A few weeks ago, Google clarified one of the many mysteries of the role landing pages play in the calculation of quality score, with the announcement that site quality policy violations would now be reported via a new message in the status column in the AdWords keywords report.
Google wants anyone who clicks on a paid search ad to be treated well before and after their click. Anything which they believe could reduce the quality of that experience is considered grounds for lowering your quality score. By doing this they hope to reduce the number of people who see your ads, the prominence they achieve on result pages, and make a few bucks by charging you a ‘bad advertiser’ tax.
Historically, all types of ‘bad experience’ issues were designated as ‘poor landing page quality’ even if the word ‘landing page’ was just being used as a code word for all kinds of potential post-click issues. These included technical issues about your website, user experience issues (some of which are on the landing page) plus any concerns they might have had about your business model or even the market or industry in which you do business.
The result was when your landing page quality was listed as ‘poor’ it was very hard to know why or what to do about it.
The recent change makes things much clearer. AdWords now separates ‘Policy’ issues from ‘Experience’ issues, in terms of how and where they’re documented and the impact they have on your account and quality score. This is a big improvement.
Any violation of the AdWords ‘landing page and site policy guidelines’ now results in your entire site in being suspended from AdWords, a fact that will be clearly marked next to each keyword in your AdWords account.
These guidelines cover all the bad stuff – malware, phishing, counterfeit goods, etc. – as well as the many more subjective topics covered in both the ‘software principles‘ and ‘webmaster guidelines‘.
This leaves landing page qualty to focus only on items that might make a user experience poor, but are not strictly against any of the three lists of rules that are considered ‘policy’. This includes things like load time, about-us and privacy-policy pages, the presence of original content and limitations on the number of ads.
These or other experience problems now result in a landing page rating of ‘poor’ in the recently-named ‘keyword diagnosis’ thought bubble that appears in AdWords. A poor landing page rating will depress quality scores, often dramatically.
I assume (haven’t been able to explicitly confirm this) that it’s also still true that poor landing pages can impact your quality scores beyond for just the keywords that are sending traffic to those pages. In other words, landing pages with a ‘poor’ rating really need to get fixed as soon as possible because it can be dragging down scores across your entire account.
Not Clear Yet
Separating policy issues from experience issues is very helpful. Taking the dramatic action of suspending all keywords for policy violations makes it clear when there is something wrong and so we can assume if keywords are running that there are no policy violations. That is a long list of problems to be able to not worry about.
There remains a lot of room for improvement and clarity to the lists on both sides. The bad stuff in the site policy guidelines are clear and anyone doing anything that even looks like those activities should be banned. On the other hand, the webmaster guidelines are full of material that ranges from vauge and subjective to just plain silly.
On the landing page experience side, we have clarity about page-load speed (don’t be in the bottom 1/3 of sites in your area, see Webmaster Tools for speed info) but a lot of the other suggestions for a high quality landing page are good guidelines but lack sufficient clarity. Many people get ding’d for these things they can’t put their finger one, and would appreciate a lot more detail and clear examples of what is acceptible and what is not.
Another Great Change
It’s good to see Google making changes like the isolation of site policy. The other helpful and related change they’ve made is the new adwords support phone numbers for all advertisers. In theory this gives people who get penalized for either site policy or user experience a place to go for answers when either mistakes are made or the root problem is unclear.
Quality Score in High Resolution
Craig has put together the definative book that will help you to undertstand and improve your quality scores. This is a must read book for anyone concerned about their AdWords’s performance.”
– Brad Geddes, Certified Knowledge