Search Marketing

Google’s Quality Score Update Highlights the Need for Greater Transparency

July 29, 2013

Understanding Google Quality Score has been thought of as the Holy Grail of search engine marketing. In simple terms, Quality Score can be defined as a measurement of how relevant a brand’s ads, keywords and landing page are to a searcher. More importantly, higher quality scores lead to lower prices and better ad positions. It is often thought that if one could truly understand the inner-workings of Quality Score, one could outsmart Google’s second price auction, beat the competition and ultimately produce greater results.

As announced, Google is planning to update the way Quality Score metrics are reported within AdWords over the next few days (early August 2013)*.

Example of a reported Quality Score within the AdWords front-end platform.

There are two types of Quality Scores: auction-time Quality Score, which will be unaffected by this change, and the 1-10 Quality Score reported in the AdWords front-end platform. The reported Quality Score will be updated as a result of Google’s calculation change.

Every time an ad is shown to a searcher, Google calculates an auction-time Quality Score that is a prediction of how relevant and useful each ad is to that searcher. The auction-time Quality Score is based on an ad’s expected click through rate, relevance to the search, and landing page quality, and also takes into account many other factors such as which ad is serving for the keyword, the time of day, the location of the searcher and the device used just to name a few. The auction-time Quality Score, in combination with an advertiser’s Max CPC bid, determines Ad Rank, position, actual CPC and other information such as eligibility for extensions, top slot placements and certain betas.

However, the 1-10 Quality Score reported in the AdWords front-end, known as “reported” Quality Score, is a general reflection of a keywords’ auction-time Quality Scores aggregated across all auctions, and is updated once a day. This upcoming change will improve the accuracy with which the reported Quality Score reflects a keyword’s actual performance and will provide search engine marketers greater transparency in how each of the 3 key quality components affect reported Quality Score.

While this is a reporting change only—one which will have no direct impact on performance or ad serving—it may result in an indirect impact on campaign management. For example, sophisticated search engine marketers understand how structure can influence Quality Score. With this update, what may have once appeared to make a large improvement to Quality Score, may actually appear to have a smaller effect, and therefore proven approaches may need to be retested and adapted to reflect this change.

The key theme of Google’s reported Quality Score update revolves around improving accuracy and creating greater transparency. And while this update provides just that, there is still more to uncover. Members of the industry should strive to be smarter auctioneers by investing in tools and technologies that help advertisers better detect correlations of activity with changes in Quality Score, and over time develop pattern recognition algorithms to suggest how to improve Quality Score. In the end, Quality Score is the most important driver of the auction, and yet it is still somewhat misunderstood. Until best-in-class search marketers can claim they truly understand the drivers of that score, it is important for members of the industry to work towards mastering this mystery.

Cover photo via Single Grain

*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post indicated that the change would be taking place July 30. Google has since amended that timeframe.