A Universal Quality Score?

Quality score has always been an elusive creature for many people in the search marketing industry. What is it? How is it calculated? How does it affect my account? These are just a few of the questions that deserve more clarity. I believe this additional clarity becomes particularly important with multiple versions of quality score in play. Google has been utilizing this metric in their bidding system for a while now, but it wasn’t until recently that Microsoft improved their own version of QS as well. This leaves us with two seemingly ambiguous metrics that require a better understanding. Are they the same? In this post, I would like to take a look at the quality scores of AdWords and AdCenter, and attempt to distinguish the two.

Google AdWords QS

There are a few different kinds of quality score in AdWords (you can read a great post from Rob about account-level quality score here), but for the purposes of this post, I’ll be focusing on keyword-level quality score. Google defines this type of quality score as:

“A dynamic variable assigned to each of your keywords. It’s calculated using a variety of factors and measures how relevant your keyword is to your ad group and to a user’s search query.”

In other words, this is one way in which Google gauges your relevancy in the keyword market, in order to ensure that Google is providing the best possible user search experience. This is good because searchers are more likely to find what they are looking for.

As I mentioned earlier, keyword quality score has been part of the AdWords system for a while now, but continues to be somewhat of a “gray” area because of how it is calculated. These are the factors we know Google takes into account:

  • Historical CTR of the keyword and the matched ad on Google.
  • Account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account.
  • The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group.
  • Landing page quality.
  • The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group.
  • The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the users search query.
  • Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown.
  • Other relevance factors.

Although these elusive “other relevance factors” are currently kept secret, the rest of the list is sufficient enough to grow your QS if you modify your account accordingly. Based off of these criteria, each of your keywords is then assigned a value between 1-10 (10 being highest). This value becomes your keyword quality score, which ultimately affects your CPC and ad position. This becomes clear using Google’s QS formula below:

CPC x Quality Score = Ad Rank

It is important to note that this score does not remain static. Rather, this is a dynamic number that is constantly adjusting itself. From the formula above, it should become apparent that Google’s quality score can be beneficial to your account by bumping your ads into better positions with less spend. QS is an integral part of the AdWords bidding system. For more information, check out our Quality Score Handbook or the AdWords Help Articles.

Microsoft AdCenter QS

Bing has recently released their own keyword-level quality score, which is calculated and used much differently than AdWords’ keyword quality score. Bing’s definition is as follows:

“Your quality score indicates the competitiveness of your campaigns in the overall marketplace. Microsoft provides a quality score for each of your keywords to help you understand the relevance of your keywords to search users’ queries and the degree to which your ads are eligible to be displayed in response to these queries.”

In essence, this is similar to Google’s keyword QS because both versions attempt to gauge the relevancy between your keywords, ads and users’ search queries. This is good for the user because it optimizes their search experience. Also similar to AdWords, adCenter keyword QS is on a scale of 1-10. Outside of these similarities, however, these two quality scores have little in common.

Microsoft’s version of QS is designed to represent how competitive your keyword is within the marketplace, with three sub-scores for keyword relevance, landing page relevance, and landing page user experience. These criteria are judged as follows:

  • Keyword relevance (ranked by Bing as good, no problem, or poor)
  • Landing page relevance (no problem, poor)
  • Landing page user experience (no problem, poor)

Based upon my experience in the adCenter interface, a keyword with No Problem sub-scores in all three areas yielded a QS of roughly 5-8. On the other hand, a keyword with Good/No Problem/No Problem scores yielded a QS between 9 and 10. Of course, there is no set scale for which quality scores correlate with each sub-score, but hopefully you get the general idea. For more information on Microsoft’s quality score, check out the AdCenter Help Desk.

Performance Effects

So, are these two versions of keyword-level quality score the same? Not really. While they are both measured on a scale of 1-10, the factors used to calculate them are different, as discussed above, and, most importantly, their purposes are completely different. AdCenter’s keyword QS is used simply to show the competitiveness of your campaigns in the overall marketplace; these scores do not directly influence your ad rank. The purpose, rather, is to help advertisers see where they’re behind competitors in regard to landing page experience and keyword relevancy, and you can use this information simply as a gauge to help you improve your overall quality score and, therefore, improve ad position. AdWords’ keyword-level quality score, on the other hand, directly influences ad rank.

So what does influence ad rank in Bing? It’s your bid, overall keyword relevance to a user search query and click-through-rate. And this is the biggest difference between AdWords and AdCenter keyword-level quality score: AdWords QS influences ad rank, while AdCenter’s does not.

Similar Nonetheless

Regardless of their differences in performance effects, Google and Microsoft are essentially looking for the same thing with their quality scores: they want users to have the best search experience possible. As both quality score versions keep a close eye on relevancy, an optimized user search experience is made possible.

Although quality score will probably always carry some degree of ambiguity, it is certainly a topic that requires revisiting every so often. Google and Bing love to change things up, so it’s our job to stay ahead of the game by exploring every nook and cranny to understand how quality score is calculated. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the similarities, differences, and functionality of QS across Google and Bing. What’s been your experience with the new adCenter QS? Have you seen any major changes in your accounts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!