Google Quality Score is Not About Relevance, It’s Revenue

Back in the early days of Pay Per Click advertising Google had one of it’s usual brainwaves. It looked at Overture (which became Yahoo! Advertising) and saw that it’s direct ‘you pay more, you position higher’ approach had two main flaws:

  1. If the adverts in the search results were less relevant to the search term, then the search engine itself would seem to be less accurate
  2. If the advertising network gets paid on click-through, then to allow poor performing adverts to dominate because they’re willing to spend more means that lower revenue would be realised

So, Quality Score was Google’s smart balancing act. The premise was that if you worked hard making sure that your keyword, ad copy (in Google) and website landing page were more relevant and compelling to the reader, then you would be able to bid less for a keyword because your advert was better.

What Google SAY Quality Score Is

“The AdWords system calculates a Quality Score for each of your keywords. It looks at a variety of factors to measure how relevant your keyword is to your ad text and to a user’s search query. A keyword’s Quality Score updates frequently and is closely related to its performance. In general, a high Quality Score means that your keyword will trigger ads in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).”

You can read further details on the Google Adwords Help Pages. The factors include (again from the Google page):

  • The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword
  • 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

Now, whilst that all seems legitimate and helpful, there’s a lot that can happen behind the scenes… after all, who is to say which of these factors has much or little influence? And, just give further freedom to Google, ‘other’ is a very broad term!

What Quality Score REALLY Is

So there is a lot that can actually be changed ‘under the hood’ without any perceptible change, or even any need for Google to change it’s bullet list. What we can reveal is this: that Quality Score has changed substantially recently and these are the things you need to know

Of high importance are:

  • Historical click through rate of the keyword
  • Historical click through rate of the display URLs

Of low importance are:

  • Account history
  • Quality of landing page
  • Relevance of keyword to the ads in the ad group
  • Relevance of keyword to the search query
  • Accounts performance in geographical region (a small enhancement of overall CTR performance)

Of unknown importance are:

  • Other relevance factors

Because ‘other’ cannot really be defined.

How do we KNOW This?

Recently, we setup a test campaign for a specific service – ‘telemarketing‘. We used all the normal relevance factors: great optimised landing page on a very relevant well established site promoting telemarketing, relevant advert copy specifically promoting the telemarketing service, and a suite of well-filtered very relevant keywords promoting specifically telemarketing services. In fact, we called our Google Account Manager and they said ‘there’s nothing more you can do’.

It was pretty surprising, therefore, with all this attention to detail, when we saw that most keywords in the ad group had a Quality Score of 3. That’s right… 3 out of 10.

What it tells us really clearly, is that you can do all you can to make all the elements of the campaign and website relevant, but ultimately 70% of the score is about the Click Through Rate.

Why is this IMPORTANT for Advertisers?

The reason why this is critical is that there’s a problem here that few are aware of. The Quality Score Formula was supposed to balance spend based around click through rate.

It was not supposed to be driven by click through rate. But now, it is another name for click through rate. If you have a high click through rate, you have a good quality score, if you don’t, then they will hammer your quality score.

The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. The encouragement is for adverts which drive clicks, however most successful PPC campaigns are about getting high quality traffic in – these two objectives can be, in many campaigns, incompatible
  2. The message to advertisers from Google has changed from being about relevance, to being about SPEND – about revenue to Google

WHY Has it Changed?

We don’t know for sure the reason, but this is our best guess. Until recently Quality Score was to help competition for places – so that the small guys could compete with deeper pockets and if they were smart enough, then they would benefit from investing more energy and time into their campaigns and websites.

However, now that virtually any search has at least 2-3 adverts, most have many, and (we estimate) about 50% of searches are full of adverts, there is no longer the need to be generous. So, they’re starting to turn the screw – after all, shareholder value must be met.

Which is why they are also looking at limiting the amount of adverts on a page by removing the right hand column of adverts. We call it ‘search engine optimisation‘ not of positions, but of revenues.

What’s the REAL Message

So, that’s why Quality Score is no more – it is there, in name. But it is no longer what it was and certainly we would challenge their assertion in the final line of their description of quality score:

In general, a high Quality Score means that your keyword will trigger ads in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).”

It is not a measure of quality of keyword, advert, or landing page (or website). It is now merely a stick to beat you with to make you cough up more.

Spread the Word / Find Out More

If this post has helped you, then please spread the word on Twitter / LinkedIn / Facebook / Google+ below. If you’d like to find out more about how you can combat this unwelcome development, now that we’ve identified the problem, just get in touch – contact us, or send us a mention to discuss @johnnymb.