Most Google advertisers have now become accustomed to messages at the top of their AdWords interface notifying them that one or more of their keywords is “inactive for search.” Sometimes, this is to be expected, such as when you are bidding under $.10 for almost any keyword. In other cases, though, it’s clearly the result of the dreaded and oft-baffling “quality score.”

Google has tweaked the quality score algorithm continually over the last year or so. This is not to be expected, since – as Google should know by now – SEO or SEM blackhats will work ’round the clock to come up with end-arounds to any algorithm.

I noticed a very slight change to the AdWords UI about two weeks ago that is clearly yet another attempt to thwart quality score optimizers. If you click on the “tools” tab at the top of the AdWords UI, then select “Advanced Search” and finally “Find and Edit Max CPCs” you’ll get to a nifty tool that allows you to make mass bid changes across your entire account.

In the olden days (read: March), you could use this tool and filter the results based on whether a keyword was active or inactive. In other words, you could find all your inactive keywords and – if you wanted – in one stroke increase all inactive bids to the minimum CPC.

As a white-hat SEM, I found this to be useful in identifying keywords that had slipped just below the inactive bid threshold. So I would increase all bids that were only a penny or two away from the minimum CPC.

Now, however, Google has changed the tool. Instead of being able to choose either or both inactive and active keywords, there is just one choice “active and inactive for search.” In addition to the strange grammar (I mean, outside of quantum physics, I didn’t think keywords could reside in two states at once), this basically means that you have no choice but to search all of your keywords at once.

The result? Clever SEMs can no longer use this tool to quickly combat quality score penalties at the lowest cost possible.

For the record, I haven’t dug into the AdWords Editor or the AdWords API to see whether the same rule applies. I would doubt that Google could prevent this in the API, as it is so customizable. That being the case, you can sort of look at this as a “regressive tax” against the small advertisers who don’t have the luxury of building their own API integration.

Alternatively, it may be the case that Google has concluded that most black-hats don’t have the resources (or the patience) to build API integration and so cutting off quality-score end-around tools in the UI will solve 99% of their problems.

Whatever the rationale, this move – albeit quite minor – is yet another salvo in Google’s all out war against black-hat SEMers (um, unless they are typo-squatting on the Google Domain Park . . .).

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David Rodnitzky
David Rodnitzky is founder and CEO of 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates), a position he has held since the Company's inception in 2008. Prior to 3Q Digital, he held senior marketing roles at several Internet companies, including Rentals.com (2000-2001), FindLaw (2001-2004), Adteractive (2004-2006), and Mercantila (2007-2008). David currently serves on advisory boards for several companies, including Marin Software, MediaBoost, Mediacause, and a stealth travel start-up. David is a regular speaker at major digital marketing conferences and has contributed to numerous influential publications, including Venture Capital Journal, CNN Radio, Newsweek, Advertising Age, and NPR's Marketplace. David has a B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago and a J.D. with honors from the University of Iowa. In his spare time, David enjoys salmon fishing, hiking, spending time with his family, and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes, not necessarily in that order.