The official Google descriptions of Quality Score do a masterful job of explaining and positioning the important component of Adwords, and yet leave us just a little confused and uncertain of what we should do.
Let’s look at some of the most complete and visible Google official statements regarding Quality Score – with some commentary.
A Quality Score Overview
In this page from Google Adwords Help, we get a great overview of Quality Score. It begins with four clear and reasonably definitive statements:
- The AdWords system calculates a ‘Quality Score’ for each of your keywords.
- It looks at a variety of factors to measure how relevant your keyword is to your ad text and to a user’s search query.
- A keyword’s Quality Score updates frequently and is closely related to its performance.
- In general, a high Quality Score means that your keyword will trigger ads in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).
This gives us proof Quality Score exists, assurance that it’s not an entirely one dimensional measure, confidence that it can change at any time, and a promise that a higher Quality Score is in our interest.
But it also begins building the uncertainty; quality is based on relevance which itself is undefined and based on numerous (soon-to-be-named) factors. But then it’s based on performance, an entirely undefined term. And finally it turns out we can’t completely count on higher positions and lower costs if we earn high Quality Scores, because that’s only true in general.
How Quality Score is Used
In that same help file, we’re also told of four different ways that Quality Score is used:
- Estimating the first page bids that you see in your account
- Determining if a keyword is eligible to enter the ad auction that occurs when a user enters a search query
- Affecting how high your ad will be ranked (AdRank = Bid x Quality Score)
- Influencing your keywords’ actual cost-per-clicks (Actual CPC = (Ad Rank to beat ? Quality Score) + $0.01)
This section confirms that Quality Score drives how often, in what position, and at what price your ads appear. That should be enough to convince us Quality Score is VERY important.
How Quality Score is Calculated
In another page from Google Adwords Help, we get to the heart of the matter. We knew Quality Score existed and we knew it was important. What we really want to know is what drives the calculation and ultimately what can we do to get the best Quality Score possible.
While we continue to refine our Quality Score formulas for Google and the search network, the core components remain more or less the same:
- The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword and the matched ad on Google
- Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account
- The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
- The quality of your landing page
- The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group
- The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query
- Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown
- Other relevance factors
They begin here with a disclaimer: Google’s going to keep changing the way they calculate Quality Score, so before providing even a vague summary of the way it’s currently calculated we’re warned that the calculation can (and probably does) change at any time and from time to time.
With that out of the way, we get a solid list of factors impacting Quality Score. Three refer to CTR, three reference relevance, one mentions landing page quality, and one again uses the word performance.
The click-through-rate factors are the history of the keyword itself, the history of the display URL, and the history of the overall account. It’s been said that CTR history for the Ad Group and Campaign are also tracked and considered – although it’s very interesting that these aren’t included on the official list.
We’ll look very closely at the role of CTR in Quality Score in Chapter X.
Relevance is always a matter close to Google’s heart, so it’s no surprise to find it within the Quality Score calculation. In particular, they’re looking for alignment between the search query (the words the searcher types), your keywords, the text in your ads, and the concepts on your landing pages.
Or are they? The list doesn’t include landing pages in the relevance discussion, but instead simply refers to landing page quality. This requirement is widely believed and frequently repeated, however.
We’ll examine all the issues of relevance for Quality Score in Chapter Y.
We’ll review the impact of landing pages on Quality Score in Chapter Z.
The geography of the person searching is a Quality Score factor, interestingly described as an Account level factor here, although elsewhere described by Google as one of the factors considered in the real-time calculation, which would make it far more likely and logically considered at the keyword level.
And in case there wasn’t enough uncertainty in the list thus far, they conclude with a simple coda: Oh ya, we take other things into consideration too.
These aren’t the only official Google words on Quality Score, but they’re the broadest and must fundamental. These establish the core of what is officially known about Quality Score in terms of what it is, when it is used, and how it is calculated.
They still leave us with a lot of questions.
This is a good time to point out that the goal here is not to be paranoid. It’s understood that there are reasonable limits to how clear Google can be both for competitive reasons, to limit additional gaming of the system, and for their own legitimate business interests.
But we believe too that there are necessary levels of completeness and accuracy that advertisers need to be able to make reasonable, informed, and smart business decisions. The information Google provides in these and other documents (many of which we’ll review in later chapters) at this point isn’t adequate – hence the rest of this book.
About This Post
This series of blog posts did eventually become a book about quality score – in June 2011 ‘Quality Score in High Resolution‘ will be released.
More details and ordering information can be found here.
Other Posted Chapters: