Nick Rennard
By Nick Rennard | SEM | August 8, 2014

Quality Scores

Quality scores are mysterious – few people know more about them than “higher = better”. This is true, but what are they exactly? How are they measured? Why do certain keywords deserve higher quality scores than others, and who/what determines the number? Today, I’ll help you better understand these questions and know how to evaluate keywords based on this piece of data. A quality score estimates the relevance of your ads, keywords, and landing URL. It is done on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best, 1 being the worst; side note: quality scores 3 or lower will generally never show). This means that if your quality scores are above 5, then Google believes that your keywords, ads, and landing URL are all relevant and useful. Another variable that is factored into your quality scores is user experience. Let’s explain this using an example: You run a dog training company that advertises their behavioral services on Google. You’re advertising with two broad match keywords in your AdWords campaign: dogs and dog behaviorists.

cesar milan

Person A is looking for a professional dog trainer to help them prevent their canine from chewing up their carpet. They type “dog behaviorists” into Google, your website comes up, and they call you to schedule an appointment (missions accomplished!). This is considered a good user experience because the user typed in their search query and immediately found what they were looking for. Person B is looking for pictures of adorable dogs (because who doesn’t love looking at adorable pictures of dogs?), so they type “dogs” into Google. Your dog behaviorist website shows up, the user clicks on your ad, but then realizes that your website wasn’t what they were looking for so they click ‘back’ and continue looking for what they wanted. This would be considered a bad user experience because the person didn’t find what they were looking for when they triggered one of your keywords. This specific example shows why Google implemented the quality score system in the first place. It allows Google to add more weight to keywords that they think are more relevant to the products and/or services that your website is offering. You can see here why a keyword like “dog behaviorists” would deserve a higher quality score than “dogs” within your AdWords campaign. So, let’s recap on the criteria that is relevant to determining your quality score:

quality score 2

    “But how does this magic number affect me?” Great question! The simple answer is: if your quality score increases, you’ll pay significantly less than what you currently bid for your keywords. If your quality score is lower, then you will pay closer to the actual bid that you set for your keyword. Keep in mind that Google will never charge you more than what you bid for a keyword, but they will certainly discount it based on your quality scores.

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quality score 1

  “How do I check my quality scores?” In AdWords, go to your keywords tab. Click Columns –> Customize Columns –> Attributes –> Add next to Qual. Score –> Apply.

adwords columns

  You can also find quality scores listed in the AdWords Editor by clicking the dropdown icon in the top right under your Keywords tab.

adwords editor

  “So what can I do to improve my quality scores?” Website: The internet age is moving fast, and your website is an important (and often overlooked) aspect of determining your quality score. Many companies create websites but don’t actively work to improve them over time. For example, if you started your business back in 2006, and you haven’t done much since then to modernize or improve the user experience of the website, then it’s extremely likely that Google is giving you bad quality scores (penalties for an outdated website). Why should Google prioritize your website over someone in the same industry who works (and pays) to keep theirs updated, modernized, and easy-to-navigate?

bad website

Bad Website


Good Website

good website

  CTR (Click-Through-Rate): One of the most important things you can do to increase your CTR is ad rotations.  Google gets paid when users click on ads, so it’s in Google’s best interest to add a significant amount of weight to this portion of their algorithm (i.e. higher CTR means Google makes more money). Optimizing your keywords and ads based on their respective CTR is a good way to make sure that you’re focusing your budget on keywords that will generate higher quality scores.


Search Term Reports/Negative Keywords: Consider the example of the keyword ‘dog behaviorists’ and ‘dogs.’ There are certainly more industries revolving around the keyword ‘dogs’ than around the keyword ‘dog behaviorists.’ This means that ‘dogs’ will generate a higher density of traffic, but it’s likely that a good portion of that traffic is going to be less relevant to the products/services that you offer. This is why it’s a good idea to make sure that you look through search term reports of keywords that can potentially overlap into other industries. You can add negative keywords to your campaign to block out irrelevant traffic. Making sure that your ads don’t show up for irrelevant traffic will increase your CTR and prevent you from paying for irrelevant clicks.

negative keywords

Geographic/Device Optimization: It’s also good to keep an eye on which networks and locations are performing well for you. Google will give you a better quality score if your ads are more successful (and relevant) based on the geographic location where you advertise or the devices you target. For example, if you’re a local small business, advertising outside of your area would result in a lower quality scores since those customers are less likely to actually visit your location. Also, if your website isn’t built to show up well on mobile devices, then you will likely receive lower quality scores due to a poor user experience on phones, tablets, etc. Side note: your website’s ability to show up on mobile devices is known as responsive design.

responsive design

Quality scores are certainly not something you can change immediately, but rather something needs work over longer periods of time in order to improve. Rather than trying to do everything at once in order to force an increase in your quality scores, it’s better to make sure that you are consistently keeping up with the best practices that will lead to better quality scores in the months to come. Set recurring tasks for yourself to ensure that you keep up with ad rotations, search term reports, and general account optimization. Also, have your website analyzed by someone with experience improving PPC/SEO web performance. Taking these steps will lead to higher quality scores, which will help you make more money in the long run.

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