Nov 42009

Quality Score and PPC Management

The argument has been made that in paid search Quality Score is just as important as the bidding. Position within each auction is based on the product of QS and the bid, so they're equally important, right?

So why don't we spend more time talking about QS tips on RKGBlog? Because the fact is: it isn't very interesting, or very difficult.

Quality Score is a weighted estimate of Click-Through Rate. CTR, in turn, is a product of two factors:

  1. The degree to which what you offer matches the user's intent. For example, the user who searches for 'Yamaha' may be interested in pianos, motorcycles or stereo equipment. They probably aren't interested in all three, so no matter which you sell, your CTR will be lousy on that KW.
  2. The relative attractiveness of your ad copy versus the competition's. This is a function of both the content of the selling proposition, and the phrasing thereof. A 20 percent discount is more compelling than 10 percent, and "20% Off Today!" will outperform "Twenty percent discount"

So, writing compelling copy, targeted to the KW is important. And, testing to find the phrasing that generates the best CTR without torpedoing conversion rates makes sense.

Once you've been in the business a while, and done hundreds or thousands of copy tests, you develop a pretty good idea of how to phrase the messages, and which of the advertiser's particular selling propositions will resonate well. Certainly PPC managers should:

  • Test whether short term discount copy lifts CTR enough to offset the Conversion Rate and AOV hit taken by attracting more discount hunters.
  • Scan through your ads to find low QS ads and fix copy.
  • Test copy variations when the likely winner is hard to predict.

All these are good practices. All these are also fairly obvious, and don't take any particular brilliance to execute. Indeed, this is good work for an intern if they're reasonably sharp and attend to details.

Yes, Quality Score plays just as important a role as the bid, but there is no complexity involved with QS strategy. You want the QS to be as high as possible always. That doesn't vary by season, or by time of day, or by category. It doesn't depend on stock positions, margin structures or return rates. Higher is better, and the mechanisms for making improvements are obvious.

Moreover, a good, well-trained analyst will write very good, targeted copy the first time, and have a very hard time raising the bar from there.

I heard some guy give a talk at a conference saying: "I hardly ever change bids anymore, I just manage by maximizing quality score." But, "management by QS" doesn't make sense. There's nothing to manage; get it right then move on to the stuff you can manage: the bids, the KW list, the match-types, negatives, syndication networks, etc.

That's the stuff that separates the paid search managers from the pretenders.


9 Responses to "Quality Score and PPC Management"
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derek.newman says:
Hi George, I've been wondering about this. Some time ago I asked you if your 100/ 1000 click bucket system ignored the problems usually associated with destroying account history (and QS). You replied in the affirmative - which got me wondering if you have enough scale to make QS largely irrelevant. I was speculating amongst myselves that you don't have enough time to worry too much about QS - that you would just bid to a ROI target and move on. My experience is that QS does vary naturally over time. One of the more reputable (for me) Adwords forum members have confirmed this for me also. This might just be a function of us being krill-like advertisers when compared to a business of your size.
I think there's actually a lot more to be said about getting Quality Score right, especially in the initial launch of a campaign. The problem for many small businesses out there is that they haven't been in business for awhile and they're not well-trained analysts. What about tips for getting an ad right the first time? Conducting research about what your competitors are doing before you launch can often give valuable insight into what's working and what's not. If they're all running similar elements, it's probably good for their CTR, and you can build off their ideas. In addition, I would argue that negative keywords and match types ARE managing for quality score. Having a solid negative keyword list and running on the right match types can ensure that you're not wasting impressions on users that won't click through; thus, this is an improvement in your CTR that has little to do with ad copy testing.
Derek, thanks for your comment. By no means am I arguing that QS is unimportant or that you can at some scale ignore the importance of writing ad copy. That isn't the case at all. When we talk about management techniques and bidding we're assuming you've already written good copy and done the tests to maximize QS throughout the campaign. Because writing targeted compelling copy isn't particularly challenging for most and doesn't require sophisticated tool sets, we figure there isn't much point in talking about that. Doesn't mean it isn't an important part of the game; it just seems obvious to us and not worth talking about. Writing great copy is a critically important piece of the game, it just isn't all that hard.
Kristin, thanks for commenting. Your point is well-taken, not everyone has sharp analysts or experience writing ad copy and I shouldn't minimize the problems that can cause for small businesses. We've been writing 35 character blurbs for so long it seems like second nature -- and everyone on my team can spot phrases that are over 35 characters without counting, just by feel at this point. We're a bit reluctant to share our hard won techniques for writing good copy. Our clients have paid for those copy tests that have taught us a great deal about what works and what doesn't, so sharing those findings doesn't feel right. Unlike the bid management and analytic advice we give, the copy techniques are very easy to adopt and implement and we'd prefer to give our clients the advantage of that knowledge. One point of correction though. You say that negatives and match-types are mechanisms for improving QS. Actually they aren't. QS is measured strictly off of traffic that matches the KW exactly, so negatives, match types and syndication settings don't impact QS. They impact performance in a big way, but not through QS.
Hi George, Makes complete sense and confirms a suspicion I've had for a long time but failed to summarise in any conclusive way as you have above: that there is no point trying to optimise for Quality Score. I think Quality Score should be seen as an indicator of a successful PPC campaign, rather than the cause of a successful PPC campaign. In other words, Quality Score should never be the end goal of PPC management; but relevancy itself should be. I think if you have a campaign which engages your target audience, Quality Score will naturally follow, and there's no point trying to maximise it. Thanks for your clarity on the subject. Alan
Hi George, Great post on quality score. If you are bidding on the right keywords, creating tightly themed ad groups, and writing effective ad copy, in theory, quality score should take care of itself. I know this statement doesn't always ring true, but in general it is a good principle to go by. One of my recent blog entries had to do with bidding strategies. Though it does not discuss quality score directly, the entry speaks about bidding and campaign setup: Thanks, George.
Thanks for your comments Alan and Matthew. Matthew, your bid management post is great for small retailers and local businesses who may not have enough on site conversion traffic to use for bid management. As a rule, we think it's always best to let the data drive bidding decisions, but when there are no success metrics to track on the web site, or the conversion events are too rare to discern a pattern, your approach makes good sense. I'd add one caveat to your advice: Spend as much of your fixed budget on the most specific terms you can. Whatever business you're in, the best traffic will come from those who search for EXACTLY what you offer ("leather baseball gloves Ft Worth" will be better for that Ft Worth shop than "baseball gloves"). If you can spend all of your budget on the most targeted KW you'll be better served than spending it on the higher traffic more general stuff.


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