Clients, especially new clients, will ask me how much it might cost to be in position one or in the top three on Google. And while they might not like it or think I’m trying to hide something, I really can’t tell how much it will be to be in a certain position. And one of the main reasons why is because of the Google AdWords Quality Score, a dynamic metric assigned to each of your keywords. Quality Score can affect your CPC, your max bids and your position relavtive to your competitors

With a new account, because there’s no history for Google to look at, it may cost more to have a higher position. Over time, as you accrue data, Google AdWordsyour CPC may go down, but that will depend on your Quality Score. The lower your Quality Score, the more you may have to pay to maintain a position. Sometimes it’s hard to get clients to understand that landing page quality and load times, as well as advertising on relevant keywords, can have a big impact on their bids and their position.

Google has been making the Quality Score more transparent, which is going to be helpful in talking to clients about these criteria. But first, a definition and a little history on the Google Quality Score. According to Google, “Your Quality Score reflects your keywords CTR and the relevance of your ad text and landing page. Keywords with high quality scores are more relevant for users, more effective for your ad campaigns, and have lower cost-per-clicks (CPCs).”

Google first came out with a grade of Great, OK and Poor. Great was, well, great!; OK was middle of the road but not necessarily a bad place to be, and Poor, which usually meant your keywords would go Inactive (not showing at all) unless you bumped your maximum bid to a higher level, from $.50 upwards to $10.00. The problem with this system is that you had really no idea what was wrong because no additional information was given. Did Google hate the landing page, was the keyword considered irrelevant, was the load time on the page considered horrible, was the Google history on this keyword throughout their system so bad that wouldn’t serve these ads at all? We had no clue and no way to help our clients, other than experience and gut instinct.

Then Google added a little magnifying glass next to the Quality Score which allowed you to see a little more information – Keyword Relevance, Landing Page, and Landing Page Load Time. If Google felt that one of those items was lacking, they might tell you or they might not. It just depended. Plus I always felt there should be a Score of Good, somewhere in between Great and OK.

Last month, Google posted a message about changes coming to the Quality Score information, which would happen slowly through some Google customers. In the the next few days that change will be universal through all Google AdWords accounts. We’re seeing it now in the majority of our clients, and it’s very interesting. There’s three main changes that I see:

  1. There are no more “Inactive Bids.” There’s now a message that says “Bid is below first page bid estimate” with a dollar amount that shows what Google recommends the bid be at to show on the first page. I totally loved the bid estimates for some of my clients’ terms. Granted they’re not the most targeted keywords, usually due to the insistance of a client that they need to be advertising on terms that they have no landing page or information on their website about, but $49 to be on the first page seems a bit excessive, in my book, especially when their average position for this term month-to-date is 4.0, but we’ll see what happens.
  2. The data in the Quality Score column can change based on the range of time you look at. Google now calculates the Quality Score at the time of each search query. There’s a message in the Keyword Status column that says “Ads rarely show due to low quality score” when I look at the Today date range, but it just says Active when I look at past data. It’ll be interesting to see if that message changes based on the amount of data Google has to look at.
  3. The Quality Score grades of Great/OK/Poor actually have a little more meaning. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best and 1 being horrendous, Great is from 8 to 10, OK is from 5 to 7 and Poor is 1 to 4. It tends to be more helpful on the Poor and OK grades, in that if you have a 1/10 rating, you know you’re really, really Poor, as opposed to almost OK if you’re at a 4/10.

This information will help us make better decisions on what to do with certain keywords, particularly poorly performing keywords. And I think it will come in most handy because I’ll be able to give my clients more information about a search term and how it’s doing or why a bid is so high. And hopefully they’ll understand how important landing pages that are relevant to the search terms and ads that we create really are. There’s a synergy between the three that sometimes clients have a hard time understanding, and this additional transparency from Google on the Quality Score can help me have hard data numbers that may clarify this for them. It could also cause more “data analysis paralysis” as I blogged about last time, but only time will tell.