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SMX Advanced 2011- QS = CTR? Plumbing the Depths – Or Lack Thereof – of Quality Score

Posted on Thursday, June 16th, 2011 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, SEM

Quality Score optimization is always at the top of the list for anyone looking to improve account performance in Google. Who wouldn’t want to get their ads in higher positions at lower cost?  But, as with many things Google, the exact science behind Quality Score is a closely guarded secret and finding the right magic that takes your account’s Quality Score to new heights remains an elusive goal.

At SMX Advanced in Seattle last week, I attended a session entitled Quality Score: The Unwritten Manual For Google AdWords & Bing adCenter. While the buzz going into the session was about Bing’s new QS and its impact, the real meat of the session revolved around Google.

One of the featured speakers was Craig Danuloff, who has spent the last two years researching Quality Score for his recently released book, Quality Score in High Resolution.

Visible Quality Score & CTR

According to Craig, the Quality Score you see in the AdWords UI is just your “visible” QS – the QS when the query matches the keyword EXACTLY. So, while it’s a fairly good guide for exact match terms, it’s a very poor guide for broad terms, where a significant portion of the queries will not EXACTLY match your keyword.

Image: Craig Danuloff: SMX Advanced, Seattle, 2011

This means the QS you see for your exact match terms is actionable, but less so for phrase & broad match terms.  For accounts that bid on multiple match types, the goal is to have as few as possible “exactly matching” queries mapping to your broad & phrase match terms, so the QS you see would give you very little indication of the term’s true QS.

Craig mentioned that this “visible” QS can still be a good guide for determining where you should focus your optimization efforts.  He suggested looking at your Google Keyword/Ad Text pair CTR report and pausing any ad variations with significantly lower CTR than others.

Image: Craig Danuloff: SMX Advanced, Seattle, 2011

And, according to Craig, it all comes down to CTR. Tightly-themed ad groups and keywords in the ad text had very little impact on your QS.  If you have a compelling ad with no keywords in the text, and a high CTR, your QS is going to be better than if you’ve got the keyword all over the place and really tight ad groups. Tight ad groups & using the keyword in the text can be effective ways of increasing CTR (as best practices), but might vary by product & industry.

The Google Perspective

After Craig spoke, Frederick Vallaeys, Google Product Evangelist, talked about Quality Score from the company perspective, and suggested some tips for how to improve your CTR & QS.  His first note was about landing page quality, also known as landing page relevance – you either pass or fail.  If you’ve got keywords in your account at a QS 5 or higher, don’t look at landing page relevance first – you’ve already passed.  Frederick said bounce rate “might” factor into QS.  Page load time does.

On CTR, Frederick suggested using the new Google ad products, like Sitelinks, to improve your CTR.

He also mentioned that, in the QS calculations, Google normalizes for position – there is higher CTR expectation in the higher positions. He also reiterated the old standby – smaller, tighter ad groups and more keywords in the ad text, as the main way an advertiser can impact their QS.

Overall, I’m inclined to lean towards Craig’s view of Quality Score. It really may be that simple – that keeping an eye on your CTR, as the key QS metric, just might be the Quality Score magic we’re all looking for.



About Ashley Fardys

Ashley is a Creative Editor at the Search Agency. She joined TSA in 2009. Prior to that, Ashley worked in the film industry as a Creative Executive and Associate Producer, working with directors and screenwriters to bring feature concepts through development to production and distribution. She is originally from Memphis, Tennessee and holds a BFA from the University of Memphis.

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