In my last posting on the subject of Quality Score, I made the argument that, if we boiled QS down to what it really is, we’d have to call it a “bulk discount program.” Because click-through rate weighs so heavily in the Quality Score equation, the lower CPCs we see as a result of higher Quality Scores basically amount to Google telling advertisers, “This advertising real estate is more valuable to us if more people click on your ad; therefore the higher you can push your CTRs, the more of a discount we’ll give you on CPCs.” I stand by that position… all else being equal. But in the time since that posting, we’ve uncovered some strong evidence that there may be another variable in the equation that can under certain circumstances trump even the almighty CTR. That variable is none other than Father Time. It appears that sometimes the best thing you can do to improve Quality Score is absolutely nothing. Here’s a quick outline of what we’ve seen and done in recent weeks: 1) Before we took over management of an account from one of our clients, the client had built out a number of geo-modified ad groups around important keywords. 2) The fundamental structure of the “legacy” geo campaigns was sound. 3) As part of our ongoing expansion and optimization of this account, we continued to add new geo-modified campaigns structured in the same way as the legacy versions, with ads that were also fundamentally the same, with only slight alterations aimed at raising CTR. 4) After a few months, we were puzzled by the results, which looked like this: In other words, despite identical structure and setup with similar ad formats across all geo sets, AND despite CTR being more than 50% higher with the new set, Quality Score remained 50% higher for the legacy set. As confounding as this was – and as tempting as it is to throw our hands up and walk away any time we come across these kinds of seemingly arbitrary Quality Score issues – we dug deeper. As stated above, the structure of the ad groups was identical: each ad group in both the old and new sets was a single keyword concatenated with a large list of geographic names. Landing pages specific to the “thing+geo” combination were used for each individual keyword in both sets, and there was no difference in landing page design elements. In other words, the only thing we could think of that was different in any potentially notable way was the ad copy. So this is what we did: 1) Analyzed the editorial differences between the ads running in the two sets. As mentioned above, they were fundamentally the same, but ultimately they were not exactly the same. These were the three key differences that we found in comparing the ads in the legacy ad groups to those in our newer ad groups:
- New ad groups used Keyword Insertion somewhat more often than old ad groups.
- New ads used customized Display URLs (e.g. Website.com/SpecialThing), while old ads used a single, generic Display URL (www.website.com) across the board with no exceptions.
- The client in question has coverage in a wide variety of verticals, and the way we expressed that in the newer ads that we’d written was something to the effect of “Find What You’re Looking For”; while the old ads expressed this by saying, “Find the details of [xyz] at website.com.”
- Results: CTR, Quality Score and CPCs took a nosedive across the board.
- Results: CTR, Quality Score and CPC took an even bigger nosedive.