PPC Quality Score & Google’s Search Network
We all know how important quality score (QS) and its most important contributor, clickthrough rate (CTR), are in determining ad positions on Google AdWords. We know that improving QS and CTR can help reduce cost per click and improve the performance of your PPC campaign. But how does this fit in with the different locations in which your ads could be appearing? Does performance on Google’s search network influence performance on Google search?
We are constantly told how important a good CTR is when managing a PPC campaign. So, what should you do if you notice (as I did recently) that CTR for one of your campaigns has fallen dramatically? This is what I could see in AdWords:
What would you do in this situation? If your campaign is still performing well in terms of traffic and conversions (as mine was), then don’t panic! In fact, in this case campaign performance had been gradually improving. The changes I had been making were working and I had seen a gradual increase in both clicks and conversions.
The next thing we should do is to look at where this change in CTR occurred. Was every ad group affected, or just one or two? In this case the drop in CTR was across the whole campaign. How about the different networks? Here, we can ignore the content network as we are not running a content campaign for this client. As a small aside, I would advise that if you are running content campaigns, you should keep them separate from search campaigns. Create a new, content only campaign. This is best practice and makes campaign optimisation and analysis much easier. It also enables you to create different structures for your Google search and Google content campaigns, as they are very different beasts.
Now, looking at Google search and Google search network separately we can see that CTR for Google search only fell from around 20% to 14% in February when we added some broad match terms. This is the first step down in the chart above. It’s entirely natural that broad match keywords will have a lower CTR, and this is nothing to worry about. When calculating quality score, Google only look at the exact keyword in the campaign, not at the various broad matched phrases for which your keyword could be triggering ads.
Looking at the Google search network only (which includes search partner sites such as Ask Jeeves and various ISP search pages), we can see a huge CTR drop in April from around 11% to less than 2% and a further drop in June to around 1%. Woah!! That’s significant, and accounts for the next two steps down in the chart above.
BUT, is this actually a problem for the campaign? Will this have lowered our overall QS? With a bit of investigation we discovered that our ads had begun appearing on new search partner sites at these times. We saw huge increases in impressions at these points too. According to Google “This is just the nature of the constantly changing search partner landscape.” New search partners may be added or removed at any time.
Obviously, ad performance will vary from one search partner to another due to differing page layouts, so it makes sense that ad position on the search network is calculated on a per site basis. Google take the differing performance levels of the sites into account when calculating QS on the search network, and this is based on a combination of the CTR for that particular search partner and the CTR on Google search.
So, performance on Google search DOES influence QS and ad position on the search network. BUT, the important thing to remember is that CTR on search partners does NOT influence your quality score, CPC or ad position on Google search.
Don’t go making any snap decisions and drastic changes before discovering the cause and potential effect of any CTR changes you see in your PPC campaigns. If your campaign continues to perform well, there’s probably nothing to worry about!