Google Quality Score Gains More Importance

Google is again modifying both the calculation and impact of their ‘Quality Score’ metric. As with most Google changes, the stated goal is improving search quality and user experience. The coincidental result is that Google will make more money.

There are two changes this time:

  • Quality score will now be ‘position adjusted’ to take into account the location of the text-ad when the click-through occurs. This makes it ‘more accurate’. Makes me wonder why this didn’t happen a long time ago. This increases the value of extensive text-ad testing.
  • Quality score can now cause an ad to move above another ad it would normally rank below IF this jump pushes the ad to the top of the page (rather than the right edge). (That’s a bad quick summary, read the Google announce for the details.)

You can read some worthwhile thoughts here and here and here or here or here.

Beyond these details what strikes me is how important quality score has become to paid search management and results.

Quality score drives bid requirements, quality score drives ad position, quality score drives impression share, and now quality score drives the chance to leapfrog your way to the top center of search result pages.

What Do We Know About Quality Score?

Although quality score plays a central role in how your money is spent and made in Google Adwords, it is officially a ‘secret formula’.

Like PageRank on the SEO side, Google makes only vague pronouncements while pundits and practitioners share theories and recommendation endlessly – but nobody can tell you definitively how to maximize your quality score.

It still isn’t even that easy to see your quality score, although it is getting easier. Google recently changed the way they display quality score – giving it an integer value – but it’s still under a ‘work for it’ pop-up in the Adwords interface. On the positive front, they have finally added quality score to the API (thank you!) so third-party tools can begin to make use of it.

But also like PageRank the scores tend to clump around certain values, and the distinctions between close numbers aren’t obvious.

Also, and this is just a hunch, I’d bet nearly anything Google doesn’t maintain or use the number as an integer. So two keywords from two different bidders that both show a QS of ‘7’ might in fact be one with a 7.0001 and another with a 7.9998.

Four Conclusions

  1. Google has an awesome business. They sell a product with secret specifications which are subject to change, and charge whatever they want without even telling anyone why or how. Nobody but the Mafia selling protection services to local merchants ever got away with this before.
  2. Advertisers have to really play the ‘chase the quality score ghost’ game. Obsess about CTR’s and align as many of the other known factors as possible. Live with the fact that you’ll waste time trying to please the QS algorithm because there’s no published list for how to get into quality-score-heaven.
  3. Advertisers should continue to clammor for more openness from Google as to what counts, how much, when, and how we’re charged accordingly. Neither #1 or #2 should be true.
  4. I need to spend a lot more time thinking and writing about Quality Score. It’s a big deal.


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