Quality Score Update: What You Need to Know

AdWords Quality score matters because it’s one of the main factors Google uses to determine whether one of our ads is shown, what position it gets, and how much we’ll have to pay if someone clicks it. I’ve done my best over the years to shed some light on how this sometimes mysterious score is derived by Google through several blog posts, conference presentations, and webinars.

AdWords Quality Score Changes Sept. 12, 2016

With an impending change in Quality Score from Google due to roll out on September 12th, 2016, I wanted to share an updated version of my free AdWords Script that helps advertisers monitor changes in their account level QS.

The change from Google is that keywords with insufficient data, either new keywords or keywords with sparse recent history will now get a null QS. I think this is a useful change because it gives us cleaner data to monitor what Google really thinks about our accounts’ QS.

What Changes From the 2015 QS Update

This change follows last year’s QS reporting update where Google started off all new keywords at a QS of 6. Prior to that, new keywords got an estimated QS based on historical data from others who’d advertised on the same keyword in the past, as well as the advertiser’s own QS history. In effect, the advertiser’s “account-level” QS was a factor in the starting QS of new keywords.

After the 2015 Quality Score update, there were many more keywords at QS 6 than before, making it hard for advertisers to see exactly what their account-level QS was.

The problem with the 2015 update was that it created two possible reasons why a keyword might have a QS of 6:

  1. The keyword earned a QS of 6 based on its history
  2. The keyword had too little data and was defaulted to QS 6

You can see why that can create some confusion: it’s very hard to determine if a keyword with a QS of 6 is worth optimizing or if it might improve on its own given a bit more time. In our research at Optmyzr we concluded that after approximately 100 impressions, an ad with a QS of 6 was probably really a QS 6 keyword and not merely waiting for more data.

Optmyzr’s analysis showed that after ~100 impressions, the likelihood of changing QS from getting more impressions was much lower than during the first 100 impressions. This indicates that after 100 impressions, Google is confident in assigning a true QS to a keyword.

For people who were monitoring account-level QS through scripts like the one I published or tools like the Quality Score Tracker from Optmyzr (my company), the 2015 change resulted in all accounts moving closer to an account-level QS of 6. In the example shown here, an account with great QS dropped a bit because a lot of keywords with sparse data got defaulted to QS 6.

After the September 2015 QS change, most accounts moved closer to QS of 6.

What is Not Changing

Even though keywords with not enough data will now show a QS of ‘–’, these keywords remain eligible to participate in the ad auctions so this means that they actually do have a QS. The 1-10 QS number you see in the account is merely an indication from Google about the average QS. They continue to use a real-time QS (a.k.a. Fast QS according to Mitch, a Googler on the AdWords Community) that is calculated for every single ad auction. This is the score that determines a number of important things:

  1. If the ad is eligible to appear for the query
  2. In what position the ad will appear (rank and top-of-page promotion)
  3. The actual CPC needed to beat the next competitor
  4. What extensions and other features like dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) the ad is eligible to use

Free AdWords Script to Calculate Account Quality Score

If you’re interested to track how the Sept 2016 change impacts your account QS, be sure to start calculating it before the change with a script like this one. By calculating the score before and after the change using the same methodology, you can get a good understanding of how the change impacts you directionally.

I first published a version of this script in 2013 and have now updated it in a few important ways:

  • It only uses QS data when the QS is a number from 1 to 10. Keywords with no QS, i.e. ‘–’ are excluded from the calculation.
  • Because Google now uses a blend of data from mobile and desktop, I modified the script to use impressions from all device types. A few years ago when mobile was not yet dominant, Google used a more limited data set to calculate QS so that all advertisers would be on an even playing field.
  • The script still calculates the score using only data from Google Search. This is because different ad layouts on search partners could impact the score, so Google removes this variation by excluding data from search partners.

Image Credits

Featured Image: ibphoto/DepositPhotos.com
In-post Photos: All images by Optmyzr. Used with permission.