Google Pulls Back the Curtain on Quality Score – a Little

At the last few shows I’ve attended, an interesting theme emerged. Up to now, reverse engineering an algorithm was exclusively a preoccupation on the organic side. SEO’s would try to out wit and out guess Yahoo and Google’s black box. But with the introduction of quality score, that game suddenly moved to the sponsored side of the strategy table. Because the factors that went into the quality score weren’t disclosed, particularly by Google, it was a game of test and guess by advertisers. A lot of show attendees were expressing frustration that there wasn’t more transparency. Google has apparently heard the call, and yesterday issued a clarification.

Google’s advice?

  • Link to the page on your site that provides the most useful and accurate information about the product or service in your ad.
  • Ensure that your landing page is relevant to your keywords and your ad text.
  • Distinguish sponsored links from the rest of your site content.
  • Try to provide information without requiring users to register. Or, provide a preview of what users will get by registering.
  • In general, build pages that provide substantial and useful information to the end-user. If your ad does link to a page consisting of mostly ads or general search results (such as a directory or catalog page), provide additional information beyond what the user may have seen in your ad or on the page prior to clicking on your ad.
  • You should have unique content (should not be similar or nearly identical in appearance to another site). For more information, see our affiliate guidelines.

While a step forward, there’s still a lot hidden under the hood of this algorithm. Anytime you put algorithms in charge, it opens the door to reverse engineering, and you can bet the SEM community is going to launch a barrage of tests to try to determine the nuances that determine the quality of a landing page in the eyes of the quality score algorithm.

What this does do, however, is increase the complexity of the quality score substantially. There are now three seperate components, including user click through, ad quality and landing page quality. Each addition exponentially increases the complexity of the algorithm, making it a lot tougher to game. It harkens back to the original introduction of the Google PageRank algorithm, which went beyond on-the-page factors to introduce the whole concept of authority within the structure of the Web.

How important is the quality score? It’s vital. Moving up the ranks on the sponsored side is at least as important as on the algorithmic side, and if you can make the leap from the right rail to the top sponsored ads, you can expect a 3 to 10X increase in visibility and click throughs.

Our recent eye tracking study showed just how important relevancy is in these top spots. And Google has always been very aware of that importance. They have an obsession about providing relevancy above the fold, especially in the Golden Triangle, that is not matched by any of the other engines. I actually had a chance to chat with Marissa Mayer about this. The interview will be part of the Eye Tracking study (currently available, by the way, and you’ll get a free final version with Marissa’s interview when it’s available) but I’ll be including some tidbits in this blog as well.

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