7 ways to trash your Adwords Quality Score

Ian Lurie

Yesterday I gave a plain English explanation of Adwords quality score: Why it exists and how it (probably) works. Today we get to have some fun: There are soooo many ways to destroy your quality score. I’ll explain the top 7, and give a tip for improving your score at the same time.

1: The ad with no shame

Some pay-per-click (PPC) ads are just… well… easy. They’ll take any clicks they can get. For instance: You can’t really buy a llama at Amazon.com:


Yes, there are llama products, and products named ‘llama’. But I searched for “buy a llama.” I want a llama, dammit. Preferably with hats (don’t click that link unless you want to waste 20 minutes).

These kinds of matches are funny, but they boost impressions while killing clickthru rate (CTR). No one searching for ‘target shooting’ is going to click this ad:


That, in turn, kills quality scores, which leads to higher bid costs.

The fix: Start specific, with exact and phrase match terms. Use negative keyword matches like “-target shooting” to prevent overly-broad matches that cause your ad to show up all over the place.

2: The humungous budget increase

If you’re getting a high conversion rate, it’s tempting to triple your budget. More spend has to equal more sales, right?


In a perfect world, an increased spend leads to increased impressions, with then leads to more sales while not lowering your CTR (clickthru rates, for non-PPC nerds):


CTR stays consistent, so quality score should be solid

But, sadly, a huge budget increase often means your ad starts showing up in unexpected places. That means a lot more impressions without a proportional increase in clicks:

Noooo. Higher budget means lower CTR!!! Noooo. Higher budget means lower CTR!!!

Noooo. Higher budget means lower CTR!!!

The fix: A carefully managed budget increase. Slowly ramp up your spend, while also watching clickthru rate and performance. Don’t forget negative keywords, too!

3: The home page-linked ad

I see a lot of folks pointing all of their PPC ads at their home page. That’s a terrible practice. Say you’ve got 20 products in your store. If you create 20 ads, one for each product, and point all those ads at your home page, then you lose relevance. That’s because you can’t possibly make your home page completely relevant to all 20 products.

Do this in a store with 2000 products, and the problem gets a lot worse. When Google’s adbot goes and crawls your target page, it’ll see a lack of keyword relevance and reduce your quality score.

The fix: Easy. Point your ads at the most relevant ‘deep’ pages on your site.

4: The irrelevant landing page

Then there are those pages that make zero sense. I did a search for ‘rubber ducky bandages,’ clicked an ad and got this:



Faith has its place in healing, but this really isn’t what I wanted.

The fix: Don’t be an idiot. Check your links. And don’t send me to Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Shiva, the Buddha or anyone else if all I wanted was a rubber ducky bandage.

5. The slow-loading lander

I’ve talked a lot about site performance in the past. Slow-loading pages kill quality scores. If your landing page takes longer than 5 seconds to load, you have some work to do.

The fix: Read this. Get YSlow and Google Pagespeed, and run them. Follow their instructions. Hire a developer and designer who actually know what ‘compression’ is.

6: The terrible ad

Shoe laces aren’t that exciting, but this is ridiculous:

The fix: At least pretend you’re interested.

7: Automation, run amok

There are lots of automated bid management tools out there. They’re pretty cool. But you have to check in on your campaigns once in a while. If you just set your bid management toolset and leave everything for six months, you’re going to get a nasty surprise in your credit card bill. At some point, somewhere, the tool will take a small mistake you made, or a negative keyword you forgot, and faithfully replicate your error X 1,000.

The fix: Trust, but verify.

The whole point

The whole point of quality score is to deliver the most relevant ads that link to the most useful stuff. So, make sure your ads are relevant, and that they point to the most useful stuff for that search query. Do that, and you should be fine. If it doesn’t work, consider look at page performance, product issues or other problems that might be hurting quality.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


  1. Nice write up. I had a terrible encounter with Google Adwords the first time I used it a couple of years ago when I targeted stupidly broad and unrelated terms and then didn’t check it for 24 hours. The result was my quality score dropped completely and the price of the ads went up so I blew through my entire months budget on about 20 clicks!
    Good way to learn though 🙂

  2. Is there evidence that a GDN display campaign run in the same account as the standard search marketing will decrease the overall quality score of the advertiser (due to the traditionally poor CTR of display advertising), or is Google intelligent enough to separate the two?

Comments are closed.

Close search overlay