Quality Score: 5 Steps to Optimizing a PPC Account

by Amber Speer, Hannapin Marketing

The most common mistake when companies try to manage their own pay-per-click (PPC) account is a lack of organization around, and understanding of the Google Quality Score and Yahoo! Quality Index.

Google Quality Score is an assigned number from 1 - 10, based on how well your keywords relate to your ad text and landing pages. The higher your Quality Score, the higher your ads can be ranked in position for less cost. Generally speaking, in Google, any keyword with a Quality Score of 6 or below is considered low.

The goal for most PPC advertisers is to achieve a higher Quality Score; which sometimes means making large changes within the account in a short amount of time. However, this tactic can be detrimental to your overall account health. Re-structuring and re-organizing your accounts for a higher Quality Score can actually decrease your scores initially, if not done correctly. A decrease in Quality Score will essentially bring in less traffic and less conversions or leads, at a higher spend. The goal then becomes to optimize your account without initially killing existing high Quality Scores. Low Quality Scores will eventually pick up in a few months - but who wants to have a broken PPC account for any length of time when the goal was to make it better?

Though trial and error, research, and speaking with my Google and Yahoo! reps, I have found the best way to restructure and optimize existing PPC accounts without killing existing high Quality Scores.

1. Don't be in a hurry. Whether restructuring your account entirely, or just moving a few keywords around and writing new ads, take it slow. Especially in Google, when you make large changes in an account, it can throw the system into "shock," as we call it. Google assumes your Ad- Words account was set up correctly in the first place. So, when you begin to make large changes, Google thinks that you must be doing something wrong, or made a mistake the first time around. Therefore, after large changes to an account your Quality Scores can tank. After a while (maybe a few months) Google can see that you have actually improved your organization, and your Quality Scores will begin to recover. But a couple of months with bad Quality Scores can result in lower traffic numbers, lower conversions, fewer leads, and lower ROI. Therefore, make a plan of optimizing your account week by week. Do one campaign or ad group restructure per week, including writing new ads, adjusting keyword bids, and settings.

2. Adjust campaign settings first. One thing you can do quickly and should be done immediately is to make sure your settings are correct for each campaign. The first setting I make sure to change can be found under rotate ads > set ads to rotate evenly. Do not set them to "optimize." Setting your ads to optimize means that Google will only show the ad with the highest click-through rate. This also means that if you're writing new ads for testing purposes, you can not split test (A/B) the new ad versus the old ad. The second setting I change can be found under bidding and budget > delivery method. This should be set to "accelerate." This means that your ads will show as soon as someone types in your keyword. Google has an option to show your ads evenly throughout the day in order to make your daily budget last longer. The problem with this is that you could be missing out on potential qualified traffic by not having your ads show at all times for any search query.

3. Don't overwrite old ad text. If you're testing ad text - and you should be - do not write over the old ads, even if they have lower click-through rates. If there are any ads you wish to discontinue, simply pause the ad, and write an entirely new one. Anytime you edit existing ad text you're writing over that ad's click-through rate. Quality Score is based on having a high click-through rate. If you remove or edit ads with high or medium click-through rates and accidently replace them with ads that have low click-through rates you are hurting your Quality Scores.

4. Re-structure for optimal targeting. If your PPC account has more than 20 keywords per ad group, or only has one campaign in the entire account, it's time to re-structure. Remember, Quality Scores are based on how well your keyword relates to your ad text. Therefore, if you have more than 20 keywords in each ad group, you can probably break those down into smaller, more targeted ad groups and write better targeted ad text. Doing so will increase click-through rates - a main driver of achieving higher Quality Scores. As mentioned previously, when restructuring, take it slow. Execute one campaign re-structure per day. In that campaign, you will be examining all of the keywords in your ad groups to find groups of keywords that can be broken out into their own, new ad groups.

5. Adjust bids accordingly. Again, when it comes to adjusting keyword bids, or pausing or deleting keywords, take it slow. According to my Google reps, taking a keyword bid from $10 down to $1 (or vice-versa) does not register well with AdWords. If you find keywords that could use major bid adjustments, pause them now then activate them later when you have the time and budget to work with those keywords.

Although it might be frustrating to make large changes slowly, it will be worth it in the end. Achieving a high Quality Score in Google or Yahoo! will take time - it's not an overnight fix but, eventually, you will see traffic, and conversions and leads go up, while spend goes down.

About the Author: Amber Speer is a Senior Search Marketing Consultant at Hanapin Marketing. Amber's primary role at Hanapin is managing pay per click and search engine optimization campaigns for a wide range of clients. She also writes for PPC Hero, Hanapin's blog on the pay per click industry.