Google’s new Quality Score Improvements Analysed

Posted by in Pay Per Click (PPC), Search Marketing (SEO) on September 19th, 2008 6 Comments

In case you haven’t read it yet, Google is now unleashing some new improvements to its Quality Score. News from Google about changes to their algorithms or the way they rank and charge PPC ads usually creates a tidal wave of blog posts, comments and outbursts from the community that uses AdWords on a daily basis. I therefore thought I’d analyse this new development and share thoughts & case studies with our readers.

Google announced:

“Since 2005, we’ve improved Quality Score in many ways, such as the inclusion of landing page quality and landing page load time as factors. Along the way, we’ve also received much helpful feedback from both users and advertisers.
Today, we’d like to let you know of further improvements we’ll introduce in the coming weeks — based, in part, on this feedback. First we’ll outline the key points, and then dive into the details:

  • Quality Score will now be more accurate because it will be calculated at the time of each search query
  • Keywords will no longer be marked ‘inactive for search’
  • ‘First page bid’ will replace ‘minimum bid’ in your account”
  • The idea behind having the quality score calculated for every single search is that it will make Google’s PPC results more relevant and time sensitive. For example, if you competitor writes a compelling ad which most of the traffic for a given keyword, your CTR will reduce, and Google will see you as less relevant in the next keyword auction.

    I wanted to check that my long tail keywords were still being displayed, and this is what I discovered:

    page1estimate position143 150x47 Google’s new Quality Score Improvements Analysed 
    click to enlarge

    For this keyword, I am in position 1.4 but my bid is not enough to display on the first page… I have to double it!

    Furthermore, when I check the SERP for this keyword, there are no PPC ads out there. Not one. I would have thought Google wanted at least one PPC ads on every page to monetize their SERPs, but no, it prefers no ads at all… Could it be that the bid increase I need to get my keyword active again outweighs any other monetizing factor? I doubt it, I regard Google very highly.

    OK, fair enough, I have had no click out of 28 impressions, I am not relevant enough to appear on the first page… I thought you’d give me at least 100 impressions before casting a judgement on me, but let’s move on.

    Let’s have a look at this one:

    page1estimate position31 150x50 Google’s new Quality Score Improvements Analysed
    click to enlarge

    For this keyword displaying on average in position 3.6, I am getting a great CTR (7.27%) so I should be deemed relevant! But no, I am asked to “optimise my keywords and ads”. Or double my bid. (I think they mean the second option…). It’s only then that I remember what the Google Bible Blog said:

    “First page bids are an estimate of the bid it would take for your ad to reach the first page of search results on Google web search. They’re based on the exact match version of the keyword, the ad’s Quality Score, and current advertiser competition on that keyword.”

    Tagging keywords with first page bid estimates instead of marking them inactive is a way for Google to keep all your keywords in play – especially the broad matches as they trigger for more Search Queries. Who knows, maybe your ads will start displaying again if your competitors stops using one of their high performing ad, and you might start receiving traffic and spending without knowing it.

    So I went to have a look at my Keyword Diagnostic tool (which I have to say have been improved greatly by the new functionalities, but that’s another post) and here is what I found:

    addiagnostics1 150x150 Google’s new Quality Score Improvements Analysed

    click to enlarge

    Even though my bid is high enough to get position 3.6, and even though I am getting over 7% CTR, I am being told that I need a higher bid (optimisation guidelines have been followed as explained on the pic). So why base this Quality Score attribution on the exact match only?

    Instead of giving you an indication of how low you can pay, Google will give you an indication of how high you have to pay. It’s like O2 saying “iPhone on contracts around £50″ instead of saying “iPhone with contracts starting at £35″.

    In theory, first page bid estimates are a sweet metric – whether you are on page two and want an indication of how much you are willing to bid, or whether you are in position one and want to go down without loosing first page visibility. But the execution is poor, and the combination of the first page estimate with the dynamic Quality Score calculation can really caused your account harm if you are not careful.

    On these topics, there will always be two school of thoughts:

    The sceptics will say: “Google doesn’t give us enough impressions to deem us relevant or not” and “Google says my ad is not on page 1 but it’s in position 2.6 – this is an outrage!”

    The purists will say: “It’s great to have Google inform you that your position 4 is not deemed relevant… I need to create more ad groups!” and “My keywords aren’t inactive, they’re just irrelevant at this point in time”.

    But, both parties will probably end up doing the same thing… (and so should you):

    Go in and have a look at your [Exact Match Keywords]. If they don’t have a good CTR, check the other matches of the same keyword and examine whether you are going to have to increase your bids. Based on this, you will have to make a commercial decision

    If most of your keywords have been marked as not reaching the first page, you need to create more ad groups and make your ads more relevant. However, you might also have to pay more as the rest of the advertisers around you are likely to increase their bids, thus artificially increasing CPCs.

    More generally, PPC marketers now need on their tiptoes, and monitor performance very regularly as the market can now affect your performance more than ever!

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