What are Ad Rank and Quality Score?

Those of you who subcontract the management of your search advertising (e.g. Google AdWords) to people like us don’t have to worry about the really geeky stuff. Many of you manage it yourselves, however, perhaps because your budget is really small or because you’ve got nothing better to do. And for you folks, like us, metrics such as ‘Quality Score’ and ‘Ad Rank’ are things that need to be understood.

Your prospects make dozens of Google searches every day, most of which are nothing to do with your products. Pay-per-click advertising means you don’t pay anything if there’s no response to your advertising. So in a perfect world, wouldn’t you want your advert to appear against every Google search being made for anything? That way, you’d catch all of your prospects, even if they weren’t looking for you.

Of course you’d want that – in a perfect world. So with millions of advertisers, Google needs to discourage us from bidding against every search going, or the system would collapse. Google doesn’t actually stop us bidding to put an advert for our blue widgets against irrelevant searches, but it makes the chances of the advert showing very small indeed.

This is done by assigning every advert and search term combination an ‘Ad Rank’. Google says this is ‘a value that’s used to determine your ad position and whether your ads will show at all.’ Ad Rank is calculated using the bid amount, expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, landing page experience and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats. The final order in which ads show on the results page is down to their Ad Rank.

We aren’t given the data behind the calculations, but many of the elements are combined into something called ‘Quality Score’, which is published for each of your keywords. You can see this 1 to 10 score in your AdWords account. Quality Score comes from historic performance, so you can only see it after your ads have shown for each keyword on sufficient occasions. Three factors determine Quality Score:

  • Expected click-through rate
  • Landing page experience
  • Ad relevance

These have been reverse engineered by clever people to show that the first two are the most important, but all have a significant impact. Keywords with a 10 out of 10 Quality Score will have an above-average click-through rate, an above-average landing page performance (i.e. a low bounce rate) and an above-average relevance to the advert which is showing.

Quality Score is not used at auction time to determine Ad Rank, despite what it says in articles all over the web. But its components – in conjunction with your advert – are similar to some of those used to determine Ad Rank, so get a good Quality Score and you can assume that your Ad Rank is decent too. In turn, this means your ad will be showing frequently, and the cost per click minimised.

You can see a keyword’s Quality Score by hovering above ‘status’ by each keyword in the AdWords interface (below). If it’s under 6, you might want to think about how you can improve it. If it’s under 4, you might want to reconsider whether you should be advertising against that keyword at all.