It happens to everyone and you just have to learn how to fix it. A Google Slap is when Google suddenly wants a lot more money for your keyword. The typical story is a keyword that cost .50 yesterday is suddenly $5 or $10 and the word is “Inactive for Search” until you increase your bid. That’s a Google Slap and it hurts and raises a red welt on your wallet and traffic flow.
To understand what is happening you have to understand the world according to Google. Google is seeking to improve the search experience because they know that is what drives the value of Google. The Google Slap is nothing more than one part of the cycle of improving the search experience. What is happening is that Google’s system has detected that your keyword may not be contributing to that experience. The way they tell you that they are unhappy with that word is they simply increase the bid to a pain level that will get your attention. You have to admit that increasing your marketing expense by 10x is an attention getter.
Nobody really knows exactly what triggers this process or what the specific rules are but we do know what the general rules are. Google calculates a quality score and shows you the results of that calculation in a very broad sense. On your keyword detail page you will see the quality score range. This is not the default so you may need to customize your display to show the quality score. Here is what that looks like.
Google does not tell you what the quality score is but rather what broad range your score fits into. These levels are: Great, OK, Poor, and Poor + Inactive. While details of this quality score are cloaked deep inside Google we can tell you that quality score and organic page position are very closely related and share many of the same evaluation attributes. If you improve your quality score you almost always improve your search engine optimization. Conceptually what Google is looking at is how does the keyword connect to the ad copy and the landing page. If they think that your ad contributes to a better search experience then your quality score will be great but if it detracts from the search experience get ready to be slapped.
So you have been slapped, now what? Well the options are improve your quality score, delete the keyword, raise the bid, pause the keyword, or do nothing. Google never points out the pause or do-nothing option but they do exist.
Improving the quality score requires rethinking the keyword, ad copy, and landing page. In tests that we have performed its seems that the landing page is the source of most of the quality score but Google is looking at the whole series (keyword-ad copy- landing page) so simply changing the page will not fix the problem. Look at the other keywords in the ad group and consider how this keyword fits with them. If the adgroup is just a bucket of keywords without a theme then you have to reorganize them. When new clients come on board with us this is one of the most common tasks in the first month for those with an existing Google account.
Deleting the keyword is easy but it hurts if you need the traffic from that word. If the connection to your business for this keyword is weak then deleting it will improve your overall account. However, if the connection to your business is strong you have to think very seriously about how you deal with this and deleting the keyword should not be on the top of your option list.
Raising the bid is an option but only if that traffic is really worth the cost they want. If the word is worth that much then you really have to think about improving your quality score. As we noted above this is closely linked to your organic position and Google is telling you point blank that it does not think your page is related to what you think is an important keyword. We advise clients to listen carefully to Google on this. Raising the bid might be the way to handle this immediately but remember you are overpaying for that keyword and hurting your organic traffic by treating the symptom rather than the cause. If you have a poor quality score you can bet that you also have a poor SEO position for this keyword.
One low impact way of dealing with this is to delete the keyword and start a new adgroup focused on that word. Then connect that word to the best supporting landing page for that word on your site. If your quality score increased to OK or Great level then the keyword will live to create traffic another day. Quality score problems are often caused by adgroups with too many keywords with weak associations between the words. Breaking these into smaller more focused ad groups often will fix the problem and save you lots of money.
Most accounts have hundreds or even thousands of keywords. We commonly will pause the word and let the number of paused keywords grow then try to find ways to resolve several keywords in one pass. This saves tons of time and often you find that once the first word gets slapped others play follow the leader. Our most common approach to dealing with this is the pause, accumulate, and act strategy. During these regular reviews we examine the poor rated keywords because that is a warning level that you are about to be slapped. It’s very rare that a word goes from great or good to a slap without a pit stop at poor. The expectation to that is when we know that the keyword is one of the major conversion producers. With those keywords we drop everything and work through the details until we have it resolved.
Don’t let getting Google Slapped make you mad. Treat it as a learning experience and use what you learn to improve the search experience of your visitors. Ultimately this is what Google is after and you should be too.