The nice folks from Google were in for a visit a week or so ago. One of the topics on the day’s agenda was Ad Quality. If you read extremely closely, much of what they presented in their briefing is also described at the AdWords help center (see What is a ‘Quality Score’ and how is it calculated?). They also presented some new angles and dispelled a few myths.
Here are some of the key takeaways on Quality Score (herein abbreviated “QS”):
- QS determines minimum bids. If an advertiser’s maximum CPC < minimum bid, the keyword is "inactive for search"
- Myth: There is only one QS. Nope. One QS sets minimum bid, a different QS sets rank. There are different QS for search and content.
- Myth: Match type impacts QS. Nope. QS is calculated only from queries which exactly match keyword.
- Myth: QS improves with higher position on the page. Nope. QS is normalized to account for higher CTRs higher on the page.
- Myth: High reported CTR implies high QS. Nope. QS depends on CTR on Google.com alone, whereas reported CTR includes other Google properties.
- Myth: If you restructure your account, you lose QS history. Nope. History of keywords, copy, and destination URLs are maintained, as long as that combination is unchanged. (Even in a different account!) However, if you change either keyword, copy, or landing page, yes, QS may change.
- Myth: Pausing an ad harms QS. Nope.
- Myth: QS only matters on competitive words. Nope. The min bid is set based on QS, not on the number of advertisers in that auction. Even if there’s no competition, poor QS could dictate higher CPCs.
- Myth: QS are updated daily. Nope. It depends on volume and statistical significance. High volume terms could have intra-day QS updates, while low volume terms could mean multiple days between recalculations.
- Myth: Any Flash on landing page harms QS. Nope.
- Myth: QS only depends on you. Nope. Some factors involved in setting QS are computed keywords system wide, across the performance of all advertisers.
While we greatly enjoy and appreciate our Google visits, the entire QS topic leaves me confused and a bit saddened.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the statement that QS is a highly complicated and opaque algorithm. That statement saddens me. QS is too important, too central to modern advertising, to be such a black box.
Google would probably argue that QS must be complicated and must be hidden, because the problem of determining ad relevance is a fundamentally hard problem, and because openness would enable the Bad Guys to game the system. The latter argument smacks of security through obscurity. Far better would be an open secure system which provably couldn’t be gamed.
I’ve posted before on my belief that opacity is Google’s Achilles’ heel. As the wonderful machine built by Page and Brin et al controls an ever-growing portion of the media landscape, transparency and openness become ever more critical. Google isn’t regulated like a public utility or a financial trading exchange—at least, not yet. I’m not a Google stockholder, but I am a fan of paid search in general and of Google in particular, and I want the channel to succeed and grow.
In the short term, I’m confident that following Google best practices for terms, copy, and landing pages will yield high QS ads for our clients, which will help our firm buy clicks for our clients efficiently. That’s what we’ll continue to do in our shop, and we’d recommend that follow-Google’s-suggestions approach to others looking to buy search efficiently.
In the long term, however, I hope Google reconsiders QS. It is time the search industry grows beyond the “just trust us” black-box approach for ad relevance. I humbly suggest that Google users, Google advertisers, and Google stockholders would be better served by some yet-to-be-discovered transparent and open model for ranking ads and charging for clicks.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.