Damage control on your AdWords campaign

When you run a search engine marketing campaign using Google AdWords, much of your success is based on your reputation, measured by “quality scores” that Google assigns.  The quality score rewards advertisers for what Google considers “good behavior”: if your ads are relevant to searchers, you’ll be rewarded with better placements at lower cost.  Each keyword you run has its own quality score, which is affected primarily by its relevancy to your ads and landing pages – you can view the score for each keyword, and should try to eliminate any with a score of “poor”, meaning 4 or lower.

You also have an  account-wide quality score.  This score is not shared with you, but it affects your ad placements and your keyword quality scores.  It is primarily based on historical clickthrough rate and keyword performance, along with a slew of other factors.  The exact calculations behind quality scores are a guarded Google secret – Google has formally shared the major factors that affect your score, but not the details.  (What would be the fun in that?)

In real life, when your reputation is damaged, it can take a lot of hard work to restore it.  The same goes for your AdWords quality score – but it can be done!  Our client, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) learned this when they discovered a big problem with their own quality score.  They had applied for a Google Grant about 6 months prior, and were waiting for their account to be activated. Due to a communications error, NPCA never learned when their grant was approved – Google set up their account, and their ads started running unattended.  By the time they discovered what had happened (6 months later), the damage was done.  As you’d expect for an account with no monitoring, their initial campaign performed badly, and their quality score plummeted.

After the jump, learn how NPCA boosted their quality score and saved their AdWords campaign.

Beaconfire worked with NPCA to overcome this challenge.  We quickly learned first-hand just how important the quality score is: almost everything we tried seemed to perform badly, and every new keyword we added had “poor” ratings.  Normally, maintaining an AdWords campaign involves removing poorly performing keywords, but since everything was under-performing, we had no reliable standard for measuring keyword quality.  Starting the campaign back on the right track meant setting metrics aside and relying on common sense.  We developed an expanded campaign making aggressive use of best practices.  To boost our clickthrough rate, we included a number of ad groups around the most popular (rather than the most profitable) content on NPCA’s site, including informational pages and freebies like their beautiful ecards.  Our hope was that the popularity of these categories would improve the quality score – and we could redistribute our spending later.  We watched for close connections between keywords, ads, and landing pages – the factors that contribute to keyword quality.

Then, we waited.

When we launched in mid December, and for several weeks thereafter, NPCA was only spending about $10 of their grant money per day.  At this time, even brand-new, highly relevant keywords had a “poor” rating – brought down by the account-wide quality score.  We did regular maintenance, but most of our work involved tweaking the ads and adding keywords, rather than removing keywords that we guessed to be under-performing.  As their clickthrough rate slowly grew, so did their daily spend and their keyword ratings.  Within a couple months, they started hitting triple-digit daily spends, and their performance kept growing.  At that point, there was finally enough differentiation in keyword ratings and performance for us to judge which were really “best” and “worst”, and manage the campaign forward like any other.

The big lesson to be learned about improving your account-wide quality score is that it takes time.   Because both recent and all-time results are taken into account, it can take a little while before your results begin to outgrow their historical baggage, even if you’ve worked hard to improve your campaign.  So, if your campaign is suffering from a low quality score, take heart: with a little patience, and a lot of attention to best practices, you can turn it around into a thriving effort.

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