checking your Analytics account for negatives and add them to your campaign negative list. Matthew Mierzejewski has also written a fantastic post on this topic and detailed how negative keywords impact Quality Score.
A final historical CTR improvement tip: always bid (and bid high) on your company or brand name. You will get a massive boost in historical CTR because 70%+ of the time, your ad is what searchers are looking for. You will pay pennies per click and decrease the normalized Quality Score and historical account CTR of any competitors bidding on your brand or company name!
TIP: Here is an extremely important article showing the importance of CTR when determining quality score and reinforces where you, as an advertiser, should be focusing your efforts.
Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account
Account history is a tough one and is subject to a lot of speculation. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of it to be true. Advertisers with older accounts which have performed well in the past have a huge advantage over advertisers with new accounts. It can take anywhere from 1 week to 4 months to “shake off” a “bad history.”
This is also what some people refer to as the account level Quality Score. It is not so much a type of Quality Score as it is a factor. Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done here with a new account apart from making sure that you have a solid understanding of the factors to get your account off to a flying start (ie: a high CTR off the bat).
If you have an old account with a poor historical Quality Score, you might feel tempted to create a new account to counteract this. This is against AdWords’ policy. If you want to be on the cutting edge and have an appetite for risk, you can beta test new AdWords search ad formats. New formats generally show huge CTR improvements before they settle into the consciousness of Google users. It’s also important to note that the AdWords system treats an edited ad like it’s brand new and has no performance history. According to the FAQ here:
Ad position is partly determined by an ad’s relevance to the search query as well as its historical performance on Google. Editing your ad, therefore, can affect its position.
The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
A relatively new addition to the QS family, historical CTR of the display URL in the ad group is an easy one to get right. Make sure you initially split test the hell out of your ads/display URL and make sure you stick with the one that drives the highest CTR. Adding keywords to the subdomain and subdirectory of display URL can give massive improvements. Especially if the keywords are trademarks. Frank Pipolo has some good tips on using test domains for this.
The quality of your landing page
This is another subjective topic. However (and this is very important), Google has hired thousands of what are called “Ads Quality Raters.” These are actual humans outsourced by Google who sit at home and rate your ads and the quality of the pages those ads go to. To improve on this factor, it is important to pay very close attention to the Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines here. I wrote a quality score post years ago on this exact factor, and a lot of the tips are still relevant.
Google also has thousands of Search Quality Raters, not to be confused with Ads Quality Raters, who look at and rate pages for classification in the organic search results. While I don’t have the Ads Quality Rater operations manual, the Quality Rater document is out in the wild for all to see. I’ve heard there is an awful lot of crossover.
Remember, you should ensure your landing page is capable of passing a human check. Make sure it follows the rules and never forget that once it is reviewed, it will be reviewed again.
The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group
You’ve heard it many times before. Make sure your base keyword is in the ad title, ad text and display URL. Easy peasy, even for the tiny fraction of weight it carries.
The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query
This one is a little trickier. Again, attack your negative keyword research aggressively — consider it an essential daily task. This is a more advanced area where going through some detailed buying cycle analysis and segmenting search phrase intent can really pay off. The effort-to-reward ratio will vary here. Getelastic has an amazing post on something very similar here.
Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown
This factor is a relatively new addition to the Quality Score algorithm. I wrote a post about using geo-targeting to improve CTR previously, but the important takeaway is not that blanket geo-targeting is the right way to go, but that you should pay attention to the geographic areas that are performing poorly and consider creating a dedicated campaign or adgroup for this area or remove it completely. Run an AdWords Geographic Performance report to see where you could improve. Consider using local colloquialisms in your ad text for those specific areas to help improve performance.
Other relevance factors
While there is no way to know for sure what all potential factors are, some common sense can be applied here. The first thing to work on is your bounce rate, or more specifically “back-bounce-rate.” Yes, you read that right. Google has mentioned throughout the years that if a visitor clicks your ad and immediately hits the back button, this is an indication that the page was not relevant. In fact, Google explicitly prohibits the disabling of the back button functionality in their policies.
We also have anecdotal evidence that adding your root or base keyword to your landing page title tag and the other keywords in the adgroup around your copy improves Quality Score marginally. If you have the time, it would be ideal to create a landing page for each individual keyword. When this is not possible, a landing page dedicated to each adgroup usually does the trick.
Page Load Time/Other Factors
You may have noticed “page load time” or “site speed” left out of the factors above. To be honest, I’ve never seen a poor Quality Score due to slow page load time. From my experience, as long as your page loads in a reasonable length of time, you don’t even have to worry about this for now. If increasing your page load by a half second has any impact on Quality Score, it is minimal. There are also many other marginal factors I won’t go into, but Bradd Libby does.
Improving Quality Score For Content Network
There is a lot of crossover in the areas where you can improve your Quality Score on the search and content networks. Let’s look at the factors we can influence to improve Quality Score on the content network. In most cases these are a little harder to influence and take a lot more time and resources, but they are worth the effort if you want to succeed on the content network.
The ad’s past performance on this and similar sites
You can do a little or a lot with this one — from site and site section targeting all the way up to joining the community (if it is a forum for example) to get to know the users of the site and what makes them tick. As a member of the site, what ads or ad text would you find most relevant? I have seen some people even targeting the site users themselves (ie: an ad headline that says something like “Attention Redfly Blog Readers! Want to know more about increasing your keyword Quality Score? Click here!“
Another tip is to try image ads and compare their performance against your text ads for each site (if the site accepts image ads). Many advertisers still don’t use image ads, so there is a huge opportunity to jump straight to the top of the pile.
The relevance of the ads and keywords in the adgroup to the site
Consider using Google AdPlanner to get the demographics of the site, and target your ad copy to those demographics. Also have a look at what other AdSense ads are showing on the site and make note of ads that are consistently displayed over time. In general, those ads are what Google finds most relevant to that site (at the time). If you can’t beat them, join them.
The historical CTR of the ad on this and similar sites
Again, use Google AdPlanner to see the “Other sites Visited” section of the site you are targeting. Run a site targeted campaign on some of the lower trafficked related sites. This will improve your “related performance” on similar sites. It might be a lot of effort but not only will you improve overall content network performance, but you will gain significant long tail content network leads or sales.
SECTION 4: Troubleshooting Quality Score
There are numerous things that can cause a sudden drop in Quality Score or a slower, more gradual decrease. Here are some of the most common Quality Score problems and what you can (or cannot) do about them.
Sudden 1/10 Quality Score on all (or most) Keywords & Huge First Page Bid Estimates
This is an extremely common problem and is characterized by an advertiser noticing a very sudden drop in traffic from AdWords. In a lot of cases, your search network traffic stops first and is followed shortly by your content network traffic. This unfortunately is known as a “Google Slap” and occurs when a review has taken place on your account and you are no longer deemed to be complying with the outlandishly opaque landing page and site quality guidelines.
Cause: You are linking or deemed to be linking to a bridge page, a get rich quick scheme, an affiliate page that’s only purpose is to redirect traffic to another domain, an affiliate site that provides no added value, a data collection site (a site that collects users’ email addresses or other info in exchange for a free product / whitepaper, etc.), a “poor quality” comparison shopping site, an arbitrage site, or a scam site.
Solution: Despite what you think about your own site, Google, the Ads Quality Raters, and the QS Algorithm/Bot feel differently. They more than likely feel your site falls into one of these categories. In this case, there is very little that you can do. If your site falls into the “scam site” category, expect to be banned permanently or investigated by authorities.
If you feel that your site absolutely does not fall into any of the categories, request a quick look over of your site on the AdWords Help Forum and then request a manual review by contacting Google here.Note that it should be a 100% false positive if you are to get this reversed so be completely sure that your site doesn’t even fall remotely into one of those categories. Remember, AdWords does not run on auto pilot. Real people will look at and inspect your account.
One High Volume Keyword has a Quality Score Of 2-4
This problem happens when a specific high volume keyword, usually a single word or two-word phrase, slowly drops its Quality Score and starts costing more. Because these keywords are usually high volume, they can generate a lot of traffic, and a low Quality Score on these keywords can cause a significant drop-off in exposure and sales.
Cause: High volume and low CTR.
Solution: Add negative keywords to the campaign, use exact match, remove the keyword (be careful as this can impact an adgroup “theme” on the content network) or place the keyword in it’s own ad group and optimize the ad copy and display URL aggressively.
Very High (Even 10/10) Quality Score but a Huge First Page Bid Estimate
Unfortunately, this is not a problem with your Quality Score. When it comes to certain keywords, there are quite literally hundreds of advertisers. Assume all advertisers also have a 10/10 Quality Score. What determines which ads show? That’s right, good old fashioned bid price.
Cause: High volume of advertisers.
Solution: Bid higher and use the backend to improve ROI and increase lifetime customer value (LTV) so you can afford to bid higher.
AdWords Quality Score is still a closely guarded secret, as is Google’s organic search algorithm. While it may not be possible to figure out every factor, just like the organic search ranking factors, it is possible to extract enough meaning to understand them and make them work for you. The great scam / affiliate purge of 2009 may have made things easier for existing advertisers, but at the current growth rate of PPC and online ad spending, it’s only a matter of time before the paid search results become as competitive as they used to be. Those of you who understand Quality Score will be in a far better position to get more from your AdWords advertising spend than those who do not.
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