Google AdWords, quality score & the cost of ‘normal’ – part 2

Last week, in Part 1, we mapped out some changes to landing pages and destination URLs that had an impact on Google AdWords performance metrics. In this post we will review Google’s feedback to the scale of the changes in PPC metrics and also provide some recommendations to minimise the impact on your PPC account performance.

Google’s official line

The team understood that the campaign would be impacted as a result of the landing page changes. What was surprising was just how drastically the front end metrics fluctuated from historic performance. It seemed strange and concerning that something as simple as a URL change could reap such havoc with performance.

Google continues to be elusive and vague about Quality Score but the following quote can be found in the AdWords Help Center:

“There may be instances in which you need to edit your ad (e.g., you may need to change a price or date). Go ahead! You may see some fluctuation in Quality Score, but this shouldn’t last long. If the ad isn’t significantly different it’ll likely perform similarly to how it did before, meaning its position will ultimately stay the same.”

It should be noted that the ads were exactly the same as previously, it was only the destination URL and display URL that were being changed to comply with URL policies. The ads however performed nothing like they did before with metrics dropping sharply, even on strong branded keywords with CTRs of over 20%.

The Google Rep also shared the following feedback:

“Anecdotally I have seen the recalibration process take 2-3 weeks on average (longer for lower-traffic ad groups/keywords). Also, I did have a chance to check with our specialists this afternoon and they said all signs point to this being a normal effect of switching out the destination URLs; i.e. the system is working as intended.”

Managing quality score

At a recent Google event in March 2012, Google’s subject matter experts confirmed that CTR continues to be the main driver of Quality Score. When making large scale changes to ad copy in your AdWords account, keep the following in mind:

  • Remember, when changes are made to any ad, that ad is deleted, along with all the history of the front end metrics
  • Quality Score is a real-time metric and it is not possible to pull historic performance reports for Quality Score
  • To understand how Quality Score is being impacted, pull a keyword level Quality Score report before major changes are made. This will serve as a historic baseline
  • In the same keyword report capture your avg. CPC, impressions, clicks, CTR and avg. position
  • Monitor the account closely and watch for a sudden drop in CTR as this may be reflective of poorer avg. positions, driven by requirements to raise avg. minimum bids.
  • Run a report on keywords that are below avg. first page bid and determine where to increase bids.
  • Focus on keywords that have historically been strong performers so that business level KPIs are not impacted by a drop in keyword performance
  • Work towards building up CTR as this will help lift Quality Score values
  • Keep a close eye on the account and make gradual but continuous changes

What is most important is to be prepared for a drop in performance. If managed properly, the impact should be temporary and you should be able to work back to previous KPI metric levels.
Depending on the scale of changes made, the account may take 2-4 weeks to normalise.

Managing an AdWords account is not an exact science because every account is different. Understanding the relationship between the various metrics and how they impact one another will allow you to more effectively control changes in them.