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The value of having a strong Quality Score has increased in recent times, with an article from Larry Kim suggesting that the Cost per Click savings as a result of having a high Quality Score are even greater than they used to be (200% more valuable to be precise!). The only problem is that it has become increasingly more challenging to achieve a high Quality Score compared to past years.
You’re probably familiar with the basics of Quality Score, but there is a lot more to it than AdWords publicise. This blog post will cover the different types of AdWords Quality Score and suggest some tips for improving them.
Quality Score is a way for AdWords to ensure that relevant and quality ads are returned to users. AdWords uses Quality Score to balance the relevance and quality of ads alongside their CPC bid (ad rank).
Quality Score is fundamental to a healthy AdWords account because it determines your eligibility to take part in ad auctions. If you have a poor Quality Score because your ads aren’t relevant enough, it doesn’t matter how high you bid, you will always be limited in your AdWords performance and it will be much more costly to use AdWords.
It is also an element which determines Ad Rank. Ad Rank ultimately determines where in the paid search results your ad will appear. This means that if you have a high Quality Score, you will achieve a higher ad rank and will therefore be eligible to show higher up in the paid search results (at a lower cost).
Another key element of Ad Rank is your bids (AdRank = Max. CPC x Quality Score and Expected Ad Extensions Performance) and it is important to be aware that your bid is just as influential as Quality Score in determining where you’ll appear in the paid search results.
If you can get in the top positions whilst still remaining cost effective, you can also take advantage of sitelinks and other ad extensions, which will further increase your CTR and enhance your Quality Score.
The higher your Quality Score, the less you tend to pay per click (CPC). This is because Google charge you less for a click if your ads, landing pages and other factors are as relevant as possible to the search query. It’s their way of balancing the relevancy of ads with the CPC bid.
Cost per Click is calculated using the formula:
Ad Rank of the ad below yours divided by your Quality Score.
The only Quality Score you’ll find in your account is at keyword level, however many PPC specialists acknowledge that there are other levels of Quality Score than keyword level.
The overall historical performance of all keywords and ads in an account determine what is known as account level Quality Score.
This means that if you have a large level of low Quality Score keywords in your account (perhaps from a low CTR, low relevance or other factors), you will have a low level account Quality Score.
When you have a low overall account level Quality Score, it means that any new keywords, ad groups or campaigns, will struggle to achieve a high Quality Score because the overall account Quality Score will limit them.
The existence of an account level Quality Score is also supported by the fact that older PPC accounts which have a large level of history within them tend to perform better than completely new accounts (assuming their history is good and they don’t have lots of poor performing keywords). So if you were to add a new keyword into an account which has a strong history, you will probably find that it performs better and gains a strong Quality Score faster than it would have done if you put it into a brand new account with no history.
The overall performance of your account in geographical locations is also taken into consideration at account level for Quality Score. This means that if there are poorly performing geographical locations for your account, you may find that they negatively affect your overall account level Quality Score.
The next Quality Score type is the main one Google promote:
Keyword level Quality Score is the Quality Score that you can see when you log into AdWords. It’s the official kind of Quality Score that Google promote to advertisers to help them improve their ads.
Quality Score at keyword level is reportedly calculated based only on queries that exactly match your keyword. This means that your Quality Score will be the same for any keyword, regardless of match type. Although I am sceptical that this is true, my experience has lead me to believe that Quality Score considers your match type when it is calculated, so that if a broad match keyword has lots of less relevant search queries triggering it, this is considered and allowed for within the calculation of Quality Score, so that the Quality Score of a broad match keyword wouldn’t be negatively affected in Quality Score simply because it has less relevant keywords triggering it, as that is the nature of broad match.
The best analogy I can think of for explaining this is when someone who is unwell during an exam is given some lenience on their end score because they were unwell. Broad match and phrase match keywords are given some lenience in their Quality Score because it is natural that the search queries which trigger them aren’t going to be as relevant as those which trigger an exact match keyword.
The average position of your ads does not directly affect your Quality Score. Google consider the positions of ads when calculating Quality Score, by assuming that when ads have higher average positions they are bound to achieve higher CTRs. For example if an ad has a high average position and achieves a high CTR as a result, this will be compensated for when its Quality Score is calculated and it will not benefit from it.
Similarly if an ad has a low average position resulting in a lower CTR, AdWords considers it when calculating Quality Score, so that it doesn’t have a negative effect. It’s kind of like creating a level playing field regardless of where your ad is shown in results. I believe that this is because average position is affected most significantly by bids, rather than Quality Score factors, and so it wouldn’t ensure the most relevant results were returned if AdWords considered strong average positions as part of Quality Score.
If your keywords don’t have many impressions, Keyword Quality Score is based on a kind of ‘industry average’ Quality Score that is determined using data from Google.com, until your keywords achieve a significant number of impressions within your own account. Once the keyword has reached the impression threshold, its Quality Score will reflect its performance in your account rather than a historical industry average. There isn’t any official knowledge of what the impression threshold is, although I believe it might be determined on an average for each particular vertical or industry.
This is why it’s really important to prioritise optimisation of keywords with lots of impressions as these are the ones which will influence the performance of your account. Create an impression weighted Quality Score for your keywords so you know you’re working on the ones which will have an impact. You can do this by multiplying each keyword Quality Score by the number of impressions accrued to that keyword:
To boost the number of impressions your keywords get in the initial stages of a campaign or new account, you could try:
Originally, a Quality Score of 7 was thought to be a good average level, however recently it has become harder to achieve a QS of 7. In my experience, a Quality Score of between 5 and 6 is now average and a Quality Score of 7 is strong. A Quality Score above 7 is becoming even more rare and should be considered a good achievement.
There are so many different tactics for improving keyword level Quality Score, that I’m not going to be able to cover them within this blog post unfortunately, but the primary factor to improve is the relevancy between your keyword, ad text and landing page.
Ad group level Quality Score doesn’t have any specific Quality Score elements, but is all about increasing the relevance of your ad groups so your keywords and ads are relevant to each other and achieve a strong CTR.
This is not to be confused with Ad Level quality score:
Your ads are a key factor for determining your CTR, which is one of the most important contributing factors for your Quality Score.
Having low CTR ads in your ad groups will be having a negative effect on your Quality Score.
Let’s not forget about the pages themselves:
The relevance and performance of your landing page is another factor which contributes to your Quality Score. Landing page Quality Score is an important factor in the overall Quality Score puzzle, but please note that it isn’t going to directly affect your CTR which is the main thing that influences your Quality Score. It’s still really important to optimise landing pages as they are one of many boxes to tick in the quest for a strong Quality Score. The additional benefit of good landing pages, is that they also generally improve your conversion rate.
Landing page quality is assessed by the AdWords Quality Score ‘algorithm’, as well as by spot checks from real people.
The factors Google list as influencers on the landing page element of Quality Score are relevance of content, transparency and trustworthiness, and ease of navigation.
Display Network Quality Score is calculated with some differences to the search network Quality Score.
Display network Quality Score affects display network ad rank slightly differently depending on the targeting method used. Essentially ad rank for display network is:
Ad Rank = Bid × Quality Score
If you use placement targeting and CPM bidding, your bid at ad group or placement level is used, alongside your ad group level Quality Score. If you use CPC and keyword targeting it will be your keyword level bids which are used alongside Quality Score.
With the growth in mobile device use, that too plays a role:
AdWords calculates Quality Score for mobile devices in the same way as it is calculated for desktop devices, however the performance of your campaigns on mobile vs the performance of campaigns on desktop won’t affect each other’s Quality Score. This means if your campaigns always get a poor CTR on mobile and they have a low Quality Score on mobile as a result, your desktop campaigns won’t be negatively affected by them.
The only additional aspect which is taken into account is the users’ location and the business’ location (where such data is available). This means that location performance is even more crucial on mobile devices, so pay particular attention to the location data in the dimensions tab if you bid on mobile devices, and then use location bid adjustments and location exclusions to optimise your performance for location. Although you can’t specifically optimise your location performance for mobiles alone, you can optimise for location across all devices which will still have an impact.
Hopefully this post has provided some insight into the lesser well known aspects of Quality Score, and given you some ideas on how to improve each type.
Improving Quality Score can be a long process, and the changes you make probably won’t have an instant effect. Account level Quality Score in particular can take weeks or months to improve, but once you’ve got it back in shape the benefits are more than worth it.
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