Has There Been an Update to AdWords Quality Score Algorithm?

I am not one to believe that quality score is all there is to life, let alone AdWords. I have made my opinions on the matter known before, but something peculiar has happened recently that gives me pause. For several accounts which I have kept AdWords quality score logs for specific keyword terms, recently many of those quality scores have dramatically improved, almost overnight.

For example, with our AdWords account, I have kept a quality score log for the exact match keyword term ‘AdWords Specialist’ since January, 2012. From January through March, we were lucky to get a quality score of 2-3. Then beginning in April we saw a slight increase in quality score to 5-6, which held steady until the beginning of July. From July to the first couple of weeks of November quality score would fluctuate from a 7, down to a 6, then go back up to a 7 again. This is keeping a once a week log, any single days quality score may fluctuate, but simply tracking QS for a single exact match term once a week may help give you some idea of whether QS is going up or down in general.

When I did my weekly check on November 14th, I saw for the first time ever a quality score of 10. It’s the 19th today, and so far the QS has held steady for the last five days. Conventional wisdom states that historical CTR is the primary factor in determining quality score. Although ‘AdWords Specialist’ is a highly competitive term, in comparison to a term like ‘Call Extensions’ for example, there is very little interest (impressions), and even fewer clicks. Since January 2012, the CTR for this exact match term has only been 1.04%, hardly a “good” CTR for an exact match, search networks only term. So, why the steady increase in quality score?

Another factor in determining quality score is the historical CTR of other advertisers who also use the same term. Can we assume that even a “low” CTR of 1% is a “high” CTR in comparison to other advertisers? If so, then why such competition?

We began this campaign and keeping the quality score log as more of an experiment than anything. What began the experiment is when a new client said “I contacted you because I googled AdWords Specialist, and you came up first”. First in the organic listings that is, as the campaign was not active yet at that time. Beginning an AdWords Specialist campaign seemed like it could provide some insight of value, if not a few new clients. 🙂 Now that we have achieved the goal of “improving quality score” for this term, what now? I suppose we will have to wait and see if getting a quality score of 10 for any particular exact match keyword term really is the single most important aspect of AdWords advertising… I still have my doubts. 🙂

Of course, if this was only one keyword term for one account, that would be interesting, but certainly no indication of an algorithm update. For one of our client’s accounts where I have a quality score log going back to June 2011, an exact match keyword term which has had a quality score of 7 since that time, has now increased to a 10 as well. This term was always, reliably (and tracked as part of my daily rounds) a 7, without fail. The other KPI’s associated with this term were much better than our ‘AdWords Specialist’. A CTR over the same time frame of over 25%, with 700-1,000 impressions per day. Yet, the quality score improvement happened at exactly the same time.

In math class I was taught that once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, but it takes three instances to create a pattern. Yes, I have one more account, with a single exact match term that has a quality score log dating back to January, 2012. Again, this term had a quality score of 7, reliably with little variation over that time period, regardless of how many ads were tested with this term over that same period of time. In the last year, this particular keyword has seen a huge increase in competition, which unlike ‘AdWords Specialists’, did not exist at the beginning of the year. Over that time, the number of clicks per day has decreased tenfold (yes, primarily due to budget), and the average cost per click is twice as high now as in in January, 2012. Yet once again, on November 14th, 2012, the reliable quality score of 7, jumped to a 10.

For other accounts, where I have not kept quality score log for a single exact match term, I have seen noticeable increases in the average quality scores of the majority of terms. When you average a QS of 2-3 for years (outside of brand terms) almost no matter what terms you use, in what match types, you notice when the average goes up to 5-6, at the same time the quality scores of these recorded terms increases as well. Not just for one, but several accounts!

I have to assume that something has changed with the AdWords quality score algorithm in just the past few days, I try my best for all of our clients, but nothing I have done in the past two years has resulted in such large quality score increases for all of our clients in such a short amount of time. Of course, if this is a quality score change on Google’s end, I also have to assume that it not only applies to our clients, but our client’s competitors as well. If the competition is just the same now as it was then in terms of bids, then such an increase in quality score isn’t going to have much of an impact on ad rank, or ROI is it?

This has been an interesting week, but I still maintain – Quality score isn’t all there is to life, and certainly not all there is to AdWords. 🙂