One of the ways I sometimes describe quality score is as a bozo filter. It’s a mechanism that enables Google to discourage and prevent bad advertisers. There are two kinds of bad advertisers; unintentionally bad advertisers and intentionally bad advertisers. Unintentionally bad advertisers just don’t know what they’re doing. They jam too many keywords into ad groups, use broad category terms and phrases, write insipid copy, and send all traffic to the home page. Quality score discourages (or instructs if you like) these nieve young advertisers with low quality scores. Intentionally bad advertisers aren’t likely to make any of those same mistakes. They build highly targeted ad groups, use multi-word keywords, tune ad copy assiduously, and create custom landing pages. Yet quality score whacks them too. How can this be?
Quality Score as Stick
The answer almost universally is found in the way landing pages effect quality score. If you read all the Google help files on landing page quality score – which you should – you’ll quickly discover that it’s essentially a citizenship guide. They’re telling you everything a page and site needs to do to be good and nice and helpful. It also is good advice for most businesses looking for both conversions and long term positive brand identification and customer satisfaction. But these tactics and techniques may not be the best way to maximize short term conversions. Hype, deception, and murkiness may actually better accomplish that. And that’s exactly what landing page quality searches for and penalizes. And it’s penalized quite heavily. In fact, getting a poor landing page quality rating can cause many or all of your keywords to become ineligible for a huge portion of the search query auctions where they would otherwise likey rank quite highly. Or it can drop your quality score so low so fast, that the incremental cost-per-click you have to pay is quite considerable. The other risk of being a bad guy in landing page land, is that quality score penalties based on landing pages can extend to your entire account – beyond just those keywords that were originally pointed at the poorly rated pages. Once you get a bad reputation they begin to either decide you’ve got one of those business models they don’t want advertising or are otherwise some type of undesirable advertiser. It can be very tough to dig out of that hole.
Quality Score as Carrot
It’s a lot easier for Google to tell the bad landing pages from the not bad ones, than it is to tell the good ones from the great ones. So for the most part – almost the entire part – quality score slams those who do bad (or try to) but does very little to assist those who make great landing pages and sites. As long as you don’t make poor landing pages, and especially deceptive or otherwise unfriendly ones, you’re almost always OK from a quality score perspective. Think of it as a pass/fail grading system. Reading the quality score official writings doesn’t give you this impression. They make it sound like really targeted landing pages with perfecly aligned copy will actually drive quality score up. I don’t think it’s technically true, and have had highly placed people from the Google quality team confirm this. What I think is happening in this case is Google is in this case telling you what you should do, what they want you to do, and even what is good for you to do, but over-reaching what they can actually quantify and apply. Over time, it would certainly not be surprising if their ability to distinguish truly great landing pages from those that are just good improves. The calculations and applications of quality score continue to evolve and change. The current advice is good, the only point here is that right now if you’re not bad then you’re probably OK.
Landing Pages are About Conversion
Landing pages are an interesting element to think about in terms of AdWords because they’re the only system element that resides outside the system. Keywords, bids, match types, target URLs, and everything else exists inside their little world. Landing pages are post-click. They’re instruments of conversion. For most advertisers Google doesn’t know if you’re clicks are converting, and since that’s the goal is really is hard for them to judge your success. It’s good and reasonable for them to ensure that people who search on Google aren’t led into a dark alley and whacked on the head. I think that’s what landing page quality does today.
It is worth noting that algorithmically sometimes they get this one wrong. The AdWords Help Forums are full of stories of people who claim to be good guys – not something you alway want self-assessed – and yet get poor landing page quality scores. Often it seems their pages do give the scent of badness even if it wasn’t intentional. But other times it seems clear the all knowing GooglePlex has erred. When this happens, it’s not fun, but reaching out to AdWords Support and requesting re-evaluation and perhaps some human intervention has proven helpful. Usually not as quickly as people might like, but it works. FYI. What Do You Think?
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