Paid Search Quality Scoring – Inside the Marketers’ Studio

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Editor's Note: This "Inside the Marketers' Studio" post, where we ask savvy marketers for their take on the burning marketing questions of the day, is inspired by a panel on quality scores for paid search ads at the upcoming Search Engine Strategies Toronto conference.

Getting good insight and information about the quality scores that are assigned to keywords used in paid search campaigns can be difficult for the uninitiated. I asked a couple of experts in this field for their thoughts about this key component of Paid Search campaigns and to answer the following questions:

  1. What mistake do you see marketers making most often as it relates to paid search?
  2. What is the top tip you can offer marketers who want to optimize their paid search ads?
  3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?

They've shared their experiences and insights below – we'd be delighted if you shared YOUR answers in the comments!

First, though, I thought we should get clear on what a quality score is and why it matters.

Editor's note: this was originally a description of Quality Score from Rob Jones at Search Engine Watch (thanks, Rob!), but we just received a definition and explanation of Quality Score from the moderator of the panel – Anne Kennedy.

Anne-Kennedy Anne Kennedy is the Managing Partner of Beyond Ink

Quality score is an algorithm Google uses to determine rank AdWords listings, in general by which ones are likely to produce revenue; this of course from Google’s point of view, is the purpose of AdWords. Quality score has two main factors, the maximum bid an advertiser makes, combined with the potential for the ad to draw clicks, which Google determines with complex predictive calculations. 
 
Relevance is as key a factor in this as it is in organic search success. AdWords listings as well as landing pages should contain the same keywords as searchers’ search phrases. Quality score now means that while it is easy to set up a campaign in Google, creating ads that gain successful exposure on Google SERPS requires skill and diligence, especially for new entries to a market.
 
To be sure, quality score has eliminated a lot of trashy bidding on any old keyword, and improved searcher experience. At the same time it has served to make sure precious space in increasingly competitive first-page paid results produces revenue for Google.
 
Kind of like organic with money, you could say quality score introduced art and science to what once was a pretty straightforward advertising process.

Andrew Goodman

Andrew GoodmanAndrew Goodman is on the SES Advisory Board and is Principal, Page Zero Media

1. What mistake do you see marketers making most often as it relates to paid search?

Tough question! I'm currently working on a guide to the top 21 mistakes, actually.

In the past, I would have said that people tend to control their spend with the overall budgeting, such as the daily budget set at the campaign level. But that should be done by other means, such as appropriate bids. Low daily budgets combined with high bids and high ad positions result in poor ROI *and* limited delivery during the day.

Equal time must go to vastly underestimating the power of ad creative in driving performance. Keywords and account size/complexity get a lot of ink today. Not enough people are fascinated by the amazing triggers we have at our disposal in terms of direct response. Primarily, ad copy.

2. What is the top tip you can offer marketers who want to optimize their paid search ads?

Try emphasizing a benefit in the ad other than price.

3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?

Techmeme. It's how I stay on top of sector news and responses. It cuts down on the amount of time I spend reading all kinds of news. I like that the combination of algorithmic weighting and human editorial judgment can identify important items. Small but gradual feature enhancements are making the service rock even more. I'm a big fan.

Come to think of it, though my style is very different from his, I value Perry Marshall's snail mail newsletter that comes in print form – for his Renaissance Club. Perry started to take PPC very, very seriously, and shared his secrets with a wide audience about 18 months after I did (2002 and 2003, respectively). He created all these different resources. That means we both love testing and direct response, but what I like is the stories in Perry's newsletter. It gets me outside my own reality and always reminds me of the joy of being an independent thinker in the marketing arena.

Above all, perhaps, Seth Godin's blog. Seth's always a good read period. Principle-wise my whole company (and I hope the SES conference) frequently returns to the Purple Cow mantra of positioning and standing out: for client ads, landing pages, and strategy. Seth keynoted SES Toronto in 2007 and although this is confidential info I can hint that he just might have had the highest speaker scores and most glowing comments in the history of SES Toronto. Pushing people to think outside their silos and day-to-day tactics is what made that talk work. I'm absolutely sure that SES TO 2009 will do the same for anyone attending. The keynotes, panels, and networking opportunities are all intended to assist attendees in becoming agents of change when they return to work.

David Sprinkle

David SprinkleDavid Sprinkle is Director of Paid Search, Acronym Media

1. What mistake do you see marketers making most often as it relates to paid search?

Failing to use every tool in their toolbox to improve their campaigns. Bids are important, and so are great landing pages, but too often when I take a look at a campaign I didn’t create I realize that ad copy hasn’t been effectively tested, or the account architecture makes it nearly impossible to see what’s happening, or they’re not using enough negative keywords, or there has been only the most basic use of analytics…the list goes on. Especially when you start relying on automated technology that’s often focused on bids, it’s easy to forget how many different things you can affect to try and improve performance.

2. What is the top tip you can offer marketers who want to optimize their paid search ads?

Make sure you’re tracking absolutely everything! Keywords, match types, placements (for contextual), and ad copy—you should be tracking your ROAS and/or CPA for each (and then USING that information) at a minimum. I also want to be able to see how things convert by hour and day, as well as how different keywords/ads/etc. behave within the conversion funnel—do some keywords (or ads, etc.) drive lots of people to your shopping cart but then have abnormally high abandonment rates?

3. What are your top 2 or 3 favourite resources/tools/blogs for marketers who want to be more effective at search marketing?

There are a lot of great blogs and books, though PPC Hero is one of my favorites. Another often overlooked resource that can be extremely helpful is the SERPs themselves. Look at what else is being advertised for your keywords; check out your competition for terminology you may have missed. Check out how many results there are for various synonyms to get a picture of the most popular terms; this can be especially helpful at showing you words that have unrelated meanings you might have missed.

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