How to increase Google Adwords Quality Score – The Guide

by Joel on March 29, 2011 · 8 comments

in PPC

Google Adwords Quality Score Improvement
Without a good quality score across most of the keywords in your Adwords account you can find that your marketing budget drains fast. This guide to Google Adwords Quality Score will help you to understand all of the factors that influence your quality score as well as offering you ideas on how you can work to improve your quality score through using this knowledge.

Firstly, what is quality score?

Quality Score is a measure that Google use to determine each of your keywords relevance to the searches that they are served an ad for. This helps to keep the paid search results as relevant as possible. Your keyword quality score will affect how much you pay per click and what position your ad appears in the search engine results pages.

Your Ad Rank (position) is determined by Maximum CPC Bid X Quality Score. If your ad rank is higher than your competitors then your ad will show above theirs.

This table shows how, for a fixed bid of £1.20, quality score affects your ad rank.

Quality Score ranges from a low score of 1 to a high score of 10.

Max Bid Quality Score Ad Rank (position)
£1.20 1 1.20
£1.20 2 2.40
£1.20 3 3.60
£1.20 4 4.80
£1.20 5 6.00
£1.20 6 7.20
£1.20 7 8.40
£1.20 8 9.60
£1.20 9 10.80
£1.20 10 12.00


Google do not tell you the ad rank of competitors but what they do tell you is that you only need an ad rank slightly higher than a competitor to rank above them.

Therefore, using the example above; say your competitor has a quality score (QS) of 5 and you a QS of 8 and you are both vying for the same position (which for arguments sake in position 4 and requires an ad rank of 8) then you would only need to bid £1 (8 ad rank/8 quality score). your competitor on the other hand would have to bid to an ad rank of 8 divided by their quality score of 5 = £1.60 to equal you and even more to rank higher than you. Assuming you and your competitor have the same conversion rate, average order size and margin etc then you will be making 60% more profit than them on that keyword.

So How is Quality Score Calculated?

Google are obviously very protective over the exact formula for the make up of quality score but they give some basic information that helps marketers to understand the basics of how it works.

If you cannot be bothered to go and read it then this is a summary of the important bit; the factors that influence quality score:

  • The historical clickthrough rate (CTR) of the keyword and the matched ad on Google; note that CTR on the Google Network only ever impacts Quality Score on the Google Network — not on Google
  • Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account
  • The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
  • The quality of your landing page
  • The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group
  • The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query
  • Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown
  • Other relevance factors

I believe that these factors have been put into weighted order apart from a red herring; I believe that the account history is probably less important than many of the other factors. Why? Well because every account that I have worked on has had some very low click through rate ad groups that focus on high volume generic keywords and/or competitors branded terms. These ad groups drag down the account CTR drastically but I have found that pausing these ad groups does little good for the quality score of the keywords in the other ad groups.

My gut feel from what I have seen and tested is that quality score calculations are kept much more local to a keyword and to it’s ad group.

There is an exceptionally good article on quality score over at redflymarketing. They are the guys who created this graphic to visually explain the make up of quality score:


This is a great chart and pretty spot on, you can see Quality Score change by the hour on your keywords that have a high search volume and where performance fluctuates; this convinces me that the ads CTR is all important. I am not completely convinced on the whole historical CTR thing; I believe that there is an element of truth here and that  Google stating this helps to persuade advertisers towards a more stable mode of management, however, the most recent performance is infinitely more important to your quality score than the keywords quality score last month or last year.

I also believe that landing page relevancy is important and probably more like 10% of the overall score.I have found that when starting new Google accounts that the starting quality score given across an account varies by the domain which it is attached to. Many accounts start with an average quality score across all keywords of 7 and then other accounts seem to start with a quality score across all keywords of 4. This is before any data has been gathered in the account for Google to determine performance so what determines the starting quality score? All Google have done is gone in and crawled the site.

I believe that there is something to do with the trust of your domain as well as the relevancy factors of your landing pages to the keywords as I have seen old domains that focus around a particular keyword that rank well in natural search achieve a much higher starting quality score than keywords in an account that relate to a newer domain where there is less history in natural search.

This is all pretty anecdotal so I will give you a break from my musings now and try and stick to what I do know for sure.

Here is a great video presented by Hal Varian who is the Chief Economist at Google. He goes through all of the basics on how the ad auction works and it is easy and clear to understand.

How to increase your quality score?

We have now been through what quality score is, how it is calculated and what influences it. it is now time to look at what you can do about these influencing factors to increase your Adwords quality score.

The CTR and historical CTR of the keyword and the matched ad on Google

There are a number of things that you can do here:

1) Keep ad groups tightly themed – no more than 15 to 20 keywords and use ads that contain your theme’s core keyword in the title and one of the description lines.

2) Ensure that you are testing and refining ad copy – this is the most important thing to be doing to improve your CTR. Here is a post on how to write great PPC ads. Just imagine you have 3 ads, one with a 0.5% CTR, one with a 1.5% CTR and another with a 2% CTR. What happens to your ad group average CTR if you take out that low CTR ad?

3) Reducing irrelevant impressions using negative keywords. Read this on running search query reports. This can drastically reduce your impressions funnelling only the relevant traffic to your ads which will in turn result in higher click through rates.

4) Constantly question your ad group structure; if you can split some keywords out into a more closely themed ad group then do it.

Your account history, which is measured by the CTR of all the ads and keywords in your account

There is little you can do about this in the short term, if you have a poor account history then you need to work on improving it consistently through using some of the factors detailed above. If you have a new account then focus on keeping a high click through rate from the start – this will set you up well for months to come.

The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group

I normally try to use the main theme keyword in the display URL but it is also a good place to put an offer name or some other call to action (if you have the space). The main thing is to keep testing until you find a format that works and then stick with it for that ad group. One thing to avoid is just having your homepage domain as the display URL; this is a lazy wasted opportunity; make best use of all the space given to you in the ad!

The quality of your landing page

As mentioned earlier in the post, this is an important one, at least I think it is. Google have some guidelines regarding landing pages and site quality which are worth reading. Google focus on four main things: Relevance, Originality, Transparency and Navigability. They explain their definitions on the above link  and this is what they say you can do to improve your landing page quality:

  • Relevant and original content— in other words, ask yourself:
    • What is the purpose of your site? (It should be clear to users)
    • Is your content copied from other sites? (It shouldn’t be!)
    • Why would a user visit your page over a similar site? (Your site should offer value for users)
    • What other additional products, features, or reviews can you offer?
  • Transparency— in other words, ask yourself:
    • Can the user easily learn more about your business (i.e. about us, company info, contact info)
    • How does your site interact with a visitor’s computer? (it shouldn’t download malware or collect sensitive information without a user’s permission)
    • Can users tell what they’re getting (or giving you) when they click a download button or fill out a form?
    • Is it clear to site visitors how you will use their personal information?


  • Navigability— in other words, ask yourself:
    • If your page is conversion-focused, can the user easily access additional information to learn more or answer questions?
    • Is it simple for the user to move around the site, and reach destination content within a few clicks?

The relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group

Ensure that you use the key theme keyword from the ad group in the ad title, one of the main description lines and in the display URL.

The relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query

You can see all of the search queries and the ad group that they were triggered by in a search query report. However, Google do not tell you the exact keyword that triggered the ad – but assuming you have ad groups that are tightly themed it is fairly obvious. Take the search query report and work hard on reducing irrelevant searches as well as channelling traffic to the most relevant ad group in your account using negative keywords. This should be a weekly practice. It may also be a good idea to try to understand the intent of the searcher for each of your ad groups; are they looking to buy or are they just researching. There is a good post on search intent here.

Your account’s performance in the geographical region where the ad will be shown

If you go into the dimensions tab in Adwords you will see a drop down just under where it says settings. Click on that and select “Geographic”. Run a report for a few weeks or a month to see where your traffic is coming from and how it performs. Have a think about what you could do to improve the performance in certain locations; if you operate an account internationally then are you currently considering local factors such as currency in your ads?

That is about it; it can sometimes be a daunting task when you are looking at an account with poor quality score and performance and you are not sure why. But if you methodically go through each of the steps detailed above taking your time with them then you will start to learn more about what works and what doesn’t. And then when you start getting things right the good ideas always start to snowball and after a few months the account suddenly looks a lot different.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

hargate February 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Helpful article, makes good sense, and is pretty much what I have been for PPC. The only odd factor is that my keyword with the highest click through rate (2.5%) with a susequent bounce rate of only 13% has a quality score of 4! Nearly all the others are 7 but with click through of .5%!


Joel February 20, 2012 at 12:30 am

Hi Hargate
If you could let me know the keyword and the landing page I will have a look for you. If it shares the same landing page as your other keywords and is just as relevant then it does seem strange. However, if it has a different landing page then that could well be the issue. If it is a broad match keyword i would also recommend running a search query report to see the accuracy of the search terms that the keyword is being match to. You may find some problems here that you hadn’t previously thought of. I have had many a “Doh – can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that” moments through the data in a search query report.


Omar Abu-sbeih April 20, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thanks Joel for this post, your posts are really helping me to understand PPC. I have couple of questions (Please accept my apologies they might be silly as I am still beginner), if QS is heavily relying on CTR, so new campaigns will always have bad QS because CTR will be 0. In this case, do we have to bid very high, to guarantee the first position , until we get good CTR then start decreasing bid. Or it is better to start with low bid and wait until you have good CTR so you have good QS? or is there any duplicate tool in google adwords? so successful ads with good CTR can be duplicated and tailored to your new campaign? and in this case the good CTR for your old campaign can be used for your new one? or the CTR related to the keyword? I mean if you have for example a keyword called (xyz) and this keyword has 5% CTR, and you changed the word to (ABC) will this clear the CTR history?

Thanks again for your posts.


Joel April 22, 2013 at 1:31 am

Hi Omar

Firstly; these are not silly questions at all. Great to see you getting into the detail. New campaigns will not always have a poor quality score. They will be given an estimated quality score based on the average quality score of your account as well as the quality of the landing pages you use for the new campaign as well as the quality scores and landing page quality for all of the competitors who are running on the same keywords. Landing page quality is very important here!

Ad position is taken into account when determining Quality Score. Therefore you do not need to bid high to get a high CTR as it is the average CTR relative to the position your ads are served in. I always start biddig quite low and then bid up if I am below pos 6 or 7 and usually aim for pos 4 or 5 for a new keyword.
Then; once a new keyword has some performance history (good or bad) you can start optimising it’s position.

In terms of duplicating good ads – firstly you need to consider that every ad group has different keywords and you need the ads to work for those keywords. Users searching different terms will have different demands and intentions and you need to try and understand these with your ads.

That said you can use the Google Adwords editor to copy and paste ads from one ad group to another:

Finally; yes, new keywords and ads clear the quality score history related to them – as they are in fact new so have no history. You can maintain keyword QS history by ensuring that when you change ads you always leave one ad in the ad group unchanged until the new one/s have got some impressions.


Omar Abu-sbeih April 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I also have another question when you put ‘Ad rank (Position)’ at the beginning of the post and in the table of fixed bids. Do you mean the ad rank is the position? because what I understood from the video that ad rank affects the position but not the position for example if the add rank 12 the position can be 1 or 2 or whatever, but it doesn’t mean the position is 12 or the average position is 12. I also want to ask, QS relies on CTR history, but is there a specific period for this rate. for example the CTR for last 2 months, 6 months?
Thank you again


Joel April 22, 2013 at 1:34 am

Hi Omar

Ad Rank is not actually position. Ad rank is a score that is determined by the formula Max CPC bid X QS = Ad Rank. Therefore £1 bid x QS of 5 = Ad rank of 5.

Your position will not be 5, this is just your score. This score will then be compared to all of your competitors in order to determine your position. For example competitor A has an ad rank of 8 so they will be shown in a position above you and competitor B has an ad rank of 4 so they will be shown in a position below you.

In terms of the history on QS – Google do not go into any specifics on time frames but in my experience the most recent history is most important as if you make significant improvements to your landing pages and account set up it would not be fair for Google to continue penalising you. At the end of the day Google want 2 things: best user experience ANd to make lots of money. They first one usually leads to the second one so just keep that in mind.


Omar April 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Thanks Joel, your comments are really valuable. I look forward for your new post.


Adrian May 10, 2013 at 10:52 pm

I have a campaign where one of my AdGroups is performng very well. The AdGroup QS is 9/10.

My default bid for each keyword is £0.50 (inherited from Campaign level default bid). The Average position for the keywords is between 1.2 and 2.1.

I’m not sure if I should be adjusting the Max CPC down or leaving it set at £0.50? Here’s a screen shot of the stats:

Any advice greatly appreicated 🙂




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