Google Quality Score Demystified

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Ah, quality score!  We’ve all probably had that experience of creating AdWord campaigns, spending hours teasing out our keyword lists into proper ad groups, and waiting for Google to start sending us traffic.  We check back the next day only to find the traffic did not come.  But what happened?   Provided that you didn’t violate Google’s TOS (think poker, pills, or porn), and provided you’ve accounted for the obvious possibilities such as potential traffic volume for your terms, and your competitive CPC (cost per click) bid, that only leaves one possibility – your quality score.

Beginning in 2005, Google started using a sliding scale to determine how valuable an ad is, both in terms of user experience and in terms of maximizing value of the website real estate used for the ads on and their search partner sites.  Rather than simply allowing the highest bidder to appear in the top position, they decided it was better for their own profits and brand, as well as the profits of their publisher partners (AdSense) to begin curating the ads a bit better.

As a result of applying quality score, ads that are deemed to be higher quality will rank better with a lower required CPC than ads with a lower quality score.  Ads are places and priced based upon “ad rank” which is essentially a multiplication of your Cost Per Click (or bid) x Quality Score.

The Quality Score is a rating (1-10) provided to each keyword in your AdGroup.  To see what the current quality score of your keyword is, roll over the speech icon on the static column of your keywords list.  You’ll see both the 1-10 score and a feedback on relevance and landing page quality.  Conversely, you can also add a column to your keywords list that will show the Quality Score inline for the report.

Quality Score

So what is Google looking for and encouraging with Quality Score?  

i. Relevancy – The basic premise is they want to see highly relevant ads for the key term you are bidding for.  This applies both to your ad text as well as the landing page you link to. So if you bid for the term “blue widgets in Los Angeles”, your ad text should be closely related to blue widgets and your landing page had better make it clear that you’re talking about blue widgets in Los Angeles as well.  This addresses the relevancy portion of quality score, but there are other implications too.

ii. Landing Page Optimization – Quality Score also is heavily weighted on other factors related to your landing page such as  ease of navigation, load time, and how many links (too many?) are on the page – usability issues.  The algorithm is now reportedly also looking to see if your landing page provides a mobile-friendly version since so many ads are showing on mobile phones now. So as unrelated as it might first appear, you’ll want to make sure you’ve spent a little time on the interface, loading time, and accessibility (mobile) aspects of your landing page, or it very well might be costing you money!

iii. Historical Performance – Another dynamic also considered when calculating quality score, is historical performance.  They’re looking particularly at the CTR of the ad for that particular keyphrase but also look at overall account performance.  This is a particularly frustrating one actually.  The burden of proof is automatically upon the advertiser  as you’re “guilty” until you prove yourself innocent, meaning that you’ll end up over spending for a month or so, while you work to establish enough CTR data to establish good history for the keyphrase.  I understand the goal here, sort of, but it makes test marketing tough and provides a clear advantage to bigger spenders and entrenched competitors.  I suppose the positive side however is that it allows Google to bias toward trustable relationships in order to ensure quality.  I suppose any small business would do the same.

So there you have it, these are all things known to effect conversion rates of ads and Google is essentially prodding users to follow better practices.  Perhaps their goal here is force advertisers to follow better practices in order to realize higher profits so they’ll spend more money on AdWords!  Or less skeptically, perhaps they want to provide a cohesive user experience such that even advertisements seem highly relevant and purposeful for the user, whenever a search begins with Google.  Or yet another possibility, perhaps they needed to improve overall profitability of AdWords ads in order to introduce the CPA (cost per acquisition) cost model that is preferred in lead generation.

Quality Score is an important part of campaign and bid management for Google AdWords today.  An effective AdWords campaign should be just as much about conversion optimization and optimizing relevancy, as it is about managing budget and ad spend…and historical performance .