The Curious Case for Quality Score

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Advertising, SEM

Quality Score is a metric that is still very much alive and well within the SEM world. When we are doing staff or client training, it is typically the first SEM metric brought up. At some point, most seasoned SEM specialists have been asked how search ads show up in search engine results. To which we get out our trumpets in unison, bleat out a fairytale-like musical intro, and announce the longstanding calculation on our parchment paper scroll:

Ad Rank calculation

Ad rank is where your ad shows on the search engine results page. Bid is the maximum an advertiser is willing to pay for a click on their ad. So, what is Quality Score?

Quality Score is an algorithm that considers an ad’s expected CTR, the relevancy of the ad to the person’s search, and the landing page experience once a person clicks on the ad. The focus here is algorithm, meaning we don’t see exactly how a Quality Score was determined when a campaign’s keyword is being scored. It is in the hands of the ad platforms.

There has been an ongoing debate in the SEM industry about Quality Score and its usefulness. The term “vanity metric” has been thrown around. Some are staunch supporters of Quality Score, while others mostly dismiss it. Where does that leave the metric?

Let’s start by looking at some of the pros and cons of Quality Score.


  • SEM ad platform’s description of Quality Score helps us to determine what they deem as valuable, so it is a good starting point for a new campaign. At Mediology, when we are building SEM creative (keywords, ads, extensions) we first review the landing page and create ads and keywords as relevant as possible to it. We will also notify the client if the landing page experience needs some sprucing up.
  • Quality Score is calculated every time a keyword is used in the auction to show an ad. When reviewing a campaign’s keyword list, it can help to identify weaker performers or explain why there are higher CPCs. However, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, which I will explain in the cons list.
  • It provides some insight into a campaign’s landing page experience, which we can report back to our clients with.


  • As an advertising agency, we don’t always have the ability to change or improve a client’s landing page. This forces us to look at other performance metrics within the campaign, to get the best results possible within our control.
  • The keywords are only scored if they match perfectly to what a person is searching for. Most of the time, keywords in a campaign do not match exactly what someone is searching, especially if the keyword is set up as broad or phrase match. This leaves the keyword up to the search engine’s interpretation of what the person needs. Therefore, in a lot of campaigns, Quality Score doesn’t show for every keyword. In fact, after reviewing a sample size of about 10 campaigns (of different industries), Quality Score only seemed to show for about 2/3s of keywords. It also means that the keywords that have been scored, may have been scored from a small percentage of exactly matched phrases. This means that it is not a completely accurate representation.
  • As it is an algorithm, Quality Score only looks at data, some current and some historical, and doesn’t translate intent well. There are also factors in the search platforms that are not captured in Quality Score, like most of the targeting options available. This includes devices, time of day, location, and more. It can also just be faulty. For example, in one ad group, we have a client targeting a very specific product. The search terms report shows that most people are looking for the exact name of the product, which matches the long-tail keyword being used in the ad group. The ad itself mentions the product in full multiple times throughout the headlines and body copy. The landing page is dedicated solely to the product, is easy to find all information needed, and ranks high for loading time and mobile-friendliness. The performance on the actual keyword is very high, with a strong CTR of 10% and a low CPC of $1.06. So why has Google Ads scored this keyword 3/10 for Quality Score? Your guess is as good as mine.

With all this being said, how does Mediology view Quality Score?

We use it as a secondary metric. We use it as a guideline, as mentioned, to help build creative. We keep the rules of Quality Score forefront in our minds when nerding out at our computers over our campaigns.

In response to those who feel Quality Score is a vanity metric, I would say that I can see their point. It has a lot of blind spots and should be reviewed with a skeptical eye. However, because the search engines’ definition of Quality Score gives us enough information to help create a campaign as effective as possible, it should not be ignored or ruled out.

Have questions or comments? Please feel free to contact us!