Recently, Google announced a change in the way Quality Score would be reported within AdWords. The change, which they’re reportedly doing for more transparency, is supposed to tie your reported Quality Score -- the figure between 1 and 10 that you see in AdWords -- more closely with your actual Quality Score -- the figure that gets calculated each time you enter the ad auction.
"Please note that this is only a change to how a keyword’s 1-10 Quality Score is reported. It does not change how Quality Score is calculated in real-time for each auction, and thus won't have any direct effect on your ad performance. So unless you have automated rules tied directly to your reported 1-10 Quality Score, your ads should continue to behave as they did before."
So what does this really mean? How did reported Quality Scores change?
The New Quality Score Curve: More 8s, But Fewer 10s
To figure out what was going on with the new Quality Score reporting, WordStream’s Product Quality Assurance Engineer, Andy Stefano, did a little digging. He looked at several hundred WordStream client accounts both before and after the change to see how reported Quality Scores had shifted. (Caveat: WordStream’s client bases consist mostly of small- and medium-sized businesses, so this may not be a representative sample across all types of AdWords accounts.)
What Andy found was surprising -- it appears that Google has shifted reported Quality Scores so they better fit a standard bell curve:
As you can see, before the change, the curve looked like a sine wave, with a peak around 4, a dip around 8, and another peak at 10. (That spike at 10 probably represented a lot of branded keywords, since brand terms tend to get a really high clickthrough rate.)
After the change, the curve looks like a hill, with the peak between 5 and 6 and frequency trailing off smoothly in either direction. (Oddly, there’s a very small local maximum at Quality Score 1.)
At a high level, you may be seeing these effects in your account:
Regression Toward the Mean: You may see a lot more Quality Scores in the middle range (4s, 5s, 6s, 7s) and fewer outliers at the high and low ends -- with the possible exception of an increase in keywords with a Quality Score of 1.
Bye-bye, Quality Score 10s: If this data is correct, you’ll be seeing a lot fewer 10s in your account.
If you’ve suddenly lost a bunch of 10s and your average Quality Score has fallen as a result, don’t panic ... and don’t blame your agency! Remember that according to Google, it’s a superficial change in reporting and does not reflect any behind-the-scenes changes in how your ad rank and cost per click are calculated.
Will the New Quality Scores Affect Your AdWords Performance?
If we take Google at their word, the answer is no -- these apparent changes have nothing to do with your actual ad/keyword quality and relevance, so your ad positions, CPCs and other paid search KPIs shouldn’t change.
The questions is, is that what we'll really see? It’s too early to say, but it’s possible that the reporting changes coincide with some change in the Quality Score algorithm. If the real Quality Score curve has changed, we’d expect to see an increase in average CPC over time, since higher Quality Scores offer more of a discount on clicks.
AdWords advertisers: Have you checked out your Quality Scores since the reporting change? Did Google snatch away your 10s?
This is a guest post written by Elisa Gabbert. Elisa is the content marketing manager at WordStream Inc., a provider of search marketing software and services, including the free AdWords Grader. She manages the WordStream Internet Marketing Blog and you can follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.