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I ignored quality score for a year

Quality score has sparked more discussion, thought and analysis than any other single aspect of Google Ads. The overwhelming firehose of noise about it makes you feel like it must be important.

I used to think it was vital, but in the year I’ve ignored QS and focussed on other metrics:

Quality score is no longer a useful metric for managing or optimising an Google Ads campaign. Here's why...

  1. It's a blunt instrument.
  2. It's a terrible feedback mechanism.
  3. Nobody knows the QS rules.
  4. It's a poor proxy for how well Google Ads serves the business goals.
  5. Obsessing about QS distracts you from more important work.

Quality score is a blunt instrument.

Google confirms this with their definition of quality score.

Quality Score is intended to give you a general sense of the quality of your ads. [It] is an estimate of the quality of your ads and the landing pages triggered by them.

Quality score comes as a number between 1 and 10. 1 is terrible, 10 is great.

There is no way to know how much greater a QS 10 keyword is than a QS 9 keyword. There is no way to know how much worse a QS 2 keyword is than a QS 3 keyword.

So in practice the already blunt instrument gets blunted even more. QS gets dumbed down from a 1 to 10 scale to a 1 to 3 scale something like:

Quality score is a terrible feedback mechanism.

You need a feedback mechanism to help connect the things you do to your campaign to changes you see in the results.

A useful feedback mechanism ...

Think about learning to drive…

My dad took me to an empty parking lot the night I got my learner’s licence. He made me crawl the family car around for an hour. He wanted me to get a feel for how it responded to the steering wheel.

The steering wheel has a great feedback mechanism.

Change a headline and you can see if it improves CTR. Raise your bids and watch the average position go up. Change the landing page and measure the change in conversions. These metrics are good feedback mechanisms.

Quality score doesn’t even come close to being a good feedback mechanism for driving Google Ads.

You’re playing a game without knowing the rules.

Google doesn’t tell anyone what the quality score rules are. All they've revealed is that they calculate QS using a combination of:

You'll agree with me that those are pretty vague criteria.

Google doesn’t tell you:

And even if they did, they don't tell you what weight they give to each of those factors. Is a perfect landing page good enough to compensate for lower ad relevance? Will a fantastic clickthrough rate offset a lower than usual conversion rate?

Nobody outside Google knows the answers.

Lots of very smart people have spent lots of time trying to reverse engineer the formula. We have a general idea of what Google looks for. But that's it. It's a broad understanding that takes it from guess to slightly educated guess.

The only way to win a game where you're guessing the rules is through luck. I think relying on luck is a very risky Google Ads strategy.

Quality score is a poor proxy for how well Google Ads meets business goals.

A proxy is an indirect way of measuring something you'd like to measure but can't, or can't easily.

For example, body mass index (BMI) is used as a proxy to measure true body fat percentage.

Measuring true body fat is difficult. You need special equipment and training. It's uncomfortable. Measuring BMI is simple. All you need is a tape measure, a scale and the BMI chart.

BMI is well correlated to body fat percentage for enough of the population that it's useful as a proxy.

Quality score is a poor proxy because:

The good news is that you can measure how Google Ads meets the business's goals directly. You don’t need a proxy.

And, finally, obsessing about quality score is a distraction.

You don’t have unlimited tinkering time. You have to prioritise the things you work on. Focussing effort on activities that contribute to the business goals is never wasted.

You could spend your time:

These, and anything else you do to get Google Ads closer to meeting the business goals, will eventually improve quality score as a byproduct.

So what use is quality score?

I use quality score like the oil warning light on the dashboard.

You don’t dismantle the dashboard to repair the oil light if it flashes. The light doesn’t need fixing, it’s there to warn us that some other part of the car needs attention.

I don't expect the warning light to tell me that the sump fell off, or the head gasket blew or where the oil leak is. All I expect is that it'll warn me in time.

I've set up a warning system that tells me if quality score drops to 3 or lower. But other than that I ignore it.

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