Fixing AdWords Quality Score Issues (Part 1 of 4)

We paid search folks like to think that we’re mostly immune to the inscrutable wrath of Google, unlike those poor saps who work in SEO and have to constantly guess at what Google’s algorithm is looking for at any particular moment. But PPC has its own Google black box: quality score. It’s a little number that indicates how relevant our AdWords efforts are, affects the keyword bid you’ll need to make in order to show your ads where you want them to be, and is a significant factor in how Google ranks ads on the SERPs. And yet, Google is surprisingly opaque about how they actually calculate it. Here are the quality score factors, according to Google’s Quality Score help topic:

  • The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword and the matched ad on the Google domain
  • Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account
  • The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
  • The quality of your landing page
  • The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group
  • The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query
  • Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown
  • Other relevance factors

Notice “other relevance factors”? That means that we’ll never really know everything that Google wants in order to assign a high quality score. However, we can still make improvements based on what we do know about the calculations. In the next four blog posts, I’m going to go over the different levels at which quality score is calculated, and what you can do at each level in order to improve it. Here’s what I’ll cover, and when I’ll cover it:

This week (11/28/11): Quality score at the account level
12/5/11: Quality score at the campaign and ad group level
12/12/11: Quality score at the ad and keyword level
12/19/11: Quality score in display network campaigns

So without further ado, here are some tips on how to improve quality score at the account level.

Account Level

To start our analysis of account-level quality score factors, allow me to direct your attention to what may be the most crucial overall factor in determining quality score:

“Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account.”

So even though Google doesn’t have a handy little stat at the account level like it does at the keyword level, your entire account does have a unified quality score, of a sort: your combined account history. Did you let your cousin’s cousin (who’s real good with computers) set up your AdWords account, only to see it crash and burn? Even if you paused those crappy campaigns and started anew, it’s still going to drag down your account quality score. No one really knows how long it takes to overcome a bad account quality score, but you’re probably looking at a few months minimum. It’s much better to have a solid quality score plan in place before you start an account, since it’s much easier to start with a good baseline rather than pull an account up from a quality score nosedive.

So what can you do? Basically, you don’t screw up in the first place. Have a plan in mind for how you’re going to structure your campaigns and ad groups before you even touch that brand new account. Draw out a tree structure covering your campaigns, and the ad groups you’ll have within them. Separate campaigns and ad groups by product lines, target audience, or customer intent. Keep each campaign and ad group small, manageable, and tightly relevant to the other components within them (more on this next week).

And if you’re already dealing with an account with a bad history…good luck. I wish I could say there was an easy fix, but at this level there’s not. The only thing that can solve a bad account history is a good account history, and that takes a long time to create. If you’re short on time, then you could just shut down your account and start a new one in order to start your quality score calculations fresh. But, this could get a little tricky – Google really, really doesn’t like you doing this, and if they find you using the same domain, billing address, or credit card for a duplicate AdWords account, you might get shut down. This is getting into some black/grey hat PPC stuff that I don’t really condone, but I will say this: I’ve seen it work before.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned next week, when I’ll cover improving quality scores at the campaign and ad group level.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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2 Responses to Fixing AdWords Quality Score Issues (Part 1 of 4)

  1. John Cashman says:

    I spoke with Google about this while I was setting up some accounts under MCC (my client center). They completely agree that an account can have a low quality score and any account with a low quality score should be paused. They were telling me that pausing for 45 days and starting fresh with a new campaign will help improve the quality score on the account. So you are looking at a six week break if your account crashes and burns.