AdWords Quality Score:
All You Need To Know From A Former Googler

Frederick Vallaeys
Co-Founder of Optmyzr

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post about Google AdWords Quality Score is part of our 7-Day AdWords Tool Belt Course. Get access to additional AdWords insight.

AdWords Quality Score (QS) is one of the most misunderstood components in AdWords and because there’s so much misinformation and so many myths, it causes great anxiety for many advertisers.

Just a little background about me and why you should care about what I write in this post…I worked on AdWords Quality Score during my decade as an employee at Google. My goal with this post is to shed some light on how AdWords Quality Score works and what you can do to improve yours.

Being on a numerical scale of 1-10 (1 being bad and 10 being great), AdWords Quality Score matters, because it impacts a number of things advertisers care about:

Let’s break this down…

AdWords Quality Score’s Impact on Ad Rank

There are almost always multiple advertisers competing for the same keywords, so Google has to determine in which order to show the available ads. They make this determination by assigning an Ad Rank to every ad.

Advertisers in SERPs Competing for Same Keyword

Here are four advertisers competing for the same keyword.

The Ad Rank formula is a function of bid amount, the components of AdWords Quality Score (i.e., expected click through rate, ad relevance, landing page experience), and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.

In 2002, when I joined Google, the Ad Rank formula was significantly simpler: it was just a multiplication of the bid and the CTR.

Around 2005, Google started using this formula: bid multiplied by predicted CTR.

To allow for some flexibility in how the predicted CTR was calculated, Google just renamed this component to AdWords Quality Score.

The reason I think it’s important to know this history is that it explains what Google was trying to achieve. Their goal hasn’t really changed since the very earliest days of AdWords; it’s just that they now have more signals and better technology towards achieving that goal.

What’s Google’s Goal?

There’s one goal that Google has and that’s to make money. They achieve that goal by being able to show relevant ads.

AdWords Quality Score allows advertisers to judge their own relevancy based on the competition.

If the AdWords Quality Score is low (1-5), the advertiser knows that there’s room for improvement to increase the relevancy of their ads.

If the AdWords Quality Score is high (6-10), the advertiser knows their ads are relevant and they can focus on other improvements when it comes to their PPC goals.

The Components of AdWords Quality Score

As previously mentioned, there are four components that go into the AdWords Quality Score number that advertisers see in their AdWords account: expected CTR, ad relevance, landing page experience, and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.

Expected CTR

Expected CTR is a measure of how relevant your keyword is to your business, as judged by users, normalized to an average position.

The expected CTR is calculated by looking at historical performance for the keyword with its ad — Not just in your account, but all other current advertisers and past advertisers as well.

All that data helps Google set the bench line of performance for that keyword.

This is then further refined with auction time factors.

When there’s a lack of your own data (meaning, you haven’t advertised for a long enough time), Google can make predictions from other advertisers who have used the same keyword, from your account’s overall historical performance, and from other accounts that have used the same domain.

Ad Relevance

Ad relevance is a measure of how good your ad is at conveying the relevance of your keyword.

Google may use generic signals like how the presence of the keyword in the ad impacts your CTR.

When using keyword insertion, Google treats it as if the keyword appeared in the ad. But keep in mind that ads are not eligible to trigger keyword insertion until they reach a minimum AdWords Quality Score threshold.

Landing Page Relevance

Landing page relevance is a measure of how happy visitors are with where they ended up.

It’s not required to have the keyword on the landing page, but the landing page should be topically relevant.

Imagine if Google was showing contextually targeted Google Display Network ads on your landing page. Your ad should be a good match for the landing page.

Google uses signals of user happiness with your landing page such as bounce rate (which you could be high if your page loads slowly), time on site, and other things you’d monitor within Google Analytics.

Bonus: Here are some best practices for speeding up your website.

Other Ad Rank Factors

Let’s go over some of those others factors…

Ad Rank factors to consider

Ad Rank factors to consider


Auction Time Signals

Like mentioned before, Google uses all the signals from every ad auction to make a better prediction of the CTR.

This is a machine learning system, so nobody knows exactly what the system will predict. This gives the whole system a black box perception.

Your Bid

This is the easiest factor for advertisers to control, so it’s important to set smart bids.

Since your bid is part of the equation when it comes to Ad Rank, you can help improve your AdWords Quality Score by increasing your bids to increase Ad Rank, which can help increase CTR, which can then lead to a higher AdWords Quality Score.

Remember, minimum bid was replaced with first page bid in 2008, and it impacts Ad Rank. Many of the factors that impact first page bid also are factors in calculating Search Quality Score.

For more insight of different bidding structures and tactics, read this post covering AdWords bidding.

Extensions and Ad Format Factors

Remember that Google is trying to improve relevance and CTR. That’s how they make more money.

Because of that, ad extensions can play a huge role in improving the CTR of ads, so it’s no surprise that they reward advertisers who have CTR-boosting extensions.

adwords ad extensions

Here’s Google’s own ad with plenty of ad extensions

This doesn’t mean that you need to add all available extensions. You should just add the ones that make sense for your business. So, don’t add a phone extension if you’re a pure-play eCommerce shop that hates taking phone calls.

Do take a look at the extensions your competitors use and try not to fall behind. So, if all the other ecommerce companies add a phone number, it may be time to consider updating your business model to do the same.

For more information about different strategies, read this post about ad extensions.

AdWords Quality Scores for Different Networks and Devices

The AdWords Quality Score number shown in accounts is based on data from Google search only, when the search term is an exact match to the keyword.

Google has a different AdWords Quality Score for different search sites and devices. They don’t, however, share details about this. They share the normalized number as an indicator to advertisers.

What we can postulate is that user distance and business location may be taken in as device location and location extensions data, respectively, in consideration for mobile ad Quality Score. So, it is thus worth some consideration on the advertisers’ end as well.

Monitoring Historical AdWords Quality Score

AdWords Quality Score is an attribute and not a metric.

What does that mean? It means that no matter what date range you select for your AdWords report, the AdWords Quality Score number will always be the same. Google now reports historical AdWords Quality Score values.

Sometimes they change the algorithm and it can be frustrating to get an email about an AdWords Quality Score change with no way to see how your own account was impacted. For that reason, I recommend saving historical AdWords Quality Score.

Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Email reports
  • Download with scripts (like this one)
  • Tools like Optmyzr (full disclosure, I own that tool)


Account Level AdWords Quality Score

You may have heard people talking about account level AdWords Quality Score.

Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, says there’s no such thing. He’s right that this number is not available to Googlers; however, as a construct, I think it’s useful to think of this number. It helps gauge the health of an overall account in Google’s eyes and can give some indication as to whether future keyword build-outs may run into some challenges.

Google tends to favor accounts with a long history of good performance, and it can take longer to see improvements in a poor performing account — so account level QS is worth mentioning.

Ways to Calculate QS

There are two ways to calculate Quality Score: manually or using a tool.

How to Calculate AdWords Quality Score Manually

You can calculate your own version of an aggregated Quality Score, like account AdWords Quality Score, by taking an impression-weighted average of each keyword’s Quality Score. It’s up to you to decide exactly which impressions to count, but the important thing is to be consistent–so that you can see directional changes for your account.

For example, since Google uses exact match impressions from all device types, in Optmyzr’s Quality Score tool, we use only impressions where the keyword was the exact same as the query, regardless of the device the user was on.

Using a Tool

You’ll probably want to automate the AdWords Quality Score calculation, so there are a few tools to consider. There are AdWords Scripts that email you a daily digest of QS. You can find some recent ones by searching Google for “AdWords script to calculate Quality Score.”

If you want a more advanced tool that can let you drill down from the account level score all the way to the individual keywords, that aggregates the sub-components of QS and that can help find the most important parts of an account to optimize, a tool like Optmyzr (my company) can help with that.

Best Practices for Better AdWords Quality Score

Now, let’s get into some best practices to set you on the right track…

Improve CTR

  • Choose relevant keywords.
  • Bid enough, especially at the start, so that Google gets some solid data that can show how good your ads really are.
  • Match type doesn’t matter, but you should use it to target the right search terms.
  • Negative keywords don’t matter for AdWords Quality Score–but they’re incredibly helpful to help with targeting and cost control, so use these.


Improve Ad Relevance

  • Create tight ad groups. There’s no need to have single keyword ad groups, but it can help out with the ad relevance. When an ad group has more than 20 keywords, you can probably split it up a bit more.
  • It usually is helpful to use the keyword in the ad somewhere.


Improve Landing Pages

  • Once you got the click, don’t make the user search. That’s why they came to Google.
  • Take them to the most relevant page on your site or direct to your landing page. Sometimes, that’s a product page, but it could also be a category page. It’s usually not the homepage though.
  • Monitor bounce rates and time on site.


Improve Structure

  • Get rid of low AdWords Quality Score keywords, either ones with lots of impressions or the long tail because that can add up to a large portion of your account’s overall traffic, that hurt your account level QS. But don’t get rid of them if they drive conversions and make you money.
  • Feel free to move things around. Google always keeps the history, so you can always revert.
  • Pausing or the use of ad scheduling are okay. No new data = no change to QS.
  • The naming of your campaigns or ad groups do not affect QS.


Wrap-Up on AdWords Quality Score: Over To You…

Now, that you know how AdWords Quality Score works, I hope you’ll start doing some regular optimizations with an eye towards creating more relevant ads.

My boss at Google when I joined, Sheryl Sandberg, used to say working at Google was a marathon and not a sprint, and managing QS is the same.

If you consistently work on improving it, the long-term benefits will be lower costs, better ad rank, and a more successful PPC campaign. These results won’t be achieved overnight but they’re worth working towards on an ongoing basis.