Quality Score: the Hype and the Reality
This Post has been Updated to correct some misinformation I was inadvertently spreading!
The volume of misinformation and hoopla surrounding Quality Score (QS) is astounding!
Some of the kooky ideas I’ve heard and read recently:
- Quality Score is a measure of how well the landing page relates to the user search.
- Quality Score is a black box with lots of mysterious elements.
- The advent of Quality Score represented a major change for Google
- The way CPCs are calculated has changed dramatically
- PPC Programs can be managed simply by focusing on QS and paying little attention to bids
Utterly False: Web design shops may be guilty of propagating this myth, but it’s certainly persistent! Landing page plays the following role: if your landing page is just a collection of links to go elsewhere (usually sponsored links) you’re an AdSense Spammer and your QS will drop to zero. Good riddance! If your landing page loads really slowly, that will hurt your quality score. That’s it, nothing else. As long as you’re a credible destination and not crazy slow, landing page plays no role whatsoever.
Not Really: The exact mechanism for calculating QS is proprietary, of course, but the elements in play are not: measured/historic CTR of the Keyword-copy combination , measured/historic adgroup CTR, measured/historic account CTR, measured/historic domain CTR. From these elements Google calculates a best guess for the CTR of the ad in question. This is normed for position, calculated only from google.com traffic that matches the KW exactly and fixed on a scale of 1 to 10. More on this final bit later.
False: The notion that positions should be determined by Bid x CTR was the brilliant insight that maximized Google’s revenue per impression per ad. Any step away from CTR would reduce their revenue. Quality Score had a major impact on AdSense Spammers and Affiliates, but changed very little for legitimate advertisers. For legitimate companies this represented a shift from measured CTR to predicted CTR (one and the same given adequate volume).
False: The magic formula revealed by Google’s chief economist is exactly the same as it was before with the respective QS in place of the CTR. As long as we understand that QS is a linear function of CTR, so that a QS of 8 means you have twice the predicted CTR of a QS of 4, there is no difference in the calculation pre- and post- QS launch.
Are you serious?!? We actually heard someone make this claim on stage at a conference. Writing compelling ad copy is important. Highlighting differentiating reasons to shop with you is valuable. However, once the copy is tightly targeted, and the messages tested and compelling, there are no more levers to pull. It’s very difficult to beat well-written control copy in a test. Bids can be changed dynamically and smartly to respond to changes in traffic value, there is only so much tuning you can do with copy. If you don’t have a flexible, powerful bid management system perhaps you don’t have any other levers to play with, but if you do have a system you’ll get far more bang for your buck analyzing, reacting to and anticipating changes in performance data through proper bid management.
For legitimate advertisers, QS is simply a normed system for evaluating an ad’s CTR. One of the really clever features of this normalization is that the advertiser can get an immediate sense of whether the CTR is good, bad or indifferent and that’s a huge boon.
In the past if you saw that a KW-copy combination has a CTR of 3% and it’s in position 3 on average, there’s really no way to know if that’s good or bad. Not only did the position impact the raw CTR, making it hard to know whether the copy or the position was driving the number, the range of “good” CTR changes dramatically based on the KW. The tighter the KW defines user intent the higher the range of CTR will be for the sponsored links. The less clear the lower the range. Someone searching for “Yamaha” could be researching motorcycles, pianos or stereo equipment. Someone searching for a “Yamaha FZ6R” is pretty clearly looking for a street bike, so the match between advertiser and user will be very tight.
Normalizing the CTR so that you know at a glance ads that have a good CTR (QS >=7) or bad CTR (QS < 5). This lets you identify the KW with problematic CTR performance easily. There may not be an easy fix for low QS. If your competitors pitch “Low Price Guarantee and Next Day Shipping” and you can’t match those offers, then you may not be able to win the copy battle. But, sometimes tightening the copy for a particular cluster of ads can materially impact performance. Normalization has made management easier.
Quality Score is important, just as CTR has always been, now we just have a bit better ability to identify and address the problem children.