Not paying attention to Google Adwords Quality Score is likely to cost you more money than you should be paying… full stop.  If that doesn’t ring true for you, do read on…

Yes, I know I sang the praises of Quality Score as a hard taskmaster that helps me stay on my game in setting up clients’ pay per click (PPC) campaigns;  and that’s all very true.  Left unsaid in that piece was the fact that Quality Score can be either too low or too high.  How can that be?  Because one of Quality Score’s factors is “popularity” …as determined by click-through rate (CTR).

In other words:  even when a company sets up a PPC campaign with all best practices, even with compelling or qualifying creative… it still may result in a low Quality Score, simply because the advertiser doesn’t have enough budget to have its ad appear as often as Google determines it could – with a greater budget.  So an advertiser gets penalized because of low CTRs …which really equates to not spending enough.

Writing about this topic in Search Engine Land, Patricia Hursh points out that this methodology just happens to maximize the revenue (from click charges) that goes into the pockets of the search engine vendor!  People who may have felt protected by that “Don’t be evil” mantra may be shocked;  but no one should ever have taken that to mean that Google will totally, invariably put its customers’ interests ahead of its own.

Patricia also notes that where there is a fairly direct relationship between ad position, traffic and ROI – as with most B2Cs – then by all means focus on improving Quality Score.  But for most B2Bs, this will generally not be the case.

Most B2B marketers are not necessary trying to reach lots of people.  Typically they have a very specific audience in mind, and can define buyers quite specifically.  Most business marketers –  especially those selling complex products or services with long sales cycles – would prefer a few high quality leads to a huge volume of unqualified visitors.  At $15 or so a click, blindly trying to maximize Quality Score and thus drive up CTR can get real expensive, real fast.  You’ve got to be sure that those click-throughs are percolating along to actual sales at a rate that justifies their cost.

Here’s what I’ve found in my experience as a PPC professional:  the realities are that small-business B2B marketers…

  • usually have very limited budgets for PPC
  • can’t determine how much they are willing to pay for a lead, or haven’t been able to determine historically what they’ve paid in the past
  • who are able to identify the cost of a lead often admit that a trade show lead costs them as much as $500, but scoff at the idea of paying $15 for a pay per click lead
  • expect, on suddenly getting into PPC, that it will be some sort of silver bullet
  • believe it’s the campaign’s fault that they aren’t getting any/enough quality leads, while ignoring/refuting recommendations for landing page optimization

If you’re going to get into PPC, especially as an SMB B2B, you should…

  • have realistic expectations
  • know what you’re willing to pay for a lead …and know your threshold otherwise
  • definitely go with long tail searches;  a $1,000 monthly ad spend does not support targeting two-word phrases, and probably not 3-word phrases
  • deploy keyword-match types and lots of negative keywords
  • be amenable to landing-page and form optimization

All the above should be in place before your campaign gets started.

If you’re using these guidelines and still getting too much chaff with the wheat, Patricia suggests doing as we do at eMagine:  devoting some of that precious ad-copy real estate to some qualifying text.  E.g., if your B2B serves accounting firms with 10-50 CPAs, say exactly that in the ad copy.  You’ll certainly get fewer click-throughs – and hence a lower Quality Score – but you’ll be spending a good deal less for leads that are much more likely to be in your B2B’s sweet spot.

In sum:  Google Quality Score can be a good friend of your PPC campaign;  but chased blindly, it can also work against it.  Like any tool, you need to understand how it works before picking it up and just swinging away.