“The less you know about a subject, the less you believe there is to know in total.” – source
The paid search industry on the outset appear content and convinced that CTR is the answer to quality score problems; therefore, it is a simple piece of the web marketing experience that warrants little to no attention, optimization or speculation. It is cut and dry…
Or is it?
The most obvious no-brainer to optimizing quality score is writing better performing ads. <- Common theme in almost any blog post on the topic. Another common statistic that corroborates this theme: Hal Varian has suggested (see the pie chart in this video) that roughly 60% of the Quality Score formula is your click through rate (CTR). This is not a bad theme at all. It does help. Tricked you, didn’t I? You thought I was going to ‘dog’ writing better ads didn’t you? 😉
Craig Danuloff says:
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.
One conclusion you can draw from that statement is that one should dig into CTR on multiple levels…CTR as a high level statistic is great but it hides a lot more than it exposes in some cases.
What if you do not want extra clicks? A lot of advertisers need to qualify visitors through ad copy before the click occurs. If you want to qualify prospects heavily and choose to keep your CTR lower -or- you’re casting a wider net with broad terms -or- whatever the reason your CTR might be considered sub par but acceptable for what you’re selling…there is that “other” 40% of your quality score to play with and it can mean the world in costs and volume to you. Granted, that 40% can be broken down into roughly 35% relevancy and maybe 5% landing page…and landing page is usually an easy fix. Relevancy, on the other hand, can take a lot of time and hard work.
I want to show you the good that can come from a solid, intensive, long-haul, qualitative approach to quality score optimization in the finance niche:
First, a few disclaimers –
– This is an affiliate marketing account. Pure marketing. Tastes so good. Mmmmhmmm. Yummay. (Being an affiliate in this particular space isn’t a huge advantage at all…quite the opposite in fact. Standards are high for quality and the payouts are typically half the budgeted cost per action for the in-house advertisers…it’s an uphill battle.)
– IMPORTANT: This took years to curate to this level. Quality score optimization is NOT an overnight fix. It’s a long-haul, work your butt off, manual deal. I was lucky to have the time to make it a priority.
– Bids are automated by truly automated bid management software. This freed up my time to strategize, organize, marry reports for correlating data and agonizingly work toward better quality scores.
On to the goods!
Non branded keyword quality scores for general keywords:
Note: I spent a fair part of the day in the top 3 positions but dropped it mid-afternoon on account of day parts. When I was clocking things, I received clicks in the #1 position for around $2.60. Remember this blog post? Hmm…me thinks quality score has something to do with it. My bids weren’t over $5 max.
Also peek at the avereage position (it’s 4) of all the keywords in this ad group…the average cost per click (under $2) and the decent volume! Whaaaaat! But wait, there’s more at the account level below!
Ad Spend & Click Volume & Avg CPC from July (our biggest month this year)
Note: Check out them account level apples! This is not a tiny account by any means…average position was above 4 for the month of July, average cpc was near $1.50 and we received over 170,000 clicks. In the consumer finance niche. Fun times!
60%+ of this account had 10/10 quality scores in July. 95%+ of the account had quality scores 7/10 and higher.
I haven’t ever documented this publicly. I didn’t see the need and honestly, I am publishing this against my own desire for secrecy and privacy into what I do and have done for the last couple of years. Why am I doing this? To debunk the idea that quality scores are simple, easy to optimize and that there shouldn’t be software or tools (granted, George did say ‘garbage’ tools…and there is a lot of trash in the ppc space, no doubt!) to manage this end of the ppc pipeline. It’s “easy” to identify ads that have problems…but the quality problem is much bigger than that. I have yet to see a ppc account that is meticulously organized – even my own, I am not even close to perfect…probably the furthest away of them all – but if I consider my accounts the worst of all, and I have been focusing on quality scores for some time…I don’t even need to complete that line of thought, right? Just sayin’… 😉
Contrary to me owning “the domain” (QualityScores.com 😉 ) and building some good reporting tools to assist me in my path to the highest possible quality scores…I do not consider myself an expert in the quality score space.
If you choose to start focusing on quality in your accounts, I would start learning from these experts:
Craig Danuloff –
Read his book: Quality Score in High Resolution. This book is worth well over $150 in my opinion. In fact, I would argue that you should never ever write about quality score until you have read this book. Twice.
Craig has written a ton of killer stuff on quality scores at both Search Engine Land and Click Equations. He is, in my mind, the Godfather of quality scores. If I could have anybody’s knowledge on the topic, I am trying my hardest to know what Craig knows…but I undoubtedly fall very short on the topic of quality scores.
Brad Geddes –
Read his book: Advanced Google AdWords.
Brad is, in my opinion, one of the most definitive resources for ppc knowledge in the space. Brad is the King of AdWords and has a killer quality score analysis tool at CertifiedKnowledge.com (subscription based).
The bottom line
The bottom line is that Quality Score is underrated and little is really known beyond what Google tells us. There may be a handful of respectable folks out there truly exploring and discovering all they can about quality score…my dream is that all ppc’ers learn more about it. Quality score is a fascinating concept that is catching on in the social space, at other search engines and more.
You will be hard pressed to convince me that I could have achieved the above results without an insane focus on quality from the account to the keyword/ad level and beyond. Please keep in mind the fact that I had epic bid management software on the bid side – bids are incredibly important to the success of a paid search account. Bids are not to be discounted – except through quality scores. 😛
Learn more about quality scores. Dig in. You will be quite surprised…I know I have been floored over the last couple years with the depth, the misconceptions and the weight that quality scores play in advertising. Did you know Facebook has a quality score (hidden…?) Twitter does too…
Finally, we end with the beginning in mind – this quote has quickly become a favorite of mine for so many topics – quality score, social media, seo, web marketing, conversion rate optimization, copywriting, paid search, media buying, programming and more – it’s always true in my opinion:
“The less you know about a subject, the less you believe there is to know in total.” – source
James Zolman (@jameszol) is a guest author at DreamSystemsMedia.com. He is the founder and CEO of QualityScores.com, a quality score analysis, optimization and consulting company.
15 thoughts on “Quality Scores are Underrated”
Great post James. I have several accounts with poor quality scores. I’ve tried multiples times to increase them but it’s been an uphill climb. Your post inspires me to stay the course.
How many keywords do you suggest to have in an ad group?
Hey Ryan! I’m glad the post inspires you to stay the course. It can be a long haul game, no doubt about it.
I hate using this answer…but number of keywords per ad group really depend on the time you have, focus, results and more.
I have a fair number of ad groups with 100 keywords in them…on the flip side, I have a ton with under 20 keywords and plenty with only 1 keyword.
I try to spend time splitting ad groups up or making new ones to house keywords that rise to the top in performance.
Interesting point you bring up with Quality Score being studied. Perhaps we’ll see some more insights being made with tools like qualityscores.com coming out. Excited to see what we learn in the next few months and years.
Another great article James. Thanks for sharing. I’ve had some experience trying to improve quality scores on accounts I’ve taken over and it does take time to overcome bad history. But with good organization, attention to good at text and constantly working on CTR, they do come up.
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I always try optimising my site for keywords and it doesn’t get me far. I need to read a lot more
James! Awesome article. I agree that raising Quality Scores can have a huge impact on your success in AdWords. Thanks for the clear insight using real world examples.
@Luke I agree and I hope we see more insights in the future!
@Adam You got it! I’m glad you have seen success w/ optimizing quality scores.
@Timmy It takes a bit of time, patience and reading/learning more never hurts. I feel like the more I learn…the more I recognize that I don’t know that much. Lol. :/
@Mary Thank you so much for the compliment and I’m glad you agree! 🙂
Thanks James for the insight.
It was suggested to me by a googler that I take higher CTR keywords and make a group for them. And to take lower CTRs and put them in the in a low bucket group. Good or bad? Any thoughts?
@Thomas That can be good. Just make sure you understand the keyword’s relationship with each ad in that ad group…a totally new ad group could be warranted to keep the keyword with the ad that performs best with it vs dumping it into a ‘low ctr’ ad group that has different ads…
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Great article, you mentioned that you are using software for bid management (that isn’t crappy).. Can you please share what software that is?
Hi Zack, I’m using Marin. I haven’t touched their rule creation side, I totally use the fully automated end and it’s been great. If I had a bigger margin, I would probably hire RKG (RimmKaufman.com) on the spot. If you’re looking for solid solutions, definitely consider Marin…but consider these others, depending on your business needs: Kenshoo, Acquisio, Optimine (another fav of mine). Another agency-like tech company to consider if going the RKG route might be TheSearchAgency.com. And finally, a killer marketplace style option would be Trada.com. Good luck! 🙂
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