If you manage pay-per-click search campaigns in Google AdWords, you know that it can sometimes be a tough nut to crack. Especially when it comes to the mysterious quality score.
The AdWords quality score is made up of a variety of layers that have a major impact on the success of your ads. But what exactly is it? How is it calculated? And why the heck does it even matter? (Tip: It does).
Fear not! This post is designed to not only show you how to improve your quality scores, but also how to come up with a super high performing structure that will get much better performance out of your AdWords campaigns.
So, what exactly is AdWords quality score? And why should I care?
To make matters simple, let’s boil it down to this: Quality score is a number determined by Google that rates the overall quality and relevance of your AdWords ads and keywords. The position of your ad on the search results page, and the amount of your cost per click are based on this number.
Think of it like a credit score. When you go to buy a house or a car, your credit score determines how large or small your loan will be as well as the interest rate you’ll have to pay. The AdWords quality score works similarly to this.
The better your ads meet the needs of a searcher’s request, the higher your quality score will be and the less you’ll have to pay for each click. You’re going to have to pay Google a lot more money if you want to show ads that aren’t closely related to a search query.
But really the biggest benefit of optimizing your quality scores is that it’ll help increase your ROI (wahoo!) This is because a higher quality score lowers your cost per lead or sale by as much as 16 to 80 percent.
WordStream does an excellent job of showing exactly how quality scores determine how much you will spend per ad click, how your ad rank is calculated and at what position your ad will appear on the search results page:
I'm seeing a “Rarely shown due to low quality score” error. What does that mean?
If you’re seeing this warning in the status column of the Keywords tab in your AdWords account, then it's a good thing you're reading this post. The presence of this error means your quality score is at a two out of 10 or less—definitely room for improvement.
In this case, ads associated with the low quality score keywords will either not be shown at all or you will have to pay a much higher price if they are shown and someone clicks on them.
A lower quality score means a lower ad rank. And when this warning appears, Google is basically saying that it’s prioritizing other ads over yours because yours is not relevant to searchers—lower relevance means fewer clicks, which means less revenue for Google.
So, are you ready to start improving your AdWords quality scores? Let’s get started…
How to Improve Quality Score Step 1: Super Small Ad Groups
Google recommends using 15 to 20 keywords per ad group. However, this does not work in most cases. In fact, ideally, you should have only one keyword per ad group. Even if you have a large account, you should consider using this strategy for 80 percent of the keywords that you expect will get the most traffic. And, you guessed it, you should always use this approach for keywords with the “Rarely shown due to low quality score” warning.
To get a good overall quality score, you need to make sure that your keyword, ad, and landing page all neatly tie together. If you have several keywords in your ad group, your ad will likely not be perfectly relevant for each keyword; your landing page may not have all those keywords either. On the other hand, if you have just one keyword in your ad group, it is easy to customize your ad copy around that keyword and ensure that your landing page has enough references to that keyword. This gives you much more control in managing your quality scores.
When creating a single keyword ad group, add all three match types (exact, phrase, modified broad) for your keyword.
For example, if your business sells car covers, you may want to create a structure similar to this:
Ad Group Car Covers:
Ad Group Custom Car Covers:
[Custom Car Covers]
“Custom Car Covers”
+Custom +Car +Covers
Ad Group Corvette Car Covers:
[Corvette Car Covers]
“Corvette Car Covers”
+Corvette +Car +Covers
Ad Group Chevrolet Corvette Car Covers:
[Chevrolet Corvette Car Covers]
“Chevrolet Corvette Car Covers”
+Chevrolet +Corvette +Car +Covers
When you do this, you are decreasing the difference between the user search term to keyword and keyword to ad ratios. Since the user search terms directly match the keyword, your ad targeting is more relevant and precise (assuming of course that you use the keyword in your ad copy), which will increase your click-through rates (CTR) and your quality scores.
You should try this approach for keywords that are responsible for at least 80 percent of your traffic. If that’s still too many, do it for all keywords with a quality score at three or below.
Another important aspect of using single keyword ad groups is that you can use a landing page specifically customized for the keyword in your ad group. This results in a much more relevant and targeted experience for users, and improves quality scores. We’ll get into this in detail in step six of this post.
How to Improve Quality Score Step 2: Negative Keywords
Negative keywords are keywords you add to your campaign or ad group that you want Google to ignore and not show your ads. They are critical to eliminate irrelevant searches from your campaign, as well as to ensure that a given keyword is matched to only one ad group in your campaign.
At the campaign level, you would want to add keywords that you don’t ever want any traffic for. For example, going back to our Car Covers business, you would want to add the following as negative keywords (assuming you don’t sell these types of covers!):
While most of your negative keywords will be at the campaign level, it is important to have ad group level negative keywords, especially when you are using single keyword ad groups as we discussed in the first step. In this case, you will have many ad groups with similar keywords and the only way to eliminate overlap, is to use ad group level negative keywords.
For example, the Car Covers ad group that we discussed in the first step will start to steal traffic for keywords like “Custom Car Covers” and “Corvette Car Covers.” You can solve this problem by adding negative keywords like the following:
Ad Group Car Covers:
Ad Group Custom Car Covers:
Ad Group Corvette Car Covers:
Basically, negative keywords save you from having your short-tail keywords overshadow your more specific long-tail keywords. A real life saver, since someone searching for a Chevrolet Corvette Car Cover, would be much more likely to click on an ad that specifically mentions Chevrolet Corvette.
To improve quality scores, your ads have to be as relevant as possible to user search queries. Adopting a single keyword ad group strategy makes this easier because you can always make sure that your keyword is present in the ad copy.
But to take your ads to the next level, you should use Google’s new expanded text ad format which allows you to have ads that are 50 percent longer than before. This gives you ample space to fit even your long tail keywords, and you still have enough room to add benefits and a call-to-action. Not only will your ads now be more relevant than before, but they will also have increased CTRs.
With expanded text ads, you have 140 characters of ad space—a big leap from the former 25-35-35 format:
Here is a quick guide on how you should setup your expanded text ad:
- Headline 1 - Put your keyword here.
- Headline 2 - Put your main benefit / USP here.
- Display URL - Put your keyword in the URL path. If you have a long keyword, you can break it up and use both path fields for your keyword. Otherwise use one field for the keyword and use the other for a call-to-action.
- Description - Put in additional benefits and features here. Add a call-to-action. As an option, you can add your keyword or partial keyword here as well.
For example, an ad for our “Chevrolet Corvette Car Covers” ad group could look something like this:
If you are setting up an ad for a keyword containing a competitor name or a trademarked term, you are not allowed to use this keyword in the headlines or the description. But Google does allow you to use such a keyword in the display URL and you must take advantage of this fact. This is the only way that you can get a competitor or trademarked term in your ad copy while remaining on Google’s good side!
How to Improve Quality Score Step 4: Stop Using Dynamic Keyword Insertion
Dynamic Keyword Insertion is an AdWords feature that allows you to automatically use the user’s search query anywhere in your ad copy. However, contrary to what you may have heard before, it is not a magic bullet to improve your quality scores. If you use single keyword ad groups, then it virtually eliminates the need for Dynamic Keyword Insertion in the first place.
I know it’s tough to abandon a practice everyone pretty much swore by for so long, but it’s actually to your advantage—especially since Dynamic Keyword Insertion can lead to unpredictable results. For one, if you are not careful with your keywords (especially broad match keywords), you risk creating ads with irrelevant messaging. Your ads will also now show misspellings if the original user query has a typo. And you can run into trouble if the user query contains a trademarked or copyrighted term.
Another reason to avoid Dynamic Keyword Insertion is that a keyword awkwardly stuffed into a headline doesn’t do nearly as much good as a well-written, emotive headline. With expanded text ads, you now have the space to create something that makes people laugh, cry, empathize—whatever moves them to click on your ad.
So forget about Dynamic Keyword Insertion. Get back to your copywriting roots and come up with something that stirs things up!
How to Improve Quality Score Step 5: Ad Extensions
Ad extensions are an important part of quality score calculations. They add extra elements of information about your business that help searchers find what they’re looking for fast, without rooting around your site to find answers. This added layer of convenience increases your click-through-rates. As Google says, “Give your customers more reasons to click.”
Here is an overview of the ad extensions that will be most helpful for improving quality scores:
- Sitelinks: These are links to other areas of your site that searchers may find useful. It is best to use other landing pages that you have, instead of website pages. For example: additional products or services that you provide, downloadable content offers, webinars, special promotions, etc. Pay close attention to the titles you show for these links—try to use your most popular search terms here. Definitely use the additional 2-line descriptions that are available for each sitelink.
- Location: Use these extensions to display your address directly beneath your ad. This type of ad extension is great for location targeted campaigns.
- Call: By displaying your phone number within your ad, people can call you directly from the search results page. On mobile devices, they can just click the Call icon to place the call.
- Review: If someone from a third party site has given you a good review, you can include it beneath your ad using a review extension.
- Callout: Callout extensions allow you to add an extra line of copy that highlights the benefits or features of your business. This line is not clickable, but it could encourage people to interact with your ad.
- Structured snippet: Structured snippets allow you to add additional information about your products or services based on a predetermined list of categories. For example, you could choose “Services” from that list and add a structured snippet about the different services you offer.
- Price: These types of extensions allow you to showcase the prices of your products or services. Price extensions are only visible on mobile devices, but they can be very useful—especially if you’re offering low or promotional prices.
- Seller Ratings: If you have an ecommerce site or you are a retailer and have independent ratings available from a trusted third party source, you can link their feed with your site. Once you do this, star ratings will appear within your ad copy and provide an excellent visual cue that people are sure to notice.
An ad showing seller ratings, callout, structured snippet (types) and sitelinks ad extensions
An ad showing call, callout, review, and sitelinks (with 2 line descriptions) ad extensions
A mobile ad showing seller ratings, call, structured snippet (types), and price ad extensions
Ad extensions can be added at either the account, campaign, or ad group level:
- Location, call, and ratings and review extensions: These extensions should be added at the account level unless you have different locations or numbers, in which case they should be added to the associated campaigns.
- Sitelinks, callouts, and snippets: These elements should be added at the campaign level, and in some cases at the ad groups level. While you don’t necessarily need different ones for each ad group, you can provide the extensions for sets of similar ad groups.
How to Improve Quality Score Step 6: Landing Page Content
One of the factors that Google takes into consideration when determining your quality score is the relevancy of your landing page content. Make sure you use your keywords in the the title, meta description, and meta keywords portions of your landing page. Also, include keywords within your content, paying particular attention to your headlines and subheadings. Essentially you have to use much of the same on-page SEO techniques that you would use for optimizing your website pages.
If you’re following the single keyword ad group strategy that we discussed earlier, you can use a customized landing page for each of your ad groups. Using this strategy completes your trifecta of ensuring precise message match between your keyword, ad and landing page. This not only increases your quality score, but will provide an excellent boost to your conversion rate as well.
But creating a customized landing page for each ad group you have is not realistic. Not only is it resource intensive to begin with, it is a maintenance and A/B testing nightmare. You can solve this problem by using dynamic text replacement. Using this technique, you’ll only need to create a handful of landing pages or maybe just one landing page.
The way it works is that you include your keyword and even your whole headline within the landing page URL of your ads. The landing page then uses dynamic text replacement in a few strategic places such as headline and call to action, and swaps your existing content with the keywords and headline that you inserted into your ad URL.
A landing page showing dynamic insertion of keywords “Chevrolet Car Cover” and “Chevrolet Corvette Car Covers”
This eliminates the need to create multiple landing pages yourself—a very tiresome process.
Using this technique, you’ll be able to keep each user’s experience highly relevant to their search. Not a bad way to skyrocket your quality score and conversion rates!
How to Improve Quality Score Step 7: Landing Page User Experience
You should spend some time making sure that your landing pages are fast loading, visually appealing, and have an excellent overall user experience. What a bummer it would be to spend all that time setting up your ad campaign and content only to have users scamper away as soon as they catch a glimpse of your uninspiring landing page. Not only do you lose a conversion, these quick “bounces” tarnish your quality score too. Yikes.
Screenshot of Google’s PageSpeed tool for User Experience
While design and user experience have been discussed in great detail elsewhere, there are some other elements that affect a user’s perception of your landing page as well:
- The offer on your landing page should be the same offer that was presented in your ad
- Your business’ information should be clearly displayed in order to establish trust
- Your landing page should be responsive and easily browsable from both desktop and mobile devices
Even more importantly, you need to have fast load times. Have you ever clicked a search result that took too long to load? How many seconds did you stick around before you clicked the back button to look at the other search results?
Searchers’ attention spans continue to decrease, and their patience with it. Fast loading times are super crucial for good user experience—which, of course, means they’re also crucial for a good quality score.
How to Improve Quality Score Step 8: Branded Keywords
Even if you’re in the top-ranking position organically for your own branded keywords, you should still use them in your bids. If both your PPC and organic results show up for your branded keyword, your combined CTR will be higher than it would be if only the organic results were displayed. More importantly for our purposes, branded ads will garner the highest CTRs in your whole campaign which is yet another signal that contributes to a higher quality score for your specific keyword.
Look at these amazing CTRs and Quality Scores for branded terms
Branded terms consistently land in the seven to 10 range for quality score. Why? Well, there’s a few different factors. For one, it’s much easier to create relevant ads and landing pages for these types of keywords since your brand, obviously, is represented throughout your entire site’s content. Secondly, searchers who enter your brand term into Google probably already have a strong interest in purchasing your product or service. It’s pretty much a sure thing that they’ll click on your ad, convert, and improve your overall quality score.
You can also think of your branded ads as billboards. Sure, you were already going to show up in search results organically. But your ad at the top of the page holds a marketing message. Plus, you can also use ad extensions to display links for new products, promotions, and other enticing elements for your prospects.
These marketing messages reiterate your value to the customer. This is especially important considering that your competitors will probably be bidding on your brand keywords and will also show up in ad results. If you miss this opportunity, prospects may be enticed by your competitor’s ad and leave you behind.
Now that you armed with an actionable blueprint, go on and start implementing these strategies. And if you follow through on all of the steps we have listed, you will boost your campaign performance to levels you have never seen before.