Debunking the Myths of Quality Score
Published: January 27, 2012
About two years ago, our Founder and CEO, David Rodnitzky, issued a challenge to all PPC Associates employees to “find a repeatable method for improving Quality Score.” Sounds simple enough, but four offices and 30-plus new employees later, that prize is still up for grabs! In my pursuit of “the answer,” I’ve come across just about every QS myth imaginable. Let the debunking begin!
1) Myth: Quality Score is at the keyword level. For even intermediate SEMs, quality score seems to be thought of as a keyword’s attribute. In actuality, QS is based on the performance of a keyword with a given ad. That means if you’re rotating ads with dramatically different CTRs within an ad group, you will see the lower CTR almost always has a worse position and a higher CPC. Here’s how Google puts it: “Each ad variation and keyword combination will undergo its own Quality Score evaluation, and accrue its own individual performance history within your account.”
2) Myth: Landing-page relevance is a strong factor in Quality Score. Any time I ask an interviewee to tell me about Quality Score, he/she lets it be known that ‘landing page relevancy’ is a big factor! I’m here to tell you it’s not. QS is still almost all about CTR. That being said, as Google gets more sophisticated, that might change. Google even released a slightly cryptic blog post on this very subject a few months ago. While I’m sure LP does play some influence on that magic number, it’s a small piece of the pie. Where LPs can really affect your QS is the dreaded Google slap (for violations of sacred policy). The impact here, however, lasts only as long as your policy issue is still open. With all that being said, I’m perfectly fine with the landing-page relevancy myth. Why? QS aside, landing-page relevancy will increase your CVR – so any improved landing-page relevancy for your keyword set will make you more money, which is the whole reason QS is such a topic of obsession.
3) Myth: A keyword’s Quality Score will be ‘reset’ if moved. This one is a biggie. There is a perception that moving keywords is bad. As an agency, we’re forced to (carefully) tear things up and restructure at a pretty quick pace. If QS wasn’t maintained after moving a keyword, we (and everyone else trying to improve an account) would be in real trouble. Campaigns are designed to have a beginning and an end (they have an end date, after all). Ad groups are made to be parsed, moved, duplicated, etc. Moving keywords is fine; just keep in mind myth 1. That being said, there are still some negatives to moving around keywords, and they revolve around ad extensions. Call extensions, for example, must meet click criteria at the ad group level for your phone number to be eligible to show. If you copy and paste your ad group, you’ll be starting back at ground zero, since you’ve got 0 clicks. I have also seen sitelinks showing up with less frequency after moving a keyword, but that’s a working hypothesis at the moment.
4) Myth: You can buy better Quality Score. Okay, so maybe this myth was debunked in 2008, but I still hear it all the time. It’s certainly true that CTR is the biggest influence on QS; it’s also true that better-positioned ads have higher CTR. Using the old “if a=b and b=c, then a=c” logic, bidding higher means higher QS! Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and Google isn’t quite that evil. The ‘algo’ has a CTR expectation by position. So, at the end of the day you’ve still got to be creative and really think about your ad copy. Sorry, folks – you can’t just throw money at in this case.
5) Myth: Quality Score is a metric that Google has made readily available. Everyone knows that quality score is on a 1-10 scale, right? Wrong! The truth is, not even that ‘secret Google connection’ knows what kind of scale we’re working with. This one is easy to prove if you were around on Oct 27th, 2010. Talk about a fire drill — just about every account on the planet had all their keywords drop to 3 or below. From one of our (many) Google reps, and confirmed by several others, and reported as a ‘known issue’:
I’m sorry to hear that you’re seeing this sudden decrease in quality scores across the account. After taking a closer look and seeing that Average CPC, CTR, and click/impression levels appear to be quite stable, I checked into this and found that our technical team identified an issue affecting your account. The issue appears that the Quality Scores of the keywords in the actual auction are not being affected, but the way they are being reported in the interface is incorrect.
So, this means that the actual QS and the QS reported in the UI are actually separate systems. This also explains why you’ve got that one exact-match keyword in your account with 30% CTR over thousands of clicks with an avg. position of 1.0 and Google is telling you’ve got a 4/10! Personally, I don’t even look at the UI numbers – it’d drive me nuts!
At the end of the day, QS boils down to CTR. To get good CTR, you’ve got to have good account structure, tight ad groups, and killer ad copy. So, my advice is to forget QS – and start focusing on the real goal of PPC – not improving a false proxy QS number in your UI, but making money by putting in the hours and maximizing your program’s relevancy to Google users. Good PPC management really boils down to making smart adjustments based on experience, willingness to test, and long hours….not Quality Score.
Oh, and before I forget, David, the answer is “42”….how do I claim my prize?
–Mike Nelson, Senior SEM Manager