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A Brief Look at AdWords Quality Score

Published: August 21, 2014

Author: Isaac Rudansky

Quality Score remains one of the most frustratingly obscure metrics in an AdWords account, and this overview is not an attempt to demystify its mystery or unravel its history. There’s a great deal of worthwhile reading on the topic, so be sure to check that out if you have more questions after reading this post.

Since its launch in 2005, QS plays a vital role in determining ad rank – what slot on the SERP an ad receives (typically 1-10). Before Quality Score was introduced, the advertiser with the highest max CPC (the highest “bid”) could easily win the top spot on the page, even if the ads and landing pages were shoddy and irrelevant to the searcher. This wasn’t the best system for Google for a variety of reasons, and it introduced QS to award the advertisers providing Google’s own customers with the best (highest-quality) experience.  It’s still possible to win the top slot on the SERP with the highest bid, but QS makes it much more difficult – effectively persuading lazy advertisers to clean up their act.

There are three primary factors that comprise each keywords QS as a whole.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Rumored to be the most important factor in determining QS is click-through rate. The higher your CTR, the higher your QS is going to be. Google “knows” what a good CTR is by comparing your actual CTR to their databases of similar keywords and bid patterns in your industry. For new keywords, Google will assign an “expected CTR” to help determine the score for this portion of your QS.

Tangentially, QS is also normalized by position, as Brad Geddes insightfully points out in Advanced Google AdWords: Third Edition.  Google knows that higher ad slots tend to get higher CTRs, for no reason other than their superior position. So Google doesn’t expect an ad in slot six to get the same CTR as an ad in slot 2. Before a keywords real-time QS is calculated, Google takes the ads position into account and normalizes how “good” your CTR is.

The only thing really worth knowing, though (for our purposes), is that you can only gain by improving a keyword’s CTR.

So for the QS purists out there, if creating a more unique experience for our customers through serving them more creative ad copy could in fact increase CTR, our QSs will benefit by following suit and increasing as well.


This is where I think many advertisers get caught up in optimizing for Quality Score. It’s not only the most tangible of the three factors, but it’s the easiest to “change” and tinker with – often providing immediate results.

Google takes gigantic measures to ensure the best possible experience for its searchers, and relevance is one of the best ways of doing that. Now, like we said, Google can’t know what’s going on inside the minds of its users, so the best way to get a generally accurate assessment of relevancy is by keeping tabs of certain universal elements on which Google could safely rely. Primarily, Google wants to see ad groups in which the ad text and keywords are closely related to each other. They also want to see the ad text closely related to the search query.

This second relevancy factor has most likely accounted for the overly enthusiastic deployment of DKI. There’s no better way to reflect the search query than by using DKI to actually place the query in the text of the ad (for phrase, exact, and modified broad keyword match types). Is there?

Actually, yes – there is, even though creating very tightly knit ad groups takes a lot of time and effort, something that none of us have an abundance to spare.  But hopefully, you’ll be convinced that very often it is worth the extra time, and at the very least to not use DKI in the ad headline as often as we’re doing now.

Landing Page Quality

Google is essentially a massive referral service, as they’re referring billions of people every day to websites that offer the information they’re looking for. It follows, then, that they should care a lot about the quality of the places they’re sending they’re customers to.

This concept is reflected in the third component of Quality Score (and the one with the least clout), called landing page quality. Included in the grab bag of landing-page goodies are things like page load time, navigability, spam, and how thematically related the landing page content is to the initial search query and ad text.

Be sure to check out my next post, in which we’ll discuss the conundrum between quality score and creative ads!

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