Quality and Google AdWords

by Martin on January 17, 2011

What happened so far

This post is the second part in a series of posts to reveal the secret of AdWords quality score.

Previous posts:

  1. The Quality Score Puzzle

As I announced last time, today I’ll address some of the fundamental quality score contradictions. I believe that many assumptions about quality score are based on a false perception which has been introduced by Google itself. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but is in fact nothing more than just marketing.

How Google sells Quality Score

If you believe Google, quality score is all about high quality ads. According to Googlequality is the top focus. Sounds logical – hence the name.

Of course, quality is no end in itself. Google is a business and wants to make money – a goal which is achieved mainly through AdWords. Google likes to present it the following way: the better the quality of the ads, the better for the users. Also, the better the ads, the better for the advertisers. And if users and advertisers are satisfied, it’s good for Google, as both groups will continue to use Google and ensure future profits. So by using quality score, Google makes everyone happy and ensures future profits. That does sound logical, as well

It even sounds really good: Google is using quality to ensure long term profits. No wonder Google’s marketing department likes this picture.

Quality score has a big impact on the ad auction, where the ranking of the ads is determined. People like to compare the ad auction to a regular auction. In a regular auction, the highest bidder wins and the seller makes the biggest profit. In the AdWords ad auction, however, this seems to be very different. Because of quality score’s influence, the highest bid actually often times doesn’t win the top spot. At first glance one might think that Google is sacrificing profit for quality. Now that doesn’t sound so logical anymore.

No, it sounds almost too good to be true: Google isn’t going for the quick buck but instead emphasizes quality. You often find this view on blogs, books or in presentations. Some authors ask why Google forgoes short term profits and arrive at the conclusion that it must be about sustainable growth.

Google itself is a little more reserved in this matter. Google never officially claims to forgo short term profits. Still, it’s easy for outsiders to arrive at this conclusion. And you can’t really blame Google for not setting the record straight.

Google’s Relationship with Quality

People who work with Adwords know that many default settings are usually not in the best interest of the user. If you, for example, add a keyword to Google AdWords, the default match type is broad match. This means, advertisers let Google decide whether a keyword matches a search query or not. So if one were to add “nike running shoes” as a broad match keyword, the ad might also be shown for a query like “adidas runnig shoes”. Advertisers, who don’t know much about AdWords, usually aren’t aware of potential problems like this.

Whenever an ad is shown for a query it wasn’t intend for, the quality of search results suffers. That is bad for Google’s users, as well as for the advertisers. Even irrelevant ads get clicked now and then and therefore cost money.

If quality over profit was a priority, Google would have to educate people about pitfalls like this. But when you add a keyword, match options are mentionend only after you click on “Advanced option: match types”. Nevertheless, the information you get there isn’t really helpful. There is no explanation about how these match types work and there is no link to a corresponding help page either.

Another similar pitfall can be found when you create a new campaign. The default setting there is to target all available networks: Google search, Search partners, and the Display Network. This lets Google show ads not only on Google itself, but also on a multitude of other websites. In this case it cannot be said that Google really hides these settings from advertisers. Even easily accessible help texts are available. Still, right after the default setting there’s a little advice from Google to target all networks in the same campaign: “Recommended for new advertisers”. This is remarkable, because Google actually recommends the opposite: use separate campaigns for search and display (I found three posts on the official Inside AdWords Blog alone: here, here, and here).

With examples like theses and others, you can’t really prove that Google is intentionally leaving advertisers in the dark. Information about these settings is clearly available. Naturally, all users can and should familiarize themselves with the system before creating campaigns and adding keywords.

But aside from who is to blame: in reality, these examples often lead to bad ad quality and high cost for advertisers. If Google really cares so much about quality, shouldn’t they be approaching things differently?

Quality Score and Quality

Another inconsistency can be found in the application of quality score. Google has released some facts about this. We know that there are two different kinds of quality scores for Google search: one to determine the minimum bid and one for the ad auction. Landing page quality is a factor when the minimum bid quality score is calculated, but not for the ad auction (see AdWords help page for quality score). This means, an advertiser with a poor landing page has to pay a higher minimum bid. But aside from that, he has the same chance to reach a good ad position as anyone else.

How can landing page quality not be a factor in the ad auction? There’s no doubt that the landing page impacts a user’s experience. So, in order to ensure a good user experience, shouldn’t ads with poor landing pages get a lower position on the results page? If Google really wants to ensure a good user experience, this double standard doesn’t make any sense.

So what’s left?

If you believe Google’s advertising about quality and high relevancy ads ensuring a great user experience, you are faced with some contradictions. Everything seems to hint at Google being more interested in short term profit than in quality.

Google’s information about the importance of ad quality and quality score seems to be unreliable and contradictory. Does that mean that everything we thought we knew about quality score is wrong? Could it be that quality score itself is a myth?

Personally, I don’t believe a bid conspiracy like this would suit Google. It seems more plausible that this is just marketing – a marketing approach that has put the best possible spin on the true nature of quality score.

This means we have to let go of the idea that quality score is simply about quality. This removes the dilemma I mentioned in the last post: everyone has a different idea about quality. By giving up on the idea of Google’s selfless quest for quality, we can start focusing on other things. So if it’s not about quality, what else could it be all about?

The answer is easy: money.

That’s where I’ll pick up in the next post.

Martin Roettgerding is the Head of SEM at Bloofusion Germany. He blogs and twitters mainly about Google AdWords.

All posts from | Follow @bloomarty on Twitter

{ 1 comment }

kyle February 19, 2011 at 11:44 am

you’re good

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: