In our Quality Score Webinar with Bryan Eisenberg (If you missed it, you can now watch the replay) there were way too many questions to answer during the event.
This is the first of several posts in which these questions will be answered. We’ll split the answers between here and TheGrok.com, but keep linking to more as they’re posted.
Have more? Put ‘em in the comments. Disagree with any of the answers. Comment please!
Q: What does ‘removing ads from the bottom’ mean?
A: I think the point you’re referring to was part of the discussion of text-ads. Since most people run 2-4 versions of their ad to test for better CTR and conversion rate, it’s a good idea to regularly remove the ads getting lower CTR (and/or Conv Rate) and add new ones in an attempt to create a new ‘kind of the hill’.
Q: What about long tail keywords?
A: The only thing that matters about keywords relative to Quality Score is the CTR they generate and their relevance to the ads, queries, and landing page. The concepts of head and tail don’t factor in.
Q: How does Google determine if a landing page is relevant? Someone might actually find the page useful but still bounce back to Google to click another ad.
A: The primary determinant of relevance is semantic – do the words on the page match the words in the query and keyword purchase, either literally or at least contextually. Bryan mentioned the idea of Google measuring bounce rates and using the fact that someone came back and did another search or clicked another ad as one of their clues, but that is likely less significant. If a page has good relevance but many users bounce that’s better than if it has no relevance and users bounce.
Q: Is there a way to check the Quality Score of your competition?
A: No you can’t see their score on an individual keyword basis, or figure out their CTR(s). But you can certainly assess the relevance of their text ads and landing pages. Finding keywords that have low relevance – because they tend to be broad matched and lumped into a more general group – and then tightening up your relevance to that exact word/topic, would be a way to get an advantage.
Q: What’s a good click-through-rate?
A: As we mentioned in the Webinar, their is no real answer for this given the wide range of keywords, queries, ads, and situations. Long ago Google wouldn’t run ads with less than 1% CTR for very long, and while that is no longer true it is rare that less than 1% is a very good CTR. For brand-terms on the other hand I’ve seen 30-40% common in some cases. Just depends is the real answer. Testing some reasonably broad types of text-ads should help you find the range for any keyword. But writing good text-ads is pretty hard for many people.
Q: Does the Quality Score of one account in My Client Center effect the other accounts in that Client Center?
A: No. All Quality Score issues are constrained on one Google Account.
Q: If QS suffers when keyword and query aren’t tightly aligned, should you use Exact and Phrase match early in a campaign and delay Broad until a good QS is established?
A: No because QS is only calculated ‘as if’ all keywords were exact match. Not sure exactly how this works but it suggest Google is trying to not penalize you because they match a broader set of queries to your keywords.
TIP FROM PARTIPANT: Quality Score is in the Keyword/Placement Report in Google. I had said it was only under the pop-up in the management window.
Q: If you have two ads in an AgGroup, does the QS as displayed reflect the lower of the two? Should you just run one until ‘established’?
A: Probably not, more likely an average. Running one wouldn’t help because as soon as you ad another you’re in the same situation (although you may have some good history built up, but that probably counts much less than whatever is currently running.)
Q: Do the other search engine use a Quality Score?
A: There are other search engines? Hm. Actually you’ve stumpeded me. Comments?
Q: Does testing ads frequently reduce Quality Score?
A: In theory this makes sense – as you’re restarting the history and calculation, but my guess is that if a keyword in an AdGroup has a good history, you get the benefit of the doubt for a while until a new text-ad proves lousy. Google wants to encourage testing. I would never recommend a full new set of text-ads, rather leave known winners and fold new ones into the mix until they prove themselves.
UPDATE II: And the final Q&A Installment.
A cornerstone of High Resolution PPC is the fact that there is a true but over-simplified view of just about every aspect of paid search marketing.
With Quality Score, the popular notion is that there is one single specific metric calculated based on a few simple variables and attached to each keyword in your Ad-Groups.
Google fosters this impression, but a careful reading of their materials (and the comments of some very knowledgeable folks) suggests it’s not that simple. There are a number of different Quality Scores or QS components which are calculated independently and used separately or collectively in different situations.
And these scores aren’t static. Quality Score is computed in real time for every search. The calculation is based not just the keyword but on the unique combination of search query, keyword, the text-ad selected, the searcher’s geography, and other variables.
While we don’t know everything about the Quality Score calculation(s), we can rank and summarize the main influencers:
- CTR is by far the largest factor, and considered at many levels – from the historic overall average CTR of your account, to the CTR of the Ad-Group the keyword is in, to the recent CTR of the specific query-keyword-textAd combination.
- Relevance is important – this requires you to keep tight topical and even literal groupings for your keyword within an Ad-Group and ensure that the specific terms (or clear & common synonmns) appear within each matching text ad and on the target landing page.
- ‘Other Factors’ are also considered although they probably play a generally minor role – these include the geography of the user (do you’re ads get higher CTR’s in FL, you’ll get a higher QS for FL searchers), the load time of your pages, the content on and linked to your landing pages, and more.
Around these basics there are a lot of details to chase down and act upon.
But the basic lessons should be learned first.
- The impact of Quality Score on your campaigns in enormous. Even without knowing exactly how it’s being calculated or applied, we need to understand the general goals of Quality Score and execute our campaigns accordingly. Selectively or occasionally doing these things isn’t going to to work.
- Quality Score rewards things you want to do anyway. Do not tolerate poor performing click-through-rates. Narrowcast your Ad-Groups from query to landing page. Treat your visitors with respect. Doing the basic right takes you a long way, and yet of the hundreds of accounts I review each year, very few uniformly get these things right.
Applying these lessons in a rather simple fashion could in many cases deliver excellent Quality Score results.
Want a quick-fix Quality Score strategy example? Try this:
- Go through your Ad-Groups, look at the text-ads that are running. Delete any ads getting CTRs 50% lower than your top performers.
- Go through the keywords in each Ad-Group. If there are keywords getting performing 2X worse than your average CTR, pause them or move them to a new ‘Rehab’ Ag-Group.
- Visit your landing page. Think like a prospect and fix anything that would stop you from understanding, trusting, or moving forward.
To learn more about Quality Score, and hear a more detailed approach to applying the deep facts to improving your campaigns, attend our Quality Score Webinar today (Tuesday Nov 25) at 12:00 EST.
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.
The first two are rather straightforward. These are the aspects encompassed in the ‘improving everyone’s experience’ description and rationale Google generally gives for Quality Score.
But it’s the last one that has real impact on paid search marketers.
Quality Score is Google’s way of passing judgement on and rating a number of different aspects of your paid search campaigns.
This rating is then used to make value judgements about your suitability to advertise for any particular keyword at any particular time.
And to manipulate everything the concept of auction was supposed to tell you about bidding for 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.
Imagine placing bids on ebay when you had no idea the conversion rate that was going to be used to turn your dollars into the local currency of the seller. And what if when looking at the bids or relative order of other bidders, you had no idea what conversion rate had been applied to their bids. How would you bid in that environment? Quite differently than in one that was open and transparent, that’s for sure.
There is a lot we know about Quality Score, and a lot that Google just isn’t going to tell us.
This week both in blog posts, tweets, and most prominently in a Tuesday afternoon Webinar with Bryan Eisenberg, we’ll explore Quality Score in all its aspects.
These will include the practical – what is it, how does it effect your campaigns, and which changes should you make to control and take advantage of it – but will also cover the more philosophical issues of transparency and fairness.
If you haven’t yet, please sign up for the Tuesday Webinar. And in any case, welcome to Quality Score week.
A lot of advertisers have keywords on which their desire and instinct is to ‘bid to position’ – meaning they want to rank in the top slot (or the top 3 slots) and are willing to pay almost anything to do so.
This is generally defined as a ‘branding’ requirement, although it may be more accurately described as a form of vanity bidding.
In preparing for next Tuesday’s Quality Score seminar with Bryan Eisenberg, I’ve started thinking about the impact of Quality Score on Bid-to-Position.
It’s easy to think about Bid-to-Position is based on the out-dated thinking of PPC as a pure auction. The strategy itself implies a willingness to pay ‘whatever it takes’ to attain a certain position in the rankings.
(Or at least pay an amount more than economically justifiable – many Bid-to-Position rules do allow you to set a MaxCPC over which the desire for a certain position will yield to some economic reality.)
But as the role and impact of Quality Score increases the ability to bid your way into a position gets harder and harder, and in many cases ultimately impossible.
Position is not driven solely by bid anymore. And in many cases bid won’t even be the largest influencing factor.
We can see this by looking at Google’s new ‘First Page Minimum Bid’ which, according to Google is “based on the exact match version of the keyword, the ad’s Quality Score, and current advertiser competition on that keyword.”
If that’s what it takes to get on the first page, then this obviously has a lot of implications to anyone hoping to ‘Bid-to-Position’.
- First it reinforces the notion that all of your keyword work should be striving toward Exact Match, because Exact beats Phrase which beats Broad.
- Second it says you had better really worry about the Quality Score of the keywords you’re trying to position. A lousy QS will sink your chances of attaining any position, let alone a top one.
- Bids are only important in the context of these first two.
On Tuesday Bryan and I will dive deeply into Quality Score and how you can and why you need to focus on improving it for the keywords in your campaigns. This ‘secret formula’ has impact on every dollar you spend, and every click you get – or don’t get.
The impact of Quality Score on various bid strategies and campaign goals is just one of the topics we’ll cover. Please join us if you can.
Google is again modifying both the calculation and impact of their ‘Quality Score’ metric. As with most Google changes, the stated goal is improving search quality and user experience. The coincidental result is that Google will make more money.
There are two changes this time:
- Quality score will now be ‘position adjusted’ to take into account the location of the text-ad when the click-through occurs. This makes it ‘more accurate’. Makes me wonder why this didn’t happen a long time ago. This increases the value of extensive text-ad testing.
- Quality score can now cause an ad to move above another ad it would normally rank below IF this jump pushes the ad to the top of the page (rather than the right edge). (That’s a bad quick summary, read the Google announce for the details.)
Beyond these details what strikes me is how important quality score has become to paid search management and results.
Quality score drives bid requirements, quality score drives ad position, quality score drives impression share, and now quality score drives the chance to leapfrog your way to the top center of search result pages.
What Do We Know About Quality Score?
Although quality score plays a central role in how your money is spent and made in Google Adwords, it is officially a ‘secret formula’.
Like PageRank on the SEO side, Google makes only vague pronouncements while pundits and practitioners share theories and recommendation endlessly – but nobody can tell you definitively how to maximize your quality score.
It still isn’t even that easy to see your quality score, although it is getting easier. Google recently changed the way they display quality score – giving it an integer value – but it’s still under a ‘work for it’ pop-up in the Adwords interface. On the positive front, they have finally added quality score to the API (thank you!) so third-party tools can begin to make use of it.
But also like PageRank the scores tend to clump around certain values, and the distinctions between close numbers aren’t obvious.
Also, and this is just a hunch, I’d bet nearly anything Google doesn’t maintain or use the number as an integer. So two keywords from two different bidders that both show a QS of ’7′ might in fact be one with a 7.0001 and another with a 7.9998.
- Google has an awesome business. They sell a product with secret specifications which are subject to change, and charge whatever they want without even telling anyone why or how. Nobody but the Mafia selling protection services to local merchants ever got away with this before.
- Advertisers have to really play the ‘chase the quality score ghost’ game. Obsess about CTR’s and align as many of the other known factors as possible. Live with the fact that you’ll waste time trying to please the QS algorithm because there’s no published list for how to get into quality-score-heaven.
- Advertisers should continue to clammor for more openness from Google as to what counts, how much, when, and how we’re charged accordingly. Neither #1 or #2 should be true.
- I need to spend a lot more time thinking and writing about Quality Score. It’s a big deal.
I particularly like the way he defines assumptions as to why they’re making these changes:
1. New advertisers (and unevenly-engaged advertisers returning to refresh their memories) do keep pouring into the space, especially internationally. The optics of high minimum bids don’t look good. They’re alarming and off-putting to newbies.
2. Google likes its black box, and likes to avoid black-white distinctions. Building very flexible (read: confounding) architecture helps Google achieve a number of goals. And even those goals are subject to change.
3. Yet Google faces pressure for additional disclosure. So for every layer of complexity they build in, they try to offer up at least an equivalent step forward in terms of disclosure.
4. At Google AdWords, CTR is king. Clicks drive revenue, and continue to be a reasonable proxy for relevance. This is the biggest constant since 2002.
5. The platform as it stood at version 2.6 (my nomenclature), contained pockets of inefficiency. It did a good job of ramping up the “quality” bar, to the delight of users, but as even Sergey sheepishly admitted to investors, they might have “overtightened” the calibration of the platform, showing too few ads for advertisers’, Google’s, and investors’ taste. The new release is intended to offer Google the ability to “untighten” selectively, without giving anyone the satisfaction of being able to point definitively as to exactly how that is being achieved.
Go read his initial conclusions.
Most of the comments and analysis on the Google Quality Score updates, including my own, had mentioned the fact that the changes as described seemed to deal a death-blow to the old ‘good-ok-great’ Quality Score ranking system, but didn’t mention any replacement.
Brad Geddes apparently has the scoop that there will be ‘more transparency’ in the new system:
More visibility coming to Quality Score. The ‘OK, Great, and Poor’ will be replaced with a much more transparent system. At present, the easiest way to see many changes is to run a keyword report and sort by minimum bid high to low. With the new system, you will eventually be able to run a report and sort by Quality Score so that you can get a much better view of your keywords quality score.
Excellent. Hope they’re available in the API!
I always wonder if Frank Luntz invented the name Quality Score for Google.
It just sounds like the man behind ‘climate change’ (which was otherwise known as ‘global warming’) would call something a ‘quality score’ when it actually functions as ‘advertising tax’.
The Quality Score is Google’s way of handicapping your keywords/text-ads, in the sense of both ranking and limiting their appropriateness and therefore likelihood to run.
The idea, as Google portrays it, is that keyword/ad/landing-page combinations which are more appropriate for a given search get a higher score, and those less appropriate get a lower one. A higher score helps ads run more frequently and be positioned higher, while a lower quality score drives them to be run less frequently and positioned lower.
This of course all aligns with the idea of putting user experience of searchers first, as better ads (more relevant and ‘voted’ so by clicks) get higher quality scores.
And oh ya, the lower your quality score the more you have to pay for the chance or priviledge of running your ads at all.
This is where the prime directive gets sold out – ads with lower quality scores (to a point) can run and even rank highly if the advertiser is willing to pay enough.
In some cases quality scores were so low that a ‘Minimum Bid’ was put into place, which is the moral equivalent of saying that we have no available seating for dinner this evening, unless you can find it in your heart to slip the maitre de a Benjamin.
Beyond a certain point, however, keywords have been shut down entirely (and marked ‘inactive’ until the words, ads, landing pages, or bids were modified and re-evaluated.)
Quality score is calculated using yet-another-secret-google-algorithm, but we know it reflects the symmetry of language between the query, keyword, ad, and landing page, click-through-rate performance, load time of the landing page, and other elements.
Quality Score Revised
The way Quality Score is calculated and applied is being changed, which as just announced in a blog post entitled ‘Quality Score improvements’. Luntz would be proud.
Here’s what they say about the changes:
A more accurate Quality Score
Most importantly, we are replacing our static per-keyword Quality Scores with a system that will evaluate an ad’s quality each time it matches a search query. This way, AdWords will use the most accurate, specific, and up-to-date performance information when determining whether an ad should be displayed. Your ads will be more likely to show when they’re relevant and less likely to show when they’re not. This means that Google users are apt to see better ads while you, as an advertiser, should receive leads which are more highly qualified.
Keywords no longer marked ‘inactive for search’
The new per-query evaluation of Quality Score affects you in that keywords will no longer appear as ‘inactive for search’ in your account. Instead, all keywords will have the chance to show ads on Google web search and the search network (unless you’ve paused or deleted them). Keep in mind, however, that keywords previously marked ‘inactive for search’ are not likely to accrue a great deal of traffic following this change. This is because their combined per-query Quality Score and bid probably isn’t high enough to gain competitive placement.
‘First page bid’ will replace ‘minimum bid’
As a result of migrating to per-query Quality Score, we are no longer showing minimum bids in your account. Instead, we’re replacing minimum bids with a new, more meaningful metric: first page bids. First page bids are an estimate of the bid it would take for your ad to reach the first page of search results on Google web search. They’re based on the exact match version of the keyword, the ad’s Quality Score, and current advertiser competition on that keyword. Based on your feedback, we learned that knowing your minimum bid wasn’t always helpful in getting the ad placement you wanted, so we hope that first page bids will give you better guidance on how to achieve your advertising goals.
It’s worth mentioning that the impact of these changes will vary from advertiser to advertiser; some might see no changes to their ad serving, while others may see a noticeable difference. As always, we recommend optimizing ads to prevent them from receiving a low Quality Score.
The core idea of calculating Quality Score on the unique characteristics of each search instead of coming up with a single score per keyword is clearly a step in the right direction.
The dynamic nature of the new Quality Score, however, may make it a lot more challenging to know and manage the implications of your Quality Scores. They don’t say if they’ll still report Quality Score in the Adwords interface, of more importantly if they’ll make any QS rating available via the Adwords API.
By scoring independently in each situation, many keywords may suffer what will in effect be a lower impression share – getting shown far less often than their potential – but it’s not clear that this loss will be reported or visible.
We may see volume drops for certain keywords and not have any clear indication that the reason is a low Quality Score in certain situations. And it’s not clear that there will be any feedback as to which situations – certain queries, certain network sites, certain times of day or whatever – are delivering low QS which therefore will make it quite difficult to take corrective action.
Similarly, while not having keywords marked ‘Inactive for Search’ sounds positive, it may be worse to have words running at extremely low impression counts if there is not a clear indication that this is happening or that it’s due to frequently low Quality Scores in the situations where the keyword is being scored and considered.
The ‘First Page Bid’ metric at least makes the process of bribing the matre de more transparent. There’s nothing worse than either slipping someone a $20 only to have them scoff at you because a $100 was necessary, except of course passing off a $100 when $20 would have done.
Having the price of admission clearly marked will enable advertisers to make their own decisions as to value.
One issue it would be great to have Google clarify is the way Quality Score is calculated, and therefore ‘First Page Bid’ too, over the life and history of a keyword. In the past the ‘Minimum Bid’ was frequently insanely and unjustly high for new keywords added to a campaign, and would decrease rapidly as a click-history was established.
This required paying up to $10 per click for terms without any competitive bids and which would later settle at bid prices as low as $0.10. Hopefully these types of ‘hazing’ fees for new keywords won’t be included in the new system – but of course only time will tell.
The new Quality Score changes are being rolled out slowly, so you may not see these in your account immediately. There will be another post at the Adwords blog before final system-wide launch.
Do you have Quality Score concerns? Post a comment!
Update: More info on new Quality Score reporting.
In my ‘Three Challenges’ Post I wrote the following to describe one of the fundamental reasons why I think the process of managing paid search needs to be improved:
There is a lack of clarity. It is amazingly difficult to get accurate and complete data on campaign performance and results. Much of the data you need to see is scattered across three to five different tools and interfaces. Other data is presented in formats or based on calculations that just aren’t right. (they’re wrong.) Still other information is seemingly unavailable. There is no quick and accurate way to get reports which are satisfying.
Since then I’ve written four posts in an attempt to explain and expand. But I’m not sure I captured it.
To manage something effectively it’s necessary to see cause and effect. The paid search networks use such complicated rules and hide certain key data elements which make this impossible.
Search queries, which are the primary driver of search success, are a key example. But it’s really the full relationship between queries and keywords and match types and quality score and text-ads and landing pages. The truth lies in that matrix somewhere, but nobody is letting you see it.
You see a pile of queries over here (partially, sometimes). A bunch of keywords over there. Some ads further off in the distance. Want to understand the relationships? Put them together in your own head.
Clues are great in a mystery. Not in a business transaction.
How many keywords should you place in one ad-group?
It’s an age-old question for paid search marketers.Traditionally ad-groups have been considered organizing baskets for keywords. All the variations on a particular keyword, and/or all the keywords driving to a particular product or product category, are often placed into a single ad-group.
It’s common to see campaign and ad-group structures which mirror product categories and sub-categories, for example.
When the question of ‘how many’ comes up, the answer is often given as a number. I’ve never understood this. Why does the number of keywords matter?
Even the Yahoo Smart Start Guide (PDF) suggests “While there isn’t a magic number of keywords to include, you may want to start with no more than 20 – paired with two or more ads – and adjust from there.”
Consider The Text-Ads
Here’s another way to think about it. What you’re really organizing with ad-groups is text-ads, not keywords.
Each text-ad in an ad-group should be a different attempt to answer the same questions, or attract people with the same interests. It doesn’t matter how many keywords you place in an ad-group as long as the queries each of them is likely to be matched with are all appropriately served by those ads.
You’re playing Carnac, writing answers to questions that are going to come along later. The keywords you put in that ad-group are your only chance to ensure that your answers are going to be relevant to their questions.
If there are 20 keywords then there are 20. If there are 100 then there are 100.
When To Split Ad-Groups
Leaving the numbers aside, there are two smart reasons to subdivide the keywords in an ad-group. Both are based on the idea of matching your text-ads more closely to the search queries and keywords.
One is to separate keywords by subject terminology – a focus primarily on nouns – so that the specific keywords are repeated in your text-ads and on your landing pages. This is done primarily in service to the gods (or slave drivers) of quality-score.
The other is to separate keywords by qualifiers – verbs, adjectives, or other modifiers. This is done primarily to better align your text-ads with the expressed or implied intent of the users. In most cases it also brings along the quality score benefit too.
Would you want to present the same text-ad to someone looking to ‘buy a house’ as someone trying to ‘sell a house’? How about someone wanting ‘bell bottom jeans’ vs one looking for ‘stone washed jeans’. ‘discount headphones’ vs ’3-driver stereo headphones’?
The more narrowly you can segment your user queries, which you control via keywords and match types, the better your click through and conversion rates will be.
Divide and Conquer
The topic of organizing campaigns is one I hope to cover extensively in the coming weeks. This post was inspired by one over at PPC Hero talking about the benefits of breaking down ad-groups.