The Quality score is a metric that gives estimate of the relevancy of your ads and landing pages for a given keyword. It is indicated as a number on a scale from one to ten in your Google Ads accounts. To see it you need to add the column to your keyword tab. Quality scores are calculated based on three different elements: ad relevance, expected click-through rate and landing page experience.
Search marketers across the globe obsess about getting as high a score as possible. The higher your Quality Score, the higher your ad will show the search results for that keyword, and potentially you will pay less for your clicks, because the Quality score influences your ad rank and the CPC you pay.
How Quality Score Impacts Your Ad Positioning
The quality score, together with your Max CPC bid determines your ad rank. Every time a user enters a search query there is an auction in which the Ad Rank of each eligible advertiser is determined and then the advertiser with highest Ad Rank gets position 1, the second highest gets position 2 etc…
Google’s chief economist himself, Hal Varian, explains and illustrates this process in a video that I always recommend:
How Quality Score Influences The Price You Pay Per Click
The CPC you pay is determined by the following formula:
CPC = ( ad rank of the advertiser that appears in the position below you / your own quality score ) + 0.01
Since your own quality score is a quotient in this equation, the higher it is, the lower the actual price will be.
This formula is a theoretical construct and even though I love geeking out about these things and understand as much as I can, we will never know all the information needed to calculate this accurately, so I would encourage you to accept it as the theoretical construct that it is and not obsess too much about it or even try to reverse-engineer your CPCs, as that most likely will be very inaccurate and a waste of your precious time that you should be using to obsess about things you can actually impact.
The Unpredictable Nature of Your Quality Score
Talking about theoretical constructs and obsession – the quality score is probably the metric in paid search advertising that invites the most speculations and conspiracy theories. There are times when it seems inaccurate and even though we put all the effort in, it just does not change in the way we expect it to. In that case it also helps to move on – it is one of the things that it is better to accept than to waste time on it, because Google is not going to give you any answers and most people around you also can only speak from their own experiences or speculations they have found on the internet. I have definitely been guilty of a little quality score obsession during my time at Google, when I wanted to find out how everything works, so I visited my technical operations colleagues (I was in the Sales team at the time) almost weekly during their clinic to find out more. This was before there were any breakdown metrics and in hindsight I doubt these colleagues knew much more than me, but at some point they told me “JUST OPTIMIZE FOR CTR” (and yes, it felt a bit like shouting because I might have gotten on their nerves a little).
The Three Quality Score Components Explained
Back in my Google days you could only see a number from 1 to 10 as your quality score, but over time Google actually offered more transparency into the performance of the three different quality score components – ad relevance, expected click through rate and landing page experience.
(Small but important side note: If anybody ever asks you, ad extensions are not part of the quality score. They can, however, be used to determine your ad rank if that is the same as another advertiser’s.)
The three components can be added as columns on the keywords tab on your google ads account and it will indicate whether a given keyword performs above average, average or below average. Having these columns in your account was actually a feature that Bing Ads offered first and then it was adapted by Google.
Ad Relevance refers to how well matched your ad is to your keywords (the keywords should feature in the ad copy at least once).
Expected Click Through Rate tells you how well your keyword is performing in comparison to what Google would expect it to do. Their expectation is based on other keywords in your account and other advertisers’ performance on this and similar keywords. You can optimize this by increasing your click through rate, probably through testing different benefits and call to action messages. Keep in mind that Google gets paid for each click on an ad, so they want to maximise the number of clicks they can get with their existing ad space.
Landing Page Experience consists of two components:
- i) The landing page’s relevance for the given keywords. In order to determine that Google will look at the page title, whether and how often the keyword appears in the text on the page and in headlines and everything else that you would take into account when you optimize your page for ranking high in the organic search results.
- ii) The technical accessibility of the page. And as more than half of all search queries happen on mobile devices, page speed and mobile optimization are important factors for this. If you think most of your users come to your website on desktop and through fast internet connections so you don’t have to bother with these kinds of things: THINK AGAIN. You will be punished, not only by frustrated users leaving your website, but also with a poor Landing Page Experience component pulling down your Quality Score. Use the Google Page Speed tool to find ways you can improve this.
Quality Scores at Different Levels of Your Account
Quality scores are most meaningful and useful on a keyword-level. That is also the only level at which Google will surface the quality score metric in your Google Ads account, but if you are using a third party tool or you use AdWords Scripts, you can also see your quality score on an account, campaign and adgroup level. Here is a script you can use to analyze this. Bing Ads surfaces quality score on keyword, adgroup and campaign level in their UI. The levels higher than keyword are not essential to look at, so I would not spend too much time on them. I do however recommend to track account Quality Score (or campaign Quality Scores) as an indicator of general account health and reviewing this once a month or once per quarter. By following this over time you also learn which of your actions impact Quality Scores in different ways (as at one of my previous companies we switched domains for example) we saw our quality scores drop across the board and it took 3-4 months to get them back on track.
When Optimizing Your Quality Score Shouldn’t Be Your Top Priority
Another piece of advice around optimizing your quality score is to focus on bigger issues your account might have first. Optimizing the quality score will give you slightly lower CPCs or slightly higher ad positions – it will not help you make conversions happen when they are not happening or cut your CPAs in half. And those are things you should be focusing on first. When you are happy with your overall performance, then you can finetune it by increasing your quality score and squeeze just a little bit more out of your account by focusing on this optimization lever.