Google’s Quality Score metric is one of the more important determinants of paid search performance. Having a high Quality Score can help you show your ads at a higher position on search pages for lower cost than competitors. A low Quality Score can force you to inflate your bids and shell out more of your budget for an uphill battle toward impression share. Diving into the factors and the levers advertisers have to improve Quality Score can go a long way to sending ads higher up the search page at lower cost.

How Quality Score Influences Ad Rank

At its core, Quality Score is part of the equation for determining if an ad shows. Google shows ads based on a calculation it calls Ad Rank. This used to be a simple formula:

Ad Rank=Keyword CPC Bid x Keyword Quality Score

However, Google’s outgrown that definition and now says that it determines it from a larger set of criteria that isn’t exhaustively defined, much like its search algorithm that SEO professionals try to optimize against. The mathematical nature of Ad Rank has been loosened to accommodate Google experimenting with ads in different spots and to give a bit more weight to bidding.

As the gap in ad rank between two advertisers’ ads grows, the higher-ranking ad will be more likely to win but also may pay a higher cost per click for the benefit of the increased certainty of winning.

Some factors, like the “context” of the time and location of the user are unrealistic or impossible to optimize for. Others, like the presence of ad extensions, are well within your control. Quality Score falls somewhere in between those two in terms of your level of control.

Despite being less of a factor than It’s still an important aspect of Ad Rank, and worth working to improve, especially in cases where your Quality Score is low. Only 1 to 3 ads typically show above organic listings and get the majority of ad clicks, so even a small change in Quality Score can boost your Ad Rank and really impact your potential on SEM.

The Components of Quality Score

Quality Score is provided on a 10-point scale based on three criteria:

  1. Ad Relevance: how closely does the ad associated with each keyword relate to the search term
  2. Landing Page Experience: how useful and relevant is the keyword’s associated landing page with the search term
  3. Expected CTR: Google evaluates anticipated CTR, based mostly on past performance

In the Google Ads interface, visibility for these three components is limited to its grouping of “Above Average”, “Average”, and “Below Average”. By diving into keyword reports and data, you can better understand where to focus improvements.

How You Can Improve Quality Score

First, you’ll want to organize the data at a high level. You can aggregate Quality Scores by campaign, by ad group, weight them by contribution to the account, or simply look for key areas of opportunity where Quality Score is low to create an action plan. In general, brand keywords (for your brand) will have the highest Quality Scores, followed by generic (non-brand) keywords, and then competitor keywords with the lowest scores, but all might be worth addressing for various reasons. If you have consistent issues with one factor or another, you can use that information to create more holistic strategies to address weaknesses across the board.

Once you find your starting point, brainstorm potential improvements based on which of the Quality Score components Google lists as “Below Average”. If all components of Quality Score are already listed as stronger than that, focus on improving components from “Average” to “Above Average”. Below is a non-exhaustive list of action items by component:

  • Ad Relevance
    • Include keywords in the first headlines of your ads: this signals to both Google’s algorithm and the user that the ad relates to the search.
    • Brainstorm other options that include keyword text into other components of the ad, including other headlines, descriptions, and URL paths.
    • Test using dynamic keyword insertion in ads, a feature where the user’s search is placed directly into a headline.
  • Landing Page Experience
    • Create more landing pages that are specific to each group of non-brand keywords and include the highest searched non-brand terms on the landing page as often as possible.
        • If you send all of your non-brand searches to your homepage, expect a ‘Below Average’ designation from Google on landing page experience.
    • Make sure what you’re offering users (content, products, etc.) is relevant to what they’re searching for and where they are in the marketing funnel.
      • For example, sending a user to a webinar signup page when they’re searching directly for a software demo results in a disconnect and creates a poorer experience for the user.
    • The more personalization the better, so continually test new landing page variants and see how the changes affect Quality Score.
    • Try dynamic keyword insertion on your landing pages, which involves placing a user’s search directly as the headline of the landing page. Many landing page builders, like Unbounce, have this as a built-in feature.
  • Expected CTR
    • This is the biggest “black box” of the three components – essentially, your goal here is to make any adjustments to ads that may improve CTR
    • Ad relevance and expected CTR go hand in hand: advertisers should expect that the more relevant their ads are, the more often they will be clicked
    • Tailor keyword sets around relevancy: spend time analyzing search query reports for additional terms that are matching to phrase and modified broad match keywords for keyword expansion inspiration

Quality Score isn’t always easy to improve, but given its importance in determining impression share, ad position, and traffic cost, advertisers that work to better analyze trends and make improvements will have an advantage. This advantage can result in more ad impressions for lower cost, and thus more budget for existing efforts and net new expansion.

For more in depth help on SEM strategy, contact our team.