AdWords Quality Score: Hype, Changes, and Tracking Tools


Quality score has been a hot topic recently. Over the past few months there’ve been a good number of “opinion” pieces about quality score as well as an update in Google’s reporting of QS. Quality score has been around for a long time now, so what’s all the  hoopla about? Let’s find out what those crazy kids are talkin’ about.

Quality Score: The Basics

By now, the vast majority of you know what quality score is. If you don’t, well….you’re in for a treat! Please refer to any or all of the following articles. I thought about writing the QS basics, but honestly, these other people have already worked so hard and done a much better job than I could. And I really just didn’t want to.

Google AdWords Support: The video is where you’ll find the QS explanation goods.

PPC Hero: The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords Quality Score

Search Engine Land: Quality Score Explained by a Former Googler

Recent Changes & Effects

On July 26th, Google announced that Quality Score reporting would be updated, tying the reported 1-10 numeric score found in the AdWords interface more closely to expected click-through rate, ad relevance, and landing page relevance. You’ll note, these are the same three factors shown when hovering over the little word bubble above keyword status.

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The announcement goes on to say that the behind the scenes, real-time calculation of quality score for the Google auction will not be changed. Ergo, your performance won’t be directly effected. Only the number you’re shown in the interface.

This update has been in effect for a little over a month now and, as our industry is wont to do, people have blogged their observed changes. The two reports below show the percentage difference in impressions of each quality score in a group of accounts. In a nutshell, here’s what they found:

This first report from Kohki Yamaguchi in Marketing Land. He looked at 100 advertiser accounts and determined that, overall, quality scores increased.

The second report by Andy Stefano also looked at a large group of accounts and determined that quality scores decreased.

Yeah. Differing results. So guess what? That means the quality scores in your account could have gone either way once the reporting change was made. Hooray! No closure what-so-ever.

So what are we going to do about that? We’re going to go on to another disagreement, of course. But this one isn’t a disagreement of facts, it’s of opinion. So…there’s no closure ahead either. Sorry about that.

Optimization Focus

Over the course of this year, there’s been a debate within the industry as to whether quality score should be the main focus of optimization within an account. Some say QS is one of the most important metrics and should be a main goal in optimizations. Others don’t.

I should point out, all parties below agree that ROI is the key desired outcome of PPC campaigns. They simply disagree on whether QS should be a metric taken into account when optimizing your campaigns. Ok, caveat over. Let’s get to the debate.

thumbs-up-and-down-buttons-vectorQS as a Main Focus

Larry Kim of Wordstream can almost be credited with starting this debate in late March. His post Revisiting the Economics of Google Quality Score: Why QS is up to 200% More Valuable in 2013 compares past and present breakdowns of quality score and the impact it has on CPCs. He uses data from Craig Danuloff’s research showing that a QS of 7 was essentially breaking even. After analyzing recent data, he’s readjusted these numbers to reflect 2013 standards and argues that 5 is the new 7.

A few months later in July, Larry continued his sentiment but made a new argument for a focus on QS. This time, he argues that optimizing for CPA and optimizing for QS tend to work hand in hand. In his analysis, CPAs were lower with higher QS keywords and higher with lower QS keywords. Basically, better QS, better CPA. He’s also keen to point out that the conversion rate varied very little from high to low QS keywords, meaning the change in CPA came mostly from differing click cost. (Points for the use of Game of Thrones in the post, but taken away again because let’s be honest, no one actually likes Joffrey. Seriously, he’s awful.)

Rounding out our “For” posts is James Zolman on the Quality Scores blog. Seems relevant, right? His argument is based on the relationship between Google and it’s advertisers. Bottom line: Google has to have high quality search results to get people to click and keep coming back (read: to make all of the monies). When advertisers put out high quality ads that are clicked on, they’re given high quality scores, lowering their CPCs. He further argues that the regular tasks he carries out to earn higher quality scores (ad testing, proper account structure, landing page improvements) are tasks most paid search managers are doing already. Pretty convincing argument if you ask me. (Long post, but very entertaining memes.)

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Ignore QS

Our antagonist for the day, and yes there’s only one, will be Susan Waldes over at 3Q Digital (formerly PPC Associates). She wrote a piece acknowledging Larry’s position, then making an argument for Why [She Doesn’t] Optimize for Quality Score. She argues that since the numbers you’re shown in the AdWords interface are admittedly not the true quality score used in real-time calculation, it’s an improper number to base optimizations on. Quality score should be more of a side effect of other optimizations for CTR, page load times, and relevant landing pages.

Following the recent QS reporting update, Susan wrote a second post essentially validating her first. The fact that the numbers in the interface can be changed without actually affecting the true QS used for auction calculations just further proves their arbitrariness. (I promise that’s a word.) Optimizations should be made using accurate stats to ensure you’re making the right moves. (Come on, that’s a pretty good point.)

business graphTools for Monitoring

No matter your opinion on whether QS should be a primary focus or happy outcome of optimizations, there’s no doubt QS has an impact on your account performance and having at least a basic understanding of it can improve your stats. Unlike other key metrics, QS is not something Google tracks over time like for you like CPC or Conversions.

Instead, the score you see at any given time logging into your account is snapshot of what that keywords score is at that given time. To keep an eye on fluctuations you’ll have to use an external tool. You could certainly do this manually, but there are also tools out there designed to make the process a bit easier. Here’s a short list of QS tracking tools as well as one instance of AdWords scripts available out there: (Alpha release was slated for Summer of 2013)

PPC Hero Pro


PPC Epiphany – QS Tracking Script

In the end, your opinion is ultimately what matters. Are you sold by Larry and James talking about the economics and win/win situation of Google’s quality score? Or do you agree with Susan that the numbers are arbitrary and that focusing on those numbers can get you in trouble? Share with us in the comments!