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Getting to Grips with the AdWords Quality Score

April 23, 2008
Today’s guest article is written by Dave Collins, from UK-based SharewarePromotions Ltd.  SharewarePromotions has been working in online marketing, SEO, PPC, web analytics and more since 1997. That longevity in the space really shines through in Dave’s article, which I really liked because it shows a similar philosophy to that of High Rankings (i.e., create good stuff and good stuff will happen!).
Without further ado, here’s Dave! – Jill

++Getting to Grips with the AdWords Quality Score++

When disinformation and confusion are combined with important concepts, the results can be disastrous. Most people working with Google AdWords have heard of "quality score," yet few really understand what it is, how it works or how to work with it. Contrary to what you may think, quality score is a simple concept of only reasonable importance, and to some extent you can control it and work it to your advantage.

If you take a look at Google's definition of quality score, you'll see that it is a "dynamic variable assigned to each keyword" that "influences ad position" and "partly determines your keywords' minimum bids." Not too much in the way of clarity there.

The reality of the quality score is actually quite simple, and in many ways is similar to the basic concept of Google's much-discussed PageRank. Essentially, it's a measure of trust – difficult (but not impossible) to manipulate – and it causes far too many people to run around in circles chasing their tails.

Let's consider how your ads are placed by the AdWords system. Google claims that this is down to a combination of your bid, CTR and quality score. In reality this also includes the bids, CTR and quality score of your competition.

The big question is, should you care? And if so, to what extent?

The answer is simple. As with most areas in life, there are two ways to excel at AdWords – brains or brawn. In other words, you can achieve higher rankings in AdWords either by impressing Google or by paying for it. And with a good quality score you can achieve a better average position while spending less money, as confirmed by Google itself.

So what can you do about it?

First of all, you need to look at your ads through the eyes of the people searching for your keywords. You have to understand what they are looking for, and what they hope to find. Then you need to provide it.

If you do so, Google will see that the people clicking on your ads remain on your site, because they've found what they are looking for, and your quality score will improve. Remember that even though this information isn't shown in your account, Google can see exactly how long people remain there after clicking on your ad, and sometimes it can see what they do next.

This is an extremely important concept, because Google has 3 main priorities – the needs of their searchers, those of their advertisers and of course their own profit. Keep the searchers and advertisers happy and the bank balance will look after itself.

Assuming that the searchers and advertisers are reasonably intelligent, targeted keywords and ads are clearly the way to go. In other words, give people what they're looking for – not just in terms of keywords, but also in the ads and the content of the landing pages.

It's also important not to make any incorrect assumptions along the way. One common mistake is to assume that a lower CTR means a lower quality score. By way of an example, consider the company selling a photo editor application for Windows. Its strategy might include mentioning Windows in the ad, resulting in fewer clicks from users with non-supported operating systems. The result? A lower CTR, resulting in saved money and correctly targeted visitors to the website.

The bottom line is that quality score is all about trust. If Google trusts you, they’ll know that your ads will provide their searchers with what they're looking for, and will therefore display your ads higher.

Balance, however, is vital, and it's important not to obsess over your quality score. Despite the fact that I myself spend about half my working hours handling clients' AdWords accounts, I hardly ever look at Google's quality scores.

If you give advertisers what they're looking for, you, your customers and Google will all enjoy a long, symbiotic and fruitful relationship!

Dave Collins
SharewarePromotions Ltd

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 Rebekah Wortman said:
Great article. The only problem with understanding how Google works is convincing your clients that their website isn't set up well for their prospects! It is hard convincing clients that no matter how much money they spend on PPC, they won't get the results they want if their sites aren't informative and set up for conversion. Breaking through corporate barriers is such a pain, especially when you are dealing with less than cooperative "web developers" who are more concerned with trying to make you look like you don't know what you are talking about than explaining to their clients why the site they have paid an arm and a leg for isn't performing :) Thanks for the great article!