Google AdWords, quality score & the cost of ‘normal’ – Part 1

‘All signs point to this being a normal effect of switching out destination URLs; i.e. the AdWords system is working as intended.’

Google AdWords Rep

This is the feedback that the Google Rep provided pertaining to a campaign in which average CPC (cost-per-click) doubled over a period of 8 weeks as landing pages were switched over from one destination URL to another.

Landing Page Changes

It was understood that changing the landing page destination URL across the entire account would have an impact on performance, because when you change an ad in Google AdWords, you delete the old one with the click history and create a new one. Ultimately you are resetting your performance metrics back to zero so the new ads need to develop their own click and CTR history.

It is for this reason that a steady, more controlled approach was taken by opting campaigns into the new destination URL gradually, over a period of 8 weeks, rather than making the full switch overnight.

There are two specific characteristics which should be noted about the destination URLs:

  • The new domain that traffic was being driven to, was different from the control, for example: xyz.com vs. xyz-abc.com
  • Redirects were being utilized on this account so the destination URL in Google AdWords was different from the new URL where traffic was being driven, for example: 123.com would redirect to xyz-abc.com

The destination URLs were changed strategically over time, from 5% of traffic going to the new URL in week 1, right up to 100% by week 8.

The Impact on AdWords Metrics

The first metric that was impacted by the URL change was click volume. The decline in aggregate click volume was almost directly proportional to the level at which campaigns were opted into the new destination URL. From a high of 19,000 clicks a week, in week 1, only 12,000 clicks were received by week 8, when all destination URLs had been changed.

There were a few factors playing into this drop. Here follows the sequence of events:

  • Destination URL is changed
  • Ad Copy CTR and click history is wiped out on impacted ads which hits Quality Score
  • Minimum avg. first page bid is raised by the AdWords system owing to lower Quality Score levels (at one point over 500 top traffic keywords required a dramatic increase in minimum bid)
  • Avg. Position drops across the account owing to increased minimum bid requirements

Google AdWord PPC campaigns metricsPPC campaign metrics are like dominoes, a change in one metric has a direct impact on another and another, in an almost chain reaction sequence.

The drop in avg. position caused the CTR (click through rate) to drop, by half from a high of 5-6% to a low of 2.5%.

As the key driver of Quality Score, it was paramount to raise CTR levels.

Minimum bids were lifted across all previously top performing keywords. The bid requirements were off the charts in the AdWords system. Some keywords were demanding 100% increases in minimum bid, which in certain cases meant a bid of $25 would need to be raised to up to $50.

As bids were raised, click volumes continued to drop. Even following aggressive bid changes, the AdWords system continued to revise minimum bids multiple times. As a result, aggregate avg. CPC doubled from a previous range of $4-5 to a high of over $8.

Google AdWord average PPC metricsIt was the increase in avg. CPC of non-branded keywords which was the most dramatic and costly to the campaign’s bottom line. More dollars were being spent on fewer clicks.

This would ultimately impact the cost per conversion of the campaign.

In part 2, we will review Google’s feedback to these performance metric drops and offer some tips to how you can manage ad copy or landing page transitions to minimize the impact on your account performance.