EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has received an upgrade. 🙂
The AdWords quality score has been shrouded in a Bermuda Triangle style mystery for far too long.
SPOILER ALERT: It’s real.
For years, however, people have been obsessed about quality scores and ways to improve them, and rightfully so.
If you can improve your quality scores, you stand to save (and even make) more money.
But Google has been known to mystify things a little too much. People disappearing and YouTube videos going private is just the tip of the head scratching.
But today, I’m going to separate the fact from fiction and the pepperoni pizzas from Quality Scores.
We’ll be talking about what the AdWords Quality Score actually is, why you should care about it, why you shouldn’t care (too much) about it, the facts, the myths, the flat-out conspiracies, and the quick fixes that surround this “holy grail of Google AdWords”.
Let’s get started.
What Is The AdWords Quality Score?
In the simplest of definitions, the AdWords Quality Score is a numerical value given to a keyword that sits between 1 and 10. That value tells the advertiser how relevant Google thinks your keywords, ads, and landing pages are in combination.
The lower the score, the more you pay per click. The higher the score, the less you pay per click (notice how I said “click”, not “conversion”).
Sounds almost too simple, right? It’s not.
It’s a bit more complex, and there are some emotions involved too — emotions that I’ll step on here in a bit (more on that later).
See, a higher AdWords Quality Score doesn’t just help with a lower cost-per-click. It also helps you with a higher ad rank.
In fact, the combination of bid, ad extensions, and Quality Score are what make up the ad rank equation.
If you have a competitive bid, high enough Quality Score, and relevant ad extensions, then you have the best chance at having the highest ad position.
Why You Should Care About Quality Score
If I disappointed you that Quality Score does not equal pepperoni pizza, I apologize.
But I’ll make it up to you with some ROI deliciousness:
- Improving your Quality Score can lower your cost per click.
- Lowering your cost per click can lower your cost per conversion.
- Lowering your cost per conversion can make you more money.
See where I’m going with this?
Not only does an improved Quality Score lower your cost per click, but also helps you lower your cost per acquisition (CPA) as well. This is one thousand times more important.
So, if you have the ability to improve Quality Score, it should definitely be a focus as you optimize and improve your AdWords company management account.
How to Find Quality Score Breakdowns
Google AdWords (now Google Ads) allows you to see a breakdown of Quality Score by the three major factors: Expected CTR, Ad Relevance, and Landing Page Experience. These are helpful for knowing what you need to focus on improving.
It’s important you know what makes up the Quality Score.
Here’s a broader list of the factors that could impact your score directly or indirectly:
- Your ad’s CTR (current and expected)
- Your display URL’s past CTR
- Ad to search term relevancy
- The overall quality of your landing page
- Your ad’s geographic performance, down to the city level
- The difference of performance per device
Here are the main factors that have more proof of being directly tied:
Now, let’s dive into the facts, myths, and conspiracies that surround Quality Scores as well as what you can do to improve them.
As you know, correlation does not imply causation, so it’s a good thing that the Quality Score facts below are, in fact, causation focused.
Click-through-rate (CTR) is the biggest part of a Quality Score. The Chief Economist at Google, Hal Varian, said that it’s up to 60%.
If you can improve your CTR (clicks divided by impressions), Google will most likely reward you with a higher Quality Score.
Keep in mind, however, that CTRs are relative to each keyword, the history of that keyword, and the current competition levels. A keyword that has a 2% CTR might have a 8/10 quality score, while a keyword with a 10% CTR has a 4/10 quality score.
Keyword to Ad Ratio
This is one of the newer facts on the block that I’m claiming. Not only with our own clients, but also from the 250+ comments this idea got when I wrote about it a few years back.
The more keywords you have in an ad group, the more likely you’re to dilute the chances of message between the keyword and ad.
This leads to lower click-through-rates, and you guessed it, lower Quality Scores.
You can look at quality score on the ad group level, so you can focus on restructuring ad groups that have keywords with low quality scores. The history of calculating quality score will remain even if visible history is erased. It may be better to pause keywords than to delete, so that Google doesn’t see the addition of the keyword later as a duplicate.
While we’re on the topic of ad groups, ads running in each will have varying CTRs. Using Dynamic Keyword Insertion is one way to help resolve this issue. It just happens to be one of KlientBoost’s AdWords copy hacks.
Search Term to Keyword Ratio
Have you ever seen an iceberg in real life? No, not the lettuce, an actual ice iceberg?
I haven’t either, but I’ve seen the equivalent in countless AdWords accounts.
Depending on the keyword match types you use (mostly phrase, broad match modifier, and broad), you’ll find that what you’re bidding on (keyword on the surface) is far from what you’re actually paying for (search terms below the surface).
Since the discrepancy varies from certain keywords and certain match types, it’s important to note that your click-through-rates could be bleeding from this iceberg effect.
Once you tighten up the ratio, you’ll find more often than not that your click-through-rates will improve as well.
I spoke with Brad Geddes over at CertifiedKnowledge.org and he dropped this nugget that not a lot of people think about:
Quick Bounces: How often someone goes to your site and quickly leaves and reloads the search results. These are low quality visits that go to the landing page [experience] portion of Quality Score.”
My personal recommendation is to also keep a close eye on bounce rates and time on site, two metrics you can see directly in AdWords when you link it with Analytics. A high bounce rate or very short time on site both provide a great way for you to find keywords that are not relevant in the minds of users.
Keep this in mind when you’re trying to diagnose why some of your keywords have low Quality Scores.
Many people think that they can use exit popups to improve time on site, but what they fail to realize is that they don’t do much to keep people longer on site.
And if they do, they’re just a temporary band-aid trying to fix a broken landing page and/or site.
Landing Page Experience
This one is a little mysterious but true at the same time.
Over the last couple of years, the landing page experience has become and bigger and bigger factor of Quality Score, as there are more automated systems and human eyes judging whether or not your landing page experience is good or not.
Since much of landing page design is directly related to user experience, you have to be aware that this portion of Quality Score can be highly subjective.
The biggest things that you need to care about for improving this portion of your Quality Score are:
- Is your content original and unique to your site/landing page (i.e. you didn’t copy it from somewhere else)?
- Do you give enough information to be considered trustworthy? Biggest factors here are an About Us section, business address, phone number, and social media profile links. PLEASE NOTE: This is mostly scrutinized when advertisers try to promote sites that are within industries that are kept under a close eye (medical, health, IT support, etc.)
- Do you make it easy to navigate to find information and to convert?
- Does your landing page allow the Google bot to easily crawl your text?
You can read more about the landing page experience portion of Quality Score on Google’s official page.
Landing Page Load Time
Just like the navigation is part of the landing page experience, so is the time it takes to load your site and page.
It’s been said that the regional average plus three seconds is considered a slow load time and therefore, may hurt your Quality Scores. As you probably know, load times vary greatly depending on where in the world you ad is being shown.
To see how fast your Final URLs are, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
You can also get ideas on steps to take to shorten your load time.
Long-Tail Keyword Usage
The more short tail keywords you use, the lower your chances are for getting higher click-through-rates. And with that, come low quality scores.
Let’s say you’re bidding on the short-tail keyword “desk”.
You’d think the search intent is strong since people are looking to buy a desk, but what if the search term report reveals something different? Remember the Iceberg Effect?
As you can see the more words you have per keyword, the better you get at narrowing down exactly what people are looking for.
But don’t just add them to your ad group. Make sure your ad copy and landing page match too.
Match Types Don’t Matter
Did you know that your Quality Score isn’t actually reflective of the keyword you’re bidding on?
Let me explain.
The Quality Score you see at your keyword level is actually based solely on the search term that exact matches your keyword.
Because of that, your keyword match types don’t affect Quality Scores.
Account History Performance – Did you know that people used to sell old and empty AdWords accounts, because people thought having an AdWords account from 2002 was a sure way to beat everyone else?
Kinda crazy to think that right? Well, it’s a good thing that the age of an AdWords account does not affect Quality Score, but the length of high performance does.
Now, it hasn’t been confirmed by Google in their official documents, but high-performance account momentum does have a positive impact on Quality Scores.
This can also be sealed as true since erasing poor performing keywords does not remove your Quality Score history, but it’s kept in the account along with Google’s logs of performance compared to your competitors.
Display URL’s Past CTR
Not to be confused with your root domain, like abc.com, your display URL (abc.com/this-is-it) is an official component of Quality Score as revealed by Google.
This means that your root domain, and any other display URL you have in your account, all have their own historical impression and click performance kept in a log.
Having a specific display URL DOES NOT automatically improve your Quality Score, but it could easily help increase your click-through-rate and therefore, your Quality Score.
Your Quality Score can increase or decrease depending on how well your ads have been performing on mobile, desktop, and tablets.
There can also be a difference in performance based on the type of mobile devices (Samsung vs. iPhone) and operating systems (Android vs iOS).
This fact was confirmed by Frederick Vallaeys in the post we mentioned earlier, in which he states that Quality Scores on different devices do not affect each other.
When you’re a brand new advertiser with no history, Google does take the historic performance of certain keywords you’re bidding on (from outside your account) into consideration.
What happens when no one has ever bid on the keyword you’re about to bid on? No one knows, yet.
But with the historical performance Google knows based on keywords that have been bid on before your time, it’s up to you to exceed that performance by improving your click-through-rates.
When you launch brand new keywords in your AdWords account, Google doesn’t only consider the keyword history outside of your account, but also looks into your historical CTR for the account and how it’s been performing (hopefully above average).
That being said, when it comes to keyword level Quality Score, historical performance is a bigger factor in the beginning than it is once you’ve accumulated enough impressions and performance data.
If you’re looking to boost impressions, you can do so in the following ways:
- Add more broad match keywords, so there’s a less restrictive pool for which you’re showing ads
- Add more broad themes to begin with to assist with adding in more broad match keywords.
- Examine Impression Share data, the percentage of times an ad shows out of total impressions available
In addition to keyword history and account history CTR, Google also has another name for grading quality score potential, and that’s called “expected click-through-rate”.
As Craig Danuloff writes on Search Engine Land:
Google uses factors to provide clues about the potential performance of a keyword that hasn’t yet proven itself.
But, once your own account and keywords have enough history, that will replace the expected click-through-rate and you’ll hopefully have two thumbs up from Google, and Simon Cowell.
Just like your devices have individual Quality Score metrics, so do the cities, counties, countries, and regions that you’re targeting.
And although you can’t see this within your AdWords account broken down by geography, you can run your own test by splitting up campaigns by geography and see the difference in performance.
“What the F’ North Carolina?!” – me
Now, keep in mind that an experiment like this is never pure.
There might be more competitors or higher bid prices in one geography versus another.
Still, it’s very clear that ad performance and CTRs varies greatly by geography, and therefore, affect Quality Score as well.
Time of Day/Day of Week Performance
Have you ever tried advertising late at night while all your competitors are sleeping?
It’s a smart idea, but how did it work out? Did your CTR increase or decrease?
As an official part of Google’s own Quality Score docs, time of day and day of week do impact CTR which in turn helps or hurts your Quality Scores.
If you’re running campaigns 24/7, try splitting up a few campaigns with different time ranges to see how this might change your Quality Scores and cost per clicks.
If you’ve ever been part of a hot topic debate like the Bermuda Triangle, the moon landing, or Quality Scores, then you know there’s a lot of information out there that isn’t true.
Contrary to popular belief, ad extensions do not directly impact Quality Scores. They’re part of the newer ad rank equation, but again, have no causation when it comes to Quality Scores.
The confusion may have been thought to be accurate in that ad extensions help increase the real estate space of your ad, and therefore, increase your chances of clicks, and therefore, increases your click-through-rates, than then improves your Quality Scores.
Pausing your ad groups, campaigns, or entire AdWords account has no direct impact on your quality scores.
While it may be true that certain campaigns (display and search) may lose momentum because of pausing, your Quality Score and data stored around it stays intact.
Only One Quality Score
To the visible eye, you’re only able to see keyword level Quality Scores inside your AdWords account.
However, there’s also an overall account Quality Score that you can uncover with hidden AdWords scripts, like this one from Optmyzr.
But be extremely careful.
Quality Score is not a key performance indicator. Cost per conversion and conversion rates are.
Sometimes, you can have mutual Quality Score and conversion goals, and sometimes you can’t.
Higher Quality scores don’t always equal more money being made.
Display & Search Competition
Believe it or not, there’s also a hidden Quality Score for display network campaigns.
Only downside? You can’t see it.
But that hasn’t stopped from people saying that display performance affects Quality Scores on the search network.
It’s not true, hasn’t been proven, and just like on the search network, your display performance is reliant on different metrics depending on your targeting.
Similar to the assumption that ad extensions affect Quality Scores, adding or removing negative keywords has no direct impact on Quality Score.
Adding negative keywords may help you improve your click-through-rates and then indirectly improve your Quality Score.
Keywords on Landing Pages
Straight from Brad Geddes’ mouth (and backed up by our own experience), keyword stuffing or trying to use more keyword insertion on the landing page does not help improve Quality Scores.
Covering Up Dead Bodies
AKA, does deleting low quality keywords help improve overall keyword level quality scores? Not at all.
Since Quality Score is based largely on historical performance, the only thing that deleting low quality keywords does is make it easier to manage your account.
Pausing them does just the same.
You might have some keywords with low Quality Scores that have decent cost per conversions, if that’s the case, don’t sacrifice an important KPI for a mediocre metric.
Bidding High To Maintain
You’d think that a higher average position could lead to a higher Quality Score.
But artificially bidding to a higher level in the hopes of capturing and then maintaining a higher Quality Score after you lower your bids back down, doesn’t do much.
In the ad auction, you’re always competing on the CTR against competitors in the exact same ad position.
This means that you can easily lower your bids without the fear of lowering your Quality Score, if your ad copy stays the same.
The following formulas depict how bid along with Quality Score can impact Ad Rank:
Account Structure Doesn’t Matter
It so matters!
But again, this isn’t a direct impact to Quality Score, but more so, the factors that make up Quality Score such as click-through-rate.
Like the Iceberg Effect, the more you care and focus on making your keyword-to-ad and search term-to-keyword ratio 1:1, the better your chances are of getting a stronger click-through-rate and therefore, a higher Quality Score.
Since conversions are subjective and can be made up anywhere (your conversion code could be planted on your homepage to get a 100% conversion rate), Google doesn’t care or take that into account when determining your Quality Score.
If they did, there would be so much Quality Score manipulation that it would be ridiculous.
Keyword Insertion Always Works
Keyword Insertion is a feature you can use to automatically insert your keyword into the ad copy without having to manually do it (you can read more about it here.
Because of this “relevancy bump”, many people think it has a direct impact on their Quality Score, without considering that it could help improve the CTR first, and then the Quality Score after.
Further, it’s also important to keep in mind that DKI adds in the keyword, not the search term. So, if your search term-to-keyword ratio is around 1:30 then your CTR improvement chances are lower than if that ratio was closer to 1:10.
Now you might think that conspiracies are hot amongst those people living in their RVs, somewhere in the Nevada desert, waiting for the next Independence Day invasion to happen.
But you’d be so wrong.
That being said, these conspiracies haven’t exactly been proved wrong, or right, just yet.
At Least Two Ads
This conspiracy kinda makes sense — that Google would reward you with a slightly higher Quality Score if it sees you have at least two ads to test for getting higher click-through-rates.
We have a practice of always testing at least two ads at a time here at KlientBoost, so it’s rare that we allow a test like this to run out of assumptions. Interesting, nonetheless.
Exact Match, All The Way
I wouldn’t set this one as a myth, since it’s kind of true, but kind of not.
This conspiracy says that you stand a higher chance of having the highest possible Quality Scores when ONLY using exact match keywords.
As you now know, match types don’t impact Quality Scores, and the actual keyword could be very short or very long tail as well. Meaning that the click-through-rate could vary wildly too.
But, exact match does help lower the search term-to-keyword ratio as low as possible (of all match types), so there may be some indirect improvement in Quality Scores by only focusing on high intent, exact match keywords.
The Quick Fixes
Now that you know fact from fiction, let’s dive into the two biggest ways you can systematically improve your click-through-rate, and therefore, your Quality Scores.
Single Keyword Ad Groups
The article that gave birth to the Iceberg Effect was one I wrote for the Unbounce blog: You’re Doing AdWords Wrong (Here’s How to Make It Right).
Aside from professing my love for Nutella, I show why and how you create single keyword ad groups to improve your CTR.
Here’s the gist of the article:
- Each ad group you have can only have one keyword in it.
- The keyword can and should have the three match types of exact, phrase, and broad match modifier.
- The ads should be specific to that one keyword.
When that happens, you immediately improve both the ratios we talked about earlier and your Quality Scores start going in.
Just like Single Keyword Ad Groups make sense, so do geographic specific campaigns that have city/county wording in ads and landing pages.
Granulating geographic areas helps you see what their individual Quality Scores are. It can also help you manage your ad and landing page message. This will not only improve your CTRs and Quality Scores, but your conversion rates too.
Why You Shouldn’t Care (Too Much) About Quality Score
Let me be the first to say that Quality Scores are EXTREMELY overrated.
Many people who don’t know they can improve their conversion rates, decide to obsess over Quality Scores as the “last PPC frontier” that they’ve yet to conquer in their account.
It’s juvenile and pathetic. And I’m not sorry if I offended anyone (okay, maybe a little).
Some of your keywords (like bidding on competitor names) will always have low Quality Scores, but their cost per lead and conversion rate are great.
Keep in mind that a Quality Score is just a metric, not something that truly affects the money you’re making.
If you know the value of conversion rate optimization, then instead of obsessing over Quality Scores, obsess over improving your conversion rates, your sales funnel, your tracking, your lifetime values, etc.
Closing Thoughts on AdWords Quality Score
Quality Score is a metric that unfortunately leads to a lot of premature hair-loss.
I hope that after reading this post, you’re fully aware that there’s only so much you can do to improve it (if you’re interested in exploring the topic even further, read iSpionage’s take on QS here).
If you want even more information about AdWords Quality Score, SEMrush created a video on cracking Google’s “black box” below:
Think of it as a measuring stick for your competition. If you’re at a 5/10 or lower, your CTR is crap compared to the rest. Put on your big boy pants and fix it.
What parts of the Quality Score did I miss? Any conspiracies you’d like to add?
Let me know with a quick comment.