When Google is asked why Quality Score is needed, they give a variation of the answer they always give; it improves relevance and optimizes the experience of our users.
Quality Score helps ensure that only the most relevant ads appear to users on Google and the Google Network. The AdWords system works best for everybody-advertisers, users, publishers and Google too-when the ads that we display match our users’ needs as closely as possible.
This answer is true, incomplete, and somewhat disingenuous.
Google uses the word ‘relevance’ like people at the airlines use the word ‘security’ (and the way they used to use the word ‘safety’). It’s a vague terms subject entirely to their own definition on a scale you can’t measure. In both cases the magic word effectively means ‘because we say so’ and there is no possible or allowable counter-argument.
Relevance helps everybody, and Google clearly strives for it – up to a point.
By their own admission, they have a price where relevance can be compromised. If a topically irrelevant ad gets a huge click-through rate, it will still earn a very high quality score. But there is nothing contradictory about this because Google defines something as relevant if lots of people click on it – problem solved.
Scores Have Consequences
The truth is that Quality Score is Google’s way of passing judgment on and rating a number of different aspects of your paid search campaigns. This rating is then used to make value judgments about your suitability to advertise for any particular keyword at any particular time.
It’s also important to note that Quality Score severely manipulates concept of an auction that many people still think about in regards to bidding on your keywords. Yes there is an auction going on, but it’s happening in an environment where everyone has a different multiplier on their money. Some are positive, some are negative.
This is enormously important, and a subject we’ll look at in great detail Chapter Z.
Three Reasons for Quality Score
I believe that Quality Score does three things for Google:
- It acts as a bozo filter to limit or prevent ‘undesirable’ ads and advertisers
- It acts as a ‘preferred customer program’ to reward top performing advertisers
- It provides a ‘secret sauce’ that ensures nobody knows how/why certain ads are run at specific times for certain prices.
Quality Score as Bozo Filter
Google needs a bozo filter because there are a lot of bozo’s trying to game their system.
At one extreme there are those who jump into Adwords with dreams or delusions of a quick buck, flooding the system with their own inexperience.
These people – who may be young and naive or who may be old and treacherous – may do nearly everything wrong. Their campaigns can have sloppy keyword selection, bad text ads, poor campaign organization, and most likely lousy landing pages with undifferentiated or even questionable offers. But they have money to spend and often are willing to bid somewhat or entirely irrationally.
So if Quality Score didn’t exist, if there wasn’t a way to throttle back the impact of these advertisers based on their poor campaign execution (not simply because they’re new or in any way undesirable) their dollars would allow their inexperience to pollute and in some ways distort the system.
For them, Quality Score is a handicapping system which requires that they earn and prove their way onto a level playing field. This limits or prevents them from distorting the experience and performance of established and proven advertisers – so it’s a good thing.
At the other extreme are the professional internet scammers. They’re the exact opposite of the new and inexperienced; they’re in fact often way more sophisticated than the average Adwords advertiser. The trouble is they’re up to no good – attempting to sell disreputable products or services, or somehow trick or swindle people in one way or another.
They tend to move fast, picking up on one hot trend or another, or morphing hundreds of times within the bounds of a long-running shady domain. They pick keywords, create landing pages, test relentlessly, make some money, and move on to the next area.
In this area Quality Score is genuinely a consumer protection service. It penalizes pages which use deceptive practices or language, fail to make proper disclosures, and show other signs of real or possible nefarious activities. And the ‘account history’ component of Quality Score acts a little like a ‘three strikes you’re out’ law, allowing a poor history to diminish the chance (or at least increase the cost) of new and future success.
In these and other cases, Quality Score is very clearly a penalty. Note that a poor Quality Score does not ban or algorithmically prevent advertising even when advertisers are guilty of the worst of these types of acts; it just requires them to compensate with extremely high bids to earn their way back into the auction.
I don’t find this to be unreasonable. Google isn’t the Internet Police, and they’re in business to make money. They take reasonable steps to promote good content and limit or penalize what they feel is bad content. And I’m sure in very extreme cases they would entirely remove or ban a site or web page.
But most of the time they simply penalize. Which means that most of the time statements about their policies and decisions being driven by their pure desire for a great user experience, remember that each sentence ends with an invisible ‘unless the advertiser is willing to pay a lot of money per click.’
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: