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Google's Quality Score

About a year or so ago, Google introduced the concept of Quality Score (QS) to their unsuspecting advertising base. 5 days ago they implemented the change and caused an enormous change in the way advertisers bid on their network. Keywords are now giving a QS by Google based upon details that are somewhat secretive but in essence reward those keywords a high QS a lower CPC and penalize keywords with a low QS a higher CPC. This article studies what this actually means for advertisers and what steps need to be taken to ensure it doesn't cause havoc with the success of a Google account.

First things first, what is Quality Score?
The definition provided by Google is, well, hazy and focuses on click through rate (CTR), relevance of creative and historical performance of the keyword and 'other relevancy factors'! Digging deeper into the process itself, Google gives an advertiser two options on their current keywords;
  1. you can increase the minimum bid to 'trigger' the keyword if it's been deemed as inactive or
  2. improve the quality of the keyword. Clearly, option 1 is the easier of the two, and a factor. Option 2 is far more subjective and for some a feat seen as impossible. So far, in some instances, advertisers have witnessed the change result in minimum CPCs rise from $0.05 to $5.00 an increase that warrants close attention. Advertisers will find out about the change by accessing their accounts and seeing what minimum bid is necessary to 'trigger' the ad.
Second, it to question why Google has done this.

The answer, beyond the possible boost in revenues from lower searched for terms, is an effort by Google to increase the overall quality of the keywords and ads being used. By making clients pay more for keywords considered to be lower in quality the advertiser has to increase max bid for their term or leave it inactive. As the perceived value of some of the keywords will be lower than the requested min CPC the terms will remain offline and as such only ads with good quality will remain. This change also removes many of the variables advertisers found confusing in relation to the status of their keywords. 'On Hold', 'At Risk' and 'Slowed' never really gave the advertiser a clear indication of what was happening with their keyword or the action points that needed to be taken to improve their quality. As such, this new model gives a monetary quick fix with the impetus to improve the quality over time.

Lastly, as an advertiser, you must act upon this change in more ways than one. The first is to ensure that every keyword is being tracked. There is still a large percentage of Google advertisers that track by AdGroup but not by keyword. This increase has made, as cited, keywords previously at $0.05 now $5.00 a click and as a result have large implications on return on advertising spend. As advertisers traditionally have added hundreds of 'tail' keywords at lower CPCs, the idea being the return on these phrases would be higher, now the CPCs could be as high, if not higher, than generic phrases and as such remove a powerful technique of building a successful keyword portfolio. For this reason each keyword must be measured for its inherent value otherwise budgets could be used up much faster for little return.

Advertisers must also address the quality of their creatives. For many years, some advertisers have taken full advantage of Google's reward of a lower CPC for a higher CTR, prompted by a strong creative. The most likely way for the majority of advertisers affected by this is to maintain their keyword list - but not experience dramatic increases - is to work on getting a better CTR via creative optimization. In addition, careful use of match types may also act as a strong way to improve the overall CTR performance of a term (either by making it more or most likely less broad and more specific to a search).

In summary, this change by Google stands to improve the quality of listings and aid marketers in understanding the status of their keywords. The long term impact is yet to be determined, however, it is likely that keywords selection has become a crucial element of building a successful keyword portfolio in Google and having a good CTR an even more integral factor.

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