Google Adwords Quality Score Mystery

Overview of Campaign

We launched a new campaign less than three weeks ago that targets keywords closely relating to one high dollar product that our client manufacturers and sells direct to the end-user or through distribution partners.

Some keywords are designed to create awareness. However, we are primarily targeting keywords that directly relate to their product offering, including their own brand. The client was eager to launch even though we still had not completed the landing page for this product.  To begin generating traffic, the campaign was initially sending users to the product page on their existing corporate site. Once the landing page was completed (a few days ago) we updated all destination url’s to point users to the new product specific landing page.  This was a new landing page with a new branded and keyword rich domain.

Within a day of updating the destination url’s, all the keyword quality scores dropped to “1”’s on a scale of “1-10”. Impressions went to zero on 100% of the keywords.

Never in my career have I seen quality scores this bad and on every keyword including their brand.

Poor Quality Score Screen Shot

Poor Quality Score Screen Shot

Recap of Situation

  • Brand new domain = no good or bad history
  • HTML landing page w/image, text & form
  • Keyword and brand rich domain
  • Targeting a variety of keywords including their own brand name
  • All Quality Scores are a “1” on a scale of “1-10”

Changes on June 12th, 2010

  • Updated destination url to new landing page on new domain.
  • QS changed from average range of 5-10 to 1 the day after changing dest. url
  • No ad changes were made aside from display and destination url
  • Zero impressions since June 12th
  • All Ads are approved

Where’s The Problem Google?

I am struggling to figure this out.  Obviously the issue relates to the new domain. Perhaps we need to establish history. However, we cannot gain ANY history aside from poor history if no ads are shown.  The most baffling to me is the quality score of “1” even on their own brand which is well-known in the industry.  The page uses a branded url as well as branding on the landing page with a link to their corporate site.

Immediate Next Steps

We will be updating the destination url’s back to the corporate site while we dig further into the details, will be adding webmaster tools as well as emailing the specifics to my Google rep who may or may not respond.

Please share your thoughts on this mystery!

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Posted in Google Adwords
23 comments on “Google Adwords Quality Score Mystery
  1. Justin says:

    This is quite interesting – my assumption is it has to do with the lack of historic data in that campaign. Could you possibly share some click through rate data with your next update?

    Lack of historical data is certainly a factor but it shouldn’t be this much of a factor. There is zero impressions since the dest url update. Prior to that update, the campaign’s CTR’s ranged from a low of 0.52% for the brand awareness campaign and a high of 16.67% for the brand relevant campaign. Everything went black after and QS all at 1.

  2. Jo Stumpner says:

    Some potential paths to explore:

    1) Account history/quality. Try the same/similar stuff on a new account?
    2) If it’s a landing page with a form, is there a privacy policy? Some supporting pages (even if only accessible via minor footer links) have reputedly helped folks.
    3) Get links to the page? Michael Gray proved this helps in a case study at SMX Advanced 08. Dunno if that’s still true, but worth a shot. (You need links for seo anyways, right…)
    4) Does the logo provide a way out? Any broken ‘back button’ gimmickery? “but-wait-we-have-a-special-offer’ Exit popups?
    5) load time?

    Interestingly enough, these were new campaigns added to an existing account and the previous account history has been phenomenal! The other two products have similar landing pages and campaign set up: new domain for each page, virtually identical to the newest landing page featuring different products.

    No privacy policy, it is one of the first things I noticed what the issue was brought to my attention. However, none of their others have it either and no issues with those (adding privacy policy on all pages is in the queue)

    No crazy pop ups or side offers. Logo links to corporate, corporate address and identifiers on are the footer with a link to corporate as well. We have a pdf brochure download which requires no info to access.

    Thanks for these suggestions. We are actively going through a mental checklist of all the obvious. We found an incorrect GA code UA extension. It was sharing the same UA as one of the other landing pages. (Copied and pasted without updating) This has been changed but I am not sure the website tracking would cause an issue.

  3. Hi, came across this on twitter. It captured my attention because I have some strange stuff going on in my account also regarding QS. My situation is different however. I’ve got a keyword that has a CTR of 23%; a cpc of 0.06…lots of clicks daily…and a QS of 3/10!

    Anyway. Concerning the above situation. A couple of questions:

    – does the keyword appear at all on the landing page (except in the title- as you mentioned)? Then again, you wouldn’t have an QS that low even if there wasn’t….

    – if you analyze the landing page using google webmaster tools, is anything out of the norm? (All bots being blocked or something weird like that?)

    I’d start looking in the webmaster tools as a starting point.

    Great suggestions,

    Not all keywords that we are targeting appear on this landing page. However, several do and the same QS for all. Currently having webmaster tools added to ensure there is nothing weird going on but won’t have immediate data. I have recently seen some unusual QS’s but this one is truly baffling. I fear it is something obvious and easy so we are going back to basics and ensuring all of the “duh” stuff is covered.

  4. Jo,

    Funny you write about this matter because I have the same problem in one of my accounts. I asked my Google rep what the deal was and he told me my keywords had low search volumes to the point where I was being penalized with low quality scores.

    Now this is a problem because the product I am advertising is very niche and I don’t want to bid on broader, higher searched terms. Essentially, I’m being punished because my terms are too niche. It’s certainly a conundrum.

    • jostumpner says:

      I’ve seen a lot of that happen as well in those situations. I often deal with very niche areas. However, all scores tanking to zero seems excessive. New domain with no history certainly isn’t ideal but seems hard to imagine it would impact the campaign that dramatically. Still waiting for my Google reps response. I will keep you posted when I put my finger on it. Joanna Lord is offering up some great reasons all which make sense but still seems dramatic change unless there is some issue I am unaware of with the site.

  5. jostumpner says:

    Mystery SOLVED! Or at least I am pretty sure I know the cause, thanks to Joanna Lord for helping me open my eyes. It seems that our domain is probably being viewed as an adult site due to the product’s brand name which will have to remain confidential. However, I think you get the idea. Very innocent product with an interesting brand makes for poor QS’s. Already planning ways we can test this and other factors around this. VERY EXCITED and will share the results when we have them. Thanks again for the feedback everyone!

    • In that case, the QS would not have suffered. It would simply have been classified as an adult site.

      What is possible though, is that the keywords are not seen as “adult” keywords, while the website is.

      eg. keywords “dolls” for…you get the picture.

      • jostumpner says:

        Keywords would most likely not be seen as adult with the exception of their brand product name. With that in mind, it is a likely reason for the low QS. Google sees= industrial product related terms going to an adult site = QS of 1. Makes sense. At the end of the day, it is the domain that appears to be the issue.

  6. My two cents:

    1. Matt is correct – we frequently see this effect with new campaigns, and Google say it’s due to low search volume. What they mean is that there is low search volume for the keywords you’re using across Google’s network. So keywords (and sometimes entire accounts) are “guilty unless proven innocent.” In other words, low quality scores are assigned until enough impressions and clicks have accumulated to demonstrate sufficiently high CTRs.

    In my opinion this is a huge flaw in the AdWords QS algorithms – because brand terms are often worst-affected. Everyone loses – the searcher doesn’t see the most relevant ads, the advertiser doesn’t get the low-conversion-cost activity they deserve – and ironically, Google makes less money.

    The only solution we’ve seen is to wait. QS scores usually rise on their own.

    2. Most claims and theories about landing page quality pertaining to QS are mumbo-jumbo and conjecture. Read Brad Geddes’ posts on and listen to the PPC Rockstars episode in which I interviewed Google’s Fred Vallaeys on the subjetc – and dismiss everything else.

    • jostumpner says:

      Yep, I’ve seen that and agree that it is very unfortunate for all parties involved. Regarding your reference to the landing page quality & mumbo-jumbo… do you think the seemingly adult domain didn’t or isn’t the cause of the issue here? It is the only logical exploitation I’ve come up with. I’ll email you the domain and you will likely see what I mean. Also, keep in mind, the same keywords had normal QS scores while pointed to the corporate site. We launched a landing page and updated the destination url’s and nothing else. Received a huge flat line the day after. Seems obvious that the “adult referencing” domain is the issue. Actually, we are in the process of testing to determine with certainty if that is indeed the issue. Looking forward to analyzing the results!

  7. Robert Brady says:

    Interesting article showing how account age affects CPC – but an seemingly adult domain would definitely set off the Google slap.

    • jostumpner says:

      I experienced the difference in domain age and expected that to be a contributing factor. This was so dramatic that I was sure something beyond that was up. I’ve never experienced the “Google Slap” before. Not Fun but sure makes for some good data gathering.

  8. John Lee says:

    Click the little thought bubble next to the orange “rarely shown due to low quality score” text. Does it say “Landing page quality: poor” ?? This will undoubtedly cause your keyword QS to drop. Landing page quality score only rears its ugly head in a negative fashion (you never hear anyone talk about it as a positive QS factor). I would suggest that you look into whether this landing page has a negative history with Google. Has this page come under fire in the past for breaking any of Google’s landing page policies?

    • jostumpner says:

      Thanks John for the feedback. The landing page is new so there is no bad history, just no history. I am pretty confident the issue is the keywords in the domain itself. Out of context this product’s brand name could be viewed as “adult content”. The other two products were launched over a year ago with virtually identical landing pages with the exception of key benefits and images and of course each page has it’s own unique domain. I am 90% confident the domain name for this new landing page put us on a black list. We updated dest. url’s to the corporate site earlier today while we were troubleshooting the issue and QS are back to normal range. Impressions, clicks and conversions are happening again as expected.

  9. Mike says:

    By any chance was the content on the new landing page url lifted for the most part from the original main corporate site? Or was it rewritten or completely new.

    Try copyscape on it?

    I have a feeling that there is a newish original content filter that is causing Landing Page Quality Poor on content that has been seen on stronger, more established sites.

    I have a project that I am working on that we are getting to this theory. I will keep you posted and should know in a week or so.

    • jostumpner says:

      Content was unique. Same topic as their corporate site of course so there is some overlap in areas such as features/benefits but definitely not copied. As mentioned in previous comments, I am pretty sure it is the domain name have one keyword that could be viewed as adult. Thanks for the feedback! I will update when I complete tests to confirm this suspicion.

  10. Grant says:

    Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

  11. Dave says:

    Is there any update on this?

    This might seem basic but I have to ask. Do any of the navigation options on the landing page take them back to the corporate domain? Google might be viewing this as a masking page.

    Coupled with the “adult” theme this might be a killer combo for your QS.

    • jostumpner says:

      Google has replied but their reply provided little value. Yes, their logo and the footer text identify the corporate name. This is a common practice for all of our landing pages and others have no issue. We are nearing a relaunch with a different domain name. I am excited to see if we duplicate this. My guess is, no. I will share once we are ready to relaunch our test. I think I will save my full analysis and results for the next conference that I speak at.

      • Dave says:

        We have several clients where there is no “maksing” and they are the same structure as some of those who are getting penalized. Google has brought the hammer down on some of them but not all.

        Since you point out that the text is actually calling out the name then I guess by definition it is not “masked” and as you say it is probably not the problem.

        I look forward to hearing your analysis.


  12. Google Adwords Specialist says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and perspectives. It is appreciated.

  13. What i find difficult is to find a blog that can capture me for a minute but you definitely add value. Keep it like this.

  14. Superb blog you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article?
    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get advice from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
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