Google Quality Score Is Overhyped

By , guestblogger

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This week we are featuring guest articles from our PPC Hero allies! We requested submissions from our readers and we received excellent responses from some great PPC bloggers! The PPC Hero team will return to our regularly scheduled articles next week. Enjoy!
There.  I said it.  Google Quality Score is overhyped.  Too many people get scared by this nebulous thing called a “quality score,” and think that there’s no way to appease the Great Google Overlords into taking their website off the naughty list.  The reality is that if you’re running a relevant, well organized PPC campaign, you shouldn’t even have to think about your quality score.

So what is this quality score thing, anyway?  In a nutshell, it’s Google’s quantifiable value for several different factors of relevance between your keywords, ad text, and landing page (for more detailed definition, check out the AdWords help file on quality score.  It’s calculated differently for the search and content networks, but just for the sake of argument let’s focus on the search network score for now.

If your keywords are highly relevant to your ad text, your CTR is likely to be pretty good.  That’s one factor of your quality score.  If your landing page is highly relevant to your AdWords keywords and text ads, Google is likely to determine that the page itself has high quality.  There’s another factor in your quality score calculation.  Of course, you should be paying attention to all of this relevance anyway, since relevance tends to be one of the main distinctions between poor-performing accounts and top-performing ones.  The main point is that if users don’t find what you’re offering relevant to what they want, then they simply aren’t going to buy from you, fill out your lead form, or perform some other conversion action.  You should be paying attention to relevance in your account, regardless of whether or not you care about Google’s arbitrary quality score.

So why do people get so worked up about their quality scores?  My theory is that it’s slightly comforting to get a “grade” on how you’re doing in your AdWords account.  With so many different numbers and statistics flying around in your account, it’s easy to focus on one specific number to determine how things are going.  Remember this, though: <strong>quality score is not indicative of the “quality” of your account</strong>.  The only real “score” you need is one (or all) of these three: total conversions, conversion rate, and cost per conversion.  Notice the theme?  Do yourself a favor and focus on what you’re getting out of your AdWords account, not some meaningless number that’s automatically portioned out by the GoogleBot.

Guest blogger bio: Shawn Livengood is an internet marketing professional based in Austin, Texas.  He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Information Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.  Check out his blog at www.ppcwithoutpity.com.

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  • http://www.clickequations.com/blog Craig Danuloff

    While I understand the sentiment – the symbol sometimes comes to get more import than the thing it really stands for – I have to disagree with the premise. As you correctly point out, it measures a bunch of stuff you should do anyway – that doesn’t make it bad.

    I don’t think Quality Score is over-hyped so much as mis-understood, and to an even larger degree ignored. I would not believe that even 20% of all paid search advertisers ever look at it. And imperfect as it is, it’s one of the few clues we get out the algorithm as to how it thinks we’re doing – which goes directly to the final metrics you correctly point out, like conversion.

    I wish it were more clear and exacting (what is a 7 vs an 8 anyway?) But I think people should spend more time trying to figure it out, and what to do about it. I’ve written a lot about Quality Score, including attempts at both explanations and the ‘what to do part’ that you can find here. http://bit.ly/xHNC

    We agree that people can/should improve their accounts. And that Quality Score is imperfect. But I think it is a piece of the puzzle. And we don’t have enough pieces to throw any away.

  • http://www.ppcmanchester.co.uk PPC Manchester

    Good article. Conversions are the bottom line no question.

    One thing I would add – sometimes the PPC Account manager has little / no sway over the website which they are marketing in terms of how good it is and the scope to improve it. I have seen many PPC campaigns struggle due to poor web design / usability. To that end, all you can do is make the PPC campaign as good as possible.

    That said I think if possible the person running the campaign should offer usability advice and ways that the conversion process could be improved. Not a full usability report, just anything that is obviously impairing conversions.

  • http://metricvoodoo.com michelle

    Like with many facts, everyone has their own “truth.” As a former agency PPC analyst and freelancer, I’ve had to suffer through clients and account owners who didn’t even have conversion tracking installed, who only wanted to see the Quality Score go up because they’d suddenly found that column in their Google interface and were ashamed of their “score” like they got an F on their report card or something. I’ve also heard sales pitches that dwell on Quality Score to such an extent, you’d think it was more important than oxygen. Obsessing over ANY single factor in a paid ad account is unhealthy for the account and probably for the “obssessor” as well!

    But Craig also makes a good observation, that the general vagueness of information, including Google’s own explanations in the past, has contributed to misunderstanding of how it works and what it’s capable of… now that light is more easily shed on the subject, some people behave as if they’ve found the fountain of youth or something…

    Quality Score has one core function – to make non-relevant advertisers with more money than ethics PAY MORE to take over an ad space where they don’t really belong. QS is not a perfect solution to that problem, but that’s why it was invented. Relevant advertisers in a sector shouldn’t have issues unless they’re using the same keyword-stuffing, hype-ad writing, automatic landing page-generation techniques that “the enemy” uses.

  • Rehan

    Being obsessed with quality scores is silly, but so is calling it a “meaningless number”. QS is usually a good measure of how well keywords are conforming to the Adwords guidelines and whether there are opportunities for improvement. If I have an ad group doing well but with poor quality score for the keywords, I would take the suggestions from Google’s Keyword Analysis tool to improve the QS and make the ROI even better.

    QS should not be seen as the bottom line, but rather just one of the tools to achieve the end result.

  • http://kalindudley.com Kalin Dudley

    Get stuff Shawn, I think that you hit the nail on the head in regards to quality score however I feel that most people tend to feel that Google is an enemy and not an ally. My feeling is that while most people complain that Google uses Quality Score to jack up the CPC pricing, I feel that they are forcing their advertisers to be as relevant as possible so everyone wins. If Google’s Paid Ads can provide accurate listings, while the Organic ads still have some irrelevant results more people will start to use the paid ads simply because it gives them what they are looking for. And if the advertiser can write ad copy that is specific to the keyword, then land the visitor on a page that is specific to the keyword, the user will have a better experience and less frustration in making a purchase. Without being forced to do this, many advertisers wouldn’t go through the trouble of lining up the keyword, ad copy and landing pages which would result in less relevant results for users, poor experience and everyone loses. One thing I would like to highlight on the “thing stats to monitor” is that you cannot forget an e-commerce site should actually have four stats: conversion rate, sales, sales value and ROAS. If you optimize an e-commerce site with a range of products for the cost per conversion, you could be hurting the account. For example, you want a cost per conversion of $40 and you start the process of optimization however there are higher end products that may half a cost per conversion of $80 but each sale is $500. You would run the risk on losing that return if you focus on the cost per conversion and not the sales variables. Good Stuff overall Shawn, keep it coming….

  • adrian

    I agree with your premise that people focus too much on being obsessed with the score as opposed to doing the right things that also happen to improve your quality score over time. There are times when quality score is a force to be reckoned with… starting new campaigns. Starting a brand new campaign in a saturated market (and of course no history of a good quality score) really hurts the cost per click and your overall ROI.

  • http://www.djk-shadow-bonus.com Google Shadow

    In my opinion PPC campaigns are for the more experienced internet marketer. It can be a very intimidating process and the learning curve tends to be quite long.

    My experience has been that PPC advertising – and Google Adwords especially – can be quite costly and less than profitable.

  • Pingback: Google Adwords Learning Part-3 : Smart PPC Solutions

  • http://www.torontocpr.ca Toronto CPR

    I have issues with the QS. Many times the algorithm thinks that your page or ad isnt relevant when indeed it is.

    Also it takes away some creativity in the text ads. If I want to create an ad that has to do with the keyword being entered and my landing page but doesnt actually have the keywords in the ad itself then I get slapped with a low quality score.

    If billboard advertising were run the same way the ads would be simply boring. Imagine if disney world had to put the words “visit disney world” in their billboard ads instead of just a picture of a little girl with the words “make her dreams come true”. The ad would suck.

    This is what google is doing with its adwords quality score. If the text ad doesnt have the exact same words as the keywords entered in the search bar then you get a low quality score. For some annoying reason the algorithm cant tell the similarity between the keywords “Ab exercises” entered into the search bar and the words “Ab workouts” in the ad text. I had to deal with this when I ran an ad for a workout product.