Understanding Quality Score: Building a Strategy for Relevance

  |  September 20, 2010   |  Comments

Are your PPC costs too high? Are your competitors' ads ranking higher than yours? It's time to work on your quality score.

Should you be concerned about quality score? If any of the following apply to you, the answer is yes:

  • Your pay-per-click costs are too high.
  • Your competitors' ads rank higher than yours.
  • You're unsatisfied with your ROI.
  • You lack resources to invest in improving results.
  • All of the above.

If you advertise via Google AdWords, odds are that one or all of these problems apply to you. Luckily, there's a single element that affects all of the above scenarios: quality score. Improving your AdWords quality score will solve every one of them. Let's take an in-depth look at how quality score is calculated, why it's important, and how to optimize quality score for more cost-effective, profitable PPC campaigns.

The Importance of Quality Score

Quality score is a crucial metric because it helps determine:

  • If your ad is eligible to be displayed in the sponsored results for a given search.
  • Your minimum bid and minimum first-page bid estimate.
  • How much you pay when a user clicks on your ad.
  • The position in which your ad appears.

Furthermore, because it measures relevance, quality score is a good predictor of the results you can expect from PPC. By bidding on relevant keywords with relevant ad copy and landing pages, you're more likely to attract qualified leads and achieve high conversion rates.

In search engine marketing, relevance is good for everyone:

  • It helps potential customers find what they're looking for.
  • It rewards advertisers for giving customers want they want.
  • By facilitating interactions between customers and advertisers, it gives search engines a sustainable profit stream.

So how does quality score really work?

How Quality Score Works

Quality score is a system devised by Google to measure advertising quality (or relevance). If your ad is relevant enough to match a search query, quality score also affects your ad position and cost per click (CPC).

According to Google, the factors that determine quality score of a numerical value between 1 and 10 include:

  • The historical click-through rate (CTR) of your account and keywords.
  • The relevance of your keywords to each other and to your ads.
  • The relevance of your destination URLs.
  • User experience metrics, such as page loading time.
  • Various other factors.

Also according to Google, a high-quality ad:

  • Is relevant to the query.
  • Accurately describes the product.
  • Is relevant to its corresponding landing page.

Google evaluates these factors and assigns a value to each keyword you're bidding on. The more relevance you show, the higher your score.

How Quality Score Affects Your PPC Campaigns

Quality score affects nearly all the important aspects of a PPC campaign, including:

  • Impressions
  • Cost per click
  • Ad rank
  • Premium positioning

How Quality Score Affects Impressions

When a user conducts a search, AdWords initiates an ad auction to determine which ads are relevant enough to appear. Quality score helps determine if your ad is relevant enough to enter the auction. Hence, higher scores allow more impressions.

Quality score also affects your minimum first-page bid estimate. Higher quality scores lead to lower minimum bids and minimum first-page bid estimates, both of which are related to the amount of exposure your ads receive.

How Quality Score Affects Ad Rank

To determine ad rank, Google multiplies your maximum CPC bid by your quality score. This makes it possible for an advertiser with a lower bid and higher quality score to outrank one with a higher bid and lower score.

How Quality Score Affects Cost Per Click

Quality score also determines how much you pay per click. To get actual CPC, divide the ad rank to beat by quality score and add one cent. By pursuing a strategy to raise your quality score, you may even find yourself paying less per click than your maximum CPC bid.

How Quality Score Affects Premium Positioning

Google sometimes displays sponsored ads in the highlighted region above the search results. Given their prominence, it's especially important that these ads be high quality, so Google places extra emphasis on quality score when determining which ads to display in this area. Because premium ad positioning cannot be bought by raising bids, it's another compelling incentive to focus on improving quality score.

So What's Your Strategy?

By now you can see the impact that quality score has on every aspect of your PPC campaigns, and you can probably imagine the cost and positioning advantages you could enjoy as a result of improved quality scores. So, how do you actually improve your scores?

The most important component of quality score is CTR, or the percentage of people who see your ad (total impressions) that go on to click it. To raise your CTR, you need to get more clicks and fewer irrelevant impressions. By focusing on raising your CTR through relevance, you'll improve all the factors that go into calculating quality score.

The following actions will all contribute to increased campaign-wide relevance, higher click-through rates, and, in turn, higher quality scores:

  • Next-generation keyword research: Your campaigns are built on keywords, so finding your most relevant keyword opportunities is crucial. This means aggregating keywords from multiple sources, including your own Web analytics, to build a personalized database of keywords that speak to your specific audience.
  • Keyword analysis: It's also important to analyze your keywords to determine your best and worst performers in terms of traffic and conversions. With limited time to devote to PPC activities, you should focus your energies on your most relevant keywords first.
  • Negative keyword discovery: Negative keywords allow you to restrict the search queries that trigger your ads, reducing irrelevant impressions and eliminating costly clicks from low-quality traffic that is unlikely to convert. (This also improves your CTR.)
  • Strategic keyword organization: Grouping thematically-related keywords has a slew of benefits, not least of which is that tightly-related keyword groups earn higher quality scores. Effective keyword grouping also makes it easier to write focused, relevant marketing copy.
  • Content creation: Authoring specific and descriptive ad text, landing pages, and other marketing collateral is obviously a priority; your keywords won't do any work for you if they're just sitting in a spreadsheet.
  • Continual growth and improvement: You need to look at PPC as an ongoing process in order to maintain gains and improve your results. It's key to find a system that allows you to practice regular keyword management in an efficient way.

Implementing a strategy that will increase your campaign's relevance and raise quality scores across the board will allow you to pull in more traffic and qualified leads without raising your PPC budget.

This column was originally published in SES Magazine in August 2010.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Larry Kim

Larry Kim is the founder and VP of product development of WordStream Inc., a Boston-based provider of next-generation keyword management solutions for pay-per-click (PPC) marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). He has almost a decade of experience managing search marketing campaigns both in-house and through his own agency. Larry is also an engineer with experience in software development and product management. Follow Larry on Twitter at @larrykim.

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