How Does AdWords Determine a Keyword’s Quality Score Before It’s Even Activated? Find Out!

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Recently, I was creating new campaigns and ad groups within a Google AdWords account. I loaded all of my keywords and ad texts, set my bids, reviewed my campaign settings, and I was ready for launch! Once I finished up all the necessary tasks in Google, using AdWords Editor, I downloaded my new campaigns in order to upload them into Yahoo and MSN. This is when I noticed that the keywords I had just launched a few seconds prior already had an AdWords Quality Score attributed to them. Needless to say, I had to do some investigating.

If you’ve missed our plethora of other articles on the AdWords Quality Score, I will give you a quick review of how a keyword’s Quality Score is established. The key factor that determine a keyword’s relevancy, and this indicates to Google how to rank a given keyword, is its click-through rate. The higher the click-through rate (on the search network), the better your Quality Score will be. Keep in mind, there are numerous other factors that comprise your overall AdWords Quality Score, but an individual keyword’s Quality Score is majorly determined by its click-through rate.

This is why I needed to find out how my new keywords were assigned a Quality Score before I accrued even one impression, much less a click-through rate. After some research and placing a call to my AdWords Representative, I came up an answer that all PPC managers should consider when loading new keywords.

The moment you load a keyword into AdWords, it receives a Quality Score. This initial Quality Score is determined by each keyword’s performance history for other advertisers. Google AdWords has monitored this keyword’s historical performance for multiple advertisers who have targeted this keyword, Google determines an aggregate score and this is your “base score.” This is your keyword’s starting point in regards to Quality Score.

From here, your fate is your own. If your keyword performance is better than the historical average, then your Quality Score will improve. However, if your keyword’s click-through rate is lower than this “base score” then your Quality Score will begin to decline.

What can we take away from this information?

Better keyword targeting: If you load a series of new keywords and they all have a low Quality Score, then you may want to re-think these additions. This is because other advertisers have not had success with these keywords. On the other side of the coin, if the Quality Score for a keyword is 9 or 10, this means that previous and current advertisers are having success with this keyword, and competition could be more fierce. You may want to give this keywords special attention and place them into their own ad groups.

Deeper insight into how the Quality Score works: We now know that keywords are working against a base score from the beginning. This means that you need to have a clear strategy for a keyword before it is activated, and a successful keyword launch is crucial from day-one. This doesn’t mean that you can’t optimize your way to an improved score, but you want to get off to the best start possible!

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30 thoughts on “How Does AdWords Determine a Keyword’s Quality Score Before It’s Even Activated? Find Out!

  1. Chris

    I was under the impression that Google spidered your ad landing page when you upload new keywords and took this into account when assigning an initial quality score.

  2. Justin M.

    This is one of the issues I’ve had with AdWords lately. There have been cases where the historical keyword data must have performed very poorly and I’ve been hit immediately with $2 min bids on keywords with no competition. I don’t think it is fair to immediately assign these keywords poor quality scores just because other advertisers failed to write compelling ad text. I always just throw the keywords out instead of paying a high CPC initially to build up a good QS.

    I then take these keywords to Yahoo and Live and they perform just fine (5% + CTRs) so I think it’s a definite flaw in Google system.

    It’s a shame.

  3. JoeJoe Post author

    @Chris: That also may be the case when Google is determining your base score, but my AdWords rep didn’t mention this when answering my questions the other. She strictly mentioned the previous advertiser history determines the initial score. I can follow up with her to see if this is also a factor that she forgot to mention.

  4. Dan Adwords Professional

    I checked with Adwords support on this just now…

    It is also possible that part of this base score IS also determined by landing pages AND account structure.

    I asked for a clarification via email.

    Not holding my breathe though.

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  7. Matt

    I think you’re correct in saying there is an “average” QS against which keywords are measured, and its interesting that it appears as a ranking factor this early on. I dont think the initial quality score visible in the account reflects the market-wide keyword average though, rather that it is, like quality score at all times, affected by it.

    QS is highly based on relevancy of the keyword to the ad and thats something easy for Google to measure before any impressions are generated. If your ad mentions widgets 5 times you’ll find the keyword “widgets” has a higher quality score than the keyword “gadgets” in that adgroup from the time of upload.
    (@Chris your landing page relevancy also is a factor, but in my experience the page doesn’t get spidered immediately – its more like some time within the first 24 hours, so i doubt it enters the mix this early on.)

    QS is, by definition comparative. I have always assumed the “average” quality score for all keywords would be “OK” (5/10 or whatever) – there’s no point having a visible quality score if everyone in the landscape is scoring 9/10 – defeats the point. Rather, IMO a higher QS with no impressions suggests a weaker landscape, as well as a relevant ad.

    I’ll try and test this, i’d be interested to combine notes on the results!

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  9. Niyaz

    But, i have asked this same question to my google adwords account manager, he said it purely fresh quality score, they said they have some bench mark for new quality score, like 1/4 for some keywords and 1/5 for some keywords..

    I don’t know whether i need to show this page to my adwords account manager to know the correct one.

  10. JoeJoe Post author

    @ Niyaz: If there is a new benchmark for initial Quality Score, I’m afraid I haven’t heard of it. Technically, each Quality Score is “fresh” for a new keyword in the sense that each new keyword was just assigned the Quality Score, regardless of how the score was the determined. It would strike me as odd if Google used those percentages (1/4 or 1/5) to determine the QS. The Quality Score is a strange entity and we may never know all of its moving pieces, but all we can do is try to decipher the patterns.


    I did receive a reply via email 🙂

    Hello Dan,

    Thank you for chatting in yesterday about how our quality score formula is
    weighted for brand new accounts with zero impressions and clicks. I
    checked with some other specialists in the office to see how that
    formula’s calculations are weighed between the historic performance of the
    keyword for other advertisers and the specific quality of the account
    structure and landing page.

    They were not able to give me specifics to pass on as to how the formula
    is calculated and weighted. However, I can assure you that both factors
    are weighed initially at account creation, and that performance data will
    be taken into account as soon as the ad starts to serve.

    If you have additional questions, please visit our Help Center at, where you’ll find answers to many
    frequently asked questions. We look forward to providing you with the most
    effective advertising available.

    Thomas C.
    The Google AdWords Team

  12. Ben

    I’ve been seeing this problem a lot lately. On sites that exceed their typical QS requirements, we had been assigned 1s without even gaining impressions. Google had admitted numerous times to me it’s a problem with their automated system, and when manually reviewing would assign very high quality scores.

  13. Jon Dunn

    I feel there is DEFFINATLEY a problem with their automated system or quality score algorithm at the moment…..

    I have recently set up a campaign in a rather expensive market (insurance). Each of the 28 ad groups targeted specific keyword variations, each ad group had relevant ad copy (keywords were included in titles, ad text, display url’s), and each ad pointed to a highly targetted and optimised landing page. There was NOTHING more I could do to improve quality score. However, very soon after the campaign launched or the keywords were added my quality score for all keywords on all ad groups was low!

    Because of the “poor” quality score the suggested bids for 1st page listings were ludicrous (£40-£70 per click). Of course, the advertiser is not willing to pay that per click and as a result, the quality score can not be improved.

    I spoke to an account manager who was “perplexed” by what was happening. He spoke to an engineer who suggested I pause the “poor” keywords and run with the “good” or “great” to bring the rest up. By the time I had logged back in to try this suggestion (which i think is ridiculous) all keywords had turned poor.

    I tested opening a new account and running similar optimised campaigns, but again- poor quality score across the board.

    If this is really due to previous ctr for other advertisers Google really need to sort this out quick. This campaign should be fullfilling a budget of many thousand pounds a month but as it is, the whole thing is on hold.

    I am in contact regularly with the account manager who quite simply is unable to help or provide any worthwhile suggestions. As this occurs I am having to explain to my employers that its out of my controll and I cant spend their budget right now.

    Very, very poor performance from Big G.

  14. CJO

    Quality scores seem to be all over the place at the moment. After entering new keywords they are then given an initial QS. However if these are paused and then enabled the quality score increases most of the time. I’ve spoken to the Google rep and they can’t understand it.

    Interestingly I had an ad group with 10/10 QS for all the keywords. It had been running for months then it changed to 1/10 overnight ?? Google suggested the landing page had changed (which it hadn’t). I moved the keywords and ad’s to a new ad group (in the same campaign) and it went back to 10/10 again !!

  15. Jason

    I was setting up a PPC campaign for a dentist. All of my 110 keywords were showing a quality score of 5 and bizarre CPC rates. I created a highly optimized landing page (actually, I made a custom landing page for each keyword in PPC campaign). After all of that work, it’s still showing 5. This article makes total sense and is 99.9% probably the reason why this is happening. What a drag!

  16. Dan Perach

    I have a theory that low quality scores will be assigned to keywords/geotargets that have more than enough big spending advertisers, ie. Adwords doesn’t really need any new guys in that kw niche.

    If this is true, and it may be, even though they deny this…

    You will be forced to “buy relevance”, ie. CTR

    Most advertisers will not, can not afford to buy relevance, so the big advertisers are more or less “grandfathered” into that keyword niche.

    Just a theory.

  17. Sleem

    Thanks for this great post joe, I’ve been looking into to many articles, but this is the only one that gave me all info I need, thanks for the comments, too

    I have a case to share here which might be useful, Ive created a new post in my blog (to test newly added pages that are still not known to all kinds of Google’s crawlers) then created a new ad to that page, selected some set of keywords (About 100 keywords and phrases) the article was about how-to-make-money and the keywords were 100% related, anyway, the first say I got good CTR (about 50 clicks through 30,000 impressions with $0.01 bid) but what surprises me is that next day all keywords were labeled in orange: “Rarely shown due to low quality score” and I didn’t get more than 50 impressions all the day !!! so as someone newbie in adowrds I don’t have 100% sure reason why did that happen, but the first think which came up into my mind is that adowrds system has assigned a good QS to my keywords temporarily until it crawled the landing page, then the next day it was finished and decreased the QS. So I believe it depends the most on the landing page

    Am I correct here? or could be there another reason that can’t be noticed?

    ps. If you want to see my testing page and the keywords please let me know, I don’t wanna look spammy here

  18. Chirag Sharma

    Hey joe, I have some Questions 4r u , please do answer them..

    1-What to do when the status of the keywords in the Adwords a/c says that “Rarely shown due to low quality score” how to increase it?
    2-and why does it says that my keywords are not relevant??
    3-and what is the the ideal quality score one keyword could have in a campaign?

    Thanks in advance.

  19. Greg

    Thanks Joe. That’s certainly cleared up a few questions! In fact, I am so impressed with this post I’m going to try and find some more on your blog. Keep up the goood work.

  20. Chris

    Total godsend of a post.

    I suppose I could/would have figured this out some other way, but wow does this help!

    I wish I had known this before I started experimenting with ads I didn’t suspect would perform well, because they didn’t, and now my QS is in the doghouse!

  21. Chloe

    Interesting, so if you set the keywords to exact match and make them highly targeted to the ad and landing page, and initially bid aggressively, quality score should improve.

  22. Jamie

    I’m finding this confusing…

    for instance i have a keyword in a PPC campaign that is “directly” related to the service, it is also the most popular and relevant keyword for the industry, infact i’m just going to share it here as i’m hoping i can get some good advice.

    the keyword is “building inspections”

    the business does building inspections and this is also on the home page in the content etc, it is the most related keyword phrase to the industry, yet i can never get a QS above 7/10?

    am i missing the plot, any advice appreciated.

    1. Saurabh Bhardwaj

      yeah now it is showing. I had called to the phone no. given in adwords help section and it was related to some banking transaction issue. Its working fine now. Thanks!


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