There’s one weakness of SEO and content marketing that everyone has to deal with…
It’s not the traffic quality, which is usually great.
It’s not the traffic potential, which is huge.
It’s the fact that it takes a long time.
Even if you know exactly what you’re doing.
Even when I start a site from scratch, it still takes at least 4 months to see any significant search traffic coming in.
And, while some people are okay with not having any potential customers or revenue for at least 4 months, you might not be.
The quickest way to drive revenue to your business from day 1 is with pay per click (PPC) advertising.
You create ad campaigns and then pay every time someone clicks them and goes to your site.
If you have a solid sales funnel, you’ll start getting potential customers.
It’s especially important to get customers for a new product, because it won’t be perfect. The faster you get feedback from customers, the faster you can improve your product into one that your target audience loves.
When it comes to PPC, you have a lot of networks to choose from.
You could advertise on social networks or small niche networks. But, if you’re new to PPC, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the biggest of the big – Google AdWords.
It has the biggest chunk of the market share, by far.
In total, Google makes more than $100 million per day with AdWords:
Because there’s so much opportunity, there’s also fierce competition.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can lose a lot of money…fast.
But, if you develop your skills and have good intuition for advertising, you can also make more profit with PPC in your first month than you could all year with content marketing (at first).
One of the biggest keys to succeeding with AdWords is to understand your quality score and make it as high as you possibly can.
In this post, I’m going to show you exactly how to do that.
Once you understand your quality scores, you will have a much greater chance at profiting with PPC and AdWords.
4 Reasons a high AdWords quality score makes you money
Before we get into some specific tactics that you can use to improve your quality score, it’s really important to slow down and understand what your quality score is in the first place.
Let’s start with the basics…
Any time that someone searches a term in Google, AdWords may show ad campaigns above and to the side of the organic search results. I say “may” because ads will only be shown if advertisers are interested in bidding on the keyword contained in the search term.
With AdWords, the ads are ordered based on their “Ad rank.”
Your ad’s ad rank is composed of 2 factors: how much you bid (cost per click – CPC) and your quality score.
The quality score is Google’s best guess at how useful your landing page is for the searcher of that search term. This can be understood as the ad relevance. It’s composed of many different factors (which we’ll look at in detail).
Since it depends on the specific keyword searched, your landing page will get an individual quality score for each keyword in your advertising campaign. Usually they will cluster around one specific number (from 1 to 10), but sometimes you’ll see significant variation in quality score.
Reason #1 – Quality score affects your CPC: Google has a tough job when it comes to AdWords. They want to make money, but, at the same time, they don’t want to lower the quality of their search results.
So how do you balance this?
Google came up with their ad rank formula.
Since your ad rank is determined by some formula involving multiplying quality score by CPC, this means that one way you can decrease your CPC, is by improving your quality score.
Any page with a high landing page quality can show up on the higher ad spots, which have a higher click-through rate and have an overall lower cost. The ad campaigns in this higher ad group have a higher quality score than those shown in the ad group on the right of the search engine.
If someone wants to drive traffic to a low quality landing page with a high bounce rate, they’re going to have to pay much more per click.
Obviously, the less you pay per click, the more likely it is that you can profit from the traffic, and vice versa.
Reason #2 – You can also get lower bid estimates: When you set an advertising campaign on AdWords, you’ll get bid estimates. These are the amounts that Google recommends that you bid if you want to show up in the top few ad spots, when a relevant search query is entered.
It’s not always accurate, because there are many factors that go into exactly when an ad campaign is shown, but it’s a pretty good guide.
If you continually have a good quality score, Google will factor that into these bid estimates.
That means you won’t have to fiddle around with your bids in the future, because you’ll be able to set a much more accurate maximum bid from the start.
Reason #3 – A higher quality score equals a better ad position: This is, of course, connected to the first reason, so I won’t go into too much detail on it.
As you improve your quality score during an advertising campaign, you will notice that your average ad rank starts to improve as well (unless it was already in first position).
This is due to the ad rank formula. The higher your quality score goes, the better your ad rank gets.
Reason #4 – Some extensions require high quality scores: One way to get a higher clickthrough rate (CTR) on your ads is with ad extensions.
These are special features that make your ad campaign stand out of the ad group to a potential customer, and will attract a higher CTR.
There’s a few different common extensions:
- Business contact info
- Star ratings
- Sitelinks (just more links to different parts of your site)
Some are added automatically by Google, while you’ll have to set up others.
In order to get these extensions to actually appear, you need a high enough quality score and ad rank.
If you have a low quality score, it is very difficult to get them to show up, because your ad rank will be too low. You’d have to pay a ton per click and it probably wouldn’t be worth it. Increasing the quality score of your ad campaign will increase your ad rank.
Step #1: Know what quality score means: It’s all relative
So, you get the basics of what a quality score is and how it works.
Now we have to get a little bit more advanced.
To fully understand how your quality score is calculated, you first have to understand the context in which it is formed.
Quality score is only calculated on exact match keywords: When you set up an AdWords campaign, you’ll have to create ad groups and then pick keywords to target within those.
There are 3 main types of keywords that you can specify:
- Exact – If you specify a keyword in square brackets (e.g. [marketing tools]), your ad will only show up for that exact search query.
- Phrase – If you specify a keyword in quotes (e.g. “marketing tools”), your ad will show up on any search that has that phrase in it (like “best marketing tools”)
- Broad – If you just type in a keyword (e.g. marketing tools), your ad will show up for any search query that has the words in any order, plus any synonyms (like tools for marketers)
In most cases, you’ll want to start with exact keywords to ensure ad relevance. That’s how you cut down on showing up for irrelevant or unprofitable searches (like “free marketing tools”).
If the search volume is too low, you might use phrase match as well.
What’s important here is that your quality score is only based on how well your ad performs on exact match keywords.
What this means is that if you do go with phrase or broad match keywords (e.g. “marketing tools”), your quality score will only be calculated when your ad shows up for someone searching “marketing tools” exactly. Other searchers won’t count.
You need to understand this in order to understand which click-through rates are affecting your quality scores.
Quality score is calculated by keyword: When you run a campaign, you’ll see that there is a column in your keywords report for your keyword quality score:
Notice how the same ad group gets a different quality score for each keyword.
In order to calculate the score, Google looks at many things. One component is the typical performance of other advertiser’s ads.
Google can’t just look at factors in isolation, because they change based on what the keyword is. For example, buying keywords that have buying intent might have a higher CTR than other keywords.
But Google knows that every advertiser for a specific keyword has to account for that.
So, if your ad and landing page perform way better than the other advertisers, your quality score should be higher than theirs.
Conversely, if your performance is worse than the other ads, expect to get a low quality score.
Quality score is calculated based on your account: Finally, Google also weighs in the performance of your past ad campaigns and other currents ads as well.
If you’re continually creating amazing advertising campaigns, Google knows that and will give you the benefit of the doubt, assuming that your next one will also be good. You’ll have an easier time getting high quality scores.
But, one problem for beginners is that they have a bunch of low quality scores at first, because they don’t really know what they’re doing.
Due to this poor past performance, it’s hard to get high quality scores. Over time, it can be overcome, but know that if you’ve had low quality scores in the past, it will take time.
The biggest takeaway from these 3 points is that Google looks at all of the factors it can in order to put your page’s performance into perspective.
Step #2: One factor that may tell Google that your ad is best
Quality, for Google, is all based on how they think the searcher’s experience is.
The highest quality search and ad results leave searchers completely satisfied and make it as easy as possible for them to find those results.
Since Google can’t exactly ask searchers about their experience, they have to turn to metrics instead.
One key metric that goes into your quality score is the click-through rate (CTR) of your ad.
The basic logic is this: If lots of people are clicking on your ad, they must find it relevant and interesting.
A good CTR, with all other factors remaining the same, will raise your quality score.
CTR Factor #1 – Your headline: There’s one thing that stands out in an ad above all others – the headline:
If you mess up your headline, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the ad copy is. You won’t get a good CTR, or build a high bounce rate.
The good news is that making a good headline is pretty easy.
The main reason for this is that you have a very limited amount of space, to appeal to a potential customer (just 25 characters):
Rule #1 is to always include the keyword in the headline.
When someone searches for a search term, they are naturally drawn to its keywords.
Depending on the keyword, you’ve used up 50-75% of your characters just from that.
Then, you have a few words left to make an offer or statement that attracts a click and increases conversion rate.
Use the principles in these posts that I’ve written about headlines:
- The Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Powerful Headlines
- Headline Writing 101
- The Formula for a Perfect Headline
- 5 Ways to Become a Better Headline Writer
If you’re extremely perceptive, you might have noticed that the ads in the picture above actually had more than 25 characters in the headline.
Sometimes, depending on the punctuation you use in your description, Google will take the first part (if it’s short enough) and append it to your headline (on the top ads). This is called an extended headline.
This is actually pretty cool, because it gives you a little more room in your headline to work with.
With this extra room, you have a lot more that you can split test.
Try a few drastically different extended headlines and choose the best one to continue with.
CTR Factor #2 – Your description: Another major component of your ad that will influence your CTR (although not as much as the headline) is your description in the ad text.
Your headline will attract attention, but sometimes searchers need a little more convincing in order to decide to click.
To make a description that attracts a high CTR, there’s a few different approaches that you could try:
- List features
- List benefits
- Single out your potential customer (e.g. “Perfect for small businesses”)
- Add a call to action (e.g. “call us today for a consultation”)
Again, you should test different descriptions in the ad copy to see what works best, but it really comes down to knowing your potential customer.
For example, if I search for “email marketing software,” I get the following results:
The top ad ranks focus mainly on the features of the product.
In general, features typically perform worse than benefits. That’s because most potential customers are more interested in the results of using the product than in the technical specifications of the product.
In this particular example case, I’m sure that Vertical Response has tested their description and found that this works best.
Knowing marketers that are looking for email marketing software, I’d hypothesize that this is because marketers usually know what they want in their tools.
They know that all email marketing software will help them “raise profits by X%” (a benefit), but what they don’t know is if it is easy to use or has live support.
If you’re dealing with a more sophisticated customer, features are often best.
CTR Factor #3 – Your URL: After your headline, your URL stands out the most.
Obviously, you can’t do much about your domain name, but what you can choose is the address of the landing page to attract a higher click-through rate (CTR).
If you include keywords in the landing page URL, these search terms will get bolded in the search results and that will help you attract extra attention, and a high CTR:
Google knows that searchers look at the URL for an indication of what the landing page is about. Inaccurate information increases bounce rate.
That’s why you can manually set the display URL in your ads to show whatever you’d like, as long as the root domain is correct.
When you’re creating an ad in AdWords, add your keywords to your “Display URL”. If that differs from the actual URL of your landing page, put the landing page’s URL in the “final URL” section:
You could technically create one landing page for multiple keywords, but show a different URL to the searchers of each keyword.
CTR Factor #4 – Your keyword targeting: Finally, your CTR will also be heavily influenced by the specific keywords you are targeting from search queries.
As I mentioned before, searchers are looking for their specific keywords. You should try to include it once in each main section (headline, URL, and description).
On top of that, understand that you won’t be able to compare CTRs of different keywords. Otherwise, you’ll be stressing yourself out wondering why your CTR for certain keywords is much lower than others.
It may be because your text ad isn’t as good, but it may also be that searchers of that keyword click more or less often.
For example, someone searching “buy coffee table” is likely to click on many results to see what’s out there. Therefore, CTRs will be on the high side for all advertisers, as will bounce rate.
But, if someone searches for something with less variety, they might be satisfied more often by just the first result. For example, someone searching “emergency plumber” isn’t too worried about comparing services, they just want the fastest one they can get. They are likely to choose the ad campaign with the highest quality score and ad rank.
If you have a high quality score, but a low CTR, don’t worry about it. This means that your CTR is still likely better than all competing advertisers for that keyword.
Step #3: Your landing page is the key to satisfaction
Remember what Google is looking for?
Let’s say you create an amazing ad campaign, with an eye-catching headline and ad copy, and it gets a great CTR. Does that mean you should have a high quality score?
You might, but not necessarily.
CTR is only one of the main components of your quality scores, because it only tells half of the story.
The CTR tells Google about the searcher’s user experience on the Google search results, but it doesn’t tell them what happens after they click.
That’s why the other major component of your quality score is your landing page quality.
In general terms, the more relevant your landing page is to what the search term entered, and the easier it is to navigate, the better your quality score will be.
How to tell if your landing page is performing well: Judging the quality of your landing page is a tough task for Google.
They can look at some basic factors (which we’ll look at in a second), but not much more.
It’s hard to configure an algorithm to look at a landing page like a searcher would and truly understand if it satisfies their intent.
What AdWords does instead is looks at the basic factors and gives your page an overall status. This is AdWords’ best estimate of the user experience your landing page gives the searcher.
To check this, sign into AdWords and go to your keywords tab. You’ll see a column labeled “status”.
When you click on the little speech bubble, you will see your quality score breakdown. In particular, look at the “landing page experience” status:
On an active ad campaign, there’s only a few statuses it can have:
- Above average: As far as Google can tell, your landing page is a great experience. It won’t have any negative effect on your quality score.
- Average: Could be improved, but it won’t affect your quality score negatively.
- Below average: If you see this, you have a problem. Your quality score will be lowered if you see this. But, don’t worry, I’ll show you how to improve it now.
Landing page factor #1 – Relevance is king: The easiest way for Google to tell if your landing page will provide a good experience is to start with relevance.
The most basic form of relevance is checking if you include the search term (or related keywords) in important areas of the page.
You should have the keyword in the:
- at least one other time on the landing page
Basically, you’re doing the basics of on-page SEO for your landing page, even though you’re in the paid search results.
But, relevance goes further than just mentioning a few keywords.
More important than that is making your landing page relevant to your ad.
This is where many businesses mess up.
If you write something in your ad just to get clicks, your potential customers are going to be disappointed when they land on the page, increasing bounce rate. They’ll end up going back to the search engines results, which is how you’ll get a below average score.
Ideally, your ad’s headline should match your landing page’s headline.
Here’s an example of how not to do it.
Let’s say I’m looking for an interior decorator in New York and this ad catches my eye:
From that headline, I’m expecting that they will “bring the decorator to me”, as in I can hire a decorator.
But, when I click through to the landing page, this is what I see:
The landing page inserts a very important word to the searcher – “online”.
This doesn’t appear to let you hire a typical local decorator. Instead, it wants you to take an online style quiz and pay for some online advice.
It’s pretty clear that there’s a disconnect between what the ad campaign leads you to expect and what the landing page delivers.
We can also guess what happened with the ad:
- The original ad included the “online” distinction
- That didn’t get a good click through rate, so they tested this version
- They found that this click through rate is better
But, I’d also guess that their conversion rate went down, as did their quality score. It’s not worth trying to trick visitors in your ad to get extra clicks – it will cost you more in the long run and lead to a lower conversion rate.
Instead, let’s look at a simple example that illustrates a high degree of ad relevance.
I searched for online drivers ed courses in New York and this was the top ad:
The headline is nothing fancy, it’s basically the exact keyword phrase I typed in.
However, that’s all that you need to get most searchers to click through when they’re looking for something specific.
Now look at this landing page:
- The headline matches the ad headline
- The elements that stand out on the landing page match the ad text (“100% online” and the price)
- Someone searching for this wants to sign up now. There’s a clear “register now” button above the fold
The vast majority of searchers will be happy coming to this page.
Landing page factor #2 – High converting content: You can get a high quality score even if your landing page kind of sucks.
As long as you include keywords and match the user’s intent fairly well, you’ll score fine.
But, when you’re doing a PPC campaign, there’s one thing that matters above all else – your conversion rate.
If your page doesn’t convert visitors into customers (or at least leads), you aren’t going to profit, no matter how high your quality score is.
There’s a lot that goes into building a landing page with a high conversion rate.
Luckily, I’ve written a lot about that exact subject. Go through these guides when you’re ready:
- The Anatomy of a High Converting Landing Page
- The Definitive Guide to Creating High Converting Landing Pages
- 12 Tools That’ll Help You Build a High Converting Landing Page
- 12 Essentials of a High Converting Landing Page
Landing page factor #3 – Page loading speed: We’ve known for a while that Google takes into account page load speed when it comes to search rankings.
When a searcher clicks on a result, they want it to load within a couple seconds. Page load speed is part of a good search experience.
It’s not surprising that page load speed also influences your AdWords’ quality score.
And, of course, a slow loading page won’t only hurt your AdWords performance, but it’ll also kill your conversion rate and lose potential customers.
Your conversion rate declines massively once your landing page takes more than 2 seconds to load.
So how do you speed up your site?
Again, that’s another big topic, but an important one, involving white hat SEO and other SEO techniques. Start by reviewing these posts:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO
- Site Speed and Performance – The Advanced Guide to SEO
- 15 Easy Ways To Speed Up WordPress
Landing page factor #4 – Mobile friendliness: Finally, another factor that affects your AdWords’ quality score is if your landing page is mobile friendly.
This one’s a bit tricky.
Google has been pushing website owners to make their content mobile friendly. This started with the mobile friendly update in 2015 that affected sites in organic search results.
While AdWords hasn’t confirmed that having a mobile friendly landing page directly affects your quality score, it almost certainly does, even if it’s indirectly.
If a visitor clicks on your ad from a mobile device and your landing page isn’t mobile friendly, they’re likely to click back immediately, meaning a high bounce rate. Whichever behavior metrics Google is using to estimate the user experience will indicate that your page is low quality.
Here are 3 posts that will show you how to check if your page is mobile friendly and how to fix it if it isn’t:
- How to make your WordPress site mobile friendly in 15 minutes
- The Beginner’s Guide to Technical SEO
- How to Get Your WordPress Site Ready for Google’s New Mobile-Friendly Ranking Algorithm
If you’re going to give AdWords a shot, which I think is a great way to generate early traction and ultimately diversify your traffic sources, you need to focus on getting a high quality score.
A high quality score is essential to getting cheaper traffic, but also usually coincides with good keyword targeting and well structured landing pages. This means that the most profitable campaigns will also have a good quality score.
While there may only be 3 steps to getting a high quality score, there’s a lot of work that goes into those 3 steps.
If you’re having any issues raising your quality score, or don’t understand something covered in this post, just leave a comment below.