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

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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.
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