You may have heard in the past that your AdWords quality score is an important part of determining both pricing and positioning for your AdWords ads. What’s a little less clear, though, is what exactly goes into your quality score.
For good reason, Google and other PPC companies like to keep the exact algorithms for their quality scores somewhat secret. They’ll give you broad tips, but they won’t tell you what factors exactly matter. This is the same reason the main Google algorithm is hidden; if you knew everything that went into it, you could game it. As soon as people are able to artificially change their ranking, the algorithmic sort becomes useless.
Thankfully, AdWords quality score is a lot less important than the full Google algorithm, and thus has been more thoroughly reverse-engineered. So, does the SEO on your site affect it, or not?
You quality score for AdWords is a measure tied to your account as a whole, and it’s affected by a bunch of different factors. Those factors depend partially on your site and partially on your ads. In fact, a big part of your quality score is how well your ads match your site content. This is primarily in place to help prevent instances where someone advertises for shoes, but their link takes you to a shoe-themed slot machine app. Even if it’s technically potentially relevant, no one realistically wants to click that ad.
Quality score affects two things about your ads; their position and their cost. If two different brands have exactly the same ad with exactly the same keywords, copy, budget, and landing page, the one with the higher quality score is placed in position #1 while the other gets position #2. If the one with the lower quality score wants to get position #1 they can, but it will cost more.
So what factors specifically go into your quality score?
First up, you have your keyword choices. The decision of which keywords to target is perhaps the single most important decision you can make for your PPC advertising. If you’re using poor keyword research, you’re going to end up running ads that target keywords that aren’t actually very relevant. This is why it’s generally a good idea to use your internal analytics, referrer data, and such private data sources to target specifically keywords relevant to your brand and product, rather than industry-generic keywords.
The key is to choose keywords with a high degree of relevance. More specifically, it’s not relevance to your site as a whole, but rather to your specific landing page. Let’s look at an example.
A pet store has both “cat food” and “dog food” as potentially relevant keywords to their site, but targeting the same ad to both of them might not be the best idea. A generic food page is less specific than two different pages, one for each type of pet. The same store might use “cat toys” and “dog house” and a whole host of other pet-focused keywords.
Targeting all of these ads at your storefront is relevant, sure, but it’s very generic. Instead, an ideal situation would be to group certain keywords together. You might make “cat food” and “gourmet cat food” and some cat food brand you sell all as keywords that point to a specific page on your site dealing with various cat food options.
You could point this to a storefront product listing, but even that isn’t very focused. A better choice would be to point it at a landing page that discusses each type of cat food, what roles they serve, and which is best for various pet owners in different situations. Each one of those types can have a link to that kind of food; the informational page does better than a product list.
This is why a company like Wal*Mart will have hundreds or thousands of ads running at any given time. Even a small business focusing on pet supplies can have hundreds of individual ads. All of them together add up to a reasonable budget, but each individual ad is relatively cheap; the segmented traffic works out in their favor.
When you start dividing your business up into themed keyword groups, it can easily spiral out of control. The line that divides a good ad manager from a novice is knowing when you can merge groups, what groups are worth ignoring, and what groups should be focused.
I’ve mentioned them already, but the second aspect of quality score you need to be concerned with is your landing pages. Each landing page needs to be as specific and as relevant to your keyword grouping as possible.
Sure, you could have an entire keyword group for cat food, one for dog food, and one for bird food, but if they all point to one generic pet food landing page, you’re going to have a low relevance score. It’s a better relevance score than if you pointed just at your homepage, which is higher still than if you pointed it at a page for industrial plumbing valves or something, but it’s still not truly relevant. The more specific you can be with your landing pages, the better.
Google actually has some issues with landing pages, though. If you have a ton of landing pages on your site, it’s possible that Google might not like them. They might be relatively thin in comparison to blog posts, or they might be deemed inappropriate as search results for one reason or another. This is why a lot of companies will actually set their landing pages as noindex.
Now, does setting your landing page to noindex hurt your quality score? Not a bit! So that right there should indicate that your website SEO isn’t necessarily important to your quality score. If your quality score can be the same regardless of whether or not Google even indexes the page, SEO can’t be that important.
The third element of your quality score is your ad copy relevance. You can think of this like a bridge between your keywords and your landing pages. Your ad copy is, of course, the compelling CTA text that gets users to click on the ad instead of some organic search result or another competing ad. Writing good ad copy is extremely important.
This is another reason to have specific ad keyword groupings. When you have specific groups of keywords, you can write specific ad copy about those keywords. Writing the same generic ad copy for all of your various pet food ads won’t be as compelling as various pet-specific kinds of copy.
In fact, if you wanted to get very specific about it, you can even get down into more granular ad copy. You can make individual ads with individual ad copy for different brands of cat food, or even different types of cat food for different cat breeds. After all, the people who own purebred cats probably want specifically formulated cat food, right? Even if it’s all basically the same, you can take advantage of very targeted searches. The problem here is needing more specific landing pages, and then you run into potentially near-duplicate landing pages, which need to be noindexed so you don’t get duplicate content penalties.
Again, the line that divides novice marketers from experienced ad managers is knowing how deep and how granular to go before it’s no longer valuable to divide up the keyword groups.
The fourth element of your ad quality score is perhaps the most important of all; your click-through rate. Google doesn’t really care about the topic of your ads, so long as it isn’t content that violates their policies. They don’t really care about your relevance between your keywords, your copy, and your landing pages either. All they care about is getting those clicks, because every click means they get paid.
The reason the other factors are important, and the reason Google actually cares about them, is that they affect click-through rate. The more relevant the ads, the more targeted the keywords, and the higher quality the landing pages, the better the click-through rate for the ads.
This is in stark contrast to organic search results, which aren’t typically as reliant on click-through rate, because they have a whole host of other factors to consider. To an extent, though, the basic tenets of SEO are also elements of a good set of ads and landing pages. SEO specifically doesn’t matter, but the same techniques used for SEO can be used to boost relevance, make your ads more effective, and boost click-through rate.
After all, that’s what SEO is for, right? You’re trying to boost the click-through rate of your organic search results. You’re just doing it through a whole wide range of different techniques, from keyword research to link outreach to branding to meta data specifications and structured data.
The fifth and final element of your AdWords quality score is your historic account performance. What this means is that the better you’ve done with your ads in the past, the better you’ll do moving forward. It’s a way for Google to reward the people who know what they’re doing, and avoid rewarding the people who are just shot-in-the-dark trying whatever they can, while penalizing the people who persist in incorrect techniques.
The downside to this is it can put you in a hole if you don’t know what you’re doing right away. If you run a few bad ads, it can tank your quality score, and then that same poor quality score makes it harder for you to run better ads.
Well, not specifically. It doesn’t make it harder to run good ads; you can do that with the proper attention to relevance and keyword groupings. What it makes harder is running those ads efficiently. A lower quality score means your costs rise, which makes it harder to get higher positions. This in turn can make it harder to get accurate data in volume, so it’s harder to properly refine your ads.
This is one element of quality score that is necessary, but that I disagree with. It means some mistakes or gambles on split testing can have a negative impact on all of the rest of your ads, making your budget cover less, meaning you have less to work with to improve. Thankfully, it’s not so oppressive that it’s impossible to work with. You can’t get such a low quality score that it becomes impossible to run ads at all.
So where does SEO come into all of this? You tell me. SEO specifically, across your whole website, isn’t very important for your ads. What SEO does is allows you to know how to focus your website content. Knowledge of the basics of SEO allows you to pick the right kinds of keyword groups and target the right kinds of narrow, focused pages that increase your relevance scores.
The fact is that the majority of the work you do on your website SEO is not going to impact your AdWords quality score, at least not directly. Having a better site, however, means people will trust you more, you’ll have better content, and you’ll have more brand recognition. The better your site is, the more likely people are to know of and trust it, and the more likely they will be to recognize you and click your ads. That will impact your quality score, but the rest? Not so much. Focus on user experience and relevance, and you will be rewarded with a high quality score.