11 Hard Questions About Quality Score

by Craig Danuloff

I have a New Year’s Resolution this year. I would like to be done with quality score, at least as a primary PPC obsession. I’ve been too deep into it for what seems like two years, and it’s time to move onto something else.

I’ve even decided what that something else would be – bidding. Seems like the only bigger and deeper mess in the world of PPC. Perfect for me to stew in for a while.

But Quality Score isn’t conquered quite yet. Not for a lack of effort. For about 18 months I’ve been reading, discussing, thinking and writing about it. I’ve even got hundreds of pages of a book on it just about complete.

But questions remain. All the available official help files and conference presentations by Googlers and discussions between the paid search Guru’s I trust still leave a number of open mysteries.

Fortunately, some good folks at Google have agreed to help me by answering some questions. They’ve said that they would like the complete truth out there, and agreed to help me capture it and be allowed to share it. So I’ve begun a series of ‘interviews’ with people at Google who’ve been identified as experts in this area. There are some more conversations ahead.

In preparing for these upcoming discussions, I’ve been refining a list of remaining questions. And I thought that sharing them publicly would be interesting and useful.

This is not a complete list of all the aspects of quality score that I’ve found mysterious, it’s just those that even at this late stage of this process remain confusing or unclear. If you’ve got other questions you’d like answered (or comments/answers to those I post here) please leave them in the comments and I’ll either confirm that I’ve got that topic covered or will try to get an official answer.

NOTE: I’m deliberately leaving questions regarding landing pages off this list. There are still some in that area, but we’ll leave those for another day.

Eleven Huge Questions I Still Have About Quality Score

In no particular order:

Does the ‘relevance’ element of quality score consider any semantic or contextual analysis or comparison between keywords, ad copy, and landing page text?

  • The popular and default assumption about relevance might make this question seem strange, but discussions thus far have led me to question these precepts and make this question necessary.

Does relevance have a range, or like landing pages is it simply ‘poor’ or ‘ok’?

  • Landing pages can hurt but they can’t help. Relevance is reported in a binary fashion, but it’s not clear if the impact is binary or gradient.

Historic CTR of the account is a listed component of quality score. What is the decay rate of this measure? (Is last week more important than last year? Is there data so old it no longer matters at all?)

  • Account CTR history has a HUGE influence on quality score, but ‘history’ is in many ways ambiguous. Does the recent past have more weight? Does last year still matter at all? (There is clear evidence in some cases it does. How does this work?)

How is the history of the target domain (in terms of CTR or other measures) within AdWords a factor in the calculation of quality score?

  • Most of the doc only talks about the account, but there are references to the domain history in comments that have been made. What is the role the domain history plays?

If quality score is always calculated based on a combination of keyword + ad copy, how is QS calculated the first times new ad copy is available for display or displayed?

  • Testing and changing ad copy is a common and important aspect of account management – but changes to copy should impact quality score given that each new ad has no historical CTR. Do new ads have a minor or major ‘cost’ in terms of initially lower or estimated quality scores? If not, how and why?

In the ‘Economics of Quality Score‘ I used the fact that Ad Rank/QS=CPC to document the impact of different quality scores and QS changes. Given that real QS scores aren’t 1-10, is the post accurate?

  • Can’t wait to hear the answer to this one.

Is geographic performance factored at the account or keyword level?

  • One of many issues where different official references seem to contradict each other.

How often are visible QS numbers updated, and based on what range of historical performance?

  • If we’re working to improve quality score, it matters what the visible QS number represents – even though it’s clearly not the QS the system uses anyway.

Is quality score calculated before or after eligibility for an auction?

  • One of several chicken and egg confusions in the public record.

Is there ANY impact of performance or QS at the Ad Group or Campaign levels?

  • A rumor that looked like it had been put away but one contradictory help file emerged and the web is full of references.

Google has claimed that QS is only calculated when query = keyword. So how is QS applied to queries that are not identical to keywords?

  • There are two possible answers and we don’t know which is true: Do they use the QS of the keyword based on the times queries were identical, or is a different QS calculated for those queries in some way?
  • Extra Credit 1: ¬†Are phrase matched queries treated as identical to keyword for QS calculation purposes?
  • Extra Credit 2: What about queries when there has never been one for that keyword that is identical to keyword, or when exact keyword is a negative in that ad group?

Sharing The Real Answers

Hopefully I’ll get complete answers to all of these soon. I’m sure there are nooks and crannies of the QS issue that neither I nor anyone will ever get to the bottom of. But early next year I hope to start sharing the sum of what I have learned, both in writing and in special sessions at some upcoming conferences and maybe in a few webinars.

Quality score is big and important and confusing, but it really doesn’t need to be this hard for everyone. I hope I can help create at least a good amount of ‘settled law’ on many of the issues that today are the topics of lots of confusions and occasional endless debate. Stay tuned.

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