Quality Score Hacks: 3 Sneaky Ways to Increase Your Quality Score


Don’t you just love how we can call almost anything a “hack” these days?

Quality Score Hack

Most of the “hacks” I see on the Internet are just tips, but calling them hacks makes it feel like you’re getting away with something. And whatever makes work more fun, I’m all for it.

So let’s talk Quality Score. We’ve harped on and on about the importance of Quality Score. It can save you up to 50% on cost per click (CPC), and those savings at the level of the click translate into savings of up to 80% on CPA, or cost per conversion. In other words, optimizing for Quality Score is basically a way to optimize for costs.

So how do you actually increase your Quality Scores? Google’s exact formula for calculating Quality Score is famously mysterious, like the recipe for Coke. But we do know that click-through rate is the single most important factor. That’s because CTR is the most obvious measure of relevance to users – they wouldn’t consistently be clicking your ads if your ads didn’t speak to their needs. Google wants to keep users happy so they keep clicking ads – therefore, the easiest way to improve your Quality Scores is to get your click-through rates up higher.

None of these methods will work overnight – it takes time to increase your Quality Scores. But these three sneaky “hacks” are the easiest ways to improve CTR and, consequently, Quality Score across your account.

Quality Score Hack #1: Use Site Extensions & PLA’s

If the three rules of real estate are location, location, location, the three rules of Google ads are extensions, extensions, extensions. Ad extensions are free to use and pretty much guaranteed to increase your click-through rates.

Which extension you should use depends on what your goals are, so check out our Ad Extensions Cheat Sheet for more info, and remember that you can combine multiple extensions. Here are some of the big ones:


Sitelinks give searchers more options on where to click – instead of picking one destination landing page, you can pick 5 or more.

Call Extensions

Call extensions are especially key for mobile ads, allowing people to call you with one click and get what they need right when they want it. (Time to conversion is faster on mobile devices!)

Location Extensions

Add map information, address and phone number to your ad without taking up the space you need to communicate your value prop and call to action. These are obviously more crucial for local, brick-and-mortar businesses.

And if you’re running an e-commerce account, definitely definitely use Product Listing Ads. They look like this:

Product Listing Ads

For specific product searches, PLA’s have a ton of advantages:

  • Images make them extra clickable
  • They match up really well with searcher intent
  • They don’t necessarily look like ads
  • They include price information, so they pre-qualify clicks

This is why PLA’s suck up all the intent on the SERP for those end-of-funnel queries. You’re bound to get better CTR with a PLA than a plain-flavor text ad, so add them to your arsenal.

Quality Score Hack #2: Bid on Brand Terms

There are a number of good reasons to bid on branded terms in AdWords. Two of them are all about saving you $$$:

  1. Branded terms are dirt cheap due to low competition.
  2. Branded terms get super-duper high CTR’s and Quality Scores, so they lift your account-wide average, saving you even more money.

You’re also highly likely to rank in the top position for brand terms, which means your sitelinks will display. Branded terms seem to be especially favored when it comes to the new Enhanced Sitelinks:

Quality Score Tricks

When you combine the Enhanced Sitelinks with the #1 organic result, Barneys basically has 12 results above the fold. #crazy

Quality Score Hack #3: Put an Exclamation Point in Every Ad

Google only allows you to use one exclamation point in your ad, but dadgumit, make sure you use your allotted exclamation point! Something about a vertical line and a dot just makes people more likely to click your ad. It’s almost like people can actually hear your ad shouting louder than the other ones.

Test it out for yourself – run two ads that are exactly the same except for a single punctuation mark, one with an exclamation point and one without. I bet you $10 the one with the exclamation point gets a higher CTR.

It’s possible that there are exceptions to this rule – like maybe you don’t want to exclaim anything too enthusiastically if you’re writing ads for a funeral parlor? But for 95% of advertisers, adding exclamation points to all your ads is probably the easiest CTR hack there is.

Along similar lines, use the word “free” freely – if you are actually pushing a free offer (like a free trial), that is. Check out this ad from russianbrides.com – they’re rocking the exclamation point, the word “free” and sitelinks for individual mail-order brides.

google quality score hacks

Or maybe they have whole sections of brides named “Irina” that you can browse? I’m afraid to check.

Remember, people like free stuff, but you obviously don’t want to straight-up lie in your ad. If you’re a luxury retailer, probably don’t say you’re giving away free Louboutins. You’ll just end up paying for clicks that don’t convert.

Bonus Pseudo-Hack: Don’t Focus on Negatives for Quality Score

Negative keywords are really important for cost containment, but – little known fact! – they won’t affect your Quality Scores. Common sense tells you that any tactic that reduces irrelevant impressions will raise your click-through rates and therefore improve your Quality Scores. But Google only takes CTR for exact match keywords into account when calculating Quality Score. Negative keywords filter out impressions for the more permissive match types, like broad and phrase match, but they don’t affect your exact-match keywords. So yes, we recommend doing negative keyword research on a regular basis – just don’t call it a Quality Score hack. 


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Aug 20, 2013

Of all the searches you could have done looking for an example of an exclamation point, "free" and use of sitelinks...wh did you pick "mail order brides"?That said...I loled

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 20, 2013

I was trying to search for "mail-order" something else (I can't remember what it was now), and "mail-order brides" was one of the Google suggestions. I couldn't resist. 

Aug 22, 2013

these are not hacks, all this recommendations are no brainers, all fundamental.

Oct 20, 2013

#2 reminded me of the eBay branded keyword research http://conference.nber.org/confer/2013/EoDs13/Tadelis.pdf

Sep 28, 2013

I tried to see if they had a dedicated page of Irina! Guess what? Nah I'm not going to tell you you have to find it out yourself haha! Good one Elisa :)

Rod Gante
Sep 06, 2013

We have implemented sitelinks (enhanced sitelinks or sitelinks with additional detail; with description) on high-QS generic KWs and the descriptions are not showing with the sitelink text. We have tested this also to ad groups where its average position is 1, but still only the sitelink texts are shown. I tried to search for brand terms of competitors and theirs (sitelinks with description) are showing. Do you reckon that Google only shows them for brand terms?Significant results are improved overall CTR and substantial clicks on the sitelink itself though. 

Vlad Kohhantshuk
Aug 26, 2013

Hi. Could you please provide us a link to the Google resource, which confirms that in QS calculation only exact-match queries clicks CTR is considered? It is quite interesting, I never heard anything like that. On other hand, I can not agree that CTR is solely a largest contributor to a QS. If you have shoes in the ad text, and you have cucumbers on a webpage - your QS will never go higher than 4/10. I have seen many accounts like that while working in Google Adwords Support. Accordingly, I have seen accounts with CTR = 0% (non-starters) and QS 10/10.

Olaf Pijl
Aug 26, 2013

Thanks for the advice! Nothing new for me, but nice and practical for the up-and-coming AdWords pro's. However, the difference in cost and/or Ad Rank between the top vs. the bottom Quality Score is a factor 8.6. Keywords with a QS of 10 get a 30% discount, and keywords with a QS of 1 get a 600% discount. 600%/0.7%/100= 8.57. Here's  a webpage with more info on Quality Score discounts for all AdWords Quality Scores.

Harish Dahima
Aug 26, 2013

Great article, I'm going to test your exclamation point hack.

Randall Magwood
Aug 24, 2013

I like Quality Score Hack #3. Didn't know a simple symbol could make a huge difference in quality score. Will be using this now. Thanks a ton!

Nov 25, 2014

This is the most basic addwords stuff
How is called a hack

Feel annoyed my time was wasted reading

Mar 06, 2014

Thanks for the hacks, will put them to the test and report back in few weeks :)

Dec 18, 2013

Thank for this useful post!.One question: Can we bid on Branded terms of the competition?.I mean, if we are COMPANY A, can we bid on the term "COMPANY B"? 

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

I was using "hack" in a tongue-in-cheek way, see first few paragraphs....but yes, they are no-brainers and easy to boot.

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 26, 2013

Thanks Randall!

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 26, 2013

@Vlad, PPC Hero has a good explanation:Google essentially measures Quality Score without considering keyword match type.  Therefore, if you have a broad, phrase, and exact match of the same keyword in your account, all three will have the same Quality Score.  Google will determine a keyword’s QS based on an exact match with a query.  For example, the broach match keyword pink slippers will have the same Quality Score in relation to the search query pink slippers as it would if it were an exact match. Therefore, changing a keyword’s match type does not directly alter keyword-level Quality Score.Again, it's not that you only get a Quality Score for exact-match keywords, it's that CTR is measured for search queries that exactly match the keyword you're bidding on, regardless of that match type. Google reps have confirmed this multiple times, but the support pages don't always get into the low-level details.

Sep 07, 2013

Hi,Who puts broad match, exact match and phrase match on the very same Ad Group?When you put phrase and exact match on the same Ad Group even the Adwords Editor will show you a warning message.I never put broad match and exact match on on the same Ad Group because of many reasons, and I can prove that this statement is not right. How Google calculate QS if there is no exact match on an Ad Group then? If you say it considers the broad match as an exact match well that's not true.I have to different campaigns for the very same region one with exact match and one with broad match.Keyword is free + something and the Quality Score for the exact match is 6 meanwhile the quality score for the broad match is 3...Erno

Elisa Gabbert
Sep 06, 2013

Rod, it's possible that the new Enhanced Sitelinks only show up on brand terms currently -- I've had a hard time finding a SERP where they show up for something that's not a brand term. Hopefully they'll be expanded to  other types of queries soon!

Aug 20, 2013

I confess I've been wrong about the bonus pseudo-hack. Yikes! Here's what our friend Brad Geddes has to say about Quality Score:

The truth is that the CTR that determines your keyword’s quality score is based upon the user’s search query precisely matching the keyword in your ad group, regardless of the match type you use.
     So match types don't matter, and since it's only the impressions of seach queries that precisely match the keyword in said ad group, neither do negative keywords. I think a lot of us will need to refresh our knowledge on this subject.

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 20, 2013

It's a VERY common misconception! Another myth is that you can increase your score by bidding to the top position, so you get more clicks -- CTR is normalized by position when calculating QS.

Sam Maley
Aug 22, 2013

Match type DOES affect quality score, quite significantly as well.Why do i know this? I've been doing a lot of PPC recently and after changing match types ive had the quality score move up to 3 ranks (eg. from 5/10 to 8/10) based solely on changing the match type.This is one factor that really is'nt that hard to test, go try it for yourself and see if you get the same result.

Vic Sunshine
Sep 09, 2013

I was thrown by this article when it said, "Google only takes CTR for exact match keywords into account when calculating Quality Score" since I've got EVERYTHING as "Modified Broad".  Then I saw your comment.  So, when you changed match types - what were you changing from, and changing to what?Thanks for any clarification.

Aug 20, 2013

Great article, I'm going to test your exclamation point hack.

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 20, 2013

Awesome! Let us know if it works for you

Ryan D
Aug 21, 2013

I heard that having a manufacturer inform Google that you are an authorized retailer will improve your Quality Score. Is there any truth to that?

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 21, 2013

Huh. I'm not sure. If anyone knows, please chip in!

Eran Malloch
Aug 22, 2013

Hi Ryan, I have never heard that before, BUT perhaps what they were referring to was when a manufacturer has trademarked their name/s with Google.In this scenario, no one could advertise on those keywords UNLESS the manufacturer gives the retailer permission via Google's trademark system.I very much doubt it would improve QS (unless you're a better PPC marketer than the manufacturer's PPC people) BUT it would let you at least get ads showing for those keywords, which is better than nothing.:-)Eran 

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

That reminds me, using symbols like the registered trademark or copyright symbol has been shown to increase CTR, much like exclamation points.

Louise Bailey
Aug 21, 2013

Great article and great tips! I agree, sitelinks and PLAs are a great way to improve you quality score - not so sure about the brand terms. My issue with sitelinks (enhanced campaign or not) is that they really only show on a regular basiswhen your ads are showing between position 1 and 3 and your global quality score is 7 or above. So, essentially when your quality scores are below 7 and your average position is 4 or 5 (the odds of your sitelinks showing up on a regular basis are very low).Lastly, the number of factors taken into account by Google to calculate your quality score is around 250. Your quality score is also calculated at the ad level, the ad group level and at the campaign level.  

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

Good point about needing a decent QS in the first place in order for sitelinks to show up. This is not, however, true of all extensions -- ads on the right side of the SERP can have location extensions for example.Thanks for reading!

Olaf Kopp
Aug 22, 2013

"Branded terms get super-duper high CTR’s and Quality Scores, so they lift your account-wide average, saving you even more money." In this point i cannot agree. We got Informations directly from Google that high CTRs on Brand Terms are not affecting the acount wide QF. 

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

Do you have a link for that?

Colin Brazendale
Aug 22, 2013

Getting friends and family to click ads to improve CTR. Will cost money in the beginning but you should save a lot later.What do you think?  

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

I'm not sure that approach is really sustainable. :)

Adwords Experts
Aug 22, 2013

Great Post!I didnt know about the Exclamation Hack, will test it out and let you guys know if it impacts Quality Scores.

Aug 22, 2013

"Google only takes CTR for exact match keywords into account when calculating Quality Score." You're saying Google only accounts for exact match keywords when determining QS?? That would be monumental in the ppc world and I've never heard it. Furthermore, I've inherited accounts with zero exact match kws, so how did Google calculate QS there??

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

No, I'm not saying only exact match keywords have Quality Scores. I'm saying that Google calculates QS based on CTR for exact-match queries -- in other words, if you have a broad match keyword, like shoes, Google only calcuates QS based on CTR when your ad displays for a search on shoes. If the search is for "clown shoes," but the keyword you're bidding on is shoes, that CTR doesn't affect your Quality Score. So setting "clown" as a negative keyword won't help you.  Make sense?

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 22, 2013

(There are exact match queries for keywords with any match type.)

Nov 09, 2016

Is it always advisable to bid on branded terms? If not, when is it not advisable to do so?

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 10, 2016

You can read more about the pros and cons here: http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2015/06/12/bidding-on-competitor-brands

Nov 11, 2016

Thanks for the good ideas. You state that "Google’s exact formula for calculating Quality Score is famously mysterious". Don't you think that with all the data of your WordStream clients combined with some mathematics, you should be able to come close to revealing this formula?

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