There is a lot to love within Google’s AdWords pay-per-click advertising platform. Not only does it give you the opportunity to target buyers at the exact moment they are looking for a product or service like the one you offer, but you can set your own budget, put together new ads in minutes, and reach into a stream of traffic that includes billions of searches each day.
As great as these features are, though, our favorite thing about AdWords lies in the fact that there is always a simple and straightforward way to tell exactly how your ads are doing: your keyword-specific Quality Score.
For each term you bid on, Google will assign your ad score ranging from 1 to 10. That score is based on factors like click-through rate, similarities between the keyword and ad text, and landing page relevance. When you have a high score, like 9/10, Google uses that as a multiplier for your advertising bid. In other words, you can earn a prime search advertising position while paying less than your competitors. Conversely, with a low score, you are being punished for delivering poor ads and will have to pay much more per-click just to stay visible on the page.
With its Quality Score system, Google gives advertisers an instant way to check in on their efforts and see exactly what’s going on. In a matter of seconds, they can tell whether the ads they have posted are efficient or not, and which parts of their account need improvement.
Ultimately, every marketer should be looking for a 10/10 Quality Score across the board. With those kinds of numbers, you can dominate your search advertising market, get more clicks than any of your competitors, and keep your marketing budget under control.
Of course, that’s a great goal, but one that might not be easy to achieve. How can a small or medium-sized business without a huge in-house creative team unlock the code on how to improve quality scores in Google AdWords?
#1 Tight Account Controls
The biggest determinant of how to improve your Google AdWords Quality Score is click through rate. There is a perfectly good reason for this. Google doesn’t want to rely strictly on algorithms to determine how relevant your ads are. So, by watching how many searchers click on them, they have an easy way of figuring out if real people think your messages are on-target or not.
Knowing that, it’s absolutely crucial that you set up your ads so they are only being displayed to people who are likely to click on them (or for that matter, to respond to your offers. That starts with setting up your accounts correctly in the first place.
One of the biggest mistakes marketers make when setting up their Google AdWords campaigns is to simply accept the default account settings that are suggested to them automatically. These represent the average or anticipated needs of most businesses, not yours specifically.
Within your account controls, you’ll find restrictions that allow you to set the locations in which your ads will display, and whether users who prefer other languages can see them. Restrictions on timing and device type are also offered. Many of these options are also available at the campaign and add group level, but it only makes sense to set up your bigger account exactly as it should be for maximum efficiency. That way, it won’t matter if you forget to change something farther down the line.
It only takes a few moments to customize these variables for your needs, but doing so can have a very big effect on your click-through rates over time. That’s because someone from the wrong city or county might not be interested in what you have to offer. If they are seeing your ads again and again, but not responding to them, Google will be forced to assume your message isn’t relevant.
You can potentially increase your Quality Scores a couple of points just by tweaking your account controls to better reflect the aims of your campaign and the audience you’re trying to reach. Doing so could save you a lot of money in the future.
#2 Narrow Ad Groups
A “narrow” ad group is one that targets a very small number of search terms. In fact, our preference would be for ads aimed at a single phrase or exact match keyword at a time.
If you are a marketer who is targeting dozens or hundreds of different search terms through Google AdWords, as many of our clients are, breaking them into small groups of 1 to 5 keywords each might seem like a huge effort or even a waste of time. Why would you bother creating new ad groups for every search item you want to target and bid on?
There are a few reasons it makes sense in the long run. First, by making your ad groups narrow, you can ensure that the search term you are targeting appears as an exact match in your ad text. That way, when a searcher goes online and looks for that term, they’ll see your result in bold lettering, making them more likely to click on the result. That’s going to increase your click-through rate, and improve your Quality Score.
Also, targeting search terms individually, or in small clusters, allows you to tailor the message of your ad and adjust your bidding accordingly. We all know that some search terms are more valuable than others, so having a system in place where you can tweak your budget based on results is a good thing.
And finally, know that Google will assess the structure of your account for relevance and specificity. So, even though their system will recommend that you add lots of different keywords to each of your ad groups, you’ll actually be punished for taking their advice. Ad groups that are too broad are usually assigned to lower Quality Scores automatically.
It might take a bit of extra time and research, but if you want to improve your Google AdWords Quality Scores, it’s much better to have dozens of small ad groups that are focused than it is to have a few with lots of competing or overlapping search terms.
#3 Negative Keywords
Marketers tend to focus on the buyers they want to attract with their Google AdWords campaigns, but don’t pay nearly as much attention to identifying the searchers they don’t want to see their ads or click on them. That’s unfortunate because taking out the second group can be just as important.
By including negative keywords in your campaigns (either at the account, campaign or at group level), you can set certain words or phrases that will cause your ads not to display. A common example that a lot of marketers use is the word “free.” If someone is looking for an answer that costs nothing, they might be a poor fit for your product or service. Why would you want to pay for a click from that searcher?
The answer, of course, is that you wouldn’t. Having them click on your ad would be a waste of money if they have no intention of ever spending anything with your business in the future. There are exceptions to that situation, of course, but there are also probably dozens of other things someone could search that would tell you they aren’t a good fit for your company. Each of these should be turned into negative keywords that are added to your campaigns. Additionally, you should study your web analytics to see if you can pick out more of them as time goes on.
Using negative keywords isn’t just about avoiding wasted clicks. It also gives you a chance to weed out searchers who aren’t likely to click on your ads. If someone searches a competitors brand name, for example, and probably isn’t going to come to your website, then you don’t want them see your ad. After all, they’ll probably ignore it, reducing your click-through rate and harming your Quality Score as a result.
In that way, using lots of negative keywords helps your marketing budget twice: first, by cutting down on the number of wasted clicks in your AdWords campaigns, and second by helping you to improve your Quality Scores so you can pay less for every new visit.
#4 Pyramid Bidding
In many ways, newer search advertisers can find themselves in a bind when they first get started with AdWords. On the one hand, they need high click-through rates to improve their Quality Scores. But on the other hand, they can’t get those clicks without bidding much more than their competitors for a top three search position.
One way to deal with this problem is to engage in what we would call pyramid bidding. That means you set a budget you’re willing to spend on a day-to-day basis, but (in the beginning) don’t worry so much about how to improve quality scores based on the number of clicks being generated. In other words, you throw ROI out the window.
That allows you to outbid your competitors for one of the top spots, meaning you are probably going to see your click-through rate improve pretty dramatically right away. That, in turn, raises your quality score, meaning you can start to ease off of those big bids and get the same search position for a lot less money.
The downside to this, of course, is that you’re probably going to take a loss on your AdWords campaigns early on. However, the benefits of pyramid bidding can kick in within a few days, or even a few hours, depending on the volume of traffic you are receiving. The key to making the strategy work is keeping a close eye on your accounts so you can start to scale back the amount you are paying for each visit as your Quality Scores improve.
It’s ironic, but improving efficiency in your pay-per-click campaigns can sometimes be made easier by ignoring efficiency all together for a short amount of time. With pyramid bidding, you have to buy your way to the top of Google’s listings. Once you’re there, though, it shouldn’t take much to keep your Quality Scores up and maintain that prime position.
#5 Landing Page Alignment
Raising your Google AdWords Quality Scores isn’t just about configuring your ad text and keywords. Believe it or not, Google will actually evaluate the landing pages you direct searchers to after they click on your ads, as well.
Although the structure and content of your landing pages don’t factor in nearly as strong as something like your click-through rate would, it’s important to remember that small differences add up. A 1% bump in clicks, or a slight improvement in your landing pages, might take you from 6/10 to 7/10 or 8/10. In a competitive market – which encompasses just about any industry where there are more than a few people using PPC advertising – those points can make a big difference.
The major consideration in landing page content has to do with alignment. That is, how well do the messages you are presenting to searchers match up with the search terms you’re bidding on and the ads you are putting forward?
In our experience, the easiest way to ensure proper alignment is to use exact-match keyword phrasing on your landing pages. While Google’s organic search algorithm has started to move away from these kinds of formulations, its AdWords scoring platform still looks for keywords and search terms on a more literal basis. So, if you can include the term or phrase you are targeting in your ad (as we’ve already recommended), try to do the same for the title and headline on your landing page. Then, see if you can sprinkle the term in two or three times throughout the body text and subheadings.
Going beyond alignment, Google will look for landing page quality, which translates to a positive user experience. Common conversion tools like pop up ads or missing navigation bars could count against you and cost you a point or two on your AdWords Quality Score. Using them might still be worth it if it helps you generate conversions, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to test and consider as you go along.
#6 Trust Indicators
Generally speaking, Google wants to send searchers to web destinations they will find to be convenient and useful. That way, those same users will come back again and again, keeping Google as their preferred search portal. That’s the basis for its organic search algorithm but also applies to paid advertising. In fact, it’s this focus on quality and relevance that gave rise to the Quality Score system in the first place.
It shouldn’t be very surprising, then, that part of your Google AdWords Quality Score will be determined by so-called trust indicators that can be found on your landing pages and your website as a whole. Even if the company is taking your money on a per-click basis, Google wants to know that you aren’t going to do something that will annoy its users or leave them feeling ripped off.
There are a few different ways to think about trust indicators. Some are on-page visuals and text, such as money-back guarantees, Better Business Bureau endorsements, and airtight privacy policies that promise you won’t sell or share someone’s contact details.
In the bigger picture sense, having lots of related content on your site with relevant internal links helps to build your credibility. So do fast web hosting and SSL connections. There is some evidence that things like statistics and citations can make a small difference when it comes to assigning Quality Scores, and that typos or obvious grammatical errors can hurt them.
In the end, what you’re looking for are ways to assure the search engine – and its users – that the information, products, or services you are offering can be considered trustworthy. That makes your site a better destination and raises your Quality Score.
Because this is such a nebulous part of the search advertising process, we advise our clients not to worry so much about the technical details and specifics. Instead, we tell them to do all they can to reassure searchers and make things easy for them. Then, this aspect of their AdWords Quality Score will usually take care of itself.
#7 Sustained Success
Although many advertisers don’t realize it, Google takes account history into consideration when assigning AdWords Quality Scores. If you are a known marketer with a history of high click-through rates and relevant ads, then it’s assumed your future campaigns and ad groups are going to be good for searchers, too. But, if you’ve had some trouble competing for web traffic – or worse, have been punished for offering irrelevant ads that get few clicks and little trust – it’s going to take a while to get your credibility back.
For that reason, most profitable AdWords campaigns either start off small and grow piece by piece, or are rebuilt from a few core keyword and ad groups strategies. Marketers begin with their most important niche target groups, establish some winning strategies (starting with the right account settings and moving through negative keywords and the other tactics we’ve described) until they have a predictable flow of traffic to their landing pages. Then, they expand and duplicate based on what they’ve learned.
This process doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it can be important because trying to peer amid your bids, or jumpstart dozens of different ad groups, can get to be time-consuming and expensive without the proper account history. Google is going to assign all new keywords from unknown or un-trusted accounts with low-quality scores, meaning you could end up paying much more than you should over a course of months instead of days.
This is all a way of saying that if you intend to end up at the top of the search advertising mountain, it’s good to start with the right habits out of the gate. Or, if that’s not possible, to work with a creative team who can help you implement these ideas as you reorganize and re-launch your ad groups.
Google’s search advertising platform is built in a way that rewards the best marketers and makes things easier for them while squeezing out those who aren’t doing as well with higher costs and worse bid positions. Whether you’re being successful or not, you can expect the results you’re getting to keep pulling in one direction or another over time. Wouldn’t you rather have the system working for you and making every ad more efficient and profitable?
There are a lot of ways you can judge your pay-per-click advertising success, and certainly looking at the bottom line results for your campaign should be a first and most important consideration. However, don’t overlook the importance of Google AdWords Quality Scores when assessing the health of your campaigns. Not only do they give you a quick-and-easy way to see how you’re doing, but those figures will go a long way towards determining how much you pay for every click.
The minute you stop raising your Quality Scores, you lose money and make it easier for your competitors to nudge you out of the way. So, put these seven tested and proven strategies to work today and see what sort of difference they make in your bottom line. Or better yet, call our PPC management team at MicroD to schedule a free Google AdWords account review and see how we can help!