Cut your AdWords costs in half by understanding your Quality Scores

February 23, 2017
Mike Friedman

If there is one tip I could give to new and veteran AdWords advertisers, it would be to pay attention to your AdWords Quality Score. By understanding Google’s AdWords Quality Score, you can possibly cut your advertising costs by 50% or more.

When AdWords was first unleashed in 2000, it mostly was the playground of large websites with lots of money to spend. At that time, AdWords was just a straight auction. Whoever could afford to bid the most for keywords, won. Simple as that. Big corporations could squeeze out the little guys without any difficulty.

Google realized this and felt they could dramatically increase their profits if they could find a way to also attract more of the small and medium-sized businesses of the world.

Other PPC companies were struggling with poor quality ads. If the top spot was going to the highest bidder, the entire structure would always favor the companies with the largest ad budget and let them push out the smaller companies.

To remedy this, Google’s solution was to start factoring in your clickthrough rate (CTR) in addition to your bid to determine your ad position. If you had a higher CTR, your ads could show higher on the page than the ads of your competitors, even if your bid was lower, sometimes much lower.

With this new system, Google was valuing quality over money. The idea was that if you write terrible ads that nobody clicks on, eventually your ads will never show, rarely show, or cost a fortune per click to attract traffic. Meanwhile, those who were writing great ads garnering lots of attention could compete with those who had much deeper pockets. In 2005, they dubbed this the “Quality Score”.

Although the new Quality Score metric was largely working, it did bring about a new problem. Many advertisers started using some bait-and-switch tactics. They wrote ads that would attract clicks but did not deliver what they promised.

For example, let’s say you had a website that contained information about stink bugs. You could drastically increase your CTR using headlines such as, “Stink Bugs Eat Human Alive.” It would not matter if your webpage contained zero information about stink bugs eating a human being (they don’t). There was no penalty for that, and as long as your CTR improved, you would be paying less for your traffic.

Some advertisers took this to extremes. They would bid on hot topics that were in the news or trending, or they would go after high volume keywords that had low costs per click and lead visitors to a page that was totally irrelevant. An advertiser might have a page about how to win at Blackjack, but be bidding on keywords that had nothing to do with Blackjack or even playing cards at all.

In 2006, Google introduced the landing page Quality Score. With this change the content of your landing page had to be relevant to your ads and the keywords you were bidding on or your overall Quality Score would dip so low that your ads would not show at all.

Why Is Your Quality Score Important?

I mentioned earlier that improving your Quality Score can decrease your advertising costs. How does Quality Score factor into your costs?

For that we need to have a discussion about Ad Rank. When a search query is entered into Google, a quick calculation is done on advertisers who are bidding on that search term to determine the position of the ads that Google displays. This calculation is very simple:

Maximum Bid x Quality Score = Ad Rank

The advertiser with the highest Ad Rank shows up first, followed by the advertiser with the second highest Ad Rank and so on.

Let’s look at an example of advertisers bidding on the same search term and how their Quality Score is impacting their wallet.

Table showing how Ad Rank works

You will notice that even though Advertiser 1 is bidding the least for each click, they have secured the first ad position because of their superior Quality Score. Advertiser 2 would have to bid about $3.60 and pay more than a dollar extra per click in order to overtake them. Meanwhile, Advertiser 3 is bidding more than twice as much as Advertiser 1, and is nowhere near overtaking them. Advertiser 4 is lucky if their ads are showing at all ever with a Quality Score so low, but they would have to bid $25.00 per click in this example just to match Advertiser 1.

By improving your Quality Score, you can save a lot of money in your AdWords campaigns while getting the same, or even better results.

What Factors Go Into Quality Score?

Much like with Google’s search engine algorithm, the exact details of their calculations are kept secret. To their credit, they have openly talked about the most important elements of their Quality Score.

Clickthrough Rate (CTR)

CTR is the unquestionable top factor in determining Quality Score. Some have estimated it makes up as much as two-thirds of the calculation. From Google’s point of view, it is pretty simple. If one ad is being clicked on more than another, then Google assumes that ad is more relevant, interesting, and/or useful to searchers.

Google is not just looking at CTR in a vacuum. They also look at the CTR that other advertisers have for the same keywords, the ad position of your ad, as well as your campaign’s overall CTR.

In other words, they want to know how your ad is performing in relationship to your peers as well as based on the positioning that your bids have obtained for your ads. Of course, an ad in position 6 is going to have a lower overall CTR than an ad in position 1. They take that into account, again to level out the playing field so that the advertiser with the deepest pockets is not buying their way into the best CTR.

Landing Page

The quality of your landing page is factored into your Quality Score. Google wants to see two things from your landing page. First, do you deliver what your ad promised immediately on the page. If your visitors have to opt-in with an email address or register to your site to get the information you advertised, Google will not be happy. Their unhappiness will be reflected in your Quality Score.

There is nothing wrong with asking for email addresses. Just be sure that you are providing useful information to visitors whether they opt in or not.

Second, Google wants your landing page to be relevant to your ad. In addition to relevant keywords being on the page, Google is paying attention to visitor behavior here, and most importantly what is referred to as pogoing.

If a visitor clicks your ad, visits your page, and immediately hits the back button on their browser and clicks on another ad or search result, that is pogoing and is a signal to Google that the user did not find what they were looking for.

Keyword Relevance Of Your Ads And Landing Page

How relevant are your ads to the search query the user entered? If a user enters a search term and that term appears in both your ad and on your landing page, that is going to be scored better than if the keyword is missing from one of them.

How Do You Improve Your Quality Score?

There are some things you can do to improve your Quality Score, and most of them focus around improving your clickthrough rate.

Split Test Your Ads

The best way to improve your CTR, and therefore your Quality Score, is to constantly be testing new ads. Always be running at least 2 ads in every ad group. Keep the winner. Ditch the loser.

A simple way that has worked for years to improve the CTR of ads is by using the keyword in your headline. It’s a subliminal thing mostly, but if I search for best way to train a puppy and one of the first ads has that as their headline, it is likely to grab my attention.

Unlike what is typically recommended for SEO, keyword stuffing in your ads can be beneficial.

Split Out Your Keywords Into More Ad Groups

Keyword stuffing your ads is great, but if your ad group has 50 keywords in it, a mistake I see all the time in existing accounts, that is nearly impossible to accomplish. The fewer keywords you have in an ad group, the easier it is to make your ad relevant to those keywords and bump up your CTR.

I try to keep most ad groups to 6-8 keywords or less. The only time I would go above that is if the keywords are really, really similar.

Your CTR is a big factor in your Quality Score. Another factor is your campaign’s overall CTR. This is why optimizing each ad group is so important.

Imagine a campaign with six ad groups. Five of those ad groups contain 5-6 keywords each and their CTR is excellent. The sixth group contains 25 keywords and has a poor CTR. That sixth ad group will drag down the Quality Score of the other five ad groups.

Separate that ad group out into more ad groups with closely matching ads. You will see your Quality Score go up and your CPC go down across the entire campaign.

Ensure That Your Landing Pages Are Relevant

Relevance is important, but in the context of Google AdWords it is basically a yes or no question. Either your page is relevant or it is not. You either get the checkmark or you don’t. Spending a lot of time reworking content to make it more relevant is probably not going to gain you much traction.

If you have a really low Quality Score, look for obvious things that you can fix on the page. If your landing page contains content that is hidden behind an opt-in or sign-in form, you probably want to add some content to the page about the topic. I would say the same thing if your page is just a video or image. Although Google does have the ability to transcribe videos, I would not rely on that for something that can potentially save you so much money.

Generally speaking, if your Quality Score is in the range of a 5 or higher, relevance is probably not your issue.

Add Negative Keywords

This can provide the single biggest improvement to your CTR if done right. It can also send your campaign into the toilet, so be careful and make sure you know what you are doing. It is best to roll out negative keywords in small increments so you can easily measure their impact and correct any mistakes.

What are negative keywords? They are your way of telling Google specific searches that you do not want your ads to appear for.

Let’s say you have a website selling healthy snacks. You might target healthy snacks as a broad or phrase match search term. That is going to bring you a lot of relevant traffic. However, it is also going to cause your ads to show for a lot of searches that are not relevant to your product. People might search for healthy snacks for pets, healthy snacks for dogs, healthy snacks for people with nut allergies, etc.

You can add negative keywords to a specific ad group or to your entire campaign. In this example, you might sell healthy snacks for people with nut allergies, but you would want to target that in one specific ad group with keywords and ads relevant to that topic. You would want to add nut allergies as a negative keyword in your other ad groups. You do not sell snacks for pets at all, so you could add pets, dogs, cats, birds, etc. as negative keywords to the entire campaign.

Now if someone searches for healthy snacks but includes words like pets, dogs, cats, or birds, your ads will not show up. However, if they search for healthy snacks for people with nut allergies you have a specific ad group targeting that and the negative keyword in the other ad groups prevents a non-relevant ad from showing from one of those groups, even if the bid is higher.

This is a powerful tool to use in your AdWords campaign because it cuts down on irrelevant impressions of your ads that have almost no chance of being clicked on, which improves your CTR. I have seen 100% and higher increases in CTR by appropriately using negative keywords.

Where Do I Find My Quality Score?

Not sure where to find your Quality Score? It’s easy. Log in to your AdWords account and select one of your campaigns. Click the keywords tab and select the “Customize Columns” button. Under “Select metrics” click “Attibutes”. A pop out menu will appear. Click on “Add” beside Quality Score.

Now you will see a Quality Score displayed for each of your keywords.

Set a target of 7 or above for each of your keywords. Your wallet will thank you.

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