For years, people have debated the importance of Google AdWords Quality Score.
Some, like Larry Kim, see Quality Score as one of the most important predictors of paid search success. Others call it one of the least important AdWords metrics.
So which is it?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at what this metric represents and how it affects your campaigns.
What does AdWords Quality Score really represent?
Quality Score is how Google determines whether or not your ads meet the needs and search intent of your target audience.
Google makes money with search results because people trust Google to deliver relevant search results. If their search results (including your ads) aren’t relevant, people won’t trust Google and instead they’ll use another search engine.
That means it’s in Google’s best interest to reward advertisers who create relevant ads.
To do that, Google created Quality Score with a ranking system from 1-10. For new campaigns, AdWords defaults to a 6 rating and uses 5 as a benchmark. Any ads with a high score (7-10) get a cost-per-click (CPC) discount and ads with a low score (1-4) are charged a CPC premium.
According to a study by WordStream, here’s how Quality Score affects your CPC:
So, if you want to cut your CPC and improve the performance of your AdWords campaigns, all you have to do is improve your Quality Score, right?
How does Quality Score affect your campaigns?
Now, I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that there is a clear relationship between CPC and Quality Score.
However, AdWords success isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) measured by how cheap your clicks are. The goal of a paid search campaign isn’t to drive clicks, it’s to drive conversions and sales.
After all, if you only need cheap clicks, there are a ton of easier and less expensive ways to get traffic to your site.
With that in mind, let’s look at how Quality Score affects your cost-per-conversion. We’ll pull some data from the more than 2,000 AdWords audits Disruptive Advertising has conducted over the last 3 years.
Since cost-per-click is closely related to cost-per-conversion, let’s look at data from accounts with an average cost-per-click of about $1.00. The results below are from accounts with well-implemented conversion tracking and cover all forms of conversions (calls, forms, chats, etc.) that were relevant to that particular account’s performance.
Look at that! The higher your Quality Score, the lower your cost-per-conversion. In fact, these results are almost identical to those Larry Kim reported in a similar study.
To put it simply, increasing your rating by 1 point decreases your cost-per-conversion by 13% (16% according to Larry Kim). Every 1 point decrease in rating increases your cost-per-conversion by 13%.
I guess Larry was right! Quality Score is the “King of the AdWords KPIs.”
Or is it?
Although this model looks reliable, statistically speaking, it’s only accurate 1.2% of the time (R2 = -0.012).
The other 99% of the time, you have no idea how improving your Quality Score will affect your cost-per-conversion.
Why Quality Score doesn’t accurately predict cost-per-conversion
At first glance, these results don’t make a lot of sense. If improving your Quality Score decreases your cost-per-click, why wouldn’t it decrease your cost-per-conversion?
Well, as it turns out, most AdWords accounts have much bigger problems than Quality Score — the average AdWords account wastes 76% of its budget on the wrong clicks (based on our audit of 2,000+ accounts).
To make matters worse, wasted ad spend has an exponential relationship with cost-per-conversion:
The results above are based on a rather intensive statistical analysis, but the bottom line is that for every 10% of your budget you waste on the wrong searches, your cost-per-conversion increases by 44-72%.
Now, this formula isn’t perfect, either. However, it does account for about 60% of your account performance (R2 = 0.597 after log-level regression) and is a pretty reliable (ρ < 0.001) predictor of cost-per-conversion.
If you think about it, this data goes a long ways towards explaining why Quality Score doesn’t predict cost-per-conversion.
For the average AdWords advertiser, the vast majority of their budget is already being wasted on the wrong clicks, so increasing their Quality Score on a few keywords isn’t really going to improve their account performance.
When should I focus on Quality Score?
If you’re like most paid search advertisers, you’ve got bigger problems to worry about than Quality Score.
However, once you’ve cleaned up your campaigns, improving your score can be an excellent way to get even more bang for your buck.
To begin, you’ll need to add the Quality Score column to your Keywords report, like this:
Next, export your results and open them in Excel. From there, select all your data and create a PivotTable:
To see how much you’re spending on each Quality Score integer, set up your PivotTable as follows:
In this case, this client was spending 12% of their budget on keywords with a Quality Score of 1. Just 9% of their budget was going towards keywords with a Quality Score of 8.
This report gives you an easy way to identify opportunities for improvement.
For example, the lowest hanging fruit for this client is those keywords with a Quality Score of 1. Just increasing the Quality Score of these keywords by 1 point would have saved the client over $22,000!
To identify the most important keywords with a Quality Score of 1, let’s change the settings on our PivotTable a bit:
By filtering for keywords with a Quality Score of 1 and more than $500 of cost, we can quickly identify nine keywords that need immediate attention.
Of course, you can use this same technique to identify all keywords with a certain Quality Score (or range of Quality Scores). If you download the same report for ad groups, you can also do it on the ad group level, too.
Incidentally, running this same sort of analysis can tell you a lot about your keyword choices. Odds are, if a keyword has a Quality Score of 1, it’s probably driving a lot of low-quality clicks (and ultimately no conversions). Therefore, you might be able to simply eliminate those keywords and save yourself a lot of money.
Even if you can’t just eliminate your low Quality Score keywords, you can still do a lot to improve their performance.
Once you know which keywords need your attention, take a close look at the ads those keywords trigger and see what you can change to improve the relevance of your ads and post-click landing pages.
Maybe it’s the headline not encouraging people to click? Or is it your ad copy that needs some tweaking? You won’t know until you A/B test your changes!
If you’re having trouble figuring out why your keywords and ad groups have such a lousy Quality Score, try taking a look at the search terms associated with those keywords or ad groups. You might be surprised at the searches your ads are showing up for!
Quality Score might not be the “King of AdWords KPIs,” but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless.
If your account is bleeding money bidding on the wrong keywords, don’t expect a few Quality Score tweaks to save your campaigns. Focus on identifying the right keywords and search terms first.
Then, once your account is running efficiently, spend some time improving your Quality Score and watch your return-on-ad-spend soar by sending all of your paid campaigns to dedicated post-click landing pages.
You’ve heard my two cents; now I want to hear yours.
What’s your stance on Quality Score? Did the results from our study surprise you? What have you done to improve your Quality Scores?
About the author
Jacob is a passionate entrepreneur on a mission to help businesses achieve online marketing success. As the Founder & CEO of Disruptive Advertising, Jacob has created an award-winning, world-class organization that has helped hundreds of businesses grow using pay-per-click advertising and conversion rate optimization.