Quality score is a complex metric because it is a basic but fundamental component of ad rank.
Optimizing for quality score is a best practice, except when it isn’t. A high quality score is a sign of account health, except when it isn’t. Like any other paid search “best practice,” it is only a best practice when it works in your favor.
Because quality score is a fundamental element of an account and has been widely written about, it is a focal point for many advertisers. While some of that is fair, some of the attention it receives is unnecessary.
More than a few people have reached out and asked how quality score can be improved in their account. My first inclination is to suggest they first ensure that a quality score improvement is going to help drive them closer to the business goals they hope to achieve.
The reality is that spending a lot of time and capital on increasing quality score doesn’t always pay off, as you will soon see.
Tie your account goals to business goals
To determine if something is “working,” you have to know whether or not it is contributing toward your goals. This is where things can get a little sticky.
Sometimes when I speak with people, increasing their quality score is their goal. If that’s the case, there may be a good reason — but I’d ask the account owner to dig into:
- What they ultimately hope to achieve with their AdWords account.
- Why it is that they want to increase quality score. Typically, the resulting answer to this question is something along the lines of “Because it’s a best practice.” Do you see where I’m going with this? I think this is the human version of Excel’s circular reference.
So let’s back up. Let’s step outside of the pay-per-click (PPC) account for a second and talk about business goals. Once those are written down, then we will write down PPC goals that support each of those.
Business goals are almost always something like: generate X number of leads at an acceptable cost, generate sales at X percent return on investment (ROI) or calculating return on ad spend (ROAS), and contribute to $X in revenue.
Quality score could possibly support one of the PPC goals, but there’s almost never a situation where it is a goal on its own because there is almost never a situation where it is a direct link to a corporate goal. I know. I said it. And I mean it! (Honestly, I can’t think of a single one.)
What you can learn from quality score
There are a lot of great insights that can be learned from quality score, most obviously:
- Landing page experience.
- Expected click-through rate.
Each item listed is important, even at the surface level, but, there’s more than meets the eye with these metrics. If your quality score is suffering due to relevance and your click-through rate still seems to suffer, there could be a deeper issue at play.
For example, it could be that the keywords you’ve chosen are too broad or don’t show enough intent and are being matched with queries that aren’t really the best fit.
This is pretty easy to dig into: Just look into the search terms report and make sure the terms are a good fit for your products and services. If there are just a few misses, it could be solved with negatives, but if the problem is widespread, you may want to rethink your keyword strategy.
When quality score matters
Quality score is an important metric, and it should still be evaluated as a potential optimization opportunity. For example, if one of your highest conversion-generating keywords has a low quality score, it would be reasonable to assume improving the quality score could improve the average cost per acquisition (CPA) on a high volume of conversions. That would be well worth your while!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you might find quality score so low it is impossible for a keyword to get any traction. It can be worthwhile to focus efforts on those terms, which could result in expanded reach.
In addition, if you find there seems to be a quality score issue at scale (click-through rate, for instance), that might indicate an area of opportunity that could have a wide-reaching positive impact without a high level of effort.
There are times quality score optimizations can have a real, substantial impact, it just isn’t safe to assume that is always the case.
When quality score can be detrimental
Quality score is pretty well refined, too. The search engines have spent a lot of time improving quality score, the supporting factors and providing insight into areas in which advertisers can improve.
However, that said, it isn’t perfect. Although the cues quality score looks for are good indicators, there are times they can be counterintuitive. While you may be marching toward an increase in quality score, you could be marching away from more important performance metrics.
There are a few ways this can happen, even with the best of intentions. Here’s one: Ads with dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) often show increases in click-through rate over those ads that don’t have DKI, but that doesn’t always mean the ad is better quality.
Although the click-through rate (CTR) may increase, conversions may not. At that point, if you were basing your performance purely on CTR and quality score, it would be considered a win. However, if you were basing your results on performance against business goals, an increased cost per lead with no increase in conversions wouldn’t be considered a win.
This is just one example of many where making an increase in quality score your primary goal can come to the detriment of more important performance indicators.
Should that scare you away from making quality score optimizations when needed? No! It should only serve to illustrate why quality score shouldn’t be the primary account goal.
When optimizing for quality score isn’t the best use of time
There are times quality score optimizations just aren’t likely to have a worthwhile impact on your keyword’s performance. For example, if your keyword meets any of the following criteria, quality score optimizations aren’t likely to have a big impact:
- If the keyword is low-volume for any reason aside from quality score.
- If the keyword is already getting a decent amount of traffic that doesn’t convert well. There may be other optimizations that could help solve this, but quality score isn’t likely the best starting point.
- The keyword already has a relatively high quality score, even if not a full 10.
To optimize or not to optimize
The goal of this post wasn’t to suggest no one should ever optimize for quality score — in fact, you should! But, at some point, you will likely have to prioritize some account optimization efforts over others, and your quality score optimizations should be prioritized based on their likelihood to impact your account and business goals.
As we’ve seen from my examples above, there are times optimizing for quality score can come at the expense of other key performance indicators, which becomes an unjustifiable risk.
The most important thing is to always benchmark your performance against relevance, landing page experience and expected click-through rate as they apply to your business. Any optimization made to improve quality score should do just that, but without taking away from your primary goal.
What is a landing page? A landing page at its most basic is any web page that a person can visit or “land” on when navigating the internet. They are stand-alone pages, distinct from your main website, that are developed for the purpose of advertising, and with a goal to generate conversions and leads.
Since landing pages are designed separately from the main site, there are usually no options to navigate, forcing users to focus on the copy or message that is tailored to the conversion goal of the page. Featured images, use of color, calls-to-action, and a lead generation form are all essential parts of a landing page that help to increase conversions.
For the purposes of this post, we will focus on the relationship between landing pages and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns; however, the following best practices can be applied to all traffic sources.
1. Landing pages improve paid search campaigns
If you have ever advertised on Google AdWords, you’ll be familiar with its grading system known as Quality Score. Your Quality Score is determined by the following factors:
- Your ad click-through rate (CTR)
- The relevance of each keyword to its ad group
- Landing page quality and relevance
- The relevance of your ad text
The quality of your landing page is an important factor that contributes to your Quality Score, and the better your Quality Score, the lower your cost-per-click will be—resulting in you getting more value from the campaign.
Google wants to show ads to its users that are most likely to solve their problems so they can take action. A landing page serves this purpose as it does not have excess navigation links and includes messages on the page that are specifically designed for advertising campaigns. The information, therefore, is very relevant, meaning there is a high likelihood that users will fill out call-to-action forms or call your office.
2. Landing pages increase conversions
Businesses that advertise through search engines are more focused on increasing their sales versus trying to increase brand awareness. As a result, their PPC traffic is psychologically different from their organic traffic and needs to be marketed to differently. A user who visits a landing page will either immediately take action by filling out a form, or will simply just leave the page, so the window of opportunity to convert PPC traffic is small. However, since limited information is presented on a landing page, visitors are not overloaded with extraneous information, and if they are the right audience, they will be more likely to take action.
Landing pages are set up separate from main websites, and with the help of online tools like Leadpages, Unbounce, or Instapage, advertisers can do split tests (also known as A/B tests) of the copy, calls-to-action, and other features to test and improve conversions without affecting the main site.
3. Landing pages generate data and insights
To find out whether Google AdWords is right for you or if you should advertise somewhere else (on Facebook, for example), a landing page can help identify the most efficient channel for generating leads. The insights generated by a landing page can also help to identify the right message or call-to-action that will increase conversions, which can then be used to increase user experience, resulting in a lower cost per lead.
Should you ask for users’ phone numbers on a landing page, or just names and emails? You can do split testing on your landing page to find out if adding a field for a phone number increases conversions.
In conclusion, landing pages are an invaluable part of a PPC campaign and will not only help improve ad performance, but will directly contribute to the bottom line of your business.
Structuring campaigns based on personas is can effective, but what happens when you have keyword overlap that dilutes your messaging?
Keywords and search queries can mean different things to different people. That’s where intent comes in. You might, for example, have one keyword that serves multiple personas.
So the work that you need to do to qualify those leads in a PPC environment typically happens at the ad creative and landing page level, not necessarily with the PPC campaign structure.
My agency recently inherited a PPC account that was building campaigns based on personas, and the strategy didn’t prove itself. (By the way, if you’re interested in the cabinet of curiosities we discovered when we got into the account, check out my column from last month.)
Using this account as a case study, I’ll share with you some important lessons on understanding keywords, what to do when they serve more than one audience type in PPC and what results you can see when you reorganize based on the moneymakers.
The Situation: Misguided Campaign Structure
The business in question runs on licensing and continuing education for a particular industry. So the company wanted to target two distinct personas based on those two different groups.
The previous PPC account managers had separated the campaign structure based on audience personas: continuing education seekers and new licensees.
That sounds okay at the outset, except the keywords that were in the continuing education campaign were some of the same keywords that were in the new licenses campaign — and frankly, any of them could cater to either audience.
Here’s an example of how it was structured:
Continuing Education Campaign
dog walking continuing ed
dog walking renewals
dog walking licensing
New Licenses Campaign
dog walking licenses
dog walking courses
dog walking license tests
For the continuing education ads, searchers landed on a page that catered to that side of the business, and for the new license ads, they landed on a page with info specific to that.
But the thing is, it was a crap shoot. Any new licensee or a person seeking continuing education could come in via “dog walking courses,” for example.
So in the off chance they did convert on a particular landing page, in my opinion, it was pure luck.
The Fix: Follow The Money
When we dug into the account, we rolled up our sleeves; we had work to do. And we did what we always do: Follow the keywords that are making the business money.
The client was at first hesitant and wanted to continue the way they had been: campaigns based on personas. (We did get past that.)
Once we restructured the campaigns with the keywords that drove traffic and conversions, we refocused the ad creative and the landing pages (our messaging strategy catered to both possible personas), and let those do the work of qualifying the personas:
The Results: 123% Lift In Revenue
With a little love, the account experienced a huge lift in conversion rates, transactions and revenue for the client year over year. We suspect this will only get better, as we are still testing our strategy and adjusting it as we go.
From the report, we see:
- A 39-percent lift in conversion rates.
- An 84-percent lift in transactions.
- A 123-percent lift in revenue coming from PPC.
The moral of the story is this: PPC managers and online advertisers need to do the work to understand the intent behind the keywords, and then work that insight into various steps in the funnel.
That starts with ensuring the account structure is sound, following the keywords that are showing the most ROI, and then using marketing insights to make the ad messaging and landing pages guide the audience down the path to conversion.