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Quality Score: Knowing is Half the Battle
Written by Rebekah May
Tuesday, 08 March 2011 13:47

The History:

When Google first released the Adwords platform back around 2000, Quality Score was not a factor in how well your ads ranked, or in determining your cost per click. At launch, the platform consisted of CPM pricing models. A few years later, CPC was introduced, and as Google continued to develop the system to make it more accessible to everyone, the algorithm changed to include Quality Score. This provided smaller companies some leverage against big brands that just threw money into their campaigns.

Google Quality Score

What is Quality Score?

The Quality Score is a value, expressed by a number between 1-10 that represents how well Google believes your keywords are relevant and will perform.

Google’s definition is:

Quality Score is a dynamic variable assigned to each of your keywords. It’s calculated using a variety of factors and measures how relevant your keyword is to your ad group and to a user’s search query.”

There are three different types of Quality Scores:

  • Keywords (What I will be referring to in this post) keyword quality score applies to ads shown on Google.com and their search network
  • Ads:  When you are running ads on the Display Network your ads each have a quality score that affects their performance
  • Mobile ads:  Similar to ads but for mobile devices

Higher quality scores result in better ad placement and lower costs per click for your keywords. Google’s algorithm calculates your quality score every time your keyword (potentially) triggers an ad and can:

  • Determine if your keyword is eligible to enter the auction that occurs when a search query is performed
  • Determine your cost per click (higher quality scores receive better CPC)
  • Affects how your ad will be ranked
  • Estimates the first page bid amounts that you see within your account.


How do I view Quality Score?

There are three methods to viewing your quality score. The first is simply hovering over what looks like a little “speech callout” next to the keyword:

Quality Score Bubble

The second is adding the Quality Score Column to the dashboard area. To do this:

  • Go to the Keywords Tab
  • Click on Columns
  • Choose “Customize Columns”
  • Under Performance choose “Quality Score” – you can then choose to change the location the column is displayed in under “Preview”

Settings

You will then see Quality Score listed among your columns. You can also view the quality score by running a Keyword Performance Report.

 

What Factors Affect Quality Score?

So we know what quality score affects – now let’s discuss what affects our quality score, and how we can raise it.

In my experience, click through rate is the biggest contributing factor in calculating your quality score – but this doesn’t mean you should only concentrate on high click through rates – there are other factors involved that you should pay attention to:

CTR:

The historical (all time) click through rate of your keywords play a role, as well as the historical click through rate of the display URL.

Your most recent click through rate history also plays a role. Luckily, most recent history plays a larger role than historical – this allows you to take over a poorly performing account and turn it around fairly quickly.

Note: When I refer to click through rate – this is only the click through rate on Google.com. Your click through rate on the content network or search partner network does not apply.

So we have:

  • Historical CTR
  • Recent CTR
  • URL CTR

Ad Copy

The relationship between your keywords and the keywords used within your ad copy play a role.  This is why it is highly recommended to have a good ad group organizational structure when you first begin your campaign - allowing you to group closely related keywords together and write ads that focus on those keywords.  

Don't frustrate yourself with trying to fit all your keywords within an ad group in to that group’s ad.  This is a nearly impossible task - you should however, ensure you your main or best performing keywords are listed and make sure that all of your keywords have the same theme as your ad does.

Landing Page:

Note that landing page quality is not a factor when Google calculates the position your ad may be displayed in when using the Search Network. However, Google still lists “landing page quality” as a factor in determining your quality score within the search network. Also note that the grade received is based on the average quality of not only landing pages within the ad group, but in the account as a whole with landing pages that use the same domain.

Each keyword receives a landing page quality “grade” visible in the keyword analysis field (shown earlier in this article) Adwords lists “Landing Page Quality” and “Landing Page Load Time” as factors that may affect your quality score when you hover over a keyword. Load time is pretty self explanatory, try to have a landing page that loads quickly so the user doesn’t get bored and bounce. Quality however requires a little bit more discussion.

If your Keyword Analysis shows “no problems” your landing page is meeting Google’s quality guidelines. In this case, your quality score will not be affected. If on the other hand your landing pages are receiving a poor grade – this will negatively affect your quality score.

Improving Landing Page Quality:

Theme: Just as your ad groups and keywords should have a unified theme – this theme should also flow into the landing page itself. Try to incorporate your keywords into your landing page – but remember using the exact keywords is not always necessary as long as you maintain the same general theme.

Think semantic indexing – Google can tell if a page is about a particular topic based on the words and phrases used within the text on that page. For instance, if you are selling Guitar Tuners (sorry, first thing I looked at when trying to think of an example) your page should discuss strings, chords, octaves, pitches, a note scale and so forth.

The page also should provide value to the user. Google is a big believer in transparent landing pages – so be transparent as possible. If you are collecting information, include a privacy statement

Personally, I have found that I tend to receive a higher quality score when my landing pages are not a single page but include a small amount of navigation. I always try to incorporate privacy policies, about pages, and even a link to the home page of the site. However – part of a good landing page is to NOT distract the user with extra navigation. I include these links in a much smaller font at the bottom of the page.

When editing your landing page to improve your quality score, note that spiders crawl your landing pages about once every 30 days. This is important to keep in mind when making any changes, as you may have to wait a month before noticing a change in your score.

Other factors:

Like Google’s ranking algorithm, there are over 100 different factors that can contribute to your quality score. These additional factors are generally only calculated in specific instances – so they do not always play a big role, and chasing all of them down to improve your score will likely be a waste of time.


Food for thought

Remember, with quality score - knowing is only half the battle.  The other half is actually applying what you know to improve your quality scores.  

Here is what I do to achieve high quality scores, I rarely have any quality scores under "7" and quite a few 8s 9s and 10s. I hear the 8s and 9s are rare though, so don’t focus too much energy on them.

Before I continue with detailed tips – I don’t suggest spending much time improving upon anything 7 or over. Start trying to boost lower quality scores first. In turn you may discover what can boost your 7’, 8’s and 9’s up, or learn what works and does not work with your particular account. A 7 is actually a good quality score, so unless you have a lot of time on your hands – there may be other areas of your account worth optimizing first.

Go through your account to spot any areas that need improvement.  Add the quality score column (explained above) and sort by quality score - if you see a lot of keywords have the same score but one or two of them are lower - this is an excellent place to start.  

These quality scores are usually lower because they don't match to the ad group as well as they could, or your bid on that keyword is lower than it should be. Use your best judgment to determine which one of these factors is affecting that keyword. You may want to try increasing the bid amount first. If after increasing the bid amount (and waiting a while to see its effects), your quality score is still low:

Move these keywords over to their own campaign where you can write ads specifically for them, set appropriate bid amounts, and optimize the landing pages to fit that theme

Go back and review the ads for those ad groups.  Your ad needs to capture their interest and let them know that you have a solution to their search query and include a call to action.  In addition - keywords within that ad group should be included within the ad copy. Doing so not only helps your quality score but also helps your ad stand out since these words will be bolded – this increases CTR and CTR increases Quality.


Ad Group Structure

Try to keep your ad groups relatively small so they can easily fit within a theme. I often hear 3 or 4 keywords per group. However, I usually stick about 7 in and do pretty well. Sometimes I make really large keyword groups and see how well the individual keywords within that group perform over time and pause them until I end up with some winners, then only use those.


CTR Enhancements:

Apply click through rate enhancements to your ads. This includes Optimizing URLs with keywords or values, adding calls to action, catchy headlines, etc. Always split test your ads and landing pages. If you are only able to concentrate on one method in an attempt to improve your quality scores – I would recommend concentrating on trying to improve your click through rate.

Geographic targeting

It might not hurt to run a report and see how well specific ads and keywords are performing in various geographical regions. If you notice some regions perform better than others, you may want to apply geo-targeting to your campaigns in an effort to raise your quality score as well as your click through rate by writing ads specifically for that region.

For Your Consideration

Quality score cannot always be improved. Sometimes, you will do everything you can in an account and the quality score is as high as it will get due to some invisible ceiling.

For instance, if the commercial intent of the keywords you are using is low, then there is very little you may be able to do. If this is the case, you may be using very broad terms that are used as more informational than transaction queries – note, I don’t mean “broad” as in match type.

Try refining your keywords to be more specific. For example – if you are using a keyword “Roses” there may not be a clear intent on what the user is actually looking for.

Try Googling your search term and see if any ads are being displayed above the organic search terms for that word. If they are not, chances are Google doesn’t feel that there is much commercial intent for that word – and in this case, none of the advertisers may be meeting the minimum bid.

However, before switching to a more specific keyword – see how well the keyword is performing for you. If you are getting a lot of clicks and conversions – who cares if you can’t raise the quality score up a little higher, this is working out well for you. If you are struggling with this keyword on the other hand, you may need to make it more specific.

If you suffer from low Quality Score syndrome, I hope these tips help you out. If they do, let me know I’d love to hear about it!

Do you have any additional tips that you use for improving quality scores not listed here?


Rebekah May -

Rebekah May has been in the SEO industry for that past five years, mainly working as the Director of Search Engine Marketing for four websites.  I am now working on forming my own SEO Consulting practice, Whole SEO, which provides SEO, PPC and Internet Marketing services.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 March 2011 14:44
 

Comments  

 
0 #1 Tracy Anderson 2011-03-09 20:20
Rebekah - Thanks for the detailed explanation. In my recent experience, Adwords quality scores of 8 and 9 are a never seen phenomenon. I have been bouncing between 7 and 10, without ever hitting 8 or 9. My keywords breakdown works out to be about 35% 10's, 55% 7's, 10% 6's, 5% really low, and 0 8's or 9's.
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