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Quality Score: the Great Misnomer

One of the great misnomers in our space is the phrase “Quality Score”. The name implies that it is a measure of the ad copy's merit when in fact it measures more than this. I'm not talking about "relevancy" or landing page quality, I'm talking about "commercial intent." This last piece has been neglected in our industry's discussions about QS. It is simpler to think of QS as something wholly under an advertiser's control. We control the ad text associated with each keyword which directly impacts the CTR and the relevancy of that copy to that keyword, and we control the landing pages. The only excuse for poor Quality Scores seems to be advertiser malfeasance. Indeed, QS is a favorite target of outsiders who don't know much about the paid search game. It is easy to download an account and run a pivot table on the number of keywords by QS and conclude: "25% of your KWs have a QS of less than X; that's money left on the table, you need to fix that, harrumph harrumph!" The trouble with this simplistic view is:
  1. A higher QS may not be in the advertiser's best interest. More compelling copy may increase CTR but may simultaneously decrease conversion rate to a degree that the trade off isn't worthwhile. Drawing in "bottom feeders" with promotional copy can sabotage performance.
  2. A higher QS may not even be possible. If the commercial intent of users searching with that phrase is low, there may be no wording under the sun that can improve the QS beyond a certain point.
It is this last piece that the industry outsiders really don't get. Consider a user search on "motorcycle". The user's intent isn't particularly clear. They may want motorcycle gear, they may want information on nearby races, they might want videos, or simply sites for motorcycle enthusiasts. Sidebar: check out the local dealership Google map eating up prime real estate! Is this a test or are others seeing this? The fact that none of the ads appear above the organic listings indicates that Google doesn't see much commercial intent here, and therefore none of the advertisers meet the minimum Bid * QS threshold needed to secure a promoted listing. I'd wager that the QS of NONE of these ads is above an 8 and wouldn't be surprised if none were above a 5. The advertisers can flip copy until they're blue in the face and it won't impact those scores. Note: this doesn't mean the ads will perform badly. Indeed, these could be tremendously valuable ads if those with commercial intent use the ads and purchase, and the price paid for the traffic makes sense. Some will argue that these low QS ads should be eliminated from the account regardless of performance because their QS drags down the AdGroup, Campaign and Account Quality Scores. I'd argue that for a fully developed account with a thorough keyword list, smart ad groups and good copy that's almost always a mistake, BUT I'd also argue that Google shouldn't force us to make that choice. Advertisers are willing to pay for the traffic because at least some of the users have found them valuable, we shouldn't suffer any negative consequences however minor for choosing to do so. A PROPOSED SOLUTION Using QS as the metric to encompass all of these different notions of user experience makes all kinds of operational sense. Parsing the rankings into categories for CTR, landing page, relevancy and commercial intent would be helpful to us geeks, but might make other people lose their minds. A simple metric to help advertisers understand at a glance whether the QS is below par because of something within their control might simply be to provide a benchmark against all other ads running on that same keyword. An advertiser that sees they have a QS of 5, but that score is in the 95 percentile of all ads on that phrase might save time for high-value projects instead of trying to fix something that isn't broken. Granted, it might complicate life for the average consultant who may now actually need to do some work to find something to point out, but I for one don't mind them having to look a bit deeper before throwing rocks.
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