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Friday, February 3, 2023

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Introducing The All-Important Quality Score

Throughout this column, the phrase “Quality Score” has popped up on different occasions. Understanding Quality Score is fundamental for successful paid search campaigns, but can be a difficult concept for beginners to understand. So the time has come to cover this topic so you can use Quality Score to your advantage and not fall into its traps.

The early days before Quality Score

In the beginning of paid search, auctions existed in a purely capitalistic marketplace where the advertiser who was willing to pay the most for a keyword was awarded first place, the second highest-paying advertiser’s ads were second, and so forth. It was an easy system to understand and it made sense. However, the ad space became a bit muddled. Advertisers with deep pockets literally took over the search engine results pages on keywords that weren’t necessarily related to their business. For example, a global soft drink company could start to take over terms such as rock and roll, skateboards, or even Britney Spears. These advertisers mostly weren’t trying to cause chaos—they were just trying to reach their target demographic. But in doing so, the sponsored search results for some keywords could potentially contain no results directly related to what a searcher was looking for.

The engines realized that this could be a problem. Google has long maintained that the best thing for its business is to keep results as relevant as possible—including paid listings. To improve the relevance of paid search ads, Google created the Quality Score. Microsoft and Yahoo soon followed with their own systems to improve relevance of ads.

So what is Quality Score?

Simply put, Quality Score is a numeric grade from one to ten (ten being best) assigned to each of your keyword/ad/landing page combinations. The score is updated frequently, calculated at each time your keyword is searched on to account for changes to your terms and creatives. So what’s the value of a high Quality Score? If your keyword is deemed highly relevant, Google will lower your cost-per-click and rank your ad higher than other competitors even if they’re bidding more for those terms. On the flip side, a keyword with a low Quality Score may mean you have to bid a premium price to even appear on a search result page.

How is Quality Score calculated?

We don’t know exactly what goes into the Quality Score black box but we do know that high click-thru-rates (CTRs) are a big piece of the pie. The engines probably correlate high number of clicks as “virtual votes” by past users for the advertiser and figure a good CTR means a relevant keyword.

Google does offer some insight into how Quality Score is calculated in the AdWords help area:

While we continue to refine our Quality Score formulas for Google and the Search Network, the core components remain more or less the same:

  • The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword and the matched ad on Google; note that CTR on the Google Network only ever impacts Quality Score on the Google Network — not on Google
  • Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account
  • The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
  • The quality of your landing page
  • The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group
  • The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query
  • Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown
  • Other relevance factors

Note that there are slight variations to the Quality Score formula when it affects ad position and first page bid:

  • For calculating a keyword-targeted ad’s position, landing page quality is not a factor. Also, when calculating ad position on a Search Network placement, Quality Score considers the CTR on that particular placement in addition to CTR on Google.
  • For calculating first page bid, Quality Score doesn’t consider the matched ad or search query, since this estimate appears as a metric in your account and doesn’t vary per search query.

What do you really need to know about Quality Score?

You’ll have plenty of time to test various tactics to improve Quality Score once the campaign starts, so don’t waste too much time worrying about it right now. The one thing you do need to take into account though is to make sure you keep your ad groups tightly focused. Because click-thru-rate is the biggest weighting factor to Quality Score, you’ll want to make sure that your ads are highly relevant to the keywords in each group so that you get the best CTR as possible. In my experience, as long as you’re getting a good percentage of clicks to impressions, the engines will consider your terms relevant enough to gain fairly high scores. After that, there are just a few things to keep in mind such as ensuring that your landing pages are loading at a good speed and you have some of your ad group’s keywords in your ad text. You do those things right and your Quality Score should be just fine.

Overall, my best advice is to not obsess over Quality Score. There are a couple hundred other factors to PPC success that are just as important. The important thing now is to just make sure you understand the concept fully and do some extra research if you feel you still need some clarification.

Here are some links to more information regarding this topic:

This week’s question: “What have you heard about Quality Score?”

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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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