Advanced Guide To Improving Your AdWords Quality Score

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In order to run a successful paid search campaign its massively important to have a solid understanding of the Quality Score metric. Although it pains PPC advertisers everywhere, it is actually a hugely useful barometer to measure your success. Love don’t loathe it – we do!

Let’s dive right in.

What Is Quality Score & Why Does It Matter?

Quality score is Google’s grade assigned to the quality and relevance of both your ads and keywords – it determines your CPC (cost per click) and multiplied by your maximum bid to determine your ad rank in the ad auction process.

Your quality score depends on 3 main factors:

Expected Click-Through Rate (CTR): When someone types in a keyword in Google – how likely is someone to click your ad?

Ad Relevance: Does the ad that you intend to serve make sense to appear when someone searches for a particular keyword?

Landing Page Experience: Does the content and offer on the landing page correspond to what the ad is suggesting?

And why is it important to achieve a high Quality Score I hear you ask?

Well, it’s simple – money. Your Quality Score will affect how your ads perform and how much you pay for each click. A better performing, optimised AdWords account means lower CPA and increased profitability – more revenue, better ROI.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Quality Score represents the relevance of your ads to a user’s search query – relevant ads to their queries ensures a better customer experience and ensures Google stays as the number one search engine.

But who cares about why it benefits Google.

From your point of view it determines whether a keyword is even eligible to enter an auction and, therefore, whether your ad will appear. Probably the most important point; Quality Score, along with CPC bid, determines ad rank. So, if you have a smaller ad budget a high QS is paramount.

The ad rank formula for the Google Search Network is:

Ad Rank = CPC bid × Quality Score

With this in mind – a thoroughly optimised account can see smaller advertisers appear in top ad positions and probably for a lower bid.
Broadly speaking, the higher your Quality Score, the lower your cost per conversion.

If your Quality Score is low, your ad rank will be low, likely meaning less traffic to your site and a lower ROI.

How To Find Your Quality Score

You can find your Quality Score by looking within the Keywords tab in your AdWords account.

There are a few ways to check your Quality Score:

1) Run a keyword diagnosis:
– Click the Campaigns tab at the top.
– Select the Keywords tab.
– Click the white speech bubble next to any keyword’s status to see details about that keyword’s Quality Score. You’ll be able to see ratings for expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience.

2) Enable Quality score columns:
– Click the Campaigns tab at the top.
– Select the Keywords tab.
– Click the Columns drop-down menu in the toolbar above the statistics table.
– Select Modify columns.
– Select Quality Score.
– Click Apply

To see the current quality score and its component statuses, choose any of the following to add to your statistics table:
– Qual. Score
– Landing Page Exper.
– Ad Relevance
– Exp. CTR

To see past quality score and component stats, segment by day and choose any of the following to add to your statistics table:
– Qual. Score (hist.)
– Landing Page Exper. (hist.)
– Ad Relevance (hist.)
– Exp. CTR

What does it mean if I am seeing a “Rarely shown due to low quality score” error?

The presence of this error means your quality score is at a two out of 10 or less – so there is plenty of room for improvement. In this scenario, ads associated with the low quality score keywords will either not be shown at all or you will have to pay a much higher CPC if they are shown.

When this warning appears, Google is basically saying that it’s prioritizing other ads over yours because yours is not relevant to searchers—lower relevance means fewer clicks, which means less revenue for Google.

So, now you know what Quality Score actually is, what influences it, and why it is important – let’s discuss how we can improve it.

How To Improve Your Quality Score

We need to consider the key factors in determining your Quality Score – individually and collectively. So, this may mean making adjustments to you keywords, ads and/or website.

It all begins with keywords:

Your chosen keywords are the foundation of all your paid search activity. If your research is poor, the downstream effects will be huge.

Use Google Analytics to find the actual words and phrases that actual site visitors are using to find the products/services that you offer. It will also provide you with an accurate picture of what keywords are driving the most traffic and conversions.

Once you have done this you can use free or paid tools to provide you with keyword suggestions to add to your initial campaign. Remember to also consider long-tail keywords, as these can bring significant traffic that is highly targeted.

Keep those ad groups tight:

You need to organize your keywords into effective groups. One of the keys to high Quality Scores is high relevancy between search query and your ad. All the keywords in an ad group should a high level of meaning.

Too many broad ad groups can lower your Quality Score – establish smaller, tighter ad groups. With targeted ad groups, you will reach a specific audience and be able to deliver a laser focused ad – this will help improve CTR and naturally you’ll get a pat on the back for ad relevance.

For example, let’s look at an online sports equipment retailer’s keywords.

It’s obviously not sensible to chuck in all your keywords into one group and hope to attract those searching for tennis rackets with a generalised message about sports equipment. Equally, you it can be very time consuming to produce ad copy and landing pages for each type of racket or club.

The best solution is to group your keywords by theme, and then segment these groups into sub-groups etc. You create a hierarchy of small, manageable keyword groups. Now you can write a specific ad, or set of ads to test, and create landing page for each group.

Google recommends that you use 15-20 keywords per ad group

I know, crazy, right? That’s not gonna help our Quality Score. Why? Because it’s difficult to run an ad that’s very (noticed I said ‘very’) relevant to 15-20 keywords.

Most PPC experts recommend having 1 to 10 keywords per ad group. That might seem a tad extreme, but it’ll give you that rise in Quality Score that you need. It is also a big argument for ‘Sing Keyword Ad Groups’ – but we’ll leave that for another day.

Implement negative keywords

If you’re not familiar with negative keywords, they’re terms you include in your ad group or campaign if you do not want your ad to show. In other words they are the anti-keyword, or the Joker to the keyword Batman – you get the idea.

Including these will help improve your CTR as those that aren’t in your target market will not see your ad. And as we know a high CTR leads to a higher Quality Score.

At campaign level, you add negative keywords that you never want traffic for, most of your negative keywords will be placed here. However, if you are using single keyword ad groups you may wish to place negative keywords at ad group level i.e. to eliminate overlap.

Use expanded text ads

Expanded text ads allow you to run ads with longer copy – 50% more characters that traditional AdWords ads.

These are perfect for targeting long-tail keywords as this allows you to improve your ad relevance, which affect your quality score and could also improve your CTR.

In addition to being able to fit in the longtail keyword within your ad copy, you can also fit in benefits and a call-to-action. Do it!

With expanded text ads, you have 140 characters of ad space—a big leap from the former 25-35-35 format.

Add in those ad extensions

Focusing on improving CTRs again, using ad extensions can contribute towards this. Ad extensions deliver elements of information about you offering easily and quickly – naturally, if the additional information is helpful it is more likely they will click your ad.

Bit of a ‘catch 22’ but Quality Score is also a factor in determining if your ads will actually show extensions. If you want to take advantage of extensions like sitelinks to help your CTR you’ll need to offer a competitive bid and good Quality Score. This is a great example that you can’t just focus on one area, but need ensure that you have a solid relationship across all elements.

Here is an overview of the ad extensions that you can use to improve CTRs and by default your Quality Score:

Sitelinks: These are links to other areas of your site that searchers may find useful. It is best to use other landing pages that you have, instead of website pages.

Location: Display your address directly beneath your ad, great for location targeted campaigns.

Call: Searchers can call you directly from the search results page and on mobile devices, they can just click the ‘Call’ icon to place the call – this counts as a click.

Callout: Add an extra line of copy that highlights the benefits or features of your business. Not clickable, but does reinforce your message and offering.

Structured snippet: These allow you to add supplementary information about your products or services based on a list predetermined by you.

Price: Showcase the prices of your products or services – only visible on mobile devices, but can be very effective if you’re offering low or promotional prices.

Ad extensions can be added at either the account, campaign, or ad group level:

Location and call extensions should be added at the account level, unless you have different locations or numbers, in which case they should be added to the associated campaigns.

Sitelinks, callouts, and snippets should be added at the campaign level, and in some cases at the ad groups level. While you don’t necessarily need different ones for each ad group, you can provide the extensions for sets of similar ad groups.

Say no to dynamic keyword insertion

What is this awesome sounding feature? It has ‘dynamic’ in the title – it must be good! Well, it isn’t, for your quality score anyway.

It is a feature of Google AdWords that allows you to insert the user’s exact search term anywhere into your ad copy. It is very convenient, but you risk creating ads with irrelevant messaging – a big no-no when you are trying to improve your quality score.

Not to mention that it can lead to poor ad messaging and that isn’t appealing to any prospective customers – it’s best to know what will appear in your ad copy.

If you use single keyword ad groups, then it virtually eliminates the need for Dynamic Keyword Insertion in the first place.

Use your branded keywords

Even if you rank well organically for your branded terms, it can be a real opportunity to still bid on these terms. Your combined CTR will be higher if both paid and organic search results are showing.

Branded ads will also achieve the highest CTRs across your entire account – a big win for quality scores across the account.

As it is your brand and you can create relevant ads and landing pages easily, it is very likely that you will achieve a quality score of 7 or above. Also, those searching for your brand are most certainly high-intent, so more than likely to click on your ad – another win for your CTR.

Create high-quality ads

Ad relevance is one of the three factors communicated by Google that explicitly impact your Quality Score. A well written ad will not only be relevant to your target keyword, but also to your prospective landing page. In addition, the CTR of your ad and historical account performance have an impact on your Quality Score.

A well-optimised ad will include copy that is closely tailored to your keywords, reflect the offer to be seen on the landing page and include a solid call to action.

Again, this goes back to tight ad groups – delivering an ad about ‘red shoes’ is not as relevant as delivering an ad about ‘red high-heels’, when the keyword searched was ‘red high heels’.

Deliver an amazing landing page experience

After a prospective customer clicks on one of your highly relevant ads, they will take the next step in the paid search journey – the landing page – where, in most cases, great traffic goes to die!

But not in your case – because your landing pages communicate the key messages displayed in your ad, deliver a fantastic user experience and have super-fast loading times!

That is what you need to deliver to push that Quality Score up a few more points!

It is also worth bearing in mind that the lid was recently lifted on how landing pages influence Quality Scores; it turns out that there is no sliding scale of relevance but rather a binary relevant/not-relevant calculation – so either you’ve got it right, or very wrong.

Let’s breakdown improving the landing page experience in to further detail:

Content

Google takes into consideration the relevancy of your landing page when calculating your Quality Score – so it is ensuring the content on the page matches what your ad has promised and is in line with what the user expects.

As a starting point, make sure you use your keywords in the title tag, meta description, and H-tags. Ensure your keywords are within the body of your content. Not surprisingly, you will have to use much of the same on-page SEO techniques that you would use for optimising your website pages.

We suggest a customised landing page for each of your ad groups, by doing this you ensure your messaging is consistent from ad to landing page. This not only increases your quality score, but will provide an excellent boost to your conversion rate as well.

User Experience

Your landing pages should be visually appealing, easy to use and navigate.

If visitors to the page leave quickly, with minimal interact or without converting – in other words they ‘bounce’ – Google will assume that that the content is not relevant (that word again). This will impact your quality score negatively.

Some of the key elements to focus on are:
– The offer presented on your landing page should be the same as what was presented in your ad
– Your company details should be clearly displayed in order to establish trust
– Your landing page should be responsive, so it is easily viewed on both desktop and mobile devices

Page Speed

Landing page loading times have become a huge consideration in calculation of Quality Score. I am sure you have clicked an ad and it took far too long to load.

“The average bounce rate for pages loading within 2 seconds is 9%, bounce rate soars to 38% by the time it hits 5 seconds!”

Attention spans and patience are continuously decreasing, fast loading times are crucial for great user experience—which means they’re also crucial for a good quality score.

A great starting point to reducing load times is to visit Webmaster Tools, Page Speed Insights and GTMetrix – these are great tools give you an indication of not only how fast you page is loading, but also the contributing factors that are slowing it down alongside what actions to take.

As a brief overview, some of the factors that contribute to longer load times are:

– Meta refreshes
– Slow redirects
– Multiple redirects
– Interstitial pages
– Slow server
– Large page size

Tools such as Unbounce, Instapage and Leadpages are great. They are landing page builders that allow you to create awesome looking landing pages that are quick, light and mobile optimised out of the box.

Quality Score Misconceptions

Here are a handful of misconceptions that you need to be aware of:

Changing your keyword match types alters your Quality Score

Google measures Quality Score without considering keyword match type, if you have a broad, phrase and exact match of the same keyword in your account, all three will have the same Quality Score.

Pausing ads or keywords negatively affects Quality Score

Pausing ads or keywords doesn’t affect Quality Score, if they aren’t active they are not entering the auction or being shown, there is not a Quality Score to accrue.

Higher positions benefit your Quality Score

Quality Score is actually adjusted to compensate for ad position differences. Google understands that higher positions are more likely to generate a higher CTR than lower positions.

You can erase keyword Quality Score history by deleting or restructuring

According to Google, whether you pause, delete or restructure an account element, their historical performance will still affect your account history.

However, Google still recommends that you delete poor performing keywords and ads because it will prevent them from further negatively affecting your account history in the future.

Quality Score At An Account-level

Google hasn’t confirmed that there is an over-arching account level Quality Score – but it is widely accepted that there are different levels of Quality Score, other than the visible keyword-level Quality Score.

A large number of low Quality Score keywords and ads with a low CTR on an account with poor historical performance will immediately impact new keywords that are added – they will all start out with an overall lower Quality Score.

Google does have a bias towards older, performing, accounts – and will perform better than new accounts. Although it can be tempting to start from scratch with a new account, this against Google’s policy. It’s best to restructure the account, and although it can take some time to see improvement – the long-term results are worth it. We promise.

In Conclusion

This guide will help you streamline your campaigns and increase your Quality Score, and in turn make your AdWords account more competitive. The results will be higher ad placement, which will deliver improved click-through rates and lower minimum bids for keywords – which means a much improved ROI.
 

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