The Elusive Quality Score

Jeff just posted about the addition of the Quality Score column to the Google AdWords platform. This is excellent news for SEM professionals. We hear often of the Quality Score. Indeed, in nearly every help document, article, or blog post by Google, the Quality Score is mentioned. Nevertheless, no one knows what the Quality Score actually is.

Quite simply, the Quality Score is Google’s way of expressing its quest for world domination and the annihilation of standard conventions of search engine marketing. In a typical, conventional PPC auction, advertisers bid for placement on keywords. The logic is simple: He who hath the highest bid gets the highest position. Makes sense, right? Of course.

The Quality Score takes all of this logic and throws it out the window. Positioning is still partially determined by bid, but Google (and as of February 5, Yahoo! as well) evaluate your ad, your keywords, and the relevance of your landing page, and come up with a numerical representation of overall relevancy that is multiplied by your maximum CPC. I am, without a doubt, an advocate of relevancy, as relevant ads and landing pages lead to a better user experience. Yet, I still find myself repulsed by the Quality Score. You see, Google doesn’t disclose the factors and the weighting of the variables that go into the quality score.

So, we’re effectively told to make our websites more relevant to the keywords we wish to target, but we’re left with no indication of what relevancy actually means, or how to make our landing pages more relevant. So what are we supposed to do? I guess we’re supposed to put our faith on Larry and Sergei’s algorithm, or pay off Google’s Matt Cutts to pull some strings for our ads. Just joking on that last part. I realize non-disclosure is part of the Google mystique, but for many advertisers whose livelihood depends on the positioning of their ads, this is quite unsettling.

So here’s the harsh truth about AdWords, ranking, and the Quality Score: You can do anything you want, set any Max CPC that you want, and choose any keywords you want, but the harsh reality is that Google is still the boss. You have literally no control over what position your ad occupies.


Posted in Google, Quality Score
3 comments on “The Elusive Quality Score
  1. Jeff James says:

    CPC Quality Score Google

    Lee so elegantly described the issue of having a quality score and how it gives rise to the question of how manipulative Google has created leeway to be. In essence, an auction is based on tiered bidding structure where the highest bid is awarded the prize.

    But in the arena of paid search we can’t forget that revenue is only generated partially by chance. People use Google since it delivers the most relevant search results as quickly as anyone could possibly expect. So while at an auction, the operative function of the event is to vend goods. Participants come to purchase or mull over the potential purchase of some good that has measurable worth.

    Google never set out to auction words…but they monetize search traffic, only due to people’s faith in its ability to delivery quality search results and/or its default presence in a wide variety of high traffic web properties. People come to Google to search, and I suppose anyone who uses Google is putting something up for auction. Namely, the propensity to engage in business with a vendor or company that appears in Google as a natural consequence of their query.

    Now those using AdWords to advertise are essentially endeavoring to interpret the behavior of those bringing this propensity to engage in some sort of business or desired behavior to the Google search engine. Certain terms may not be worth “bidding” on since the searcher isn’t of the state of mind that would lead to a commercial or lead generating activity. (and you thought Sartre was a tough read, [is he being nothing??].

    Many free and trial keyword research tools are available to help current or would be AdWords advertisers decide what people are looking for and which queries may lead to a transaction.

    Where the rubber meets the road however is the cost per click which in theory should be based on your willingness to bid the highest amount. Now Google deliberately ruins the linearity between bid and position (#1 could equate to the auction winner, although this is a grey area as some would claim other positions convert better, this is another post entirely).

    The interrupting factor is of course relevance and Google generally derides anyone who bids on a keyword and supplies landing page that has little to do with the keyword. If someone wanted to be on top and pay $5 CPC and the next guy would pay $.50 for the #2 spot, would it matter to you what type of landing page the aggressive bidder was using?

    The issue of course as to why Google would offer the lesser bid the more prominent placement is what searchers will come to think of Google as a provider of both paid and natural search results if the somewhat illegitimate bidder has his or her way.

    Anyone who bids on a keyword and provides an irrelevant landing page, content and or information to the searcher dilutes the value of the search utility. This is why the quality score, however cryptic and black box it may seem is ultimately on par with keeping the keyword market efficient while preserving the relevance of Google’s search results.


  2. […] control, and be weary of excessive impressions with a low CTR. This can negatively impact your quality score in Google, as well as signal many unqualified impressions leading Google to view your ad as less […]


  3. Jeff James says:

    Very true…content aside, if you experience a significant number of impressions with very few clicks (i.e. a low click through rate CTR) this is a signal that what you’re providing isn’t relevant to the searches triggering your ad. If Google feels you’re paid search campaign is threatening the relevance of Google AdWords PPC ads, they’ll simply trounce (humor me) your quality score and your cost per click (CPC) will go up. This is all regardless of your true intent.

    It’s critical that you bid on the proper keywords/match types so that you’re offering is inline with the impressions generated. Otherwise the above will come to fruition and you’ll be on you’re way to feeling discouraged about pay per click advertising and its potential as a viable advertising channel.

    Understanding negative keywords is also critical as broad match may or may not generate senseless impressions. The intent of search traffic can see enormous variance by simply switching two words. If I search for “free e book” I can assure you that anyone bidding on the broad match term or phrase match term e book may show up. The difference is that If they’re selling e-books and their ad fails to dissuade me from thinking their e books are free (disqualifying PPC ad copy) I may just click on it.

    So it’s important to know not only the ppc keywords you’re bidding on, but also to understand how the engine will distribute these words based on their own internal algorithmic considerations and calculations.


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