Quality Score is real money to an Adwords Advertiser. So it is no surprise that improving this is a common topic of conversation with our clients. We have studied this extensively over the years and we have watched it evolve. In this article, we are going to look at the history and where we think the future of Quality Score is going.
If you are new to quality score and have not seen the Quality Score Video by Hal Varian Google’s Chief Economist watch it before reading this article. Hal does a great job of explaining the conceptual basics of quality score.
Quality score actually started life as a keyword status of “Inactive for Search” where Google would simply stop the word if the CTR (Click Through Rate) got too low. The exact percentage was never disclosed but it was somewhere around .5% in the Google search network. The partner and content network were never part of this process. In those days you either gave up on the word, or you moved the keyword to another adgroup and tried to improve the CTR.
The next stage in Quality Score evolution was the static score where the system would periodically pass through your account and update your quality score. In those days, your account would have a default value that it gave to new words and then the routine maintenance would update it for changes. During this time, the Quality Score was fixed and you could see the almost direct impact on your ad positions. In the static version the system looked at the keyword CTR, ad copy, and landing page but no session values. We estimated that in the early stages before historical CTR was available to the system that ad copy relevancy was 80% of the score and the landing page was 20%. As CTR history came available, the score would become more and more based on CTR and by the time the keyword had a couple of months of history it was all about the CTR.
The current Quality Score is calculated on the fly allowing lots of new attributes to come into the formula and this is where it really gets to be fun. Unlike the static version, this one posts back to Adwords the resulting quality score. When Google says that your bid is money times quality score discounted to .01 greater than the bid behind you this is NOT the quality score you see in Adwords. When this change was made the relationship between quality score and organic score got a lot closer because they shared many of the same attributes. If you think like a programmer for a minute this makes perfect sense because Google simply repurposed the organic ranking objects and used them on the keyword, ad copy, and landing page. There are still differences between quality and organic score but your quality score is what Google thinks of the relationship between the search and your keyword.
“How do you improve your Quality Score?”
Glad you asked and actually there is a lot you can do. Quality Score is driven first and foremost by the CTR and best estimates puts this factor at about 65%. Your CTR is driven by the keywords you select and the relationship between them and the ad copy. There is no hard and fast rule but if your CTR is under .75% then you have some work to do. First decide if you care about the word and if you do not then get rid of it. Otherwise look for ways to improve the relevancy between the intent of the keyword and the headline of the ad. You can play with the body all you want but the headline is what drives this world. If people read the body at all they do so only if the headline got their attention so spend lots of time thinking about your headlines. In most cases we find that repeating the keyword concept is critical and connecting a benefit is the second big thing. With only 25 spaces this is not an easy task! I will tell you that we have seen hundreds of tests where a single word in a headline can more than double the CTR.
CTR is not the higher the better so you have to be careful with this. Like many things in Google the calculation appears to be weighted towards a sweet spot. We cannot prove this is exactly what’s going on, but what we see time after time is that a 3-4% CTR is the optimal CTR. Going above this range is probably caused by some trick on the user and Google knows that. If you have an exceptionally high CTR, you should not be surprised if your quality score dips. We are certain that this sweet spot varies by keyword and that it is relative to the CTR of the others in these searches, but in most cases 3-4% is where you want to be. There is one effect that we see commonly and that is a low CTR with a good quality score or a good CTR with a bad quality score. This happens because quality score is relative to the competition not an absolute measurement so you just have to be better than the other guy.
After CTR the next big thing is relevancy and this is estimated at 30% of the quality score. This factor is closely related to the organic score and it has at least 147 attributes that we know of and probably another 300 that we will never figure out. We know most of these attributes because they are on patent filings from Google. The interesting thing about this list of attributes is that over two thirds of them are not directly controlled by the page source. Just like in real life, your relevancy is more about what others say about you than what you say about yourself.
The last major part of quality score is landing page quality and the rule here is “Do no harm.” Landing page quality is about what Google does NOT like. You do not earn points in this area but you can sure lose them. You can have a 10 score coming into this section and violate one of the prime directives and end with a 1. Things like pop-ups, hidden text, and other tricks are a quick way to destroy all your hard work.
Quality scores can tell you certain things:
Score 1: You have done something very wrong. You must confess your sins and request forgiveness.
Score 2-5: Below average look to your CTR and Relevancy.
Score 6-7: Good Solid Scores you are doing most things right.
Score 8-10: Incredible score but probably a very short list of words. Most of the time these are things like your name or major brands that you own. For some reason the 8 score is very rare except in international campaigns.
The key to managing your quality score is to look for patterns in your score ranges. You will often find that 2-5 scores just need to be split out to a new adgroup with ad copy more connected to the search. Consider getting rid of keywords in the 2-5 range that are not really that important to your business. This will improve your adgroup, campaign, and account average quality score and will improve your overall reputation within the system.
We get calls all the time from people looking to get all their keywords to a 10 score and it is simply impossible. A 10 score is the top 0.5% of keywords and Google is not going to give that score out to several words in any one account and it certainly is not going to give that without other words at the lower levels. Simply put the bottom 99% is what makes the top 1% possible!
The other frequent question is how to trick the system to improve their scores beyond what they deserve. Tricks do exist from time to time but taking advantage of these has some very real risks. Google has a department headed up by Matt Cutts that is dedicated to finding and closing holes in the algorithm. When they find these they correct the logic and you can suddenly find yourself going from 10 to 1 instantly.
Quality Score Rule Number 1: Never try to trick Google unless your Engineering Staff is smarter than theirs!
Google is not done with quality score and just like the search results page it is constantly being tweaked. We think that ad placement will continue to become more and more like SEO and that the major factors are going to be off-page items. More and more it will be what people say about you not what you say about yourself that will drive your quality score. Money is not a factor in SEO and never will be but it will always be the ante to the table in Adwords. Google will continue to value the quality of the search engine results page above your money and they want every link paid or organic to be a meaningful contribution to the search experience. Quality content is King, and it’s going to stay that way if Google has anything to say about it.
• It’s about CTR – target 3-4%
• Using a baseball metaphor: .75% is the warning track and .50% is the wall.
• Look for patterns in your scores – deal with keywords in groups
• Get most keywords to 6-7 before worrying about 10 scores. Hit consistent singles before swinging for the fence.
If you really want to get into the painful details of this send me your email address and I will send you a list of 147+ things that go into the Quality Score calculation. firstname.lastname@example.org