PPC Quality Score: Cracking the Code @ #SESSF

Welcome back to AIMCLEAR‘s coverage of #SESSF 2011! The ever elusive PPC Quality Score, often regarded as enigmatic a mystery right up there with the ancient sphinx, has attracted, baffled, bewildered, and haunted many a marketer since the dawn of paid search. Day 3 of Search Engine Strategies, San Fran edition brought about the Ads in a Quality Score World session, where moderator Matt Van Wagner led panelists Fred Vallaeys from Google, Paul Corkery from Microsoft, and Craig Danuloff, Founder of Click Equations and author of the bookQuality Score in High Resolution, who dropped some serious Quality Score knowledge. If SES sessions had a Quality Score, this one would certainly be a 10. And I’m thinking of ways to weight those variables 🙂 Read on for the full recap.

Matt began by conceptualizing quality score at a high-level. Quality Score is meant to give you a hint of where you are doing well in your PPC campaigns and where you could stand to improve. He likened Quality Score to the concept of “nudge economics.” Nudge economics is the idea of giving people clues, positive rewards and/or negative penalties to steer them in the right direction.

A good example of nudge economics can be found in a human behavior study done in an Amsterdam airport a few years back. In the study, images of flies were literally etched into the men’s porcelain urinals. The idea was that by giving these poor aiming gents something to point at, the amount of spillage would be reduced. It worked.

First to the podium was Fred Vallaeys. Fred examined Google Quality Score at a high level.

What is Google Quality Score?Google Quality Score is an approximation of how Google expects a keyword to perform with unique scores for each query on a scale from 1–10.

Why does Quality Score matter? There are a number of reasons:

  1. Eligibility – Quality Score really determines eligibility to show up for a particular keyword. You cannot simply expect to show an ad for any given keyword at any given time, it must be relevant to what you are selling.
  2. Position – Determines relative position of your ad in relation to other ads. Ad rank is calculated by maximum cost per click multiplied by Quality Score. If you double your Quality Score you double your Ad rank.
  3. Ad extensions – Determines if your ad is of high enough quality to use new ad formats. These formats typically show up when your ad is at the top of the page. Ad extensions often time have a higher CTR.
  4. Price – A better Quality Score reduces the price you need to bid to maintain a given position. If you double your quality score you only need to pay half the CPC to maintain the same position. You can effectively decrease your cost by increasing your Quality Score.
  5. Top slot – Only high quality ads are eligible to appear to above the natural search results. Not every ad is eligible to show at the top of the page. Google wants to show the best link at the top of the SERP no matter if that is an organic listing or a paid ad. For some keywords you will notice an ad at the top of the SERP and others ads remain on the right hand side. This is because Google has determined that a commercial or ad result is not appropriate for that particular search query.
  6. DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) – Only ads with high enough Quality Score can use dynamic keyword insertion.

What goes into Quality Score?
Click-through rate (CTR) = clicks/impressions

  • This is by far, the most important factor influencing Quality Score.
  • Google does not want to be the one determine if an ad is successful or not. Instead they let searchers be the judge.
  • Google looks at CTR at the account, creative and keyword level

Other relevance factors

  • Google uses relevancy signals unique to the specific query to help inform our quality predictions.
  • Context: java (coffee) vs Java (programming language )vs. Java (travel)
  • Time of day: More research driven searches are focused in the morning, more transaction queries in afternoon.

Landing Page Quality
Landing page score started as a Quality Score element algorithmically determined, now it is more on the policy side. Landing page quality is used to police serious offenders of Google’s landing page guidelines.

Affiliate marketing affected this in a big way when they introduced doorway or interstitial landing pages, which essentially put one more step in between the searcher retrieving the information they are after.

At the end of the day, come to terms with your Quality Score. Even if you have done everything right, you might not have a perfect Quality Score, but if it is making you money then it may be in your best interest to keep running it.

Paul Corkery was next up to the podium. Paul is SMB Operations Program Manager at Microsoft. He spoke about the Microsoft AdCenter Quality Score.

AdCenter Quality Score is similar to Google AdWords in that it is on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the best. It is measured at the match type level, so you may see different Quality Scores for different match types of the same keyword or phrase. Underneath there are 3 sub-scores:

  1. Keyword relevance (measure of your click-through rate normalized for position relative to the rest of the market place for that keyword and match type combination.)
  2. Landing page relevance (Looks at your entire query set for a given keyword.  How relevant is your landing page to the query users are searching for.
  3. Landing page user experience (Microsoft looks to see if the experience is useful to the searcher. They want to make sure the experience provided is a quality one and not littered with adSense ads and banners)

AdCenter Quality Score is designed to represent how competitive your keyword is in the market place. It is a barometer which determines how much optimization head room you have in order to improve your performance. It is different from Google in that it is not focused on determining what you pay by multiplying maximum CPC by Quality Score. It is more of an indicator of all the other factors that go into Microsoft’s ranking algorithm.

AdCenter Quality Score is accessible through AdCenter Web UI, AdCenter desktop and reporting API.

Optimizing using AdCenter Quality Score

  • 7 – 10: No problem zone. You’re doing a good job!
  • 6: Market place average. Apply CTR focused optimizations by loading negative keywords and refining ad copy.
  • 1-5: Keyword is under-performing the market place which will lead to limited impressions. Look into the sub-scores to understand what is required here.

Keyword relevance

  • Good: You’re doing well.
  • No problem: no action required, but could use some optimization
  • Poor: Performing below the marketplace

Landing page relevance

  • No problem: No worries
  • Poor: Optimize, optimize, optimize that landing page.

Landing page user experience

  • No problem: No worries
  • Poor: Look at AdCenter documentation and help regarding policies and guidelines.

Last to the podium was Craig Danuloff. Craig’s presentation focused on the advanced aspects of Quality Score. He examined the surprises he ran into while writing his book. Craig began by admitting Google Quality Score is by far one of the most confusing and confounding aspects of paid search.

Quality Score surprises

  1. Visible Quality is not Quality Score
  2. Actual Quality Score factors
  3. There is no formula

Visible Quality Score is not Quality Score

  • Quality Score  reports is not the Quality Score AdWords uses
  • It doesn’t consider search queries
  • It partially considers geography
  • It blends performance of all ads
  • It uses a different numeric scale
  • Its updated far less frequently
  • It’s a clue. It’s all we’ve got.

Actual Quality Score factors are not hard to see though

  • Historic CTR of the account
    • home tab
  • CTR of keyword-ad copy pairs
    • ad tab, download report with keyword + pl segment
  • Search query CTR
    • dimensions, view search term
  • Geographic CTR
    • dimensions, view geographic
  • Display URL CTR
    • dimensions, view display URL

There is no formula for Quality Score

  • It adapts to  the situation
  • It uses the best available information
  • It favors one set of factors for new accounts
  • It favors another for established accounts
  • It treats new keywords differently than old keywords

One thing to note if you are a new account, AdWords will look at how others have performed in that keyword space to determine Quality Score. In some “neighborhoods” it is simply difficult to prove you’re the good guy or the exception. Verticals such as weight loss and pharmaceuticals have been playgrounds for rather unsavory PPC activity which has led to Google creating a rather high barrier to entry.

Quality Score is really a prediction of the future based on the past. Google is trying to estimate how good of an advertiser you’re going to be on a keyword at that moment. Will you be a good advertiser for the end user and for yourself and how much money will you make Google? Google looks at this data and determines who is most likely to do better and places those advertisers at the top. In doing this they have to use the best available data they have access to.

If you open a brand new account today and begin bidding on keywords you have never bid on before you will receive a Quality Score fairly quickly. However, at this point Google doesn’t have very many clues that will assist them in determining how you are likely to perform. At this point they look at how other advertisers do in this space.

Over time as you garner clicks and gather positive performance data that shows AdWords you are doing well, there is a shift in the weighting placed on Quality Score variables. It is important to understand this shift in variable weight over time.

Everything is irrelevant

  • The dictionary definition of “relevance” is not applied in Quality Score
  • google relies on the ‘wisdom of the crowd’
  • If people click on the ad than it is relevant. The keyword doesn’t necessarily drive Quality Score.

There are two kinds of relevance

  • Yet relevance still matters, because it drives clicks
  • Horizontal relevance (query/keyword/copy/page)
  • Vertical relevance % of all searches about that
  • You can control vertical, but you can’t control horizontal
  • Some keywords aren’t for you

Things to Keep in Mind

  • Anything below a six shouldn’t be in your account.
  • Just because you want to bid on a keyword, doesn’t mean people will click on it
  • Advertisers are insanely stubborn in sticking with keywords that aren’t working, but remember that 70% of the keywords in your account should be 7 and above.
  • If something isn’t performing well, turn it off, it is hurting the rest of your account.
  • 20% clicks are 4 or 5 it hurts you.

Quality Score Anomaly
When Quality Score goes up, sometimes your cost goes up and your rank goes down. This is an anomaly where you are ranking for a broader number of keywords.

Quality Score myth list


  • There are ad group Quality Scores
  • There are campaign Quality Scores
  • There are account Quality Scores
  • Quality Score only calculates when keyword = query
  • Keywords in text ads improve Quality Score
  • Keywords on landing pages improve Quality Score
  • Single keyword ad groups improve Quality Score
  • Some (old) accounts always get good Quality Score
  • Testing text ads can have negative Quality Score impact
  • You can know the cost/savings of a Quality Score change
  • There are no keywords with Quality Score of 8 or 9




Quality Score is your friend

  • Google has engineered a win-win-win system
  • If you treat people well, and satisfy them (clicks), then you will do well
  • Answering specific questions in persuasive ways works
  • Exceptions exist but should be treated as such
  • There is no better metric for summarizing account status

This was an excellent session with great takeaways. These fellows certainly left the audience with things to think about and actionable items to employ in their own endeavors to achieve that sweet spot in that evasive algorithm known as… the Quality Score.

Post image courtesy of tim846.

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