Understanding and Improving Quality Score


Google Adwords is a monster with so many options that you can easily get information overload often leading to paralysis by analysis.

This post focus on probably the most important measurement on how well your Google Adwords are optimised.

Get this right and you will have understand some very important elements of how to optimise Google Adwords. A skill you can use again and again.

Goals of This Post

  • Save you money
  • Improve you Google Adwords skills
  • Get more quality leads

Quality Score, one of the most important aspect of Google Adwords is often ignored or unknown to many users.


While Quality Score is relatively simple to grasp as a concept, it is a little more complicated in practice.

The Opportunity.

Originally Adwords was based on a auction-based model. Highest bidder’s ad would appear higher and ultimately get more clicks. In 2005 Google introduced the Quality Score, it changed everything.

No longer could search results be flooded with irrelevant ads of those with massive budgets. Many advertisers were very upset, but a unique opportunity arose for those with smaller budgets and the inclination to put in a little hard work — perhaps people like you. With the refinement of the Quality Score algorithm there has never been a better opportunity for those advertisers with a quality product or service and a little time to try to understand Quality Score to really reap the rewards.

Quality Score is extremely important because it can make or break your campaign (and in some cases, your business). Quality Score determines how much you pay for your advertising on Google and how much exposure you get. You would not place a TV or magazine ad without knowing how much you have to pay or how much exposure you would get, would you? Search Engine Journal shares some interesting data on the inverse relationship between Quality Score and cost per click (CPC).

As you can see, the higher your Quality Score, the lower the price you pay per click. Also, as you will see below, the higher your Quality Score the more exposure you will get as Adwords uses Quality Score to determine what ads are placed in the coveted top spots search results above the organic search results.


Types of Quality Score And What They Impact.

According to Google, there are two “types” of Quality Scores. The Adwords help documentation goes into a little more detail, but the guys over on PPC Hero pretty much nailed it in their Quality Score Handbook (Essential reading by the way) when they said:

Search Network Quality Score is different from Content Network Quality Score. Also there are different Quality Scores for setting minimum bids and ranking ads for the Content Network, Quality Score and the maximum cost-per-click determine the ad rank on content pages. For search, Quality Score, along with maximum CPC, determines ad rank and determines promotion to top of page.

The Google & Search Network Variations/Exceptions.

There are slight variations to the Quality Score formula when it affects ad position and first page bids:

  • For calculating a keyword-targeted ad’s position, your landing page quality is not a factor. Also, when calculating ad position on a Search Network placement, Quality Score considers the click through rate (CTR) on that particular placement in addition to the CTR on Google.
  • For calculating first page bid, Quality Score does not consider the matched ad or search query, since this estimate appears as a metric in your account and does not vary per search query.
  • CTR on Google network, CTR on Google Network impacts QS on the Google Network, not on Google.

The Content Network Variations/Exceptions.

The Quality Score for calculating an ad’s eligibility to appear on a particular content site, as well as the ad’s position on that site, consists of the following factors:

  • The quality of your landing page
  • The historical CTR of the ad on this and similar sites

The Quality Score for determining if a placement-targeted ad will appear on a particular site depends on your campaign’s bidding option.

If your campaign uses cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) bidding, Quality Score is based on:

  • The quality of your landing page

If your campaign uses CPC bidding, Quality Score is based on:

  • The historical CTR of the ad on this and similar sites
  • The quality of your landing page


Now that you know as much as Google is prepared to share about Quality Score, how it is calculated, and roughly how much weight is given to each factor, what factors can you as an advertiser realistically influence? As it happens, quite a lot! Let’s go into each of the major factors and look at what we can improve.

Improving Your Quality Score for the Search Network

The CTR and historical CTR of the keyword and the matched ad on Google

The CTR of your ad/keyword pair is by far the largest factor in determining Quality Score. The important thing to remember is that the CTR is normalized to your position so your CTR is judged good or bad for Quality Score reasons based on the performance of other ads currently and historically in this position.

Bidding more to move up to the number one position will more than likely improve your CTR, but it will rarely do you any good if your ad does not get a better Quality Score than other ads have received in that position in the past. The goal here is to make your ad so relevant and enticing that the searcher just has on click on it.

TIP: Here is an extremely important article showing the importance of CTR when determining quality score and reinforces where you, as an advertiser, should be focusing your efforts.

Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account

Account history is a tough one and is subject to a lot of speculation. Advertisers with older accounts which have performed well in the past have a huge advantage over advertisers with new accounts. It can take anywhere from 1 week to 4 months to “shake off” a “bad history.”

This is also what some people refer to as the account level Quality Score. It is not so much a type of Quality Score as it is a factor. Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done here with a new account apart from making sure that you have a solid understanding of the factors.

If you have an old account with a poor historical Quality Score, you might feel tempted to create a new account to counteract this. This is against AdWords’ policy. It is also important to note that the AdWords system treats an edited ad like it’s brand new and has no performance history. According to the FAQ here:

Ad position is partly determined by an ad’s relevance to the search query as well as its historical performance on Google. Editing your ad, therefore, can affect its position.

The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group

A relatively new addition to the QS family, historical CTR of the display URL in the ad group is an easy one to get right. Make sure you initially split test the hell out of your ads/display URL and make sure you stick with the one that drives the highest CTR. Adding keywords to the subdomain and subdirectory of display URL can give massive improvements.

The quality of your landing page

This is another subjective topic. However (and this is very important), Google has hired thousands of what are called “Ads Quality Raters.” These are actual humans outsourced by Google who sit at home and rate your ads and the quality of the pages those ads go to. To improve on this factor, it is important to pay very close attention to the Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines here.

Remember, you should ensure your landing page is capable of passing a human check. Make sure it follows the rules and never forget that once it is reviewed, it will be reviewed again.

The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group

You have heard it many times before. Make sure your base keyword is in the ad title, ad text and display URL. Easy peasy, even for the tiny fraction of weight it carries.

The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query

This one is a little trickier. Again, attack your negative keyword research aggressively — consider it an essential daily task.

Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown

This factor is a relatively new addition to the Quality Score algorithm. The important takeaway is not that blanket geo-targeting is the right way to go, but that you should pay attention to the geographic areas that are performing poorly and consider creating a dedicated campaign or adgroup for this area or remove it completely. Run an Adwords Geographic Performance report to see where you could improve. Consider using local colloquialisms in your ad text for those specific areas to help improve performance.

Other relevance factors

While there is no way to know for sure what all potential factors are, some common sense can be applied here. The first thing to work on is your bounce rate, or more specifically “back-bounce-rate.” Yes, you read that right. Google has mentioned throughout the years that if a visitor clicks your ad and immediately hits the back button, this is an indication that the page was not relevant.

We also have anecdotal evidence that adding your root or base keyword to your landing page title tag and the other keywords in the adgroup around your copy improves Quality Score marginally. If you have the time, it would be ideal to create a landing page for each individual keyword. When this is not possible, a landing page dedicated to each adgroup usually does the trick.

Improving Quality Score For Content Network

There is a lot of crossover in the areas where you can improve your Quality Score on the search and content networks. Let us look at the factors we can influence to improve Quality Score on the content network. In most cases these are a little harder to influence and take a lot more time and resources, but they are worth the effort if you want to succeed on the content network.

The ad’s past performance on this and similar sites

You can do a little or a lot with this one — from site and site section targeting all the way up to joining the community (if it is a forum for example) to get to know the users of the site and what makes them tick. As a member of the site, what ads or ad text would you find most relevant?

Another tip is to try image ads and compare their performance against your text ads for each site (if the site accepts image ads). Many advertisers still do not use image ads, so there is a huge opportunity to jump straight to the top of the pile.

The relevance of the ads and keywords in the adgroup to the site

Consider using Google Ad Planner to get the demographics of the site, and target your ad copy to those demographics. Also have a look at what other Adsense ads are showing on the site and make note of ads that are consistently displayed over time. In general, those ads are what Google finds most relevant to that site (at the time). If you can not beat them, join them.

The historical CTR of the ad on this and similar sites

Again, use Google AdPlanner to see the “Other sites Visited” section of the site you are targeting. Run a site targeted campaign on some of the lower trafficked related sites. This will improve your “related performance” on similar sites. It might be a lot of effort but not only will you improve overall content network performance, but you will gain significant long tail content network leads or sales.

SECTION IIII: Troubleshooting Quality Score

There are numerous things that can cause a sudden drop in Quality Score or a slower, more gradual decrease. Here are some of the most common Quality Score problems and what you can (or cannot) do about them.

Sudden 1/10 Quality Score on all (or most) Keywords & Huge First Page Bid Estimates

This is an extremely common problem and is characterized by an advertiser noticing a very sudden drop in traffic from Adwords. In a lot of cases, your search network traffic stops first and is followed shortly by your content network traffic. This unfortunately is known as a “Google Slap” and occurs when a review has taken place on your account and you are no longer deemed to be complying with the outlandishly opaque landing page and site quality guidelines.

Cause: You are linking or deemed to be linking to a bridge page, a get rich quick scheme, an affiliate page that is only purpose is to redirect traffic to another domain, an affiliate site that provides no added value, a data collection site (a site that collects users’ email addresses or other info in exchange for a free product / whitepaper, etc.), a “poor quality” comparison shopping site, an arbitrage site, or a scam site.

Solution: Despite what you think about your own site, Google, the Ads Quality Raters, and the QS Algorithm/Bot feel differently. They more than likely feel your site falls into one of these categories. In this case, there is very little that you can do. If your site falls into the “scam site” category, expect to be banned permanently or investigated by authorities.

If you feel that your site absolutely does not fall into any of the categories, request a quick look over of your site on the Adwords Help Forum and then request a manual review by contacting Google here. Note that it should be a 100% false positive if you are to get this reversed so be completely sure that your site does not even fall remotely into one of those categories. Real people will look at and inspect your account.

One High Volume Keyword has a Quality Score Of 2-4

This problem happens when a specific high volume keyword, usually a single word or two-word phrase, slowly drops its Quality Score and starts costing more. Because these keywords are usually high volume, they can generate a lot of traffic, and a low Quality Score on these keywords can cause a significant drop-off in exposure and sales.

Cause: High volume and low CTR.

Solution: Add negative keywords to the campaign, use exact match, remove the keyword (be careful as this can impact an adgroup “theme” on the content network) or place the keyword in its own ad group and optimize the ad copy and display URL aggressively.

Very High (Even 10/10) Quality Score but a Huge First Page Bid Estimate

Unfortunately, this is not a problem with your Quality Score. When it comes to certain keywords, there are quite literally hundreds of advertisers. Assume all advertisers also have a 10/10 Quality Score. What determines which ads show? That is right, good old fashioned bid price.

Cause: High volume of advertisers.

Solution: Bid higher and use the backend to improve ROI and increase lifetime customer value (LTV) so you can afford to bid higher.

In Conclusion

Adwords Quality Score is still a closely guarded secret, as is Google’s organic search algorithm. While it may not be possible to figure out every factor, just like the organic search ranking factors, it is possible to extract enough meaning to understand them and make them work for you. Those of you who understand Quality Score will be in a far better position to get more from your AdWords advertising spend than those who do not.

Please contact us if you are interested in more quality leads at a lower acquisition cost per quality lead.


About Jorgen Poulsen

The Catalyst Partnership provides cost effective Social Media Marketing solutions to small and medium-sized businesses. Social Media Marketing is one of today's most successful and cost effective online marketing strategies and is being embraced by millions of companies from Fortune 100 to small companies. Please contact us to discuss how we can help you implement a Social Media Marketing strategy.
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2 Responses to Understanding and Improving Quality Score

  1. These are excellent points. It’s amazing how many people still use their homepage as a landing page. Thus , greatly devaluing their quality score, raising their CPC, etc.

    • I think it is even sadder that people who manage their own Google Adwords for the most part have little clue about the complexity and opportunities within Google Adwords. I have yet to see self-managed Google Adwords that I can not improve significantly. Good for Google I guess.

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