Quality score is one of the few constants in PPC marketing. It is a score calculated by Google and Microsoft alongside your bid to determine your ad rank.
Yet, the factors of quality score and how much each lever impacts them is often a subject of debate.
We will dive into each quality score factor and explore how they impact your overall campaign and account success.
This article is written from a Google-first perspective. However, many of the strategies and mechanics carry over to Microsoft Ads.
What are the factors used to calculate quality score?
Google calculates quality score based on the combined performance of three components:
- Expected click-through rate (CTR): The anticipated CTR of the ad against what the ad platform considers similar ads.
- Ad relevance: How well does the keyword that triggered the ad relate to the query? How well does the landing page follow through on the ad’s promise?
- Landing page experience: Does the keyword to ad to landing page relevance carry through? Does the page provide a good experience for the user (easy to navigate, limited pop-ups, fast load time, etc.)?
Important note: Quality score is calculated based on the exact impressions of your keyword’s search terms. If you decide to test a new match type, the quality score data won’t be lost.
However, if you change a keyword without copying it over and making the change in the copy, you will remove the original keyword (which can stunt performance).
Be careful when making any adjustments to keyword match types or syntax.
Expected CTR: How it is calculated and its impact
Expected CTR is tough because it’s a third of quality score but out of your control. Google gives the keyword a score based on how it performed previously, which can either be:
- Above average.
- Below average.
These scores are determined based on how your campaign did against comparable advertisers. However, depending on the advertisers Google chooses compare you with, it is possible for a good CTR sometimes to get downgraded to average (or even below average).
This is why focusing on the other two quality score criteria is much more critical. Optimizing for good CTR is more important than optimizing for good expected CTR.
If you’re curious how your account is faring on this metric, you can pull the expected CTR column in Google Ads’ UI and sort keywords by their status. (Remember not to discount keywords with a lower expected CTR, they might be winning in other ways.)
A higher expected CTR indicates that you are good at getting people to engage with your brand – and making the ad network money.
The discounted costs per click (CPCs) are a way to reward you for the volume you’ll represent in the auction. This is why lower search volume industries can struggle to achieve above-average CTR (and shouldn’t let that influence their opinions on the campaign).
Ad relevance: How it is calculated and its impact
Ad relevance is the easiest lever to control and influences the other two quality score factors.
Here, Google examines how well keywords are featured in the ad copy and how closely the keyword idea matches the query. The closer the match, the better the score.
Moreover, it’s vital to differentiate ad strength from ad relevance.
Ad strength is a score given to the creative quality of the ad and does not impact quality score. It is calculated based on:
- Top keywords used in the ad copy.
- Uniqueness of headlines/descriptions.
- Using as many of the headlines/descriptions as possible.
Ad relevance looks at the relevancy between the keyword, ad, and landing page. This is calculated by assessing:
- Keyword density on the landing page and ads.
- How closely the keyword that triggered the ad matches the query.
- Whether the query’s intent meets the ad text and is captured by the keyword.
As match types relaxed to cover intent over exact spellings and order, the rules of engagement shifted. It’s no longer important to have every single keyword to ensure ad relevance matching.
Even though broad match keywords struggle a bit more with getting higher quality scores, they also have an easier time securing cheaper spots in the auction.
|Average of Quality Score
|Sum of Conversions
|Average of Avg. cost
Essentially, these campaigns target the same keywords and use the same ads. What’s different is the localization of search, search volume in these locations, and auction prices.
Phrase and exact will enable a more specific matching (and typically higher match types). However, the search volume and actual conversions might drop.
Landing page experience: How it is calculated and its impact
Landing page experience is the closest PPCs will get to technical SEO. Both digital marketing channels must use this metric as a guide. Google crawls the page and looks for the following:
- Load time: Does the page load in two seconds or faster?
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS): Does the page honor the CLS rules of engagement, that is, no changes to the layout within 5 seconds of rendering?
- Layout: Is the page easy to access and navigate for a human user?
- Keyword relevance: Is the intent implied in the ad represented by the page’s content?
The ad bot must be able to access the page to calculate this component of quality score (i.e., crawl budget is allocated for it).
However, PPC landing pages are not required to be followed and indexed. More often than not, it is ideal that paid landing pages are no-indexed and no-followed so they can use templatized content and not be forced to carry through the navigation bar.
Typically a good landing page experience is where a high conversion rate comes from, so you will naturally see conversion rates improve with this score.
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5 tips to get the most out of quality score
Generally, quality score is more of a health indicator than a KPI. That said, it unlocks meaningful workflows and data in accounts.
Here are five tactics to get the most out of quality score:
- Use branded campaigns to lift the equity of the account.
- Focus on conversational keyword champions over search volume.
- Use behavior analytics to improve landing page experience.
- Allow for fluctuation in quality scores as keywords age.
- Partner with your SEO team on quality score insights.
1. Use branded campaigns to lift the equity of the account
Part of the reason Performance Max campaigns perform so well is they blend branded and non-branded search. Branded terms will have higher conversion rates, cheaper CPCs, higher CTRs, and near-perfect keyword to ad to landing page relevance.
Building a branded campaign allows your account to achieve a few important things:
- Sequester branded traffic from non-branded.
- Provide data points to the algorithm that you have high-converting terms.
- Communicate meaningfully to your warm audience.
Having this campaign in the account will allow net-new campaigns/ad groups/keywords to benefit from the halo effect of your branded campaign (starting from an average of 6-7 instead of 5).
2. Focus on conversational keyword champions over search volume
With the rise of ChatGPT and AI in search, search patterns have evolved beyond formulaic queries. While it’s true that broad and simple queries might have search volume, they also represent quality score traps due to auction price and expected CTR. This is because:
- Underbidding means you’ll get impressions on low-value SERP placements that don’t lead to clicks. This, in turn, lowers your actual CTR, which is the seed data for the expected CTR.
- Bidding on broad concepts (like “attorney”) will catch a lot of random intent instead of the intent you need/want. Even if you rank well for it, there’s no ensuring your ad will speak to a broad audience.
By investing in conversational terms, you’ll ensure:
- You’re optimizing for conversational voice search and the intended transnational intent.
- Safety from voluminous cheap clicks clogging up your budget or unintended expensive auctions.
3. Use behavior analytics to improve landing page experience
Behavioral analytics is one of the easiest ways to understand what is causing joy and despair for your users. Struggling with landing page experience, but you’re not sure why? Tools like Microsoft Clarity (free) or Hotjar (paid) can tell you exactly what is causing the friction.
Whether it’s a slow load due to a big image/video or a “hidden” form, these insights will help you fix the user experience issues getting in the way.
One of the most common reasons for friction is cookie consent modules not jiving with the rest of the page. This can mean the module is too big, or it’s hard to see how to get out of it once completed. Adjusting for this will improve the landing page experience score and help the customer experience.
4. Allow for fluctuation in quality scores as keywords age
A good keyword with data typically will settle between 7-9.
While it might maintain a high score throughout its existence, it’s also normal for a keyword to get closer to the 5-6 average score as it gains thousands of impressions and clicks.
This is also why low search volume industries tend to struggle to get out of low quality score land if they can’t establish high equity through branded campaigns.
A keyword can drop a point or two and be okay. If it’s going from 5 to 2, that likely speaks to an underlying problem to fix.
5. Partner with your SEO team on quality score insights
Your SEO team must be part of your quality score conversation.
Between enabling quality score via crawl budget for the ad bot to the foundation for the landing page structure, SEO is integral to a healthy PPC performance – and a holistic search marketing strategy.
At the onset of the campaigns, discuss whether your brand will be better served by using a subdomain, the same pages as organic or no-follow/no-index pages on the main site.
Optimizing for quality score in paid search
Quality score is still here and a viable account optimization guide.
While it should never be treated as a KPI, the rules of engagement must be factored into account management.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.