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Five Paid-Search Tips to Boost Quality Score (and Drive Higher ROI)

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With spending on paid search expected to more than double over the next five years, rising keyword prices are here to stay.

And as budgets expand to pay for those rising keyword prices, marketers will find it increasingly difficult to drive top-line revenue growth from paid search while at the same time meeting consistent return on investment (ROI) goals.

To compound the problem, spending more on keywords doesn't guarantee your ad will show up high on search results. That's because as more advertisers have entered the market, the search engines have become pickier about which ads they promote.

In an effort to focus on the user experience, Google, Yahoo, and Bing promote ads that deliver high-quality results for their users.

Accordingly, each has developed a sophisticated mechanism to promote ads with higher click-through rates and demote ads with lower click-through rates—even if the ads receive equal bids from advertisers.

Google and Bing call that adjustment the "Quality Score"; Yahoo calls it the "Quality Index." Whatever the name, the higher an advertiser's score, the higher that advertiser's ads will appear in the search results for each given bid.

One thing is certain: The trend toward measuring and rewarding advertisers on the basis of ad quality will continue to accelerate. As a result, the only way to win at the paid-search game will be to optimize campaigns for conversion and quality.

By using new campaign-management techniques, smart marketers can gain a sizable and lasting advantage over the competition in the auction for keywords— ensuring their ads show up high in search results without dampening ROI.

Below are five campaign-management tactics marketers can use to boost their Quality Score.

1. Cut poorly targeted impressions

Regularly review the "raw search queries" that drive traffic to your site. Those are the actual queries visitors have typed into the search bar before clicking on your ads.

Are your ads being presented to searchers who are looking for something you don't offer? To get a trickle of site visits on those keywords, your ad may be shown thousands of times. If so, the low click-through rate will drag down your Quality Score.

To fix that common problem, add negative keywords so your ads stop showing up in irrelevant and unwanted searches. Shrewd use of campaign and group-level negative keywords can dramatically improve click-through rate, boost your Quality Score, and save money.

Also, remember to ask yourself whether your service does not apply or your product is not available in some states or countries. Then use geo-targeting to prevent your ad from being presented to people in locations where your product or service isn't relevant. (In other words, don't run ads for snow shovels in Miami.)

2. Expand the use of phrase and exact matching

Does most of your traffic come from broad-match terms? Again, reviewing raw search queries can determine whether that is so.

Instead of using those queries to come up with ideas for negative keywords, use them to find new positive keywords. Using broad-match or expanded-match keywords is an easy way to grow volume quickly, but high Quality Scores come from tight alignment between keyword and creative.

Improve that alignment by adding new keywords from your raw search queries and setting them to phrase match.

For example, say the broad-matched keyword term "dry fit clothing" generates a click from the search "dry fit running shirt." Assuming you sell running shirts, add "dry fit running shirt" as a new keyword using phrase match, produce ad creative that is specific to dry-fit shirts, and deep-link your ad to the appropriate product page or category on your site.

By closely matching your keyword ad to what visitors are looking for, the new keyword has a better chance of garnering a higher Quality Score and making better use of your marketing dollars.

3. Structure campaigns to increase ad relevance

Having the right keyword terms in your account is only part of the equation. It is just as important to group similar keywords together in small groupings so the ads in your groups remain relevant to each keyword.

There is no one right number, but a good rule of thumb is to have no more than 50 keywords per ad group. Having too many keywords in an ad group increases the likelihood of poor relevancy and can bring down the Quality Score for keywords, the entire ad group, and your entire account.

Move keywords with a low Quality Score into their own ad group and create new ads that are more relevant to those terms.

Check whether keywords or terms within a keyword are contained in the ad itself. Targeted ads improve not only click-through rates (and the Quality Score) but also an ad's conversion rate, because searchers are aware of the advertiser's specific value proposition and offer before they decide whether to click on the ad.

4. Use dynamic keyword insertion

Once you have created an optimal campaign structure with a good set of small keyword groupings, you are ready to create relevant, differentiated, and compelling ads.

With small groups of similar keywords, it is easy to place your keywords into the associated creative. Using a search engine's Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) feature, which inserts the bidded keyword into the ad title or the description with bolded text, marketers often realize immediate gains in click-through rates.

When done right, DKI can improve click-through and Quality Scores relative to comparable static ads, because the dynamically generated ad is more specific to the query and the bolding brings attention to that relevance.

5. Always be ad-testing—to maximize conversions, not clicks

It's good practice to ensure you have multiple ads in every ad group and to measure ad performance using conversion goals tied to your own business objectives.

Although search engines help track the performance of your ads, their creative testing is hardly optimal. Search engines optimize ads for click-through rate, maximizing the number of clicks (and spend!); they do not optimize ads based on conversions or profit-per-impression.

Track the profit performance of ads by evaluating the conversion rate and revenue-per-impression, which keywords converted for the ad, or even which products or actions were taken for those keywords and ads.

Delete or edit ads that show less revenue or profit-per-impression than others in the group, or move those ads to an ad group containing keywords or products that tend to convert well.

By focusing on creating tightly integrated and relevant keywords, ad groupings, and copy, marketers can drive higher click-through rates. Higher click-through rates result in higher Quality Scores, which, in turn, allow marketers to pay less than competitors for similar or better ad positions.

It is a virtuous cycle: High-quality campaigns achieve higher returns at a lower cost, allowing marketers to reinvest savings to continue their growing search programs.

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Matt Lawson is director of marketing at Marin Software (, provider of a leading paid-search marketing application that manages more than $1 billion in search spend annually.

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