Quality Score is that somewhat mysterious but very powerful measure Google uses to determine if, how, and when your paid search ads show up on Google and its content network. As Google explains it, a high Quality Score generally means that your keyword will trigger ads in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).
The Quality Score is affected by historical click through rate, quality of the landing page, relevance of the keyword to the ad group, and loads of other factors. Knowing Google, there are probably dozens of factors that change and are re-weighted all the time.
I’m not going to go into recommendations for sites to improve their base Quality Score (but for a nice primer, see Dave Davis’ discussion of this in Search Engine Journal – a few years old but still very relevant. There are also of course lots of great resources on Search Engine Land on this topic). What I do want to point out is that the Quality Score needs time to reach equilibrium, and that Google’s initial guess is often very different than what it ultimately learns. So if you’re convinced you have a great user flow from your AdWords ad through to your site, but Google just doesn’t seem to get it yet, consider biting the bullet and “buying your way in to the country club.”
I’ve often come across cases where Google’s “on-the-fly” Quality Score assessment for a new campaign or ad group was very low, resulting in a cpc that was significantly higher than I wanted to pay, let’s say $1.00. Now, I knew that was way more than I was willing to pay an on ongoing basis based on my ROI expectations, but it would have been a mistake to throw in the towel at that point. If I didn’t overpay and buy my way in for at least a little while, how would Google ever realize the strength of my campaign and the great user experience I had in store for its searchers?
Once I ran my campaign at the $1.00 cpc bid for just a few hours, the quality score improved. In addition to gaining some CTR history, I suspect Google was also realizing that the types of pages I linked to on Hunch had a very low bounce rate, in other words it was a great user experience. The Quality Score shot up and I was able to gradually reduce my bid while still maintaining decent placement. Over a few days’ time, my bid was down by 70% from where I started. (incidentally, bounce rate isn’t something I’ve seen Google talk much about explicitly, but in my recent experience – and from what I’ve heard from some former insiders – having a low bounce rate is a big deal.)
The whole process is akin to talking your way into a club once with the doorman, but then counting on the charm of your personality to get yourself invited back for free. Same with Google. And while I’d rather have the Quality Score be right to begin with, this pricing mechanism is actually pretty efficient. Google is essentially saying, “We don’t see it yet, but if you’re so sure, put your money on the table. Then we’ll talk again.”
So if you’re convinced you have a great user experience, but Google’s Quality Score doesn’t yet reflect it, don’t just go home with your tail between your legs. Temporarily buy your way in until Google realizes that you deserve to be in this party after all.