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Thursday, February 15, 2007

What's a Low-Quality Ad, Anyway?

In one of the paid search sessions yesterday here at SES London, one audience member gave his account of the "death spiral" that seems to afflict certain keywords in his AdWords account. "I wake up and Google's asking for 2.50 for a keyword, so I raise the bid. The next day, they've put it up to 5.00. (etc.)."

Obviously this is a signal that the relationship between this keyword, ad, and landing page is seen as "very low quality."

So I asked roughly what industry he was in - turns out it's related to debt relief. The keyword in question? "Lottery tickets." Yup, I thought to myself - in the new Quality Based Bidding regime, that's seen as just too far off the mark in terms of relevancy to the service being offered to the consumer.

This might have fallen flat at any stage of AdWords history, though, by virtue of the low CTR it would likely attract. A "popular culture" type word (people looking up lottery listings is a very common navigational function) will be so high volume that the proportion of users who are thinking "transactionally" and willing to check out an offer is so low that it will lead to a CTR that is below any threshold of reasonability as far as today's PPC auctions go.

You admire the lateral thinking here: people desperate to dig themselves out of debt might be more inclined to buy and look up info on lottery tickets. If so, then an advertiser should probably try to get placement on relevant websites through direct media buys and various banner and text ad targeting tactics (one being Google's Site Targeting option).

But you'll have much more trouble doing this type of "loose targeting" if you're using AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing, unless of course you have a strong, established CTR and user experience history.

So is an ad for debt relief next to search engine results for lottery tickets really "low quality"? Yes, moderately so, because in the user's eyes, search is special. They want even the ads to be tightly targeted, or let there be no ads at all.

Google is no doubt going to continue to modify the Quality Score algorithm to fine-tune the balance between advertisers' needs and the user experience. Stay tuned.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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