In The Trenches is a weekly spotlight of tips, tricks, and news about the tools search engine marketing professionals use to give them a leg up on the competition. Today: News from the search engines, today’s in-depth look, “What You Don’t Know About Quality Scores May Kill You,” and this week’s free tips and tools.
News from the search engines
Google—AdWords & YouTube: Are you ready for April 1st? Google display URLs for new ads now have to match the destination URLS starting April 1. From the Learn More link you can read all about the new changes, which I suggest every SEM pro should go do.
But why the change? Google states: “Based on feedback from both our advertisers and users, and consistent with our efforts to present relevant results, we’ll no longer allow certain exceptions to our display URL policy. These include, but aren’t limited to, redirects and vanity URLs. In line with our existing policy, we’ll continue to require that your ad’s display URL matches its destination URL (the URL of your landing page). This policy will be strictly enforced for new ads, regardless of previous exceptions.”
Personally, I think that this is one of those issues that fewer than 1% of users have any problem with, but because Google search volume is so large at this point, the voices of this small minority are loud enough to change policy. I’m not very happy with this decision as the creative use of display URLs has been a staple of my personal SEM best practices. Check out Marketing Experiments blog notes on an interesting study on this and how display URLs can affect your CTRs.
So, get your new ads uploaded March 31st and avoid the issue, right?
In other news, a few weeks ago, Google launched a Google Business YouTube channel which has instructional videos on AdWords, Website Optimizer, and Google Analytics. I watched a few of the offerings and was VERY impressed with the info presented. Google has always done a great job leading the charge for training and it’s great to hear from the insiders and architects about the tools.
Yahoo Search Marketing: First, there was a January 22nd post on their blog regarding “some changes to our crawling, indexing and ranking algorithms. While we expect the update will be completed soon, as you know, throughout this process you may see some ranking changes and page shuffling in the index.” I haven’t seen much effect on our agency accounts. Has anyone seen drastic changes to their campaigns? Please comment if you have.
But the big news right now is that minimum bids are changing for Yahoo search ads.
In the Feb 26th post on the Yahoo! Search Marketing Blog entitled Reserve Prices:
“If you go to any auction, whether it’s Sotheby’s, eBay or your rural county’s hog auction, there’s usually a reserve price (or minimum bid) set according to what is believed to be the minimum value of the product. It’s their way of making sure that no one walks away with a cheap Van Gogh just because people aren’t lifting those paddles fast enough.
“Following the auction model, we are changing the way we set the minimum bids required to participate in a Sponsored Search keyword market. In the next several weeks, we will start calculating a variable minimum bid for some of the keywords you’re bidding on. That means that sometimes the minimum bid may be lower than 10¢. Sometimes it may be higher. Content Match minimum bids currently will remain at 10¢.”
In a follow-up post on their blog from March 10th, Crunch Time, they go into more detail, including some very helpful hints on how to ensure you are the one taking advantage of these changes and not the one being taken advantage of. Call it a hunch, but I think this one’s gonna cost us.
MSN adCenter: Microsoft has updated its adCenter Terms and Conditions. There’s a really good post on their internal blog from Carolyn, part of the adCenter Community Team, in which she interviews some of the people who drafted these changes to get the inside scoop on how accounts will be affected.
MSN also released Content Ads late last month. We’re testing them here but I was wondering if anyone has any performance feedback they can share?
In depth: What you don’t know about Quality Score may kill you
Okay, it won’t kill you… but it may be killing your accounts. Quality Score, the fuzzy math that can have such a positive or negative effect on your search marketing success is understood by many but expertly executed by few. For many aspects of search marketing, you can get by with just above average knowledge, but Quality Score should be the one discipline that you should fully understand—it affects the performance of every single keyword, ad group and campaign on the major engines.
Quality Score, or QS (the term we’ll use for Google’s Quality Score, Yahoo’s Quality Index, and MSN’s ranking model) is the engines’ incentive to advertisers to provide highly relevant ad results to users. It affects your ad’s position on the SERP (search engine results page) and the minimum bid for a keyword; the better the QS, the higher your position and lower your bid. Each of the engines calculates QS in slightly different ways, but the common denominator is the relevance between the keywords, ad text, and landing page text. Finding the proper mix to achieve a high QS will almost always result in a positive boost in ROI either through lower CPCs or higher conversion rates from prime ad positions. Both are good things, right?
As with the PageRank algorithm, the engines cannot be completely forthcoming with the exact formula for calculating Quality Scores—they need to guard against black hat manipulation. However, they do provide enough information to help us to create accounts with a high Quality Score focus in mind.
Some Quality Score facts you may not know
Google AdWords uses the CTR of your keywords as a highly weighted factor in determining Quality Score. But did you know that they only use the data from when your terms have been exactly matched to the search query? This is not to be confused with the exact match setting you can apply to your terms. What this means is that only when a query string exactly matches one of your terms (on broad, phrase, or exact match) will they use that CTR as part of their Quality Score calculation.
The quality score of a campaign or ad group can affect an entire account, not just the single element. So, if you have a test campaign that you think will probably have a low CTR, you may want to create a new account to test this in so it doesn’t affect the rest of your campaigns and ad groups.
In MSN adCenter, your ad group can be declined if the actual keyword you’re bidding on does not appear on the landing page or in the ad text.
Google and Yahoo allow you to view your directional Quality Score within their interface or reporting tools.
In Yahoo Search Marketing, there is a tool to view all of your low Quality Score ads and tips on how to get that index up.
If you knew all five facts above, congratulations: you probably have a good handle on Quality Score. But, if you did not know some (or all) of them, you may want to follow this mini-course on QS that I’ve put together. Once you’ve sifted through these online resources, you will surely be an expert:
- Google AdWords Help Center: What is ‘Quality Score’ and how is it calculated?
- YSM Blog: Your Quality Index
- What Google’s Quality Score Is & What It Is Not
- Secrets Of Google Quality Score Revealed!!! (Not.)
- Google AdWords Quality Score Factors Demystified
- Low Quality Keywords CAN Lower Other Keyword’s Quality Scores
- Boost Your Yahoo Ads Quality Score
- Is a Perfect Quality Score in Yahoo! Search Marketing Possible?
- adCenter Quality Score
How to see your Quality Scores
- Select the campaign, then select the ad group for which you’d like to see keyword Quality Scores.
- Click Customize columns at the top of Keywords tab in the ad group table.
- Select Show Quality Score from the drop-down menu.
- Click Done when you’re finished.
You can also evaluate each keyword’s Quality Score by looking at the Keyword Analysis page or at the keyword’s minimum bid. The Keyword Analysis page gives a detailed view of your keyword’s performance, including recommendations for improvement. To launch the Keyword Analysis page, first click the magnifying glass icon beside any keyword in your account; then click one of the ‘Details and recommendations’ links from the menu. Your keyword’s minimum bid is a good indicator of your overall Quality Score because the two share an inverse relationship: the lower your keyword’s minimum bid, the higher your keyword’s Quality Score.”
With Yahoo, you can view your ads’ Quality Index from the Ad tab of any ad group summary page.
Yahoo has taken QS to the next level with a tool that helps you manage low QS ads. To open the page from the Account Summary panel:
- From the Dashboard, click the “Account Summary” tab within the Performance and Account Summary panel.
- Click the number next to Low Quality Index ads.
From there, you can make many changes to help to improve your Quality Scores.
MSN AdCenter does not currently have this feature available. I don’t think Microsoft’s Quality Score algorithm is as sophisticated as Google’s or Yahoo’s, but it would stand to reason that it will get more sophisticated in time.
Tip of the week: Improve Quality Score on landing pages
Jon Miller posted an article where he wanted to test “What impact does the metadata of the landing page have on determining quality score.” He included some of his keywords in the landing page metadata and found out that it had a positive impact on his quality score. When it comes to building landing pages, most of us are so focused on getting the messaging, relevance, and targeting right that we neglect to test the metadata’s effect. I’m happy to say, I performed a test similar to Jon’s last week and have seen some positive results. Just make sure you don’t go overboard and add your entire keyword list to your meta tags… the engines might think you’re spamming them.
Free tool of the wEEK: Generate local AdWords & keyword lists
Over at 5minutesite.com, they’ve come up with a pretty handy tool to quickly add cities/zip codes to your keywords. You just put in your keywords, add the zip code and mileage radius, and it concentrates all of the data together. Very handy!
Free “cut and post” of the week
If you use Google AdWords Editor, you may want this in the cubicle: What AdWords features does AdWords Editor support? Ever want to know which image types the latest Editor version can support? What geotargeting and bidding settings are available in the tool? Go to that page, print that out, and now you’ll have a quick reference sheet to AdWords Editor features. Never wonder again!
That’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll be looking into two recent platform additions: Google’s demographic targeting and MSN’s content targeting. I’ll also spotlight a handy free tool that helps you gain insight into competitor keywords.
Josh Dreller is the Director of Media Technology for Fuor Digital, an agency concentrated in the research, planning, buying and stewardship of digital media marketing campaigns. Josh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The In The Trenches column appears Fridays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.