Pay to Play: Common sense tips to help you improve your Google Adwords Quality Score

One of the most frustrating aspects for novice pay-per-click (PPC) marketers is the so-called ad quality score—a method search engines use to measure the relevancy of an ad for a particular keyword. The ad quality score affects the minimum bid price, position and display eligibility. Poor ads cost a lot more and are less likely to be displayed than highly relevant ones, giving advertisers a strong incentive to manage their ads responsibly.

Unfortunately, the exact way search engines measure this score has remained a secret. But a few months ago, Bill identified a set of patents that give us a detailed look under the hood at how these numbers might be computed.

Defining Quality

So what is a great ad and how does Google determine your score? Straight from the horse’s mouth:

Quality Score helps ensure that only the most relevant ads appear to users on Google and the Google Network. The AdWords system works best for everybody—advertisers, users, publishers, and Google too—when the ads we display match our users’ needs as closely as possible. Relevant ads tend to earn more clicks, appear in a higher position, and bring you the most success.

So, in order to improve the ad quality score you simply need to do two things: make sure your ad answers the user’s search, and make sure your landing page delivers on your ad’s promise.

This might seem very obvious, but novice PPC marketers are lazy and like to put large groups of loosely related keywords together with little structure or thought behind them. The improper use of broad matches (with no negative disqualifiers), and the misuse of dynamic keyword insertion make the problem a whole lot bigger.

Tips for creating your PPC ads

  1. Create ads that include the keyword in the title, description and URL for a higher click-through rate. Split test multiple ads/offers and keep the ones with the higher click-through rate.

  2. Create ad groups only with related keywords. Including keywords not directly related to an ad group will reduce its quality score.

  3. Don’t mix “broad match” and “exact match” searches in the same ad group. There are many reasons for this. Each matching option requires a different strategy—broad matches require negative disqualifiers for example. Broad matches also tend to generate more impressions than clicks, and exact matches the opposite. It is better to have them in separate groups.

Landing pages: an ad’s promised land

Most of the problems with low ad quality scores are generally due to poor landing pages. A lot has been said and written about what search engines look at on landing pages, but it all comes down to your ability to match the user’s search with the content on your landing page. Including keywords in your ad groups for which you don’t have appropriate content on your site is a waste of time and money. If you want to include such keywords, create content to match those queries first.

The general rule: If the user is happy, the search engine is happy. And so is your wallet! 🙂

  1. Send searchers to the right landing pages—pages that exactly match their search. Even better, include those keywords on the landing page. One way to make sure your landing pages are matching the search terms is by using Google’s Keyword Tool Site Related option.

  2. Avoid duplicate content on your landing pages and include enough original text, not just banners and forms.

  3. Make sure your landing page includes (if applicable): about us, terms of service, privacy policy, contact us, and other identifying information. The more credible the page is, the better the quality score and the higher chance it will convert.

  4. Measure the bounce rate and average time spent on your landing page. Make any changes you can to reduce the bounce rate and increase the amount of time a user spends on your landing page. Those are indirect signals search engines can use to measure the quality of your landing page.

  5. Search engines can optionally use your conversion information to measure your quality score. If you are tracking conversions, make sure you are also doing landing page split testing to increase them.

Paid search marketing is extremely competitive these days. As in any competition, however, what matters is not the number of competitors you are facing, but how many truly savvy competitors there are. Fortunately for us, I think there are still a lot of clueless advertisers out there.

I am sure most of my readers will be able to take these tips to the next level and beat their competitors this coming holiday season. Please feel free to share your own PPC tips on the comments.

17 replies
  1. Dave Davis
    Dave Davis says:

    Great post Hamlet and thanks for the mention. Fantastic rundown on the basics of quality score and Bill's patent overview gives some REALLY juicy details and ideas.

    One thing I would like to point out…most links that you reference are ALL in the Google support files. I see a lot of people complaining about getting "slapped" and getting "unfair treatment" when most of the answers are right there in the documentation.

    One point that I do not agree with is: "Avoid duplicate content on your landing pages and include enough original text, not just banners and forms."

    I think you SHOULD be excluding your PPC landing pages completely anyway and having duplicate content when split testing without a multi variant tool is inevitable. I do not think the quality score bot takes uniqueness of content too seriously as long as the content is not from another source.

    Again, great article. Hopefully we'll get to say hello and talk Quality Score (Sad I know!) at PubCon.

  2. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Dave – thanks for stopping by. Credit where credit is due. I really liked your idea of using the Site Related feature.

    I do not think the quality score bot takes uniqueness of content too seriously as long as the content is not from another source.

    That is the point I am trying to make.

    I've read some guys that have a landing page package that they use unmodified for all the PPC projects. I thought Google didn't pay too much attention to duplicity but here is a direct quote:


    * Feature unique content that can't be found on another site.
    * Provide substantial information. If your ad does link to a page consisting mostly of ads or general search results (such as a directory or catalog page), provide additional, unique content.

    They are experts at detecting duplicate content and near duplicate content, so I think is natural for them to incorporate this in the landing page checker bot.

    I agree with your tip about blocking robots from the PPC landing pages. Thanks for bringing that up!

  3. Dave Davis
    Dave Davis says:

    Then we're on the same page so. I assumed you meant duplicate content as in same-site-duplicate-content.

    Another little tip I found helpful is to briefly place an adsense unit in the landing page. If the ads match the content and matches your competitors, you're in pretty good shape.

    I think however that the second QS update a few months after its inception put more weight on account history. A lot more.

  4. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Another little tip I found helpful is to briefly place an adsense unit in the landing page. If the ads match the content and matches your competitors, you’re in pretty good shape.

    Another great idea. Thanks for sharing!

    I forgot to talk about historical performance of the account. Thanks for bringing that up!

    You blog has a lot of great content. I will make sure to check it more often.

    Have a nice weekend 🙂

  5. Jez
    Jez says:

    Hi Hamlet,

    I am working on a price comparison site on which I plan to use PPC for the first time (and ranksense) and have a couple of questions.

    Firstly, how much relevant content do I need, most of the page content will be comparison tables which will exactly relate to the search term. I was planning a sentence or two before the tables, and a paragraph afterwards.

    Secondly, how quickly can you bring the CPC down using these methods / how often should I try dropping the CPC?

    Thirdly, is quality in any way dependant on volume of advertising (budget) or is it more biased toward CTR?

  6. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Hi Jez,

    I am glad to hear you are getting serious on paid search 🙂

    The first thing you need to do is to enable the column that displays the quality scores. The values are Poor, Ok and Great.

    Create relevant ads and as much landing content as you can and check your quality score rating. Tweak/add content and ads until you get it to Great.

    When you start the campaign you can start with low CPC bids, but your prices will change depending on the rating the landing page bot gives you, and the click-through rate of your ads. Don't forget about using highly targeted and enticing ads.

    The quality is more biased to the CTR and the relevance of the ad and landing page. High quality ads end up paying less.

    As Dave says your account historical performance is another important consideration, but I assume you are starting out so this is not a concern.

  7. Jez
    Jez says:

    Thanks for your help! Yes this will be my first time using PPC, it will be a couple more weeks before I am ready to start using it and have been reading what I can in the meain time….

  8. 海外SEOブログ
    海外SEOブログ says:

    Hi Hamlet,

    Great post!

    I'm a Japanese webmaster and a newbie of PPC.
    I know split testing is important on both ads and landing page.

    I have a question about the way of the testing.
    Which is better to creae two ads that are totally different from one another or that are silghtly different?(i.e. just one word in heading)

    Thank you very much.

  9. Sam Daams
    Sam Daams says:

    Hey Hamlet,

    Great post and well timed for me personally as well. Been trying to improve the quality score based on some feedback at the conference in Stockholm and there's some new little titbits here that weren't given out there. Definitely interesting!!



  10. Gab Goldenberg
    Gab Goldenberg says:

    Terrific piece, again Hamlet. Sphunn this

    On a related note, Dave, that's an excellent tip on using Adsense to check how G sees it.

    Lastly, regarding AdWords account QS being more important, what do you think of buying ads just to build mindshare and QS? Then, visitors will click, spend a while reading your great material, and perhaps add their own comments. Bottom line, you can get more clicks, targeting needn't be as precise … The question I'm asking is bottom line, will the mindshare/improved QS save enough money elsewhere in the account to make the spend worth it?

  11. Gab Goldenberg
    Gab Goldenberg says:

    I dunno why my above comment appears to be contentless. That wasn't my intention.

    1) Great article. Sphunn
    2) Dave, sweet tip on the adsense integration.
    3) How about running up campaigns that just aim to build mindshare/RSS. You can include many usually negative KWs like free and gets lots of exposure and clicks (plus time spent on site; few bounces). Idea being to boost account QS and reduce CPC elsewhere. What do you think?

  12. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Japanese PPC newbie – My strategy is to start testing ads with different message styles. Once I can tell what is the style the searcher likes the most, I delete the other ads and create small variations of the winner.

    Sam – I am glad you were able to learn something new here 🙂

    Gab – the idea of using PPC for branding is definitely good. Now, if you can get a high clickthrough rate and the keywords are on the landing page, I don't see why it wouldn't work.

    Justin – I am not sure I understand your question. If I understand correctly, I think that if you click on the names of the commenters you can get to their websites/blogs

  13. Ghillie Suit Clothin
    Ghillie Suit Clothin says:

    I've been working on this exact thing. I have gotten many of my keywords to high qualities. However, the hard thing about my landing page is that it is a store. I can't really change it, so I work on my ads instead. I've also broken out my campaigns into a bunch of mini ones which helped out alot. Any tips on improving landing pages of stores?

  14. quality directory
    quality directory says:

    Yeah, this quality score thing is a headache. I've seriously considered simply moving from Google to a combination of other SEs that rival the net traffic. However, I chose instead to focus a lot more on my SEO for sites instead so I could just rank higher naturally for them instead of optimizing for certain KWs so I can pay for ads.


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