How is Google Ad Quality Score Calculated & Improved? 💯

What is a good quality score and perhaps more importantly, how do we improve it to lower our cost per click?

Extracting the most from your Google Ads account can be a full-time job, even for the most seasoned of pay per click managers.

Keeping on top of and monitoring your account metrics is crucial – should we also be concerned with quality score?

What we’ll cover in this article:

  • How quality score is calculated
  • What is a good quality score
  • What is Ad Rank and why it’s important
  • How to extract the most from it
  • Answer frequently asked questions

When it comes to your Google Ads account Quality Score isn’t as important as say, your budget optimisation or key performance indicator. Cost per acquisition and/or return on ad spend takes that the top spot.

But it’s still an important metric to understand and nurture.

A few years ago I did a detailed video on quality score, much of it still stands and is relevant today:

However, if you’re not in the mood for watching, read on…

So, what is Quality Score?

Google’s description of Quality Score (QS for short) reads, “Quality Score is calculated in real-time, every time your keyword matches a search query” – essentially, every time your keyword has the potential to trigger an ad.

What does a high quality score indicate? It’s used in several different ways, including influencing your keywords actual cost-per-click (CPC) and estimating the first page bids that you see in your account.

It also partly determines if a keyword is eligible to enter the ad auction that occurs when a user enters a search query and, if it is, how high the ad will be ranked.

Your Ad Group’s Quality Score is a combination of the score of each keyword you target.

Quality score components

The score changes constantly, the following elements are used to calculate the score:

  • Keyword click-through rate
  • The relevance of the keyword within its ad group
  • The relevance of the keyword
  • Your account history
  • The historical CTR of the display URLs in the ad group
  • Your landing page experience
  • Landing page load times
  • Device and location bias
  • Ad extensions (sitelinks, callouts etc) already factored in to CTR

If you focus on one thing to optimise your score – optimise your click-through rates.

In 2020: all being said, a big chunk of QS is still down to your CTR.

Click-through Rate (CTR) of the keyword

Click-through rate is the number of clicks your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown (impressions) via Google search only.

As stated, the keyword click-through rate is the number one factor for determining your Quality Score.

Your ads and keywords each have their own CTRs, unique to your own campaign performance.

Click-through rate is the most significant component of Quality Score because it directly indicates which ads are most relevant to our users.

For example, a well targeted keyword that shows a similarly targeted ad is more likely to have a higher CTR than a general keyword with non-specific ad text.

The more your keywords and ads relate to each other and to your business, the more likely a user is to click on your ad after searching on your keyword phrase.

The relevance of the keyword to the ad copy

The keywords in your ad group must be relevant to your ads. Where possible your ad group keywords should be repeated in the ad, there are of course times where this isn’t possible.

Keyword and Ad to the Search Query

The keyword that a potential visitor searches for (triggered by the underlying search query) needs to be relevant to the keywords in your ad group and the ad itself.

It’s important to note that match type is not taken into account when Google calculates QS.

Your account CTR history

This often takes people by surprise but Google takes your entire history into account when determining CTR. Don’t be fooled in to thinking this means you should limit the changes your make to your account.

Google favours the recent account history and so lends itself to advertisers making constant improvements to their accounts.

In fact the Google AdWords Agency blog is cited saying “A few bad days of test performance will not ruin your Quality Scores. In order to optimize your clients’ accounts, we encourage you to run targeted tests on your bids, creatives, and keywords.

Moral of the story – don’t fear change, keep testing and improving as you go.

The historical CTR of display URLs

This QS measurement refers to the URL that is displayed in the ad, not the destination URL that the visitor is directed to after clicking the ad.

It goes without saying this should be relevant to the keywords in your Ad Group.

The ‘quality’ of your landing page

Google notes that the three main components of a quality website are relevant and original content, transparency, and navigability.

Relevance takes priority in that visitors should be able to easily find what your ad promotes i.e. the page content is specific to the ad copy.

Google periodically spiders your landing pages to calculate these and other usability factors.

Landing page load times

Decrease your landing page load times, that’s a must. Landing page load times, as with Organic Search rankings, are an important consideration when calculating Quality Score.

The simplest route to improving load times is to host your website in the location you serve people, in other words if your customers are predominantly UK based don’t host your website in the US.

Relevance

As you can see the term ‘relevance’ appears a lot here, and that’s key. Your keyword should relate to your ad title, your ad copy, your display url and finally the page of your website that is targeted by your advert.

Quality Scores should be checked on a regular basis, broadly speaking you should aim for a QS of 7 or better and if you see a QS of sub 3 you have serious problems that need addressing.

What’s a ‘good’ quality score?

Starting at 1 through to 3, these are bottom of the score sheets and expensive territory. In fact with a score of 1 and 2 your ads likely won’t display, or at least impressions will be extremely hobbled.

The Google benchmark for the average is around the 6 mark.

So therefore, ‘good’ is considered above average or 7+.

Whereas 9 to 10 are pretty much perfect, as illustrated below:

What's a good quality score?

It’s really important to note that there’s a lot of conjecture around QS numbers, most people consider them linear.

Therefore, most people are WRONG.

AdWords quality score is not linear, a score of 8 is not ‘twice as good’ as 4 for example.

quality score is not linear
Source: Frederick Vallaeys

It’s a representation of some very complicated metrics going on, on the back-end of Google Ads.

Okay, is that it? Not so fast …

We’ve run through quality score, what it is, how it works – but don’t get overly transfixed on quality score.

Quality score impacts your Ad Rank, your Ad Rank impacts your Cost per Click (CPC), but crucially it’s your Cost per Acquisition (CPA) that you need to focus on.

Yes of course we should care about quality score, but ultimately, CPA is what makes your business either work with ads, or not.

That often boils down to the entire experience being congruence between your search term, ad copy, landing page and product or service offering.

… and quality score can’t fix the latter!

Just remember the golden rule:

  • Relevancy is for Google
  • Continuity is for the User

Quality score tracking script

If you’re in to scripts you can implement this script that tracks Quality Score daily and graphs it out for you like so:

google quality score script

The graph will give you a snapshot of your account’s health. Good for gauging where you might need to refine ad group structure and the like. 

How do you fix a low Quality Score?

Let’s fix or remove keywords those keywords that are dragging down performance.

As mentioned earlier, CTR is an indicator of relevance. A low CTR means that users are finding your ad irrelevant to their search.

Let’s fix that:

Include the keyword in your ad copy.

Re-write ads with a low click-through rate and include relevant, high-volume keywords in the ad copy.

Ensure your ad extensions are added and enabled (callouts and sitelinks in particular), and tailor them to the campaign and ad group.

Improve your landing page. 

Don’t stuff your page with the keyword, seriously – it doesn’t work. Basic on-page SEO techniques and good practice will suffice.

Make sure your content is original and useful (written for humans not search engines).

Focus on speed and usability. Run a page speed test.

Also, take a look at Google’s guidelines on landing page experience to see if there are any areas where you need to improve.

Pause and move the keyword to a more relevant ad group.

Tightly topical and related ad groups are paramount to success.

Split ad groups according to keyword targeting and intent. This allows you to match the keyword’s search intent to your advert.

Don’t be quick to delete newly added keywords. Keywords need time to generate enough impressions to show a meaningful Quality Score.

Need more help?

Below I outline some frequently asked questions for your reference:

Quality score questions, answered

Q: What does a high quality score indicate?

It indicates the google algorithms think you’re doing a good job of matching keyword intent with ad copy, and that your landing page experience is good to great.

As a result you will be rewarded for your efforts with more ad impressions and a higher click-through rate.

Q: Will paused keywords affect Quality Score?

Yes – paused keywords do impact your Ad Group’s quality score, because they had an impact on the historical performance. Deleting them won’t fix this either.

It will however, with time, improve as the historical data has less impact on today’s score.

Q: When and how frequently are Quality Scores calculated?

Google calculates your actual score every time an auction runs, based on data available at that moment in time.

The score you see within you AdWords account is an estimate (blended) value.

Q: How can the quality score for geographically targeted keywords be improved?

The simplest method is to include location, area and even postcodes in your search terms. Of course you should introduce your location in to your ad copy and landing page too.

I’d trial an Ad Group dedicated to broad modified keywords, where you plus your primary word and leave your location broad.

For example “+grocery +store leicester“. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

Q: Does creating a landing page with keywords the same as ad text and ad group improve QS?

Congruence plays an important part; changing titles and text on your landing page will certainly help in the short term, it won’t help if people don’t click on your ads over time.

Improve your keyword/ad CTR and monitor your landing page performance in Analytics – aim to please humans first, Google second.

Q: Is it possible to know a competitor’s AdWords quality score?

Unfortunately not, that would be an unfair advantage. You could ask them… but they’d probably tell you to p*ss off! 😉

You can compare your performance using Google AdWords Auction Insights, which gives you an idea of how you perform in the bidding war versus your nearest rivals.

There are also a whole host of competitor insight tools at your disposal, some free and some paid… but I wouldn’t get too hung up on those.

Q: How long does it take for Quality Score to go back up after a new campaign is started?

It takes both [a little] time and around 1,000 ad impressions for a single keyword to normalise. Until this point your scores are highly volatile and arguably irrelevant. A little patience is in order!

Q: If the top ad has the best Quality, why not just copy their advert to get a higher score?

Because it could be down to a high bid and higher Ad Rank, not just a high QS!

Moral objections to one side, don’t mimic your competitor – be different – write a better advert and create a more compelling landing page.

Try adding some compelling callout extensions, sitelinks and structured snippets to your ad groups.

Optimise your ad extensions and constantly look for ways to improve them by adding value. Ad extensions can attract a significant number of clicks and lift in your overall Click-through Rate.

By Ed Leake

Ed Leake is a seasoned professional with decades of experience in the world of internet and advertising. He was one of the earliest adopters of domain ownership and website monetization. Ed built his first website in 1996 and has since managed over $250 million in ad spend. He is an agency owner, SaaS product owner, Ad Tech builder, PPC specialist, investor, and mentor. He has been running his agency, Midas Media, for over 13 years and acquired Adboozter in 2018. Ed also built AdEvolver, a tool to automate Google Ads accounts at scale. He uses his expertise to help businesses grow from small to large, leveraging Google Ads and Analytics, along with a significant focus on conversion optimization. Despite being a self-confessed workaholic, coffeeholic, and motorsportholic, Ed is not currently taking on new clients due to high demand.