Quality Score is the future of Adwords and the advertisers that fail to manage and invest in this will pay dearly for that short sighted strategy. Quality Scoring and its cousin Organic Scoring share the same DNA and in technical terms we call these building blocks the attributes of the score.
Google knows that the quality of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) is what creates value for Google. This is why creating the best SERP is more important to them than short-term profits. Google takes a long term view and fully understands that quality results drive their success. The SERP has both organic and paid results and both of them are part of the search experience and that is why Google’s Quality Score and Organic Scoring are so closely related.
How Google adds together the attributes and the weight of the attributes is a closely guarded secret. What is not a secret is that improving the attributes will improve the score and the higher the score the better your rank. Rank is nothing more than the scores sorted and this is how your ad or organic listings appear on the SERP.
Ultimately the only difference that will exist between the Quality Score and the Organic Score will be the bid. Today that is not entirely true but it does not take a rocket scientist to see where Google is going with this. While I cannot prove it I would be willing to bet that the logic that produces the Quality Score and the Organic Score will ultimately be the same. Nobody outside of a very select group at Google can tell you exactly how the details of Quality Score or Organic Score are added together but the attributes of the formula are widely known to those that study this area. Actually Google goes out of its way, at times, to tell us what attributes it considers important. They hide the exact weight each attribute gets but they are very open with what they think indicates a quality SERP. Read their patents, take their training, follow their blogs and they will tell you how to be successful. The problem is that doing it the right way is a lot of work and it is not for the instant gratification element of our society. If your goal is to shot to the top of the rankings on either side of the SERP you do not understand what is happening. Many of the important attributes include an “over time” function and that only happens over time.
Most people that study this have historically been in the SEO industry because until the introduction of Quality Score these were not factors Advertisers had to worry about. Today however it’s clear that if want to professionally manage an Adwords Account you have to understand and manage your Quality Score and by default you will end up managing your Organic Score as well.
Improving your Quality Score
Improves your Organic Score
Google makes a big deal out of saying that there is no connection between organic and paid results. This is simply not true and I can prove it. When a business starts to advertise their organic traffic increases and this is both consistent and well documented. What they probably mean to say is that organic positions are not for sale and that is true. However if you improve your Quality Score you will improve your organic position because they are largely the same thing and becoming more of the same every day. In the early days of search organic results were driven almost exclusively by relevancy calculations matching the search query to the page contents. This is also what the first version of Quality Score acted like. It evaluated the search terms, ad copy, and landing page and calculated a relevancy between the items. Quality score is now being calculated on the fly using session specific data to improve the SERP just like organic results.
In the early days the CTR was what drove the value of your bid but Google eventually realized that was too easy to manipulate. The Quality Score is not yet the same as the organic score but it is certainly headed that direction. Any advertiser that is not paying attention to the Quality Score is going to get slammed as this change evolves.
I have been working with search engines since 1994 and so I have seen them evolve over time. In the early days you could optimize a page and have direct controlled impact on the SERP. That is no longer true. Many people will tell you that you can optimize your web site and directly impact the SERP. The person that says that today is lying. Most of what controls the rank on the SERP is not on the page and cannot be directly changed in the page. This is not to say that optimization is a dead art, it is not, relevancy is one of the attributes in the process but it is not the center of the calculation. It is simply one of many attributes.
Today’s SERPs are based on
Trust & Authority
Google has grown past keyword relevancy to an authority and trust model. What confuses some is that relevancy is part of the model but it is only a part of the model. Trust & Authority uses relevancy but it goes way beyond that. If you think about how you build trust in a relationship with a person you will get some idea of the complexity of where Google is going.
Trust & Authority come not from the page but by the experiences that the search engine has with your domain over time. Within your Adwords Account they are looking at how you have done in the past with traffic but they are looking way beyond your simple CTR and page content. Here are just a few of the items they are using to measure this area:
1. Who points to you and what is their Trust & Authority relative to the search topic?
2. How much content you have and does it change over time?
3. Did you suddenly appear or have you been around for a while?
4. How fresh is your content?
5. Is being fresh good or bad depending on the type of content.
6. Is your content duplicated?
7. Does you domain have a history of breaking rules? Cloaking, hidden text, etc
8. What type of domain is it? Editorial, Reference, Ecommerce, or Spammy.
9. Is inbound link anchor text relative to the page content?
10. Has the page topic changed? (Bait & Switch)
11. Did inbound links grow over time or spike?
12. Are inbound links growing or shrinking over time?
13. Does the growth follow a normal bell curve distribution or is it spiked?
14. What is your organic CTR
15. What is your paid CTR
16. Is the search term growing or declining over time
17. Is the organic/paid scoring increasing or declining?
18. User time on page
19. How many searches within the user session?
20. Did they search the same term after coming back from your site?
We’ve identified 135 attributes (plus we’re pretty sure there’s more that haven’t been discovered) that are part of the Authority and Trust Model and these scores become the base of the rank. If you look at these attributes you can see that Google is measuring the web experience that the searcher had on your web site. This type of scoring makes some things that have been done in a past suspect. For example this might change the way we have to look at landing pages.
Like all good computer systems the information at the page level is rolled up to the domain to ultimately contribute to the Domain Authority and Trust levels. Trust is built over time and is based on the history of the domain. If you operate a site that provides a great web experience and engages your audience you will ultimately win in this process. It will take time and dedication to operate an excellent web site. If your approach is to find the “Trick of the Day” or operating a web site with no meaningful content then these practices will hurt your Quality Score and ad positions will cost you more than they should.
There is no doubt that CTR will continue to be part of the Quality Score and those that are not following this carefully might think that it is the Quality Score, but it’s not. In the early stages the Quality Score has less data to work with so the weight of the keyword relevancy and CTR is higher. As time goes along the other factors become available and they become a bigger part of the Quality Score. Since a good Quality Score is driven by a good web experience you might think one creates the other and in some ways it does.
Ultimately Quality Score and Organic Score attributes can be grouped into Domain, Pages, Links, Search Engine, and User variables. You can then develop strategies for each of these attributes and improve your Trust and Authority Score. What you will discover is that the secret is creating a great web experience with excellent content. Google wants to deliver the best possible SERP and they want you to deliver the best possible Web Experience because that will create a win for both.
Run a great site and play by the rules and you will over time build a high level of trust and authority and ultimately win the game. Play the latest trick without concern for its impact on your trust level and you will get a next generation Google Slap and it will be very difficult to earn your way out of that.