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The History of AdWords Quality Score and Periodic Changes

Quality Score wasn’t always in place. In fact, AdWords existed for quite some time before Google decided it was time to pump up the quality of ads.

Early Days of Quality Score

Prior to the introduction of Quality Score, bidding was a simpler process. An advertiser’s maximum bid for a keyword was multiplied by the click-through rate (CTR). The highest result was placed in position #1, second highest was placed in position #2, and so on. Minimum bids were five cents, and five-cent clicks were not all that hard to achieve.

Soon after Quality Score was instituted, two different keyword “states” were added to the mix: active or inactive. If a keyword was active, it meant that your bid was sufficient and that keyword’s ad would be displayed. If a keyword was inactive, its ad simply would not run. In that case, you had two options: increase your maximum cost-per-click (CPC – the maximum you were willing to pay) or increase the Quality Score by improving the ad. These “states” are no longer the sole determining factor of an ad’s quality.

Timeline of Significant Events in Quality Score

  • 2000: Google AdWords is launched.
  • CPM is the first pricing model. CPM, or cost-per-mille (thousand), meant that advertisers paid per thousand impressions.
  • Google AdWords Select introduces the idea of cost-per-click pricing, which is a boon to advertisers because relevant ads can achieve higher positions at potentially lower costs than competitors’ ads.
  • Google drops the “Select” designation and the name is now known as Google AdWords.
  • August 2005: Quality Score is introduced.
  • February 2007: “Poor,” “OK,” and “Great” Quality Score designations are added for keywords.
  • February 2007: Update to Quality Score to improve the overall quality of ads by lowering minimum bids for high-quality ads and raising minimum bids for low- quality ads.
  • August 2007: Improved top placement formula added.
  • June 2008: Landing page load time is incorporated into keyword Quality Score.
  • August 2008: Quality Score becomes more accurate as it is calculated at the time of each search query.
  • October 2008: More precise Quality Score calculation is created by accounting for ad position’s influence on CTR.
  • October 2008: Ads must now meet a particular quality threshold to be placed above search results.

Periodic Algorithm Changes and Updates

Just as any car owner takes his car to the shop for occasional tune-ups, Google also “tunes up” AdWords with algorithm changes and updates (not to be confused with scheduled system maintenance, which typically happens on a weekend). Some updates aren’t announced – they just happen. With other updates, the writing is on the wall shortly before they happen.

Despite the usual uproar around algorithm changes, algorithm updates have, to this point, generally resulted in a marked improvement, not only in AdWords but in a residual effect to the PPC community as a whole. How often is Quality Score updated? Savvy advertisers would say not enough because Quality Score allows them to pay less. Others would say that it’s updated too often because their minimum bids increase each time. One representative from Google indicated that Quality Score is updated “relatively real-time.” We’re not sure what that means. It’s more Googlese.

Obfuscate. Dissemble. Stonewall. Not sure what these words mean? Look in a thesaurus under “Googlese.” Googlese is the official language of Google. Googlers, by nature, are a friendly, fun-loving, sociable bunch. They kayak, they party, they drive Toyota Priuses. Talk Quality Score, and it’s the corporate line all over again. The AdWords blog is no better. Blogs are supposed to be loose, informal, off-the-cuff. But Inside AdWords is so tightly written, it could make a diamond out of a lump of coal. One fair defense about this stance is that AdWords does not want to play favorites, and giving anyone a scoop—even the scent of a scoop—undermines democratization. By cutting a few advertisers out of the loop, even those advertisers spending high five figures or more a month, Google ensures that everyone operates on a level playing field.

Top Placement Changes

Most AdWords advertisers want their ads to appear as high on the search results page as possible. Some want this merely because they feel it looks good and some because they generate higher conversions in these top spots. However, it’s arguable whether a position #1 results in more conversions. It certainly generates more clicks, but many are “impulse clicks” – the users click on the ads simply because they’re at the top of the page, not because they necessarily feel they’re relevant. Only after they visit the page, and you’ve paid for them to do so, do they determine relevance. In any case, top ad positions are coveted by many advertisers.

In August 2007, Google changed its formula with regards to top ad placement. Google has separate Quality Score calculations for ads that run on top versus ads that run on the right side of the search results, and you can now view performance for ads in these separate positions! Prior to top placement changes, it was possible to nudge one’s ad to the top positions by paying higher bid prices. The upshot of the top placement changes is that actual cost per click (CPC) is devalued in relation to an ad’s quality, and maximum CPC was brought into the fold as an important determiner in top ad position.

Patents and How They Relate to Quality Score

In July 2007, it became public that Google had filed three patent applications that potentially touch upon 44 Quality Score factors. For AdWords advertisers who are on top of such issues, this might at first seem like business as usual. But looking at these patent applications in detail we see something different. In summary, the patents are respectively about:

  1. Predicting ad quality.
  2. Estimating ad quality from observed user behavior.
  3. Comparing ads and their respective Quality Score parameters, in order to determine if the ads should be filtered, where positioned, and if some are worthy of higher positions.

Following are just a handful of the 44 Quality Score factors these patents take into consideration:

  • Number of times a user clicks on a certain ad per session.
  • Duration of time spent on an ad result selection.
  • Number of searches that happen in a given session after the initial search result or ad selection.

While the details of these patents are interesting in a technical sense, the larger picture that they paint is that, a.) Quality Score is becoming increasingly splintered and segmented, so that ever more factors play into it; b.) Google is always, as they put it, “refining” Quality Score; and, c.) User behavioral models are the next wave in improvements for PPC.

Now that you’ve been briefed on the history of AdWords Quality Score, as well as some changes and improvements made to this metric since its inception, head over to our Ultimate Guide to AdWords Quality Score to learn about the different types and how to improve this metric in your account.

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