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Google Adwords: A Case Study on “Quality” Score

To make the most of your Adwords budget, Google and almost all industry resources suggest creating tightly focused ad groups so all keywords will strongly correspond to your ads and landing page. Makes sense. If keywords are used in ads and on landing pages, that should increase click through and conversion rate – this is definitely the best practice.

Adwords handles bidding by combining your actual bid and keyword quality score so you only pay one cent more than the bid right below you. The quality score factor is where things get tricky. Just because I bid $4 and you bid $5 doesn’t mean your ad will show above mine if my quality score is better than yours for that keyword.

little monster purple 150x150 Now that we all have the same basic understanding of Adwords, let’s jump in to how Adwords comes up with this mythical creature we call quality score. As a good little SEO consultant, I’ve created Adwords campaigns with tightly knit ad groups and have seen a range of quality scores from 4’s to 5’s and 6’s and higher when I know I’m on the top of my game. I’ve worked to improve those scores with better ad copy, better landing pages, keyword match types, negative keywords and more – you name it and I’ve tried it.

One day while uploading with the Adwords desktop editor, I noticed my keywords already had quality scores even before the ad group was complete…before the ads were written, before CTR history was established and before the landing pages were determined. Say what?!

The experiment

qual score low1 I took a low traffic campaign and decided to experiment on some items. I consolidated some of my ad groups which inevitably loosened them up – I’m not talking about adding ‘blue shoes’ to an ad group focused on ‘steering wheel parts’ but I am talking about adding ‘blue shoes’ to an ad group focused solely on sandals, for example.

I did this by pausing the active, lower quality score keyword in the original ad group and then adding it as the same match type, same keyword and same bid to the newly targeted ad group. I also looked at some keywords that were registering with the status of “Low Search Volume” and showing 0 clicks and 0 impressions. As a test, I duplicated these keywords in the same ad group but tried them on ‘Broad’ match or broad modified instead of ‘Phrase’ and ‘Exact.’ Keep in mind, during this experiment, I knew full well that I would want to limit my test budget and time frame as these broader keyword groupings were less relevant to my ads which could increase spend while decreasing conversions.

The results

qual score high1 Moving the exact same keyword to a broader ad group or more ‘broad’ match type sky-rocketed the quality score!

90% of the moved or broad match keywords received a quality score of 7 or higher. There were a good number that were even getting perfect 10s! It was a mind blowing discovery that these keywords – which for all intents and purposes were now utilizing amateur Adwords techniques and creating a much lower “quality” Adwords account – were outranking the quality score of the better matched and better grouped keywords from before AND they were the exact same words!

So what’s the big deal? After experimenting, it is becoming ever more apparent that Adwords is only partially on the advertiser’s side. This shouldn’t be as shocking as it is since, after all, every click on an ad makes money for Google and that’s the underlying point of all business – profit.

My experiments are the only evidence of this and not scientific proof of my opinion that Adwords will reward poor Adwords management with higher quality scores to intentionally increase irrelevant clicks on ads which increases overall budget spend. Take the experiment as what it is – an interesting revelation about quality score – and let me know your Adwords experiences as well!

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