Google Quality Score = Yield Maximization or More $$ for Google

I watch a number of forums and I wanted to post an extremely insightful quote from Chris Zaharias of Omniture, Inc. posted on the Webmaster Forum (used with approval of Chris Zaharias). The comment is indicative of the grab for cash that Google is doing when it comes the quality score updates and the lack of transparency into the workings of AdWords keeping advertisers at an increasing disadvantage in regards to paying a “real” market value for clicks.

On Google’s earnings call this afternoon a Wall Street analyst asked what effects the company saw from the AdWords changes implemented early September (1st Page Bid, no more Inactive KWs, real-time Q.S. calculation), and Jonathan Rosenberg replied that Google makes 10-50 (yes, *50*) ‘quality improvements’ *each quarter*. Two things worth noting:
1) If they have been and continue to make 10-50 changes to AdWords every quarter – and that *was* the clear implication from Rosenberg’s statement – then no wonder Google never fully explains Quality Score. They *can’t*, because it’s a yield optimization set of calculations that change frequently, do not necessarily hold true to what Google tells the advertiser community, and aren’t, in fact, all about ad quality;

2) I’ve listened to virtually every Google earnings call, and each time an analyst has asked a question about monetization improvements, Google execs have responded by talking about Quality Score and ‘quality improvements’. That QS and monetization are synonymous inside Google, coupled with 10-50 ‘quality improvements’ per quarter, together means that Quality Score is not the Newtonian, relatively stable system Google tells advertisers and agencies it is, but much more like a quantum particle whose traits can only be understood in terms of probability.

Probability –> Otherwise said, Google’s system is a real-time yield management system working on Google’s behalf. While publisher & advertiser interests being met feeds into the system, ultimately the system’s goal is yield maximization, and to that goal static explanations (like the ones we in the SEM community are always trying to get out of Google) are like straight answers on quantum entanglement = either you won’t get a straight answer, or the truth will blow you away. . .

So What? –> This means that advertisers and agencies need to ‘instrument’ their SEM efforts with a yield optimization system – working to *their* ROI goals and optimizing to better [=ROI] data than even Google has – in order to continue to thrive. Thrive, first in the yield-drive, fuzzy, world of Google, and thrive second in the wider advertising world – radio, TV, print, banner, etc – that Google’s more efficient system is bound to grow into.

IMO, we in the SEM community need to stop trying to get a static definition of Quality Score, as it will never come for the reasons stated above. Instead, we need to build our own yield maximization systems so that we know at all points in time the nature of the buying intent in the traffic we buy, and optimize our traffic buy and our sites (our businesses, ultimately) to our own goals. Do that and you can give as well as you get from Google.

The bottom line consensus from the community of professional webmasters and AdWords account managers is that Quality Score is a tool that Google uses to their monetary benefit. As you read this, you may consider that I may be overly cynical, but here is a clear portrait in five AdWords accounts and just a sampling of the “grab for cash” that this past AdWords quality score has caused in mature, top performingm high CTR and strongly converting AdWords accounts:

Client One – spends $3,000 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $1.21, October average cost per click $1.79, that is an increase of 48%.

Client Two – spends $3,000 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $.66, October average cost per click $1.05, that is an increase of 59%.

Client Three – spends $3,800 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $3.12, October average cost per click $3.38, that is an increase of 9%.

Client Four – spends $800 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $7.03, October average cost per click $8.19, that is an increase of 17%.

Client Five – spends $800 per month in AdWords, August average cost per click $4.13, October average cost per click $5.97, that is an increase of 45%.

Although Google has clearly painted this updated, done on 9-15-08, as an improvement to provide better quality ads to viewers and therefore improving the quality of their advertising network benefiting advertisers, in reality, it is clear that this is not the real thrust of this update. Based on our sampling of clients above we have seen on average an increase of 35% in the cost per click since this update. Overall we have seen from a 5% to 200%+ increase in our accounts.

I have to directly challenge Google’s view point that this recent quality score update, which has wreaked havoc for advertisers far and wide, was about “quality”, clearly it is about increasing returns for Google!

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