Why You Shouldn’t Optimize for Quality Score

Why You Shouldn't Optimize for Quality Score
$$ > Quality Score (Image Source)

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time in a land far away (a few months ago at our offices in Bend, Oregon), we did a quick AdWords Audit of an advertiser’s account that spent about $30,000 per month on AdWords. Among other findings, the audit revealed that their PPC agency had done a nice job of steadily increasing their click-through rate (CTR) and Quality Score. Specifically, the last 30 days showed a very nice increase in CTR.

But uh oh, wait just a minute: it also showed that sales were CUT IN HALF during that time period!

The agency was clearly optimizing for the wrong metrics, like so many agencies and advertisers do.

They were so concerned about CTR and Quality Score and the pretty reports they could show their client, that they overlooked the bottom line and cost their client thousand of dollars.

There is so much data to look at in AdWords and analytics that this oversight is unfortunately quite easy to make.

What Quality Score REALLY Is

Google’s documentation says that Quality Score is their system’s way of measuring how relevant your keywords, ads and landing pages are to a person’s search query. A higher quality score means your ad can be shown in a higher position for cheaper. Awesome!

However, Google doesn’t pull its credit card out of its wallet and buy from you.

Your customers do.

So why put all your resources into optimizing for Google’s opinion of your keywords, ads and landing pages? Shouldn’t you be putting more effort into getting sales?

I’m not saying to disregard your quality score. It IS an important metric for getting more clicks for less spend. But don’t optimize for quality score at the expense of more important metrics.

After all, if you had quality scores of all 10’s, you’d feel pretty good about yourself, wouldn’t you? But what if no one ever bought from you?

This is entirely possible, unfortunately: you could have very high relevance from keyword to ad to landing page with a wonderful account performance history. But your landing pages might not convince people to actually buy from you. In that case, it doesn’t matter if your ad was placed higher than your competitors’ ads for less; you’re not making any money.

Good, Better, Best Metrics to Tell YOUR Story

If CTR and Quality Score aren’t the most important metrics to determine your account’s performance, what is? According to Brad Geddes, author of Advanced Google AdWords, well-known speaker, and creator of Certified Knowledge, the more comprehensive metrics to optimize for are profit, profit by click, and profit by impression.

I interpret it like this:

Good, better and best metrics by Conversion Max

The metrics in the “Good” circle consist of basic data that’s good to know, but which don’t tell you much by themselves.

When you combine them in certain ways, however, you get the metrics in the “Better” circle, which give you more insight. Most marketers stop here. But this is premature because each of these numbers are still missing key ingredients. If you optimize solely for any one of them, you’re making decisions based on incomplete data.

In order to get a holistic view of your account’s overall performance from search query to ad to click to landing page to conversion to sale, Brad Geddes recommends looking at profit. Then you track your split tests according to profit by impressions and clicks.

That’s All Fine and Dandy, but HOW Do You Improve Profit?

This comes down to basic marketing principles that have been around long before Al Gore invented the interwebs. But it’s easier said than done, unfortunately.

To start, you need:

  • A thorough understanding of who needs what you’re offering (know your target market)
  • Stellar products/services
  • Strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP) so people know why they should buy from you

Then mix in persuasion techniques.

The bible on persuasion is Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, where he lists the following 6 weapons of influence:

  1. Reciprocation: when someone does a favor for us or gives us a gift, we feel obligated to repay them.  As a marketer, think of ways to make your customers feel indebted to you, even in a small way.
  2. Commitment and Consistency: this is our need to be and appear consistent with what we’ve already done or said.  And once a small commitment (or sale) has been made, we’ll justify that commitment and actually commit to more — all so that we remain consistent.  That smells like an upsell to me.
  3. Social Proof: one method we use to judge whether something is correct is to find out what other people think.  The easiest ways to use this in your marketing is to show: how many customers you’ve served, testimonials or product reviews, or large numbers of followers on social media. This is more powerful when we hear from people who are similar to ourselves, so go back to the 1st bullet point above and make sure you know your target market well. Then gather testimonials and reviews from people who are most similar to the people you’re trying to attract.
  4. Liking: we buy from people we like, and there are a few factors that lead to liking: physical attractiveness, familiarity, and association. So in your marketing, include pictures of physically attractive people (but not stock photography and not people that are SO attractive that they compete with your call to action). Use remarketing to increase familiarity: the more people see your brand, they more they’ll like it. And find ways to associate your brand or product with positive feelings.
  5. Authority: we feel a sense of duty toward people in authority. So incorporate research, quotes, or statistics from the authorities in your industry.
  6. Scarcity: the fear of loss is a bigger motivator than the potential for gain.  Therefore, let your customers know if there are only 5 items left, or if the discounted price is only good for today, or if you’re only accepting a limited number of clients.  If they think they’re going to miss out on something, they’ll be more likely to take action.

Lastly, you need to convey all of this on a kick-a$$ landing page.

Here are some of the must-haves for any good landing page:

  • Clear value statement (usually in the headline)
  • The benefits of your product or service (as opposed to mere features)
  • Hero shot“, which either shows what your product/service is, or what it feels like to have your product/service
  • Obvious call to action that tells the visitor exactly what to expect next
  • Social proof as described in #3 above
  • Transactional assurances, such as a safe shopping promise or privacy policy
  • Symbols of trust and credibility, such as a BBB icon or professional credentials
  • Clean, professional layout and design with no spelling or grammar mistakes
  • A sense of urgency so people want to buy NOW

Use this 50-point checklist on every landing page you make, so you consistently knock out stellar pages that convince the right people to buy from you right now. Because that’s what it’s really all about.

The funny thing is that all the persuasion techniques above, combined with using the right keywords (and organizing them diligently), writing convincing ads and testing them, and directing people to persuasive landing pages that are consistent with the ad, will increase your CTRs and Quality Scores.

But that’s a secondary benefit.

More importantly, your target market will be able to find you and they’ll want to buy from you. Having Google recognize and reward you for that is merely icing on the cake.

Fairy Tale Ending

Don’t be like the advertisers at the beginning of this story who let their PPC agency optimize for the “better” metrics at the expense of sales. Rather, look at the whole process from search query to ad to landing page to conversion to sale and measure and improve profits.

Lastly, too many advertisers put too many resources into optimizing for Google’s opinion (ie Quality Scores and/or organic rankings), when that is simply a way to get traffic for cheaper. Instead of trying to get traffic for as cheap as possible, make it worth more. Make your products, offers, selling proposition and landing pages irresistible to your target market so your traffic is profitable and you can afford to get as much as you can handle.

— Theresa Baiocco

About Theresa Baiocco
Theresa Baiocco is the co-founder and CMO of Conversion Max, an agency in Bend, Oregon that specializes in PPC Management, Landing Page Optimization, and Conversion Optimization for companies spending $20,000 - $100,000/month on AdWords. She has a Master's degree in Marketing from the University of Colorado in Denver and is a Google AdWords Qualified Individual. She also has a Market Motive Master Certification in Conversion Optimization.
» More blog posts by Theresa Baiocco


  1. Niroshan

    You should consider QS on profitable keywords because by increasing the QS you could reduce the cost on profitable keywords.

    • Theresa Baiocco

      Hi Niroshan,

      Thank you for commenting. I’m not saying to disregard QS all together; it’s an important metric for reducing costs, and you’re right that it’s especially important to find segments that make sense to improve the QS for. However, I find that too many advertisers and PPC agencies put TOO MUCH focus on QS, at the detriment of their profits.

      Instead of only trying to get cheaper traffic, advertisers also need to make their traffic more valuable. After all, if you gave me $1 and I gave you $2 back, you wouldn’t want to negotiate the next transaction down so you give me $0.50 and I give you $1, right? You’d want to give me $1000 and have me give you $2000 in return. That’s how advertisers need to start thinking.

  2. Ryan Ciocca

    I’ve actually seen contracts signed where the agency must maintain a certain CTR. My mind was blown.

  3. TaeWoo

    I totally agree as Im an entrepreneur and i could care less about Google’s “pat’ on the head”.. but at the same time QS affects CPA:


    To say that you shouldn’t worry about QS and instead focus on profits is like saying you should clap really hard with just your left hand.

    • Theresa Baiocco

      I’m glad you brought up Larry Kim’s post, TaeWoo – it was really well done and I even considered linking to it to show the opposite point of view.

      However, I contend that even CPA is an incomplete metric. It falls in the “better” circle, but it still misses the big picture because it doesn’t take into account the NUMBER of conversions.

      Would you rather have 1 sale where you spent $10 and brought in $20, or have 100 sales where you spent $10 to get each one and they each brought in $15? In the first scenario you have a higher CPA but in the second scenario you’re looking at more instances and ultimately more revenue.

      • Larry Kim

        more than 85% of adwords advertisers are doing lead generation (as opposed to ecommerce), and therefore wouldn’t be able to have return on ad spend metrics.

        overall, yes it’s obvious that return on ad spend is what matters, but it’s advertisers who ignore the link between QS and lower CPA’s / higher ROAS are lazy and uninformed and do so at their own peril. keep in mind that my study looked at thousands of companies and hundreds of millions in ad spend. this article appears to be based on a “once upon a time” story.

        • Theresa Baiocco

          Thank you for chiming in, Larry, and I’m sorry for not seeing your comment earlier! What makes you say that lead gen advertisers can’t get ROAS metrics? It’s not as clear-cut as ecommerce, but the value of a lead can certainly be backed out and therefore, so can the ROAS.

          And you’re right that my example above was a specific example, but if that company would have been looking at the bigger picture, it sure would have made a difference to their bottom line. My hope is to get advertisers to look at their specific situation to see whether they, too, might be missing opportunities by focusing only on QS and CTR.

          I’ll admit that QS and CTR are good indicators of a healthy account. And there’s often a correlation between those metrics and overall profitability. However, correlation does not mean causation! It’s more worthwhile to make traffic WORTH more, than to constantly try to get it cheaper.

          Thank you for your comment!

  4. Packy

    Very Good Article Theresa. I handle an account where we bid on niche and technical keywords. Maintaining QS and CTR becomes a challenge sometimes for us and put us in dilemma if we need to compromise the good inflow of conversions to maintain it. Lastly we focused on conversions and CPA.
    Still QS and CTR are main focus area for judging the quality and performance of an account industry wide.

    • Theresa Baiocco

      Thank you for commenting, Packy. You hit the nail on the head: we need to measure, track and try to improve QS and CTR–but NOT at the expense of more important metrics that tie directly to bottom line.

      The challenge comes in conveying to clients when we’re willing compromise QS and CTR in order to ultimately increase their profits.

  5. Jun Baranggan

    Based on the discussions in the comments, I would say the title of this post should have been – Why You Shouldn’t Optimize for Quality Score “Alone”. It’s because we all need to optimize for QS as TaeWoo pointed out, but it’s not the only metric we need to measure.

    • Theresa Baiocco

      HA – good suggestion, Jun! Or maybe I should have added a subheadline to define “optimize”. After all, we can’t optimize for multiple metrics when they sometimes conflict.

      In the example I used in this blog post, the PPC agency optimized for QS and CTR and lost the client thousands of dollars, whereas they should have optimized for profits and sacrificed QS and CTR where necessary.

  6. Randall Magwood

    “So why put all your resources into optimizing for Google’s opinion of your keywords, ads and landing pages? Shouldn’t you be putting more effort into getting sales?”

    Yup! Lol…

    I see why alot of business owners dont like to use marketing agencies. I would focus on sales, and if Google can’t accept that… then migrate to Bing Ads – and other forms of advertising online.

    • Theresa Baiocco

      Yep, the bottom line really is what matters! It’s unfortunate that advertisers get so caught up in all the metrics that are supposed to support that, but when given too much emphasis, they actually detract from it.

      Unfortunately, just like Google, Bing, Facebook ads and other platforms have their own algorithms that assess performance, as they define it. Thank you for commenting, Randall!

  7. Spook SEO

    Hey Theresa. I clicked the 50 checklist link and it was awesome! I’ll definitely point my community to that page. Thanks.

    • Theresa Baiocco

      I’m glad you found that checklist helpful. Pretty much everything Oli Gardner publishes should be bookmarked, shared, and reviewed often. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  8. John

    You have rightly explained about the Optimize for Quality Score Theresa Baiocco. For increase our CTRs we much post our in right area or websites for getting great online presences with the online users. Overall the post nice to share their ideas
    Heat treated pallets

  9. Bob

    I find Google’s suggested keywords quite confusing. In my experience, it often suggest keywords to boost your CTR. After accepting the suggestions, I then often find, when I check to see if my ads are showing, that I’ve made a bad choice in keyword selection????