Keyword Quality Scores:
AVOIDING THE OPTIMIZATION “BRIDGE TO NOWHERE”
The term “quality score” is probably the most polarizing one in the realm of pay-per-click advertising.
Some practitioners are fixated on boosting quality scores to lower CPCs and raise CTRs. But taking this path can often seem as if it’s an optimization “bridge to nowhere.” Given that quality scores are based on a “black box” algorithm, raising those scores isn’t easy
Other practitioners recognize that black box for what it is and take a contrary view. Why, the thinking goes, optimize against an unknown formula? Quality scores may be good directional data points, but aren’t worth the time and resources for optimization initiatives.
I can understand that second point of view, but overall, I don’t think you can ignore quality scores. There is, of course, no guarantee that optimization will work l, but that black box is actually more of a grey box. We do have some insights into how Google calculates quality scores – and can use these insights to improve campaign performance.
Reviewing quality scores: How Google auctions keywords
This example will explain how I approach quality scores. This distribution shows total clicks and distinct count of keywords from a set of anonymous SearchForce data.
As you can see, most of the keywords had a quality score of 3 or 4 and most of the clicks came from keywords with those scores. Does this provide any useful information? Yes, because we know that CTR itself is one of the most prominent attributes for determining this score.
Yes, there are plenty of other factors that impact a specific search query (landing page quality, account history, thematic ad groups, etc.), but Google tells us that CTR is among the most important factors.
To see how this is important, let’s look at how the Google auction actually works. (Wired has an excellent article on the topic of “Googlenomics” if you’d like to dig into this topic in more detail).
If quality scores directly impact the price you pay to clear an auction for a keyword – and CTR represents a leading indicator of relevance – then we should see some relationship between CTRs, quality scores, and the average price paid per click.
So here’s another look at that same data from the chart above, this time looking at average CPC and CTR by quality score.
Here we see a strong relationship. As quality scores improve, CPCs decline and CTRs increase.
If you’re cheap like me, this matters. Most advertisers prefer to clear an auction at the lowest CPC possible, without sacrificing volume I realize there are plenty of other metrics that impact campaign success but this chart shows it’s pretty clear that it’s possible to pay less and get more clicks.
Improving quality scores isn’t something you can accomplish overnight, but ignoring quality scores entirely? That’s truly an optimization “bridge to nowhere.”