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Deciphering AdWords Quality Scores


Imagine you’re a high street store owner, bar owner, hotel owner or whatever you prefer. Your store is in an expensive city and is just off of the busy high street in one of the side alleys. People can catch a glimpse of your store as they walk past, but their attention is mainly focused upon the stores on the main road. You would like to move your store to the high street, but that would mean an extortionate increase in rent just to move a few meters from where you’re located now.

One day, you find out that your main competitor is now renting a prime high street location and taking a large share of your business as many potential customers don’t even realise you exist. You also find out that the competitor is paying far less rent for his highly visible spot than you are for your hidden alley; you’re paying $600 p/m and he’s paying $70. Naturally, you are furious.

The Value of Quality Score

This analogy rings startlingly true to the AdWords marketplace. You could be the side-alley disgruntled store owner of the Google search results page, shaking your fist every time you see a new competitor streak past your long-established brand to the top of the page but never quite understanding why. Even worse, you’d never find out that they could be paying less to get more attention than you.

Quality Score is instrumental, critical, unignorable, critical, crucial, imperative, vital, paramount and all of the other synonyms for important. Quality Score makes or breaks your success on Google AdWords, yet so many ignore it or don’t understand it. I think the best way of demonstrating the overwhelming impact of Quality Score is with this table below:



So, going back to the store owner analogy, remember the rent was $600 vs $70? That’s what could be happening with your bids, using this table, if you had a Quality Score of 1 and your competitor had 10, and the CPC of a QS of 7 was $100. If we trim the 00s off of these numbers and focus back on AdWords, we can see some frighteningly realistic examples of how different your bids could be to those of your competitors. Pay $6 vs $0.70 for a similar position is entirely realistic due to vastly different Quality Scores.

I think the biggest point that the above table hammers home is the fact that Quality Score punishes more than it rewards; you can get penalised by 600% but only rewarded by 30%. Thus it’s more important to fix the low Quality Scores than it is to try and push your 7s into 10s.

How do I see my Quality Scores?

First of all, you need to add the Quality Score column into your Keywords performance table as a custom column, as it’s not there by default. Why isn’t it there by default? I honestly no idea, but this is one of the key reasons why I think Quality Score is so often overlooked.

QS columns



Another way of viewing your Quality Scores is by mousing over the status dialogue icons as shown below:

Keyword status



How can I boost my Quality Score?

According to the keyword status dialogue box above, the are three core components to the Google Quality Score algorithm: expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance and landing page relevance.

Expected clickthrough rate: Google rates your keyword’s clickthrough rate against that of similar keywords. If it’s below the average CTR, you will receive a penalty to your Quality Score. The best way to keep this high is to ensure your ad text and keywords are as tightly related as possible.

Ad relevance: Google rates your ad’s relevance to the keywords within its ad group. At first this may seem similar to expected clickthrough rate, but instead of measuring your CTR against a benchmark, Google’s algorithm is textually analysing your ads against your keywords.

Landing page experience: A measure of how well-organised and relevant your landing page is. Specialist landing pages are always better than generalist ones; if you’re using one general landing page for a multitude of keywords, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t forget the SEO elements of your page either, particularly H tags, which should be geared towards your AdWords keywords. Even your Alt text on images bears weight on the landing page experience component of Quality Score. Also, use Webmaster Tools to ensure your page load speed is reasonable, otherwise it’s a whole new can of worms to fix that.

Final notes

The way you should think of it is not like Google has a gigantic conspiracy to crush your business in the most unfair manner possible, whilst giving your competitors an easy ride. It’s all about the user experience, ensuring users find well-written ads that meet their needs quickly, before landing on a page that delivers exactly what they’re promised by the ad and looking for. If there was no Quality Score, Google would be a free-for-all of horrible ads appearing for irrelevant search queries, taking users to unwanted landing pages. It would be a battle of bids more than anything else. Quality Score is critical to encouraging advertisers to actually think about what they’re doing and provide quality content for Google’s users, even Bing has a similar system.

As mentioned above, don’t sweat it over your 7s. 8s and 9s. Those Quality Scores are decent and will require effort to shift to 10s. The punishment of having 1s isn’t outweighed by the reward of having 10s; focus your efforts onto bolstering your weaker Quality Scores rather than tweaking your higher Quality Scores. Of course, pausing keywords with poor Quality Scores is a quick win and will stop them negatively impacting the rest of your account. Yes, you also have account-level Quality Score too, and no, you can’t see it anywhere. Your low Quality Score keywords will have a deterimental effect account-wide if allowed to run, likewise with your low CTR ad text. Find them, pause them. Don’t be fooled into thinking that deleting a low Quality Score keyword and replacing it with the same, fresh one will do anything good either.

Ultimately, no one knows the Google algorithm for Quality Score in its entirety, but the theories we do have are pretty damn solid. It’s just the niggling little factors like page load speed and the weight that bears on the component of landing page experience, and then how much weight that bears on Quality Score – that’s where the debates are at.

This article has been filled with rather dull images so far as I’m not creative enough to think of any visual puns on Quality Score, so here’s my favourite scene from Naked Gun instead:

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Jonny Holmes

When it comes to PPC, SEO and CRO, Jonny's skill and attention to detail make for consistently great insights. His work makes a measurable contribution to the business

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