7 Secrets For Dealing With Quality Score

I’m back to writing my own controversial thoughts this month; although, if you didn’t check out the interview I did last month with Andrew Goodman and Matt van Wagner, you should, those are smart guys.No More Quality Score?

Since I was thinking about PPC and how incredibly mixed up and difficult it has become, it seemed like a good time to write about it.

My team and I are trying to figure out ways to look at PPC campaigns differently, finding a way to automate some of the grunt work while still delivering great campaigns. I know everyone and their brother has done this, but we’re convinced we can do it better. Just let me live in this dream world, ok?

In considering the best ways to evaluate campaigns, we’ve begun a very thorough and detailed investigation of Quality Score.

While you can do a search on Quality Score and find plenty of people who have quoted Google’s Quality Score Guidelines, I haven’t seen that many articles about how it really works, and no one is willing to share their “secrets” to playing the game.

Here is what we’ve found, and while I can’t share the details publicly, it’s all backed by solid data and testing.

Google’s Assault On Keyword Data

First, let’s begin with a quick review of (not set) keyword data. This is often linked with (not provided), but it’s actually very different. Not set results occur when something is lost between the AdWords click and the tracking on the analytics side.

It occurs most often with auto-tagging, or if there’s duplicate code on pages or duplicate analytics profiles connected to AdWords. Not provided is returned when a user performed a search with https://www.google.com and clicked on an organic result.

In a nutshell:

Review of Not Set and Not Provided

Differences in “Not Set” and “Not Provided” Keywords Reported by Google

The End Of Display URLs

No, display URLs aren’t going away. Google’s made a big change this year though that impacts what you can put on the end of your display URL. Forcing a subdomain (like www) onto each display URL cuts down your space by 4 characters. Here’s the catch: you can fudge this with three different techniques:

  1. If your URL plus your keyword is exactly 35 characters, Google will display it as you wrote it. For example: domainislong.com/keywrd-is-alsolong (note how it doesn’t have the www on it?). If your requested display URL is shorter than 35 characters, they’ll shoehorn a www. in front of it. Anyone who’s done a lot of AdWords testing knows that presenting a URL without www increases clickthrough rate.
  2. If your URL is longer than 35 characters by just a couple, they’ll adjust just enough to fit it. For example, the display URL in the screenshot below is 37 characters: Example of a Long Display URL
  3. If you have a lot of really long keywords, consider using keyword insertion to get around the character limits for them. If a display URL is longer than 35 characters, Google will shorten it automatically. This can help you get some additional real estate in extreme cases; but you’ll want to watch it carefully, since Google will decide how to shorten it, and it might create a branding issue for you.

Since a major component of Quality Score is the clickthrough rate of your ads, you’ll want to maximize every available opportunity to increase clickthrough, including the techniques described above.

Random Quality Scores Of 10

Everyone’s thrilled beyond words when their campaigns suddenly start showing QS of 10. But, take a closer look. We’re seeing many keywords with 10s that have never had an impression or a click. Never. In the history of the account. As soon as they are shown, the QS drops.

My question is: is there benefit to having some “empty” 10s in an ad group even if you never plan for them to be clicked on? Will this raise your average QS for the ad group, and therefore, your perceived value in the auction? We’re testing it, but we’d love to hear your feedback as well.

Pre-loaded Quality Scores

Another thing we’ve seen consistently in our tests is that our keywords and ad groups are receiving quality scores before they’re launched, which is remarkably consistent with what they end up being post-launch. More on this as it develops, but it would seem that you can tweak your campaign architecture, bids, keywords and other facets to maximize your opportunity before you even launch.

I’ve heard from other PPC experts that this is simply based on competitor data for the same keywords. We have a client with a completely unique service that is new to the market who saw QS in her account before we launched. And they weren’t all 10s, suggesting that it was at least partly based on campaign architecture.

Keyword Match Type Targeting

The final thing that we’re noticing has a significant positive impact on campaigns is matching keyword types within ad groups. By creating multiple copies of each ad group for all of the match types we want to target, we can maximize opportunity for impressions.

Add that to the pre-testing that we’ve been able to do with the pre-loaded quality score data, and our campaigns are really humming.

Bid Management & Why We Don’t Use It – At Least At First

The final key that we found is that bid management doesn’t work for newly launched campaigns. Owners of bid management programs will tell you it’s best to launch in the program and let the program “learn” the campaign.

While it’s true that the programs learn incredibly well, they have to have a good foundation to start from, or they’re learning the wrong things. We’ve found a significantly higher return on the campaigns that we launched and optimized manually at first.

It’s a ton of time and expense, but the per-keyword return is much higher in the long run if the bid management program is introduced after the campaign has been live for a few days or weeks (depending on volume).

The Future Of Quality Score?

As Quality Score gets more obtuse and confusing, we’re seeing a lot of bouncing around. For example, we had one keyword that didn’t get any impressions yesterday at all, but bounced quality score from a 10 to a 3 and back again several times.

Couple that with the recent changes in impression reporting, match types, display URLs and more, and I have to wonder… could we be seeing the first steps of phasing out QS altogether?

The last time I saw this kind of volatility in a metric from Google, it was back in 2007 when Toolbar PageRank was getting discredited and phased out. If you think about it, Google doesn’t really need to show us QS. We’ve gotten spoiled. They could just as easily decide not to show it anymore, even though they use it internally. What do you think is the future of Quality Score?

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Google: AdWords | Google: Analytics | How To: PPC | How To: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

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  • http://twitter.com/harryfassett harryfassett

    QS is like you said Jenny, comparing it to the old Google PR, which is pretty visual but what does it mean in terms of results, and usually it’s very ambiguous at best, so it’s neither here nor there as the old saying goes, and won’t be missed for it’s added confusion. :) day1charitydonation

  • http://www.geekpoweredstudios.com Guillermo Ortiz

    I’ve seen a lot more 10′s lately from keywords that I’ve been managing for a long time so I’m going to wager that those were earned ;). I will have to keep an eye out for 10 scores from newly minted keywords that have yet to be tested. Thanks for the heads up!

  • http://saidulhassan.com/ Saidul Hassan

    Re:Random Quality Scores Of 10… I’ve been testing this for some time now and now I’m starting to drop some to test the avg. QS for ad groups. My hunch is they do influence.

  • http://twitter.com/echwa Damien Anderson

    When you split out ad groups for different match types, do you use broad or modified broad?

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    always modified broad! Wish Google had that as a standard match type.

  • Guest

    Haha, now if only I could get my people to stop focusing on it. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    It is an interesting analogy to PR, isn’t it? I’ve always wondered if it will someday disappear.

  • http://twitter.com/tedives Ted Ives

    Since QS is largely CTR (see Hal Varian’s video on Quality Score), focusing on it is really only helping Google. Google wants to sell clicks, so of course Google wants account managers to work on achieving higher CTRs.

    If you’re bidding on the term [britney spears] and all you’re selling is britney spears calendars – you *want* a really low CTR or you’ll lose a ton of money. So your creatives in that case need to be designed to *discourage* general searchers from clicking – the opposite of the marketer’s tendency to try to shoot for as high a CTR on ads as possible.

    I think your QS distribution can tell you if you have some sort of sitewide problem – for instance, if your Quality Scores are all capped out at 7, with no 8/9/10s. For instance – I’ve had several clients who had no privacy policy/TOS on their websites whose Adwords accounts had that problem – they created Privacy Policy and TOS pages and added footer links to them on every page, and a few weeks later all their 7′s magically became 10′s.

    But otherwise I don’t think QS is much worth agonizing over.

    BTW – *very* interesting table on not set vs. not provided – thanks!

  • Tally Keller

    I’m not sure why you would bid on a term if you don’t want people to click on the ad.

  • Tally Keller

    I still think QS is important to benchmark over time, but, like any metric, you can’t obsess over every tick. Take it with a grain of salt – if cost per acquisition is improving, then who cares about QS?

  • cjvannette

    Can you elaborate on “creating multiple copies of each ad group for all of the match types we want to target”? I’m a newbie and I’m not sure what you mean.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Thanks for your very insightful comments! I hadn’t really thought about the effect CTR has in cases where you want the CTR to be low and targeted. Interesting! I also love the tip of TOS/PP pages. You are absolutely right; I’ve seen that work as well.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Sometimes you want to bid on a more general term and use the ad creative to narrow the people who click through. In the example above, you might bid on “Britney Spears”, but make your ad copy something like “Calendars of Britney Spears, We only sell calendars.” That’s pretty lousy ad copy, but hopefully it gets the point across. Of course, for a keyword like “Britney Spears”, it’s unlikely that having such a low CTR would get you a spot in the auction.

  • Pat Grady

    GREAT run down!

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    I’ve been asked this several times, so I guess I’ll give out my secret sauce… we do one ad group on modified broad, but add all the exact matches as negatives. Then we do one ad group on exact match for the same keywords.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz


  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Very true! Still, as a marketer with roots in SEO, I can’t help but analyze the small stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Christine, with all due respect, I would *never* recommend putting all of your keywords into one ad group. That’s a very bad idea, unless you only have 15-20 keywords total.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyhalasz Jenny Halasz

    Glad to hear that, Christine, and sorry for the confusion. Still, we do separate the ad groups so that we can apply different max daily budgets to them.

  • Lloyd Cohagen

    Re:QS – I find sometimes that my highest ROAS keywords have a low QS based on low CTR. I assume it’s due to impression

  • Brad Seraphin

    I wonder how the economy of people being paid to improve QS compares to the economy of paid search. Moreover, what % of the entire search budget is spent on chasing this unicorn? I suppose I ought to thank google for creating this matrix in which we can all get paid to wax knowledgeable to different degrees on a subject that seems to be little more than common sense once you decode the industry jargon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DallasPPCGuru Kevin Adams

    In my previous tests I’ve noticed in a lot of cases that the www actually improved QS when the ad appeared above the organic results on a desktop, but the opposite was the case on mobile or on the right-hand side. Is anyone seeing the www being a drain on CTR?

  • Steve Bookspan

    Great info about about Adwords. I have noticed QS all over the palce as well. I am anxious to see what else you find out.


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