Google Adwords - Quality Score AnnouncementGoogle has announced that it will start to show quality scores against all keywords in Adwords campaigns.

The concept of ‘quality score’ is one that has, to date, set Google Adwords apart from other PPC advertising platforms. Whereas most PPC channels reward the highest bidders with the top slots, Google has for some years ranked PPC ads on a number of factors, of which your maximum bid is only one.

The theory is sound – by carefully analysing the keywords, the ad copy and the landing pages used for ads, it should be possible to establish how relevant the ad will be for users searching for particular information / content.

Relevancy is the single most important factor in determining the quality of the user experience. If you are searching, on any search engine, for ‘valentines day gifts’ (as a topical example, albeit a couple of days late…) then you would be frustrated if you were presented with a series of websites that had nothing to do with either gifts or valentines day.

As the search engines need users to make their money, they are therefore constantly trying to increase the level of satisfaction amongst their users – relevancy of results (both paid and organic) is a critical factor in driving satisfaction. The model appears to work, as MSN have adopted a similar platform and the new Panama platform being rolled out by Yahoo! also uses the quality score principle.

The move by Google to give you transparent feedback on your quality score is an interesting one, although not something that we believe is a of huge interest to the experienced PPC manager, as it has always been possible to have a pretty good guess at likely quality score of particular keywords in any campaign.

Realistically, the possible ratings of ‘Great’, ‘OK’ and ‘Poor’ won’t really offer much in the way of granular analysis of a keyword’s strength and we suspect that a lot of keywords will fall into the middle ground.

Perhaps more alarming is the news of an algorithm change:

“Next week, we’re launching improvements to the Quality Score algorithm that sets minimum bids for keywords in order to improve the quality of ads that we serve to our users.”

The more cynical advertisers may see this as a signal that bid prices are set for another hike in keyword bid requirements (see earlier discussion on increase in Adwords costs). Even the official announcement indicates that this is a real possibility:

“So, what does this mean for you? As a result of this update, you may notice that the minimum bids increase for some of your keywords and decrease for others.”

Only time will tell what effect this will have and we suspect that we are set for another period of volatility, but we do support the principle of the quality score and believe that any short term pain for some advertisers will lead to an overall improvement in user experience.

We have long been champions of carefully structuring PPC campaigns and using the quality score as a positive guide, rather than fighting against it, and our experience indicates that embracing the objectives of the quality score principle usually helps reduce advertising costs overall.

It will be an interesting couple of weeks.