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Does Quality Score Impact B2B Search Advertising Success?

The premise that ad popularity and a high quality score leads to improved search advertising results may or may not be true….especially for B2B advertisers. I urge business marketers to challenge this assumption and understand the relationship between PPC quality score and ROI-based results.

Quality Score algorithms

In simple terms, ad position is primarily determined by how much an advertiser is willing to pay for each click (i.e. your bid) and the popularity, or click-through-rate (CTR), associated with your ad. Relevancy also plays a role… and very poor landing pages can lead to penalties.

More information can be found here on Google Quality Score, and Yahoo Quality Index. Details aside, Quality Score causes most advertisers to try and maximize response, or click-through-rate.

Note: Not surprisingly, this methodology also increases the click charges that go into the pockets of search networks!

Consumer traffic vs business buyers

I recently participated on a search advertising panel at an industry event, and had a very interesting discussion with other marketers in the room about Quality Score. I noticed that the majority of retail marketers seemed to agree that maximizing Quality Score made a lot of sense and that high scores did indeed generate improved PPC results.

I suppose that when you’re selling consumer products online — increasing PPC traffic (and getting the maximum amount of clicks for the money) does translate into more sales, revenue and hopefully profit. But for many B2B firms, I just haven’t found that this is the case. Why?

A specific target audience

Most business marketers are not necessary trying to reach a lot of people. Typically they have a very specific audience in mind, and can define buyers (and influencers) based on geography, type of company, size of company, and specific business needs.

For example, I work with many technology companies. The fact is, not every firm selling enterprise software is trying to reach every IT employee in the country. Rather, they know exactly what their buyer profile looks like and what a typical buying process entails.

B2B advertisers are usually very concerned about the specific characteristics of each PPC clicker. Most business marketers — especially those selling complex products or services with long sales cycles — would
prefer a few high quality leads versus a huge volume of visitors.

High click costs and limited budgets

This need for “quality clicks” is even more pronounced when B2B advertisers are operating in markets with very high click costs and/or have limited budgets. For instance, if you’re paying $15.00 a click, a popular
ad with a high CTR can get real expensive, real fast.

No doubt about it, increasing click-through and improving Quality Score/Index will deliver better ad position and usually more traffic for the money relative to your competitors. But, B2B marketers must ask themselves the following questions:

  • Based on my budget and current click costs, can I afford to maximize clicks?
  • What would a high CTR require in terms of a monthly PPC budget?
  • Does an improved Quality Score justify the associated cost?

Tips on PPC targeting

All advertisers should be deploying these PPC best practices to accurately target your audience:

  • Select very specific keywords and long tail keyword phrases
  • Utilize keyword match-types
  • Deploy negative keywords
  • Test geo-targeted ads (even for national brands)
  • Implement day-parting

But what if this isn’t enough? What if you’re still paying for PPC visitors who don’t convert (i.e. PPC visitors who don’t become leads and customers)?

Pre-qualifying ad copy?

Many B2B marketers deploy a strategy that involves “pre-qualifying” ad text. With this approach, you use your very precious, limited ad space to actually specify who should (and shouldn’t) click on your ads.

For example, here is a successful ad for an IT outsourcing provider. This ad has a high CTR and Quality Score:

IT Outsourcing
Find out if IT outsourcing
is right for your company

Compare this to a much more specific ad with pre-qualifying text:

Nationwide IT Outsourcing

Serving firms with 20 – 300 users.
Take self assessment survey.

The second ad actually specifies the target audience. It has a significantly reduced click-rate and a lower Quality Score, but a much higher conversion rate, and ultimately a better ROI.


Is ad popularity an appropriate metric for your firm? Can you actually afford to maximize click-through-rate? Does increased traffic lead to improved search advertising ROI? Each marketer must test and measure results
using various campaign optimization philosophies.

If there is a fairly direct relationship between ad position, traffic and ROI, by all means focus on improving Quality Score. Get the best ad position and the most visitors for the money. If not, stick with a ROI-focused program and test techniques such as pre-qualifying ad copy.

Just remember: don’t keep ’em guessing… tell them why they should click on your ad!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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