Competing in a Quality Score World

Improving your keywords’ quality scores in any Google AdWords campaign is always a must.  Your ad groups must be tightly themed and your text ads must contain the targeted keywords.  Furthermore, your landing pages should include these same keywords.  By taking these steps you should see your click-thru-rates (CTRs) increase and thus, your quality scores improve.

Along with CTR, other factors come into play in creating higher quality scores, but in general, the more relevant Google deems the process to be from search query to landing page the better your quality scores will be.  So why do keywords still have poor quality scores, even when advertisers adhere to Google’s guidelines?

Simply put, without historical CTR data Google does not deem certain keywords relevant enough and will not show your ads:

Or your ads will still show, but your average cost-per-clicks (CPCs) are going to be higher because of the poor quality scores.  The higher your CPCs are the fewer clicks you will get for your budget.

Niche keywords mean poor quality scores

Advertisers in niche industries are often assigned poor quality scores because the keywords are too specific.  Since there aren’t many searches for these niche terms Google doesn’t deem them relevant and will penalize you with poor quality scores.

As my Google rep told me, a solution is to start bidding on broader terms.  For example, say your company sells a product that automates the payroll process in organizations with 100 or more employees.  The product isn’t cost effective for smaller organizations so you only want to target larger enterprises.  You may bid on keywords such as: enterprise payroll automation and payroll solutions for large organizations.  Since these terms are very specific and have low search volumes, Google is assigning them poor quality scores.  A broader keyword (supposedly with a better quality score) would be payroll automation programs.  Granted this term would probably bring you some qualified traffic, but it would most likely also bring you traffic that you don’t want.

I have a big problem with this mentality.  The whole point of bidding on highly specific keywords is to weed out irrelevant traffic.  You shouldn’t be punished with higher CPCs or less ad exposure because your keywords are too niche-focused.

What can you do?

In speaking with industry colleagues, David Szetela and Jo Stumpner, both agree that this issue is a flaw in the quality score algorithm.  Szetela says that niche keywords receive low quality scores initially, but will improve after enough historical CTR data is collected.  Unfortunately, it can take months for enough data to be collected.  Some companies cannot afford to wait this long.  Stumpner recommends changing your approach if your keywords aren’t working for you, such as delving into the Display Network.  This approach has worked for me in the past as I was able to put ads on highly niche sites.

It’s frustrating that being too niche-focused can actually hurt your campaign, but as my favorite football coach (Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, of course) always says, “It is what it is”.  You must dig deeper and find other ways for your campaign to succeed.

How do you combat poor quality scores?

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8 Responses to Competing in a Quality Score World

  1. Robert Brady says:

    When starting a new campaign or ad group, always start with a fairly aggressive bid. This ensures that you get impressions and (provided the copy is good and the offer is compelling) quickly establish some positive account history.

  2. SEMantiks says:

    Great post Matt,

    Nothing frustrates me more than the dreaded ‘low search volume’. You will always know your market better than Google and these poor quality niche keywords 90% of the time have fantastic CTRs that prove their relevancy. If only more importance was placed on this metric in determining quality score.

    I have found using small DKI ads groups works well in some niches to identify at an early stage those larger volume keywords it seems we are destined to bid on. As we all know though however, conversions are always higher when targeting the tail.

  3. Peter Gould says:

    Completely agree with Robert and SEMantiks.

    Push your bids up slightly higher than you would prefer to begin with in order to push your adverts into high enough positions to start generating clicks. Then begin to reign them back in as account history and quality scores improve. Sometimes I feel it can be worthwhile asking clients for a higher budget in months 1 & 2 of a brand new campaign to help build this account history.

    However, it is so frustrating to be penalised for bidding on longer-tail in this way, as, like SEMantiks says, these will generate the higher CTRs and CPAs on average.

    Surely Google should recognise this is in the long-term best interests of the Adwords platform? If we’re forced to bid on shorter tail with poor CPAs, advertisers will be forced away by not being able to provide a good enough ROI. Longer-tail granted, won’t generate as much click revenue for Google, but the conversions these terms bring in will see campaigns be successful and advertisers want to remain for years to come.

  4. Matt Hopson says:

    In addition to the options mentioned (aggresive bids & tight DKI Ad Groups) I would also say a good way of getting history quickly is to put the campaign(s) onto ‘accelerated delivery’. I’m not saying that this should be a permanent feature but it does move things along quicker 🙂

  5. Thanks all for the feedback.

    @Robert Brady: Certainly agree with starting aggressively, however, if Google deems your keyword to have a low search volume the bid, no matter how high, becomes less important.

    @SEMantiks: The frustrating part is that these terms convert and for the most part, these leads are much more qualified than ones coming from broader terms.

    @Peter Gould: I find as well that setting up automatic bidding can help increase clicks for poor quality keywords (not including poor quality keywords with low search volumes). Of course you are going to pay more per click, but this tactic goes in line with being more aggressive at first.

    @Matt Hopson: Sometimes accelerated delivery is a necessary option.

  6. Thanks for the shout-out, Matt (and go Pats!).

    You describe a serious issue that I hope Google fixes. It prevents users from seeing THE most-relevant search results – brand ads – so everyone loses: the user, the advertiser and (ironically) Google shareholders!

  7. Grant Perry says:

    Thanks for the advice.

    Low QS names can still convert well and it won’t always make sense to add them to a landing page (especially competitors’ names, unusually worded keywords or if you have a very focused/short copy squeeze page).

    Also worth remembering QS won’t affect the content network so another reason to separate campaigns into search and content.

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