Decrypting Google Ad’s Cryptic Quality Score

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For those new to PPC advertising, learning how to increase Quality Scores can be very intimidating, though it's a necessary topic to understand.

Quality Score is one of the most important elusive when it comes to PPC advertising on Google. It could mean the difference between a successful Google Ads campaign that sees a high return on investment (ROI) and paying through the roof for each and every click that doesn’t amount to any results.

What Is Quality Score?

Although Google doesn’t consider Quality Score a key performance indicator it is a helpful diagnostic tool that determines your account’s health and success. Their official definition is: “Quality Score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages” (source). Google recommends thinking of your Quality Score like you would at warning lights in your car: something that alerts you to potential problems you can base your optimizations around. 

A great quality score should be something that comes naturally to your account if you’re giving your users what they need. Therefore, you should be using it as a tool that lets you know where you should be focusing your efforts. The potential benefits of a high Quality Score include paying a lower cost per click, showing up higher in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), and being more eligible for ad extensions and other ad formats which typically results in a higher CTR (click through rate).

Quality Score is a number that summarizes your recent performance based on a keyword’s Expected CTR, the Landing Page Experience, and the Ad Relevance. These 3 factors are given a status of above average, average, or below average and contribute to a numerical Quality Score out of 10. This number is part of Google’s determination of Ad Rank and, ultimately, how much you pay per click.

Expected CTR: The likelihood that your ad will be clicked.

Ad Relevance: How closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.

Landing Page Experience: How relevant, transparent, and easy-to-navigate your page is for users.

Why Quality Score Matters

Google is the top dog as far as search engines go and they want to keep their position on the top. Showing users the most relevant ads to their queries is just as important to them as it is to advertisers - Google wants to give people the best user experience. If you were shown ads that were completely irrelevant to your search query you’d question the usefulness of the search engine. Better ads are a good thing for everyone and Quality Score helps Google show more useful ads in higher positions.

Quality Score is a system that was setup to identify and reward quality ads. This is especially important for advertisers with a limited budget because it levels out the playing field. Advertisers with a lower budget can work hard to optimize their accounts and still end up in top positions even when they’re competing against advertisers with a larger budget and higher Max CPC bids. That’s because Quality score is a factor in calculating your ad’s Ad Rank and ultimately the actual cost you will pay per click.

How Does Quality Score Factors Into Actual CPC?

The higher Quality Scores you have the less you’ll be spending per click.

Ad Rank = CPC bid x Quality Score

Actual CPC = Ad Rank of Competitor just Below Your Ad Rank / Your Ad Rank + $0.01

Notice in the example above, although Advertiser II has a higher Max Bid than Advertiser I, they have a lower quality score and end up paying more per click while also having a lower position on the SERP.

So, the higher the Quality Score the lower your CPC, and vice versa.

However, keep in mind that your 1-10 score is not the actual number that Google plugs into the Ad Rank formula at auction time, and instead they use an auction-time calculation of the three components of Quality Score, with other factors included, to compute Ad Rank.

That last sentence makes it seem like the formulas above are useless, but remember that your Quality Score should be used as a guide for optimizations not as a precise metric. It’s a more general estimate based on your average past performance. Google calculates a new Ad Rank the instant someone does a search that triggers your ad to compete in an auction, and that calculation can never be captured by a simple 1-10 number. 

Other factors not reflected in your Quality Score but are used in calculating your ad’s quality include:

  • Geographic signals (like country of the search).
  • Language Preference.
  • Type of Device.
  • Time of Day.
  • Since there are multiple ads in each ad group, Google takes into account the quality of each of these since one ad may get better results than others.
  • Other ads and Search Results that show on the page.
  • Non-exact query matches and the nature of the search terms.

How To Improve Quality Score

When you’re looking to improve your Quality Score, you should be more focused on the three components that make up your Quality Score - Expected CTR, Landing Page Experience, & Ad Relevance. 

For example, if you have a keyword with a Quality Score of 6 where the ECTR is below average, the LPE is Above Average, and the Ad Relevance is Average, you’d prioritize optimizing the ECTR first.

Before diving into the specific optimizations that can improve the 3 factors of Quality Score, it’s important to understand WHEN Google reevaluates it. You won’t see results from attempts to improve your Quality Score until that keyword has received about 1,000 impressions. 

This is called the Impression Threshold and until you reach this point, you won’t see any improvements in your Quality Score.

Increase amount of impressions to reach the Impression Threshold - analyze impression share. Loosen up restrictions from bid adjustments. 

Change match types and include more broad match keywords. A common misconception to QS is that by changing the match type you alter the keyword Quality Score. However, no matter what the match type is for the same word the Quality score will be the same. By selecting broad match or modified broad match you’re allowing your keyword to enter more auctions and receive more impressions. If you’ve been working on improving your Quality Score you need more impressions in order to raise it.

Improving Ad Relevance:

  • Have your ad text match the language more directly to user search queries.  If this isn’t feasible, ensure top-performing keywords are in your ads.
  • Restructure ad groups and move keywords to smaller ad groups with more targeted creatives.
  • Speak more directly to the intent embedded in a user’s query.
  • Add more negative keywords to keep your ads from showing on queries you don’t want your ad to show for.

Improving Expected CTR:

  • Write more compelling ad text since ECTR is about ad creative that inspires action on the SERP.
  • Highlight a unique benefit of your product or service.
  • Test different creative calls to action.
  • Use specifics in your ad copy.
  • Analyze Ad Extensions.
  • Consider using Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI).
  • For more tips on improving your CTR, check out my 31 Tips For Winning Ad Copy

Improving Landing Page Experience:

  • Send traffic to landing pages that are more closely related to a users query.
  • Check page speed using Google’s Page Speed Insights or Google Analytics site speed.
  • Make sure the users journey from search query, to ad copy, to landing page are consistent. Your ads should set up your landing pages for success and should continue the conversation set up by your ad.
  • Follow through on the ad’s offer or CTA.
  • Use your landing pages’ conversion rate to measure and optimize your landing page quality. It’s not used as a calculation in the LPE, but should give you an idea of how to improve.
  • Optimize your Landing Page for a great mobile experience.
  • Unbounce Landing Pages

Determining Your Quality Score

Now that you know what a Quality Score is, why it’s important, and strategies you can use to improve it - How do you determine yours and which of the 3 aspects of it you should be focusing your optimization efforts on? The easiest way in Google Ads is to go to your Search Keywords, Modify Columns, and select the Quality Score metrics. However, most accounts are using hundreds, if not thousands of keywords making this a little more difficult to determine.

The best way I’ve found to determine your account’s average Quality Score is this advanced Google Ads script. Not only will this show you your Average Quality Score, it gives you 3 charts that shows you what percentage of keywords are either above average, average, or below average for each of the 3 Quality Score components - So you’ll see right when you first run the script which aspect needs the most aid.

Another great benefit of using this script is that you can set it to run every day to measure the impact of the optimizations you're making. If you’re serious about improving your Quality Score, this is a must-have, otherwise you can’t know if the optimizations you're making are helping, or dare I say making it worse. The script is fairly easy to set up - just follow the instruction given on Search Engine Land.

Main Takeaway

Advertisers should focus on creating great experiences that deliver what a user is looking for. Quality Score is an attempt to measure that.

A great quality score is something you get when you’re giving your users what they need. The lower CPC is a reward for being the most useful to users searching on Google. Don’t let your Quality Scores control your life, good quality scores should come naturally if you’re giving users what they need.

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