How the Google AdWords Quality Score Works

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At first glance, advertising with Google Adwords’ pay-per-click (PPC) program sounds pretty straightforward. Build an ad that features compelling copy and a link back to your site, choose the keywords you’d like your ad to display for, set the amount you’re willing to pay for each click based on where your bid will display your ad in the sponsored search results and sit back and wait for visitors to come through.

But, of course, there’s a complicating factor…

As an Adwords’ advertiser, the final placement of your ads and the amount you pay per click (known as your “CPC” or cost per click) isn’t just set based on a standard scale across all advertisers. Instead, your ads will also be evaluated on a number of different factors that lead to an overall “Quality Score” which determines what you’ll pay and how well your ads can rank.

So today, let’s look at what factors make up the Google Adwords Quality Score, how you can determine if your ads’ Quality Scores are hindering your PPC campaign results and how to improve any lagging Quality Scores in order to achieve better sponsored search placements and lower costs per click.

First, it’s important to note that Quality Scores exist for both search placements (the ads that show up in the Google SERPs based on the keyword that’s been searched for) and listings on the display network (sites that display blocks of Adsense advertisements within their content). Both types of Quality Scores consider similar criteria, although the way they’re implemented is slightly different.

If you advertise on the search network, Google lists the following factors as being instrumental in calculating your ad’s Quality Score:

• The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword and the matched ad on the Google domain
• 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

Essentially, these factors can be broken down into three major categories: ad CTR, landing page quality and keyword relevance.

Ad CTR refers to how well your ads (and your account overall) have performed in the past. Remember that Google is constantly trying to provide the best results for its users, so it puts a premium on ads that get clicked often, as it could be assumed that these ads best represent what the user is searching for. If your ad has a lower CTR, expect to be penalized with a lower Quality Score that indicates your ad isn’t promising the content users are looking for.

Landing page quality is another big factor in Google’s Quality Score calculations. Whenever you submit a new ad to the Adwords program, it will be manually reviewed, at which point the overall quality of the page your ad points to will be assessed. Given what we’ve learned from the Panda update and other algorithm changes, it’s safe to assume that Google puts a premium on high quality landing pages versus thin affiliate sites or scam pages.

Finally, the Google Quality Score takes keyword relevance into consideration when determining how ads should be allowed to rank. Suppose you have an ad that redirects to a page on your recommended dog training products. An ad that’s based on the keyword “recommended dog training products” will naturally lend itself to a higher Quality Score than one that targets the keyword phrase, “beagle puppies”. Although both keywords are related to dogs, one is a better fit for the ad as it’s written.

The way the Google Quality Score is calculated on the display network is much simpler, according to the following guidelines given by

• The ad's past performance on this and similar sites
• The relevance of the ads and keywords in the ad group to the site
• The quality of your landing page
• Other relevance factors

Quality Scores are reported on a scale of 1-10, and play a very clear role in both how much you’ll pay for a click compared to other advertisers competing for the same keyword phrase and where your ads will be allowed to rank in the sponsored search results. To find out what the Quality Score of each of your keywords is, you’ll need to log into your Adwords account and then navigate to the keyword display panel for each active ad group of your chosen campaign.

From here, click on “Columns” above the display graph, then select “Customize Columns”. On the screen that appears, click on
“Attributes” and then click “Add” next to “Qual Score”. This will display the Quality Score of each keyword in your ad group graphically, allowing you to identify keywords that aren’t performing well in Google’s eyes.

If you do see a keyword with a low quality score (according to PPC strategist Craig Danuloff writing for Search Engine Land, anything lower than a 6/10 should be cause for concern), you’ll want to take action to improve the relevance and effectiveness of your ads.  Here’s what to do…

Step #1 – Restructure Your Account

One of the most common low Quality Score triggers is a poorly targeted campaign – that is, one that features too many keywords pointing to a landing page through ad copy that isn’t immediately relevant. To fix this, restructure your campaigns so that individual ad and keyword pairings are more highly targeted (typically, this will result in many more ad groups being created).

It’s also a good idea to clean out keywords that aren’t performing well. As Tamar Weinberg of Search Engine Roundtable notes,

“Look into your keywords and clean up those that are not performing well. They shouldn't be there. If you have keywords that also have 0% CTR and a few impressions, you should also remove those.”

Step #2 – Improve Your Landing Page Quality

In the past, Google has penalized landing page URLs that are simply redirects to affiliate product pages or other sites. However, these days, it’s also possible that sending traffic directly to your site could still trigger a penalty if the Big G doesn’t consider your page to be high enough quality.

To improve your landing page, consider improving your page’s design or adding extra content that will improve the user experience. Think about it from the perspective of your future visitor – if you wouldn’t want to land on the page yourself, make changes until you’ve got something you can truly be proud of.

Step #3 – Beef Up Your Sales Copy

Google Adwords doesn’t give you a lot of leeway when it comes to writing expansive, persuasive ad copy. You’ve got to get in, make your point and get out – all in just a few short characters. However, the characters that you choose can make a huge difference in your Quality Score as writing the best possible ads will lead to the highest CTR.

The fastest way to improve your ad copy is to test ads against one another. To do this, set up multiple ads for each ad group you create, and then adjust the campaign’s settings so that ads are served up randomly (Adwords defaults to serving up the ads they estimate will result in the highest CTR). By effectively split testing your ads against each other within the Adwords platform, you’ll be able to identify the most effective ad copy and – consequently – boost your CTR and Quality Score.

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