Web Marketing Today

PPC Basics: Part 7. Quality Score

Quality Score affects your cost per click and ad position. Since it is so crucial to a successful campaign, I’m devoting an entire article to it. Fortunately, Quality Score for Microsoft adCenter is not much different from Google AdWords. Unless otherwise noted, “Quality Score” in this article refers to both engines.

Articles in This Series

What is Quality Score?

At its most basic level, Quality Score is a way of rating PPC (Pay Per Click) keyword relevance. Quality Score ranks relevance on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. Quality Score is important because it is used:

  • To determine the actual cost per click (CPC),
  • To estimate first page bids,
  • To determine if a keyword is eligible for the ad auction at all, and
  • To rank your ad.

Quality score can mean the difference between paying a lot to appear at the bottom of the list of ads and paying a relatively small amount to be at the top.

What do the numbers mean?

Quality scores are displayed in the PPC engines at the keyword level. A Quality Score of 1-4 is considered “Poor,” is “OK,” and 8-10 is “Great.”

While it’s good to know that a keyword has a “great” or “poor” Quality Score, it’s also important to know how to improve a poor Quality Score. We’ll talk about that in a little while.

When should I worry about Quality Score?

The quick answer to this question is “all the time.” Since Quality Score determines your ad position and cost per click, it is one of the most important metrics in PPC.

The best time to worry about Quality Score is when you first set up a campaign. Proper setup will help give your campaign the best possible chance for a good Quality Score. Make sure to carefully choose relevant keywords and segment them into small, tightly-themed ad groups. Write ad copy for each ad group that closely matches (and ideally includes) the keywords. Is this starting to sound familiar? If you’ve read the articles in this series, it should! That’s because many of the best practices in PPC are best practices because they help ensure a good Quality Score.

Establishing a good Quality Score with a new campaign is also important in building up a good account Quality Score. In essence, account Quality Score measures the overall quality of your entire PPC account. The challenge is that there is no way to view your account Quality Score in the PPC engines. If you’re lucky, you might get an PPC rep to tell you whether it’s good or bad, but that’s where the information ends.

More about Keywords

Quality Score is reported by both AdWords and adCenter at the keyword level, so you can see how relevant or not relevant the PPC engine thinks each keyword is. The more relevant the term, the higher the Quality Score.

Some experts recommend building up a high account Quality Score by launching a new campaign with only branded terms at first, since branded terms are relevant by definition. Once a good Quality Score is established, they add the non-branded terms.

I’m not in favor of this technique. It’s not usually necessary — and sometimes backfires. For example, it’s not unusual for obscure or unknown brand names to get low Quality Scores because there isn’t any search volume for them. When a new keyword is added to an account, it doesn’t have a Quality Score yet, so the engines use other data to assign a Quality Score early on. The “other data” usually is comprised of click-through rates for other advertisers on that keyword. The problem is, if it’s a brand that doesn’t get searched, there won’t be any Click Through Rate (CTR) history — therefore, Quality Scores can be poor in the beginning, until history has been established.

How should I evaluate keyword Quality Score in my campaigns?

If you’re in a hurry, you can always just eyeball the data. I like to use AdWords Editor to view Quality Score for AdWords. It’s not only easy to see, but it’s easy to sort at the campaign or account level. In both AdWords and adCenter, you can also eyeball Quality Score in the online user interface.

Quality Score data using the AdWords Editor

If you want a more detailed analysis, you can export your keyword list to Excel, and then count or add up the number of keywords for each Quality Score. Then calculate what percentage of your keywords have good or poor Quality Scores.

If most of your keywords have a Quality Score of 7 or higher, you’re in great shape. But if most of them are in the 2 to 3 range, you have some work to do. Remember, keywords with low Quality Scores require significantly higher bids to appear in good positions in the auction, and even very high bids often don’t override a low Quality Score.

How can I fix bad Quality Scores?

If you find that you’ve acquired low Quality Scores, don’t panic. Here’s an easy method for making improvements.

Step 1: Segment keywords by Quality Score. Again, AdWords Editor is ideal for this task. I like to sort and/or filter for Quality Scores of 5 or worse. These are the terms you’ll need to focus on.

Step 2: Pause any keywords with 50 or more clicks and no conversions. Forget about relevance at this point. If a keyword has gotten 50 clicks and not a single one has converted, the term isn’t relevant to your visitors. Time to pause them and move on.

Step 3: Keywords with a good cost per conversion should be left alone. That’s right: Quality Score isn’t everything. It’s not unusual to have keywords with Quality Scores of 3 or 4 that convert like crazy at a good cost. Leave them alone! It’s up to you to determine what a good cost per conversion is, since this will vary depending on your business goals. If you haven’t established a cost per conversion goal, a helpful rule of thumb is to just look at your average cost per conversion for the PPC engine as a whole and use that as a benchmark. Anything that’s better than average is a good cost per conversion.

Step 4: Identify keywords that are converting, but at a less than ideal cost. This is where the real work begins. One way to improve cost per conversion is to improve Quality Score, and there are several ways to do so:

  • Change your ad copy. Make sure that your ad copy is highly relevant to the keywords in the ad group. Include the keywords in the ad if at all possible.
  • Look at your landing page. Although landing page quality is not the key driver of Quality Score, it does have an effect on it. Does the landing page fulfill the promise you’re making in your keywords and ad copy? If not, is there a better landing page you could use?
  • Split out low-Quality Score / high-conversion keywords into their own ad groups. This will enable you to quickly test different ad copy to see if you can improve Quality Score and cost per conversion. It also gives you an easy way to pause everything if your efforts don’t work out.

The Bottom Line

If you follow PPC best practices, you should be rewarded with good Quality Scores. If not, don’t lose hope. Keep testing and refining, and you might just turn a poor keyword into a great one!

For more about Quality Score, check out PPC Hero’s Ultimate Guide to AdWords Quality Score (http://www.ppchero.com/ultimate-guide-to-adwords-quality-score/) for everything you need to know about Quality Score.


Melissa Mackey
Melissa Mackey
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  1. Heather July 18, 2012 Reply

    EVERY word you write on your blog is a keyword.(With the exiptecon of stop words such as the, a, an, etc.)It just depends how relevant google’s algorithm thinks your keyword is to the topic.If you write a post about red cars and then mention a funny story where the words funny looking old man come up, you could end up getting hits from searchers typing in funny looking old man . But only if no other page is more relevant.

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