The Ultimate Guide to Quality Score: 15 PPC Experts Discuss Google Ads Quality Score
The following guide contains feedback from a panel of 15 PPC industry experts. We asked them four questions on Google's Quality Score, and these are their answers.
Quality Score Topics Covered in This Guide
- Quality Score Factors
- Identifying Quality Score Problems
- Fixing Low Quality Scores
- Quality Score vs. Bid Management
Quality Score Factors
Question #1: Based on your experience, how accurate a depiction is Hal Varian giving in this video?
Andrew Goodman: Until Hal posts the entire code for the Quality Score algorithm and lets us look at it, prudent marketers should assume this is largely a public relations exercise. As we know, public relations is not only about what you include, but what you leave out. By and large, minus the fancy equations, many of us have been whiteboarding the same story since 2002. By improving your CTR relative to other advertisers and other CTR benchmarks, in any regime that multiplies keyword CTR (or Quality Score) by your bid to arrive at your ad rank, you will outrank lower-CTR competitors, all else including bids being equal.
Google notes dryly in their help files that the best way to improve keyword Quality Scores is to "optimize your account." Of course, that's true. :)
Brad Geddes: At a high level it's not bad when everything is good in the account.
When the landing page or your ad copy is considered not relevant; those two items can affect your ad much more than the percentages laid out by Hal Varian. For instance, in his video it looks like landing page is roughly 10% of your quality score; however, if your landing page is considered not relevant – it does not just lower your quality score by 10%, it affects your quality score dramatically.
Rarely will you see a quality score higher than 3 if your landing page is not relevant. As displayed quality score is a 1-10 number; there is no way a bad landing page equates a 10% reduction in your overall quality score. The same argument can be made for ad copy relevance. If your ads are not relevant; rarely will you see a quality score over a 4.
So, either there is a quality score cap when one of these items is bad, or they negatively affect you much more than they positively affect your quality score.
Dave Davis: I think it's pretty accurate. Almost perfect. In fact, we recommend our clients watch this and his bidding tutorial videos so they can understand why we change certain things in their accounts. Quality score isn't actually that difficult a concept to grasp and with a little experience you get the "feel" for what makes quality score tick. Hal mentions that the "biggest factor by far is click through rate". That is spot on. It's the single biggest factor that the advertiser can influence directly and can literally make or break a campaign. In most cases, relevancy is pretty obvious and is rarely an issue as most advertisers don't want to be bidding on unrelated keywords. Landing page quality score is a WHOLE different ball game.
George Michie: Hal offers a very accurate depiction overall. It’s important to note that Click-Through Rate and Keyword Relevancy are very closely related. Conceivably the keyword “Caribbean Cruises” could fire an ad promising pictures of nude women. That might generate a high CTR, but the Keyword Relevancy penalty keeps that from happening. Assuming that the Keywords are targeted to the advertisers products/services, CTR and Relevancy will move together. There is a great deal of confusion about landing page quality. My understanding is that as long as you’re a legitimate business, not just an AdSense spammer, the landing page QS factor is a non-issue provided that the page load speed is reasonable. Folks who are moving pixels around the page hoping to improve their QS are wasting their time.
Larry Kim: This is an accurate high-level depiction of Quality Score. What is omitted are the implementation details, for example:
- Why do keywords with high CTR, high traffic and excellent relevancy get low Quality Scores?
- How exactly are CTR’s normalized by ad position and match type
- How does historical account CTR weigh in calculating the Quality Score of a new keyword?
- How is the “minimum bid” for an auction with no competing advertisers calculated?
It’s somewhat frustrating to read / hear differing information and advice from Google on these implementation details, especially in cases where the high-level advice doesn’t align with what’s actually happening in an account.
Greg Meyers: In watching this video, the elements in which Hal highlights on are very interesting and provide a good understanding of how Google portrays their Algorithm, or as they called it “Auction”. (Not sure that is the best way to identify it).
However, in my opinion, there are too many other factors that take place at any given time which pushes the limits and alters this mathematical methodology. For example, depending on the competitive saturation and “CPC Value” of the specific term or groups of terms, the Ad positioning levels can adjust sporadically as other advertisers may be using Day-Parting, increased overall competition, or maybe have reached their daily budgets during specific times of the day.
Another observation worth noting is that Google’s assumption that possessing a good CTR% is key to the “everyone wins” mentality to keep the cycle going is not exactly full-proof because they are not taking into account the “After the click” conversions which can be a double edged sword. Another area of interest, for me was the fact that Landing Page optimization was identified as a rather small piece of the pie when determining Quality Score, which leads me to believe that Google only cares about getting the click, and not so much after that.
In conclusion, this Video provides a good understanding of how their algorithm functions, however with some of the variables mentioned above, I feel there is more that is needed to ensure that PPC Marketers can get a better understanding of how their Algorithm handles all of these different “real-time” events.
Marty Weintraub: Thanks for turning me on to the video, as I was unfamiliar with it. Sure, it's an economist talking through mechanics of the Google Ads auction, quality score, etc... Hal makes a fine talking egghead without clarifying anything not published in Google Ads Help.
Our experience is that qScore takes care of itself if the ads are all about the keyword's meaning and the landing page keeps the promise well. We think Hal's little pie chart shows under-emphasis of CTR's actual importance as the primary driver of qScore. We've had ads without the keyword in the ad and a crazy-high CTR have good qScores.
At the end of the day, "buying into the auction" is all about shipping Google buckets of money. A high CTR means that Google makes hay because your ad is clicked on a higher percentage of the time. Sure, relevancy matters in the equation. However, we've seen some pretty darn good quality scores for link bait-level hyperbolic ads with nary a keyword and/or shitty landing pages.
Alan Mitchell: CTR is without doubt one of the most important aspects of Quality Score. No matter how relevant your ads are, if people fail click on them, your Quality Score will take a hit.
But as Hal rightly points out, CTR is not the sole factor of Quality Score. Considering that as soon as you upload a new campaign, you can immediately see the Quality Score of your keywords (without any CTR data), there must be some sort of relevancy algorithm at work which calculates an initial Quality Score before any CTR data is accrued.
I think it's difficult to carry out testing to provide a definitive answer to the make-up of Quality Score. Not only are there apparently multiple Quality Scores at the keyword, ad text and campaign level (and possibly also the combined keyword and ad text level), but since the historic Quality Score data supplied in Google Ads is very restrictive, Quality Score measurement can be incredibly difficult.
Tom Demers: It’s directionally accurate – I think the algorithm is actually more click-through-rate heavy, particularly when you take into account how they’re starting to handle new keywords (inheriting CTR from “head” or broader keywords).
Richard Cotton: It's a pretty good basic overview of the process, but like most things with Google there is a hell of a lot of devil in the detail and that is not as simple and transparent as the video makes it seem. If you're a Google Ads Consultant and you work on a Google Ads account for any length of time and you will find keywords that fit the bill by the standards Hal Varian draws up but that still get bad scores, and then other times the opposite.
Geordie Carswell: This is accurate insofar as it explains clearly how bid and Quality Score factor into the ad placement auction. That said, it doesn't really explain clearly that the type or variant of Quality Score that affects the search ad auction is primarily the "Keyword Relevance" Quality Score, which is heavily CTR-driven. The top takeaway from this video explanation by Google should be that Keyword Relevance Quality Score has a bigger effect on your ad placement than how much you bid.
As a result, if you're looking to improve your ad position, or the frequency with which your ad is shown to searchers, the most effective use of your time is spent in testing new ads that could increase your CTR which is the biggest contributor to the "Keyword Relevance" Quality Score.
Elizabeth Marsten: If I were explaining how PPC works and how CPC is determined to someone who has never dealt with or even knew what PPC was, this is an accurate enough description. It’s simplified, which is great for that. I do not agree with the little pie chart that showed the breakdown of CTR, relevance and landing page—since there wasn’t a slice of that pie for max CPC bid. I know that they say when determining QS that bid isn’t a factor, but with the complication that is QS, I can’t believe that it’s really not one of the factors in any way at all. (I can see Google arguing that they take care of that by with the minimum bid though.)
Joe Kerschbaum: The description in the video seems accurate. The video neglects to discuss the differences between the Search Network and Display Network Quality Scores. However, if this video’s purpose is to serve as an introduction to Quality Score, then discussing the Display Network may hinder its effectiveness. Also, Hal doesn’t mention that the landing page element of Quality Score can only negatively affect your overall Quality Score, as opposed to give it a boost. He states the aspects of successful landing pages but doesn’t mention that all advertisers start with a similar landing page Quality Score, but their score is detracted from when the landing page doesn’t adhere to best practices.
Identifying Problem Quality Score Areas
Question #2: What do you do to attack an account with Quality Score problems? In other words, which factors determine which ad groups/keywords you focus on first (i.e. Quality Score, cost, number of keywords per group, etc.)?
Andrew Goodman: Most accounts run on what we consider a normal Quality Score profile. We glance at Quality Scores in such cases, but in no way do we "optimize" to that statistic or focus heavily on it in our detailed marketing implementations. That would be a bit akin to trying to build your business around toolbar PageRank.
If an account has Quality Score problems in isolated areas, and they're low volume, then why worry? You can simply bid accordingly, or in grave cases, pause those keywords. They're likely rated that poorly because of keyword intent issues. Seasoned marketers factor keyword intent into the way they build and manage accounts.
Sometimes, diffuse keyword intent is endemic to the keywords you use in your industry, especially in B2B. Patricia Hursh has a great take on that: you're still generating high value leads at a certain cost. If your important words come up "3" on QS, don't commit hari-kari: pay the damn money and get the lead!
Of course marketers should tighten up with all the usual best practices including negatives (exclusions) where appropriate, making good use of the search query report and other tools.
I hate to say "it goes without saying," because I've been saying it so long. It's in both editions of my book and in my previous handbook dating back to 2002: a good skeleton & proper categorization are a great start along the road to a well optimized account. Sometimes I have nicknamed the overall process "Build a Powerful Account." If you build a powerful account, usually QS will take care of itself. You are then just going for incremental wins for that profit icing on the cake.
If a whole account is in the doghouse due to Landing Page and Website Quality issues, or it's in a cycle of failure due to an improper (often overly broad, or lazily built, or really weak ads) build from the start, then you need to consider a complete rebuild/reset and your Google reps may even weigh in on the best direction to take -- a fundamental reassessment as opposed to tweaking and losing major bucks in the tweakage process.
Brad Geddes: We use two different methods for identifying areas of quality score improvement.
The first method addresses your current spend and impressions. We do a roll-up of normalized quality score at the ad group level, compare it to spend, then run it through an algorithm to determine which ad groups would benefit the most from quality score improvement. In fact, we're launching this tool publicly soon as it will be bundled with the CertifiedKnowledge.org tool set.
The first method does not address keywords that have few impressions due to either their bids being much lower than the first page bids or due to low ad serving because of current low quality score issues. Therefore, we also examine keywords that have a QS less than 4-5 or first page bids more than 10-20% below Google's estimate to see which one's would gather the most conversions if their quality score issues were fixed.
Dave Davis: The first thing we do is determine if it's an account/site level problem (all keywords with a poor quality score) or just a small subset of keywords/ads. It's pretty easy to diagnose between the two and there are a number of ways to tackle each. This depends on what the customer is willing to sacrifice in terms of cost, time, traffic and temporary impairment of historical CTR.
George Michie: If you write targeted, compelling ad copy in the first place, grouping closely related keywords appropriately, QS shouldn’t be problematic. If you’ve inherited an account with poor QS, obviously it’s important to prioritize based on where the money is spent. Writing tight copy for KW and adgroups for the top 200 keywords and AdGroups has more impact sooner than tackling the problem randomly. If the QS of the account’s “head” is already good (8+), move to the next cluster.
Larry Kim: In diagnosing Quality Score problems, I tend to look for:
- Low Quality Scores (duh!)
- Excessive usage of broad matching
- Poor campaign and ad group organization
Since every account will suffer from some elements of the above symptoms, focus your attention on the groups that drive the most conversions, traffic or ad spend.
Greg Meyers: Well, before I start any Google Ads consulting and scoping out a Google Ads account for Quality Score, I must have a good understanding from the client as to their goals, target markets, Cost-Per-Acquisitions, etc… before I start diving into the Campaigns. It is this discovery phase which helps determine priorities of optimization.
Once I have identified the campaigns and Adgroups, I prefer a more disciplined and methodical approach based on the current hierarchical structure from Campaign>Adgroup>Keyword>Text Ads, then at the campaign level I look at Geo Targeting, Networks, Daily Budgets, Negative Keywords, etc…
I then investigate Relevant Keyword Groupings within the Adgroups to see how tightly organized they are. If there are keywords in a specific Adgroup that are grammatically irrelevant or just “out of place” I will either create a new Adgroup based on their relevancy. Once the keyword groups are relevant enough, I would then look at the Test Ads that are being served. If the Ads were not representing some of the keywords in the Adgroup, I would recommend and provide the client with some new “Keyword Rich” Text Ad examples for them to review and approve.
I would follow this same procedure to all campaigns within the account. But most importantly, understanding what the “Quick Wins” are from the client/company will help the PPC marketer “move the needle” more efficiently.
Marty Weintraub: The systemic things you mentioned, in terms of account structure, segmentation, etc... are all great places to start. Focus on concept as well as structure:
- Get users to click on outstanding ads at a high rate by improving the ad in relation to the keyword and serving compelling messages.
- Raise bids to make sure that ads' creative really has a chance.
- Make sure ads truly answer the question of the query and have a good marketing message and call to action.
Also, keep in mind that Google has a "system" quality score with a bias against certain content areas. Ask a Google account rep about it. Just try to market glucosamine product keywords and take note that despite great quality scores across the account, a high CTR for the glucosamine keywords and awesome landing page, SOMEHOW the quality score STILL sucks. Right, Google wants to be paid more for selling glucosamine.
Allan Mitchell: When an account is under-performing, I tend to focus time and effort on ad groups which receive the most clicks. Since broad-matching and phrase-matching are usual culprits of poor relevancy and poor CTR (and therefore poor Quality Score), I often use the 10% Clicks Rule to quickly identify heavily broad or phrase-matched ad groups which are prime candidates for further analysis. This usually provides a simple means to get straight to the root an account's relevancy problems, as well as providing a practical method to prioritise time and effort effectively.
Tom Demers: You really want to cross reference the high spend, low Quality Score areas to identify where your money is being spent on keywords and Ad Groups that could be better structured and segmented.
Richard Cotton: First of all I strip out those with low impression numbers, focusing on those that are, or have potential to, benefit the account. You can always build the keyword list back up, but if the account has quality score issues then cutting away the deadwood will allow the problem keywords with potential to be rectified faster.
Going after the highest traffic terms will obviously make the biggest difference to account performance so I would start with high traffic keywords that produce conversions at poor cost, followed by those high traffic keywords that are still managing adequate cost per conversion and so on.
Geordie Carswell: First, you have to gauge your expectations as to "good" or "poor" Quality Scores for your account. If you have a 1/10 Quality Score and can't get any traffic, it's likely due to landing page quality issues that can best be addressed by contacting Google and asking for a human review or some specific feedback. (Important note: If you are an affiliate marketer using Google Ads, contacting Google directly may not be in your best interest for various reasons, caution should apply). You might be better off asking for advice from any experienced Google Ads Consultant.
If your Quality Scores are consistently 3/10 or 4/10, you need to take a close look at your account, campaign, and adgroup structure. Likely, you could split your campaigns and adgroups into smaller, bit-sized chunks where you can more closely integrate the keywords and themes in your campaigns and adgroups to the ads you're writing. Cutting your campaign sizes down to a manageable level while you 'rehabilitate' your Keyword Relevance Quality Scores will make this easier as well. Starting again with a smaller plate can help a lot.
If your Quality Scores are 5/10 or higher, you're likely just a few better ads away from increasing your QS. Start aggressively split testing new ad copy that's entirely different from anything you've tried before and see if you can get the CTR up. You'll need to set your ads to "rotate" to get new ads proper exposure, and monitor them carefully to cut losing ads when you have enough data to make a call.
Elizabeth Marsten: Traffic is what determines what gets worked on first. A keyword pulling in huge amounts of traffic with a low QS is most likely a culprit for bigger problems with QS on an ad group/campaign level and dragging the rest of the keywords down with it- plus it’s probably wasting the most money.
Joe Kerschbaum: At a very high level, advertisers should attack the keywords/ad groups that generate the most traffic/conversions/revenue first. These are the elements of the account that are driving the other core KPIs such as conversions, conversion rate, and CPA. By improving the ad relevancy and Quality Score of these ad groups, you can quickly improve the CTR, ROAS, ROI and Quality Score of these mission critical keywords and ad groups. One quick way to determine which areas need attention first is to determine the keywords/ad groups that generate 10-20% of the clicks/conversions and start there (this number isn’t set in stone. This way, you’re gaining ground quickly. Of course, advertisers need to pay attention to an entire account when it comes to Quality Score and those other core KPIs but this method can help you prioritize.
Jenny Anderson: If I have a Quality Score issue, I would focus on those ad groups and keywords that have the lowest QS first. Then I would start to look at the relevancy of keywords and ads.
Fixing Low Quality Scores
Question #3: Obviously there will be variation between accounts, but what do you find to be the biggest optimizations when attempting to improve Quality Score (i.e. tighter groupings, ad text optimization, etc.)?
Andrew Goodman: It's all good, but I'm a fan of advanced forms of ad testing. I suppose that *assumes* tight groupings. Whether it be improved granularity or better ad response, I'm greedy. I want to win twice: I want account improvements to have a shot at improving *both* CTR and conversion rates. When you can do that, there is no better feeling.
Brad Geddes: We take a simple 3 step approach:
- Examine the keywords with low quality score. If Google gives you a reason for the low quality score you have a place to start.
- If there is no reason given (often the case in 4-6 quality score keywords), then we start with organization. The question is, "Could you have a more relevant and targeted ad associated with this keyword?". If the answer is yes, move the keyword to a new ad group.
- Once you have worked on account organization a few times, then improving quality score is all about ad copy testing to raise CTRs.
Those steps being said; there are times that we find widely varying CTRs by geography. In cases like this, we might rework the campaign's geographic organization and associated ad copies. There are other cases where the keyword does not do well in the ad copy, and we use the tilde command or google sets to rework the ad copy.
And yet other times, the issues are account specific that there is no way to qualify them into a general list of suggestions.
Dave Davis: If it's just a small subset of keywords/ads with a low quality score, it's nearly always a CTR issue. In the majority of cases, it's simply a matter of pulling the keywords out of the ad group, creating a new ad group (or more) for them and carefully crafting and testing a new, more relevant ad. This can take time and money as it usually entails bidding higher on the new ad to get the exposure which in turn gets the CTR up. Over time, the quality score improves with the CTR. If this proves fruitless, it's possible that Google has determined that this keyword is not relevant at all and this problem may be effecting all advertisers, not just you.
A little "trick" we use for new accounts is to leave a "brand term" campaign running on it's own for a few weeks. This builds up historically high CTR on your account and "primes" the account for new campaigns.
For an account/site quality score issue (known on the Google Ads help forums as the "QS dropped to 1/10 overnight" issue), sometimes referred to as a "Google Slap" the problem is very easy to spot and is quite serious. In the majority of cases when all keywords in an account have dropped to 1/10 overnight, the account/site has been flagged and it's Google's way of saying "No, you can't advertise that site with Google Ads". If there is even a sniff of a violation of the landing page and site quality guidelines, this is Google effectively booting you out. There is no way around this.
There are however MANY instances where either the manual review of your account was incorrect or the algorithm incorrectly flagged your account (Last November, Google purged many affiliates and bridge pages but also flushed out some genuine advertisers who followed the guidelines perfectly). If this is the case, you need to go through your site with a fine tooth comb and make sure you comply with the guidelines then ask contact support for a manual review. You will not get your account back to what it was before the "slap" under any circumstances by yourself. No amount of ad text changes or landing page changes will help you here.
Google has a massive team of outsourced "Ads Quality Raters" who judge the quality of your ad and landing page in a very similar way the remote quality raters do.
George Michie: Tighter groupings with appropriate and compelling ad text is the most effective fix. Small tweaks to the ad text is generally a waste of time. Finding a compelling “why shop here?” message matters, targeted text matters, promotional offer copy should be tested.
Larry Kim: The biggest component of Quality Score is click-through-rate, so simply focus on PPC account optimization activities that tend to raise CTR, for example:
- Be more specific: Choose specific mid-tail keywords that are more relevant to your website. Use negative keywords to reduce unwanted impressions.
- Micro-Target: Organize your keywords into smaller, specific keyword groupings – for an example of what this looks like in practice, try out the Keyword Niche Finder. Once you’ve selected your keyword niches, it’s critical that you theme your ad text and landing pages specifically to those keyword groupings.
Improved keyword selection and micro-targeting should simultaneously improve your relevancy score, which is the second biggest part of the Quality Score algorithm. For longer term Quality Score success, it’s critical that you establish a strong foundation for account organization to enable for future, incremental account expansion – this in a nutshell, is the overall product philosophy behind WordStream for PPC. If none of the solutions mentioned above improve your quality score, you should consider hiring a Google Ads Consultant.
Greg Meyers: The first area of optimization begins with identifying if the keywords being used are remotely relevant to the purpose of the Adgroup. Basically, I need to be able to see the “big picture” before I start getting tactical, because a poor CTR% may be a result of just having the wrong keywords that do not relate to the wrong audience. Once, we have the right keywords in place, then we look at the Text Ads to make sure that not only the Ads are presenting a similar message to the keywords, but also have a few keywords in the Ads as well. This can be achieved my adding a few top keywords into the text ad manually, or even taking advantage of the DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion).
It’s always a good strategy to have multiple Text Ads with different messaging so you can get a barometer of what works and what doesn’t. Now that we organized our Keywords and Text Ads, the last step would be to find the most appropriate landing page, which correlates both the keywords and Ad Messaging. Unless you have the luxury of an F/T development staff that can turn out a Landing Page for every Adgroup, you most likely have to pick and choose the most relevant LP at your disposal. This Landing Page should have the same group of keywords as used in the Adgroups keywords and ads.
In conclusion, fixing a low quality score starts with identifying the right audience, then migrate over to the basic Quality score tactics of relevancy from the keyword, keyword groupings, Text Ads and Landing pages. If a Quality Score is consistently low and you have performed all of these tactics correctly, it’s quite possible you’re advertising to the wrong audience, and perhaps you should shift your focus from PPC to SEO.
Allan Mitchell: Since Quality Score doesn't actually sell anything, I rarely make changes to a Google Ads account with the sole purpose of increasing Quality Score. If higher Quality Score was the sole aim, you could simply write an overly-enticing ad, watch your CTR skyrocket, and sit back as Quality Score suddenly rises to 10/10. But with so many 'time-wasters' clicking through to your site, and then immediately bouncing, conversions would be low, so your ROI would suffer.
From my experience, it's sometimes more profitable to pre-qualify visitors at the expense of Quality Score, with restrictive messages such as "1 Bedroom Apartments From $950,000" or "Cheap Car Insurance for Women". Of course, CTR would drop, Quality Score would fall (perhaps to 6/10) and CPCs would rise as a result, but since visitors are now more qualified, overall ROI could be considerably higher.
I don't think an account can under-perform because of a low Quality Score; rather a low Quality Score could be a sign that an account is under-performing. I see Quality Score as more of a tool to help achieve other goals (such as ROI), rather than the end goal itself. A high degree of relevancy at every step of the user journey will always pay dividends, whether or not Quality Score reflects this, so it's important to ensure that relevancy, rather than Quality Score, is the underlying motivation during campaign setup and optimization. I think that if you provide relevancy, Quality Score will naturally follow, but relevancy won't necessarily follow from a high Quality Score.
So to help improve relevancy, highly-granular ad groups, a focus on long-tails, and ads which include the searcher's keywords are the key essentials, while ongoing relevancy-improvement techniques such as the Broad Match Generator can help to manage broad match refinement, and help cater for the growing demands of searchers for a more relevant experience.
Tom Demers: The biggest single win is consistently segmentation and structure. There are a lot of really poorly structured accounts that need to think more about sound keyword groupings and campaign structures before they can consistently see better Quality Scores and pricing discounts. Once structure has been addressed, the biggest wins are continually refining your keyword groupings and doing really aggressive ad text testing in order to increase your click-through rate.
Richard Cotton: Tighter groupings and better themed adverts go hand in hand - being able to write better ads often comes from having tighter keyword themes. I think that this used to be more effective in itself, quality scores could be improved very quickly by creating new ad groups with tightly written ads, but now the benefit seems to come from the clickthrough rate improvements that this will bring, rather than the greater relevance. Obviously CTR has always been the biggest factor for Google but it seems to have gone even further that way.
Sometimes a higher CTR is not a productive move, for example, if a keyword has a dual meaning then an ambiguous advert would attract those searching for both meanings, whereas a well-written ad, relevant to the offering on the landing page would only attract the right half of the searchers. In this case, the higher CTR would burn money without any additional value. You may get a higher quality score but you would not get better value - in that case, 'fixing' it may make the keyword a worse performer.
Elizabeth Marsten: The first thing I look at is which keywords have a good QS (if any) and get those grouped together better so that there is something functional working while the problem QS areas get sorted out. From there sorting and pausing poor QS keywords out, changing up the destination URL (or making recommendations for changes to the landing page) and ad copy together come in next. Additionally, pump up the bids on the newly optimized keyword lists/ad groups to get the wheels turning sooner and faster to find out if the optimization fixed the issue or not. Then expand the current keyword list to include keywords that will garner better QS to help move up the overall QS of the account.
Joe Kerschbaum: Usually, creating tighter ad groups with re-vamped, more relevant ad texts is a very good start. These tactics will fix 2 of the 3 major components of the Quality Score: CTR and ad relevancy. Again, these are quick changes for the account. To fully rejuvenate the Quality Score, the landing page will need to be optimized as well.
Jenny Anderson: We generally keep tight ad groups and text optimization on the same level of importance. We then look at landing page issues as a concern. For accounts with a poor Quality Score, if we tightened the groups and targeted the ads as best as we can we might invest in a website monitoring service, as needed, to make sure our site is not going down at various times.
Quality Score vs. Bid Management
Question #4: If you could pull just one of these levers in every PPC account you touch, which would you pull and why?
Andrew Goodman: Hello! It's all about bids. :) I would ignore QS and bid my keywords to appropriate goal metrics, and QS would largely take care of itself in most cases.
Brad Geddes: You need both – there's no way around it. Quality Score is optimizing for Google. Bid Management optimizes for conversions. Even if you are using spreadsheets for bid management, if you are significantly over or under bidding then you are not maximizing profits, and could be losing a lot of money. If your quality scores are too low then you'll never get exposure.
There are some accounts where all the quality scores are 7s; so the main issue is bid management. There are some accounts where almost all the traffic comes from the content network, so quality score is less of an issue and bid management is more important. If all your keywords are on page five because of low bids, raising your quality score does not do much good.
There are other accounts where all the quality scores are under 3, so the ads aren't even showing which makes bid management useless until the quality scores are fixed.
However, you can't just use one or the other. Every keyword has a quality score. Every keyword has a bid. Only by pulling both levers (along with conversion optimization, ad copy testing, etc) can an account reach its full potential.
Dave Davis: I'll assume you're talking about a "rule-based" lever. In 99% of cases I would actually use a bid to CTR rule but there's a fine balance to be struck. The higher the CTR, the higher the quality score which in turn reduces your click prices. However, you have to always be testing and optimizing your ads as your CTR is "normalized" or measured against other ads in any given position and historically in that particular position. You have to bear in mind too that more clicks can drain your budget so you have to pay very close attention to conversion rate too and always be testing your landing page conversion rate. They all lead into each other.
George Michie: Bid management, hands down. Obviously, if the QS is horrible and we’re not allowed to fix it bid management will be futile, but if the copy is well-written and targeted sufficiently well there isn’t any need for ongoing “QS management”, the QS will take care of itself. However, the quality of traffic varies depending on seasons, promotions, stock-positions, economic conditions, etc, so having the ability to manage bids ongoing is essential to maintaining peak performance.
Larry Kim: Quality Score, because:
- Quality Score is a more “foundational” lever to pull: Optimizing for Quality Score implies doing a good job at keyword selection, and micro-targeting of specific keyword groupings to relevant ad text and landing pages your website – and I really think you should focus on this first. Put another way, if you’ve picked irrelevant keywords and have a poor account structure, it really limits the effectiveness of any bid management strategy.
- Quality Score is Bid Management: Optimizing for high quality scores improves your ad rank and lowers your actual CPC (as opposed to your maximum CPC).
Greg Meyers: This question is not an as easy as you would think. Even though Quality Score is the primary tactical best practice that should be followed with every campaign, making sure your client/advertiser is ranking above the fold competitively (such as noted in PPC Visual Click HeatMaps) is just as important, if not more important. With that said, PPC marketers, as well as the companies they represent in search engine marketing are faced with many “living and breathing” variables that affect AVG Position beyond Quality Score. These variables include, but are not limited to Day-Parting, Daily and Monthly Budget exhaustion, Affiliate Display URL Hijacking, Trademark Infringement, etc…
So to answer this as honestly as I can, no matter how great your Quality Score maybe for a specific term or Adgroup, Bid Management is always going to need attention, especially for your Top Converting Keywords/Adgroups which need consistent optimal performance. If you are noticing increased competition from Affiliates/Resellers and competitors, then you need to consciously monitor the Bid Positioning of your top terms (most likely these are your branded ones or unique products/services).
It really does not matter how great your quality score is because even though you are always #1 -#2 position, increased competition and saturation will increase your CPCs and force you to be more attentive in order to meet your client’s goals and objectives.
Marty Weintraub: Quality score is more important because the immediate effects on cost and ad position are more of a detriment than the incremental improvements gained by first automation. That's not to say that PPC automation does not rock the tails. Still quality score threatens the entire endeavor with ruined accounts and serious budget bloat. There are plenty of amazing campaigns run by hand, though most would agree that some degree of automation is prudent, especially towards the ultimate goal of transparent attribution.
Tom Demers: I think Quality Score has a larger overall impact on campaign performance; if you have strongly and consistently integrated Quality Scores throughout your account you’re likely to see a strong conversion experience for your searchers, pricing discounts, and a well-organized campaign.
Richard Cotton: A horrible question as the two are so inter-related. However, having just watched a whole election of people evading straight questions I'll go with this;
Quality score is not the ultimate deciding factor of a keyword's worth. If a keyword is producing conversions at the right cost then that is the most important thing so I'll go with bid management. (Although clearly I want to pull both levers...and even answering the question without hedging and fence sitting based on account by account specifics is uncomfortable...can I just pull the quality score lever a little?)
Geordie Carswell: Quality Score for sure. Google's entire bid auction is Quality Score-centric. Improvements in Quality Score have a bigger effect on your ad placement and frequency than bid increases as Hal Varian's video shows. Simply bidding your way to where you want to be is unlikely to be profitable in the long run. Quality Score optimization is also typically more poorly understood and your competitors are less likely to be actively working on their Quality Scores vs. just upping their bids, so you can quickly hammer out an edge there.
Josh Dreller: Interesting question. At first glance, my thought was Bid Management for sure. I always think people obsess too much about Quality Score because some of the variables are out of our hands, but Bid Management is as vital as keywords and ad text. However, as I thought more about it, optimizing Quality Score is basically great Bid Management. You’re ensuring that you’re not paying a premium on your keywords while increasing your Ad Rank at the same time. Click costs are going to be whatever they’re going to be based on the value of the term, so basic Bid Management is simply playing in that space--Quality Score helps you change the rules in your favor. So, I gotta go with Quality Score on this one.
Elizabeth Marsten: Bid Management. You pay what you pay. The fact is a low QS can influence and drag things down, but money is money. Bidding smarter and spending will pretty much render QS to a secondary factor in any optimization. Particularly since Google has said that there are some keywords and industries where there will always just be a low QS because of industry performance and how the keyword does for Google.
For example—I have a client that sells “baffle box feather beds.” It’s a type of feather bed and that is what it is called. They sell it. The ad goes to a baffle box product page—that has that keyword plastered all over it. The ad says “baffle box” the keyword list is all around “baffle box” and that is the only product in that ad group in a campaign about feather beds. Absolutely could not get the QS above a “4” and when the Google rep was specifically asked about this keyword and this instance the reason given was that historically that keyword does not perform industry wise and therefore is a lower quality keyword and gets a lower quality score. The answer seemed to be ‘we can’t profit from it. Therefore, bid on something else that we can.’
Joe Kerschbaum: This is a difficult question to answer. This would be on an account-by-account basis. If the ad groups are in pretty good shape, then I would focus on bid management. If the ad groups are in disarray, then I would work on the ad group structure first. Overall, I would work on ad group structure. This is because bid charges are only that, bid changes. However, Quality Score management can help improve CTR, conversion rate, CPC, and Quality Score when done effectively.
Jenny Anderson: Quality Score is my answer, but bid management is actually where we spend most of our time. I would choose quality score because it seems (theoretically and based off of the video) the more important factor, but bid management is more transparent and easier to control.
Quality Score Panel of Experts
Andrew Goodman is founder and principal of Page Zero Media, a Toronto-based SEO and pay-per-click agency with a global reputation in paid search.
Brad Geddes is the founder of bgTheory.com; a company dedicated to SEO and PPC consulting, educating, and training businesses on internet marketing theory and best practices.
Dave Davis is the Managing Director of Redfly Marketing, a full-service Online Marketing Agency in Dublin, Ireland.
George Michie is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rimm-Kaufman Group. George is an acknowledged thought-leader in Paid Search Marketing and sits on Google’s SEM Advisory Council.
Larry Kim is Founder of WordStream, a provider of PPC software and services.
Greg Meyers is the author of www.SemGeek.com, Founder of iGESSO Internet Marketing, and Partner/CMO of Venturit, Inc. - IT Consulting Firm.
Marty Weintraub is President of aimClear, a search marketing agency in Minnesota, as well as an regular contributor to the aimClear search marketing blog.
Alan Mitchell is a PPC consultant in Australia specializing in highly-granular long-tail PPC management. Follow him on Twitter: @alanmitchell
Tom Demers is Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Measured SEM.
Richard Cotton is a paid search marketer who works for Distilled, an SEO, PPC & Internet Marketing Company in London.
Geordie Carswell is co-founder of Diversion Marketing, a search marketing consultancy, who contributes to the PPC Blog, which features a useful Google Ads Strategy flowchart
Josh Dreller is Vice President of Media Technology for Fuor Digital, an agency concentrating in digital media marketing campaigns.
Elizabeth Marsten is Director of Search Marketing at Portent Interactive, a company that provides Internet Marketing in Seattle.
Joe Kerschbaum is Director of Client Services for Clix Marketing and has been working in SEM since 2006.
Jenny Anderson is a search marketing consultant at Hanapin Marketing and writes for Hanapin’s blogs, PPC Hero and SEO Boy.
Update: Does Quality Score Still Matter in 2021? Find out!
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