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Thursday, March 06, 2008

AdWords Quality Score FAQ

The AdWords quality score is a sore spot for some advertisers, a non issue to others and a mystery to others. I receive dozens of e-mails a week with paid search questions and more than half of them are in some way related to the AdWords quality score. Following is my own version of an AdWords quality score FAQ. Some of the answers are from Google documents or their help center and some are based on experience.

Question 1 - How can I improve my quality score?
*answers are applicable to search network quality scores

Before you jump head first into trying to improve your keyword's quality score I think it's important to understand what the quality score is and how it it's used. Head over and read Google's What is a "Quality Score" and how is it used? page. AdWords offers some suggestions that if implemented properly can help improve your keyword quality score. The full document is here. The main points from that page are:

- Identify Goals
- Organize Your Account for Maximum Effectiveness
- Choose Relevant Keywords and Placements
- Create Straightforward Targeted Ads.
- Optimize Your Website for Conversions
- Track Your Account Performance
- Test and Modify Your Campaigns to get the Results You Want

A lot of the items are more general best practices than they are specific actions that can be taken to directly influence your keyword quality score but they are important and do play a role. Out of all of the items listed on that page the following are the most helpful in terms of showing a relatively quick improvement to your quality score:

- Create highly specific ad groups.
I am a fan of one keyword per ad group. That allows for maximum control. I believe Google suggests 20 or so keywords per ad group and while i think in some cases that's ok, I'm still not convinced that there is any drawback to limiting ad groups to a single keyword. I sometimes go so far as to put singular and plural versions of the same word in their own ad group. Even if the one keyword per ad group is not the path you want to take, keep your ad groups small and tightly themed.

- Include your keyword(s) in your ad copy and headline/title
At minimum you should include your keyword(s) in the ad title. It doesn't hurt to include it in the ad text as well. If you can incorporate it into the url ( that's been a CTR winner in most of the tests I have participated in.

- Test multiple ads
Test, Test, test and when you think you have a winner test a lot more. As you identify winning ad elements incorporate them into future tests. You should always be testing ad copy. Always. CTR (click through rate) is a key element of a keywords quality score.

- Avoid duplicate keywords across ad groups
Including the same keyword in multiple ad groups causes you to compete with yourself. Don't do it. Here are some sample Google campaigns that show setups for single/multiple product scenarios.

- Use a high quality landing page
At minimum, try and incorporate the keyword(s) from your ad group in the landing page. According to the AdWords landing page guidelines your landing page should include relevant (in relation to your ad/keyword) and original content, be transparent in terms of that nature of your business, how your site will interact with a visitors computer, what data your site will collect and how your business will use that data. Your landing should also have straight forward navigation that makes it easy for a user to navigate your site and find what they are looking for.

By no means is this relatively short answer meant to be an exhaustive list of ways to improve your quality score. In addition to all of the points listed above here are some additional resources you should use to learn more about the AdWords quality score and how you can improve the quality scores of the keywords in your account.

AdWords Help Center - Quality and Performance Overview
AdWords Help Center - Quality and Performance Factors
AdWords Help Center - Ad Quality and Performance Troubleshooting
AdWords Help Center - Improving Ad Performance
AdWords Learning Center - Optimizing Ad Performance
Dave Davis - 10 Ways to Increase AdWords Quality Score
PPC Hero - How to Improve Your AdWords Quality Score
AdWords Search Engine - Improve Quality Score

Also, Google recently confirmed that in the not to distant future landing page load time will be an element used in calculating the AdWords quality score.

If you know of any other resources related to the AdWords quality score that would make a good addition to this list feel free to e-mail me or let me know if the comments.

Question 2 - How many quality scores are there?

There is a quality score that used to rank ads and one that's used to set minimum bids. Content and search networks also have different quality scores. The quality score types and formulas are explained here.

Question 3 - Will changing to a different keyword match type, for example from broad match to exact match, give me a better quality score?

No, match type does not have a direct impact on your quality score. While you may end up with a better quality score because you use a different match type, it's not strictly due to the match. In the above example, if you were using broad match with no negatives and had a dismal CTR you may have a poor quality score. If you changed to exact match which resulted in better targeting and therefore a higher CTR you could see an improvement in your quality score. That improvement is not a direct result of the match type, it's a result of the improved relevancy (CTR) of that keyword.

Question 4 - I have been told (and read lots of places) that when I first start a new AdWords campaign I should bid really high so my ad is higher on the page. That will give me a higher click through rate and that means I will have a better quality score. Is that good advice?

Simply put, no, it's not good advice. The quality score is normalized to account for differences in position. Google knows that as in higher positions will have a higher click through rate just like ads in lower positions will have a lower click through rate. Bidding higher to place higher on a page to improve your quality score doesn't work so don't waste your time.

Related - Google Normalizes Click Through Rate for AdWords Quality Score Scoring.

Question 5 - Having Flash on your landing page is bad for your quality score right?

No, Flash on a landing page is fine from a quality score point of view. Quality score aside you should be careful when using flash on your landing pages but in and of itself it's not going to hurt (or improve) your quality score...unless of course it's excessive and slows the loading of your landing page.

Question 6 - I get a lot of clicks from the Google Search Network. Does that help improve my quality score?

No, the search network does not influence your quality score. The quality score is calculated based on activity only. If you activate a campaign with search + search network the results in your account show activity for both. It's possible to have an incredible CTR but have a poor quality score. This happens when your ad is doing great on the search network but performing poorly on I usually start all new campaigns with the search network turned off.

Side note - Google, please let advertisers run search network only campaigns. Pretty please. Just like the content network, we'll find ways to make it work and probably end up using it more than it's used now.

Question 7 - Does using dynamic keyword insertion help my quality score?

Dynamic keyword insertion can help improve your ads CTR which would have a positive impact on your quality score....although even Google hints at the fact that a tightly themed ad group with well written, highly relevant "static" text ads can perform just as well and in a lot of cases better. There are cases where dynamic keyword insertion makes sense but in most cases I prefer to use static ads.

If someone asked me, my advice would be to try and use static text ads to start and rotate in ads that use dynamic text after you've established a baseline and want to do some ad testing.

Question 8 - Does turning off the content network help improve my quality score? My CTR is always a lot lower on the content network so I assume turning it off will help my quality score improve.

The content network uses a separate quality score and it does not impact/influence your search network quality score.

Question 9 - How can I find out what my quality score is?

See: How do I know what my quality score is?

Question 10 - I am the only person bidding on a certain keyword but my minimum bid is higher than I think it should be. If I'm the only one bidding how come my minimum bid isn't $0.01? My quality score is "OK".

Your minimum bid is determined by your quality score, not how many other people are bidding on a particular keyword. The AdWords team goes into more detail on this subject in the following two posts:

A Common AdWords Misconception Explained and A Common Misconception Revisited.

Question 11 - I just a made a lot of changes to my AdWords campaigns and to my landing pages to try and improve my quality score. How soon should I expect to see quality score changes in my account?

When new keywords are added Google calculates the quality score immediately to determine the minimum bid. Quality scores are updated based on how quickly Google can gather statistically significant data sets to calculate a new quality score. This can happen numerous times a day for high volume keywords and phrases whereas lower volume terms may have quality score updates applied a few times a week. The ad rank quality score is updated in real time and is based on historical data.

**See this September 2008 update regarding the real time calculation of the quality score**

In terms of updating the landing page quality score, Google says:

"The AdWords system visits and evaluates advertiser landing pages on a regular basis. Due to the evolving nature of the quality evaluation system, the frequency may change based on improvements to the system or the level of user traffic to AdWords ads and landing pages. We plan to visit pages at least once a month but may do so more often."

Question 12 - I just added a bunch of new keywords to my account and almost 1/2 of them received a poor quality score and minimum bid of $5.00 right away before I ever received a single impression. How the hell can Google say I have a poor quality score before my ad even gets a chance to run?

This is fairly common when you're using a keyword that Google does not have a lot of history for. Your initial quality score, at least for determining the minimum bid, is based on historical data. When I see this happen the best thing to do is nothing - let the keyword/ad run for about 24 hours. Google will show the ad even if says it's inactive to help measure the quality score. If your keyword/ad combo proves effective it's not unusual to see a quick improvement in your quality score as well as a significant drop in your minimum bid.

Question 13 - It seems like no matter what I do or try my quality score is always poor. Are there certain types of sites that just don't work well with AdWords?

Yes. In late 2007 Google announced via the AdWords blog that there are certain types of sites that may receive a poor quality score and there are other types of sites that will almost always receive poor quality scores.

According to Google these types of sites will receive a poor landing page quality score:

  • Data collection sites that offer free gifts, subscription services etc., in order to collect private information
  • Arbitrage sites that are designed for the sole purpose of showing ads
  • Malware sites that knowingly or unknowingly install software on a visitor's computer
These types of sites may receive a poor landing page quality score:

  • eBook sites that show frequent ads
  • 'Get rich quick' sites
  • Comparison shopping sites
  • Travel aggregators
  • Affiliates that don't comply with our affiliate guidelines
Question 14 - Is there a site or something I can sign up to find out in advance about quality score updates before they happen?

No. In the past the AdWords team would sometimes post advance notices on the AdWords blog regarding quality score updates but starting in September 2007 they essentially discontinued this practice:

"Lastly, you may recall past Inside AdWords blog notices alerting advertisers about upcoming landing page quality updates. Since our systems frequently visit landing pages and update Quality Scores on a regular basis, we will no longer post advance notice of upcoming updates. We will, however, continue to inform you of any significant changes to landing page quality guidelines or the factors which are considered in calculating landing page quality."

This FAQ will be updated from time to time. If you have any questions related to the AdWords quality score feel free to contact me or leave your question in the comments.

Related: Quality Score Changes
Google occasionally makes significant changes to the quality score. Starting with the changes announced on August 21, 2008 I plan to link to all significant quality score change announcements from this post.

- Quality Score Improvements : August 21, 2008
- Slight Change to the 'Official Quality Score' - CTR on Partner Search Sites Matters in Certain Instances

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At 4:45 AM, Anonymous Suresh Chowhan said...

You have select a nice topic and write a great content with guidelines. I found its suitable for me. I was looking some tips and steps of PPC before start a campaign. You have a great work here. Thank to share this type of post.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI, you can now to a certain degree track performance of Google search network separately (at least on one partner). AOL now has their own private-labeled AdWords interface through which you'll be able to bid on AOL traffic separately and track the performance to see if AOL paid results really convert differently than Didn't know if you had heard of this yet or not.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger David Rodnitzky said...

A really great post Jeremy - I am sending it around to my clients.

One outstanding question I have is whether SEO techniques (meta-description, keyword density, source code layout) have an impact on QS. Any ideas on that?


At 10:07 AM, Blogger Jeremy Mayes said...

Thanks David.

In terms of search optimization techniques providing an AdWords quality score benefit...I have not done any real testing to be able to say definitively one way or the other.

I will say that for the past 2+ years I have been incorporating search optimization techniques into the sites/pages I use for paid search. I've often referred to these as "dual purpose" pages. If I'm going through the effort of having a site/page built to use with paid search I decided why not apply at least basic search optimization techniques to those pages/sites in order to pick some additional traffic via natural search. To date there has been no down side to this technique. There are some cases where I wouldn't go down that path but they are few and far between.

A more direct response to your gut tells me that onpage search optimization techniques, while they may not provide a direct quality score benefit, surely don't hurt anything and for the most part are fairly simple to implement.

@ anonymous,

yes, I was aware of the private label AOL option although I have never used it. If anyone has I would love to hear how it went or is going.

At 11:48 PM, Blogger Nik said...

Thanks for the great post

At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Sahaj said...

Hi Jeremy

Nice article about quality score. I have written an article which takes about the different quality scores and how they are used by Google.
Google Adwords Quality Score-1, Google Adwords Quality Score-1.


At 8:23 AM, Anonymous krishna said...

Great posts covering various aspects of Quality Score. You need a pat mate ;) for writing this wonderful post. Tweeted this one :)

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a handful of questions I need to answer for school before Monday. Can anyone help me with ANY of these? I am new to Adwords...Thanks!

I found you on the internet, told to be an adwords guru. Can you help me out with a few questions?

-A customer, who started their search for a refrigerator 15 days ago by clicking an ad and visiting, returned to today and bought a $5,000 commercial refrigerator. Both Mom and Pop were intrigued by the keyword that was used to trigger the purchase. However, when they looked at today’s sales on Adwords, Adwords reported zero sales. Confused, Pop decided to test the tracking setup and placed a test order after clicking an ad and verified everything was setup correctly. Assume the customer did indeed click on a Adwords ad, tracking is setup perfectly, and the customer did nothing that would disable the conversion from being tracked. What happened?

-Over a six-month period, why might Google Analytics report 30% more conversions from Google Adwords than Google Adwords is reporting? Assume the tracking for both was in place and working properly over the entire period.

-In Google’s calculation of quality score, do they normalize click-through rate by average position on the content network? On the search network?

-How do you get an advertisement to show on all sites except video game password sites?

-An advertiser was bidding on the terms: “shoes”, “nike shoes”, “nike air Pegasus” and “nike air Pegasus black”. After a week, the ROAS (defined as revenue/cost) and Profit were reported by Adwords conversion tracking as follows:

Keyword ROAS Profit
shoes 30% -$3,200
nike shoes 50% -$2,100
nike air Pegasus 120% +$521
nike air Pegasus black 130% +$79

Based on these results, the advertiser paused the keywords “shoes” and “nike shoes” hoping to get around $600 in profit per week on the keywords “Nike air Pegasus” and “Nike air Pegasus Black” alone. However, the profit dropped to less than $50 profit per week on these terms.

The advertiser began to investigate the cause. He found out that the shoes have been in stock, and his store has always had the best price. He asked his Nike rep whether sales of the shoe have gone down nationwide, and the Nike rep said they have actually gone up significantly. He finally suspected that something happened to the Web site to cause the conversion rate for these shoes to change and found that the conversion rate for these shoes is slightly higher this week versus the week before.

Help the advertiser understand what he’s missing and why.

-On the content network you can bid by CPC or CPM. You notice on one site that you’re averaging a CPC of $1.00 at a CTR of 0.5%. You decide to change to CPM bidding. Do the calculation from CPC to CPM.

Now, after changing to CPM bidding at the bid you just calculated, you notice your ad no longer appears. You increase your bid by 50% and your ad still doesn’t appear. You change your bid back to CPC and it starts to appear again. What’s happening?

-Is it meaningless to phrase match a single word?

-How would you add a single negative keyword so that you only block several keyword queries that might contain the keyword “Headphone”?

-If you have the keyword coffee drinks in ad group 1 that is broad matched with a bid of $0.75 and the keyword coffee drinks in ad group 2 in the same account that is phrase matched with a bid of $0.40, which one will be triggered for a search for “recipes for coffee drinks”?

-A campaign with only broad matched terms has a low impression share, zero lost impressions due to budget, zero lost impressions due to rank, and a high exact match impression share. What is happening and how would you fix it?


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