In the world of AdWords management Google’s keyword Quality Score strikes fear into the hearts, of even the most experienced practitioners of the dark art.

How is Quality Score Calculated?

QS is a number from 1 to 10. Google calculates this a combined assessment of three elements of your advertising:

  • Expected keyword Click-Through Rate – how well Google assesses your ad to be clicked
  • Ad Relevance – how relevant your ad is to your keyword
  • Landing Page Experience – a short explanation isn’t possible

A score of 10 is very good and keeps your click costs nice and low. A score of 1 means very expensive click costs. It’s also usually means your ads won’t show.

Small Devices – Big Effect

Over the last six months we’ve noticed a mysterious drop in in a number of our customer AdWords accounts. Anyone intimate with AdWords will know of the existence of a small bubble next to the keyword. When you hover over this, you’ll see a score of Above Average, Average, or you guessed it, Below Average.

Some hovering late we noticed a correlation between the majority of low QS keywords and the Below Average landing page experience.

When we looked at the landing pages in question there really wasn’t a lot that appeared to be particularly wrong. The mobile and desktop views were well thought out, full of good explanations of products and services, great transparency, including contact details, prices, and easy to use navigation.

After probing the usual mixed bag of Google Help desk staff we discovered that the main problem was mobile sites or responsive sites on mobile devices were scoring badly on the Google Developer PageSpeed Insights test. https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

We knew page load times have for a long time, been a component of both SEO ranking and Quality Score. With AdWords it appeared the search engine had upped the ante big time. The message I received from one helpful guy at Google was it doesn’t matter much where competition is weak. Where it isn’t though, the algorithm was trashing Quality Score on websites built on very popular responsive WordPress themes. This includes our own website incidentally. Although this is potentially a great way to boost big G’s short term profits, it is a little unfair we feel.

Further investigating suggested to us that the key issue is the Server Response time. This led us to believe that the issues were server related. In other words a faster server should mean better Quality Score. Attempts to move one website proved this notion to be incorrect.

Solutions

Eventually we discovered that the big contributor to this is Javascript and CSS files. It’s far from unusual with WordPress websites that common plugins install their own Javascript and CSS files and these end up pushed into the header, loading before the page can.

The best solution we’ve found is to use otimisation plugins such as W3 Total Cache or AutoOptimise. We saw dramatic improvements on the sites where these were installed and configured carefully. This led to a reasonable Quality Score recovery after a few weeks.