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How does a low-quality score campaign impact on branded keywords CPC?

As an online marketing professional, I always have branded keywords monitored. Either SEO or SEM. So, we know that when we perform a branded keyword search on Google and our website does not appear, then we need to start getting concern. As well, if we are running PPC ads and our CPC for our branded keywords are steadily increasing, those are enough signs to start getting worried.

In both cases, it means there is something that Google doesn’t like. Most of the times it coincides with changes on the SEO strategy which affects the homepage or if we go more in depth, it could also be because of changes on the <title> label. That is why, beware if you are running SEM and your client has performed changes on the  <title> label from their homepage, this can affect on changes of CPC from your branded keywords. We are very familiar with this case-scenario with different clients working on diverse industries.

But for this post, although it’s based on analyzing CPC from branded keywords, we won’t be checking the SEO, actually, what we will do is to focus on how a low-quality score campaign can impact or branded keywords cpc.

How does a low-quality score campaign impact on branded keywords CPC?

In order to answer this question, we will have to ask ourselves two other questions.

What is a low-quality score campaign?

A low-quality Adwords campaign is the one that contains:

  • Low conversion rate
  • High CPA
  • Low CTR
  • High bounce rate
  • Low DWELL time

The two first terms mentioned are highly subjective and of course it depends on the business model from each of our clients. As you know, it’s not the same to be an organization with no online record, which needs from historical data and time so their potential customers can get to know them, than an organization with long internet record which only needs to sell.

That is why this logics applies to Google. The Google algorithm cannot be based in any subjective variable and that is why it always works on standard variables based on the traffic it gathers, the parameters and its own way of monitoring data and user behavior.

The three following metrics are 100% objective; Bounce rate, CR, dwell time. Those are metrics Google can gather on its own and compare them with the rest of the advertisers. That is why those metrics are key factors to determine quality.

There has been a lot of talk regarding the Google Quality Score and how to calculate it but let’s not fool ourselves, is very fun to play scientist and try to solve the Holy Grail but don’t you think It will be a better investment to simply do things as they are supposed to according to Google? In PPC we are all here to make money, Google, us as SEM professionals and of course our clients.  That is why Google have always been very transparent on this and have always said; CTR and Quality are essential.

Regarding CTR, we won’t be saying anything new but what about quality? What does Google understand as quality? The answer is “to help the user find what he is looking for”

To help a user find what he or she is looking for can end up on a conversion or not, it could also end up in a conversion on our competitor website only because of a difference in the pricing. Does that mean our ad and our landing page is of worst quality? Of course not, that is why we cannot base the quality on the conversions.

Mostly, the quality on the landing page is based on:

  • The relevance between the user search and the landing content
  • How user-friendly is
  • Whether they are safe, and do not break any law
  • Everything you can imagine to make your user stay in your page to get all the info they need

But then, how come our branded keywords CPC in exact match type have increased up to 100%?

Let’s see a real example, our keyword [Brand] went from 0,75€ to 1,43€ in only 4 month time, from the 4rth to the 5th month go from 1,43€ to 1,25€

Average CPC Historical Data

Average CPC Historical Data

In order to find a reason for this sudden increase on CPC, we analyzed the following variables:

  • Did we add new branded keywords in same adgroup which could modify the ecosystem of this one? No we did not
  • Changes in the landing page which could affect the SEO and that Google wouldn’t have taken it right? No changes happeend
  • Did IT performed any change in the server or cookie policies and so on? No, they did not
  • Has there been a shift in the bounce rate or the average time per visit? Nothing

Since we were not able to to find any change which could have affected the campaign or adgroup from the stated keyword and since Adwords was only increasing average CPC in this exact-match type keywords, we proceed with analyzing each of the campaigns, one by one and check the evolution they had over the last semester. Specially we were aiming to find a campaign which in the 3rth month after its creation, would have had an important increase of the traffic.

Finally we were able to find that campaign:

Historical data

Historical data

The average position is ok as well as the CPC (if we take into account the industry). Moreover the most fascinating thing was the CPA, although it was higher than the client wanted, its deviation was not affecting the total CPA. The only negative metric was the CTR, which, even though it was a search campaign (with an ok ad rank) was not as good as it should have been.

The topic from this particular keywords in this particular campaign was related to the business of our client. That means, they were complementary products which could have been purchase at the client’s website but they were not “direct” products. As an example, it would have been as if an airline would have had an Adwords campaigns for “travel insurances”. It’s related right?  Yes, although that is not the main aim of this airline.

So, we ended up finding the problem. A low-quality campaign but that was converting ok. That is why the following question arises:

How are the Quality Score movements shown in the account?

So, we all have heard about the QS, if we have things that are not working as they should, Google will lower your QS and this lead to a CPC rise. Ok yeah, the CPC increases but in which extend? To all our keywords? Just some?

As for what we were able to analyze, at least in this case, we had one PPC campaign with QS between 1 and 3 and this was affecting negatively the CPC of our [Brand] keyword, but where was the relationship between these two factors?

What is the criteria for relating high CPC in [Brand] keyword and low QS in another campaign?

By analyzing the relationship from the CPC from this [Brand] keyword and the campaign behaviour, we found the following relation:

Blue shows impressions from the low-quality campaign.
Orange shows the CPC from this [Brand] keyword.

CPC y Impresiones

CPC and Impresions

Let me explain the image:

parallel behavoiour

parallel behavoiour

Conclusions from this case study

With this case we have been able to see two different behaviours that have helped us understand Adwords in a better way.

What does Google thinks a low-quality campaign is?

Campaigns with low CTR which Google by itself have already assessed that the website goal is not related with the keywords bidded. That is why you have to analyze in depth if it’s beneficial for you to bid for them. Not only you have to check if that campaign is beneficial but if it’s affecting the rest of your campaigns performance.

How does this low-quality campaign affect on my overall Adwords account?

So we have proved that Google has punished us on our branded keywords for having a low-quality campaign. So now, you know that if your branded keyword campaign suffers fluctuations in the CPC, it could be that if you have a low CTR campaign this could be affect the other campaign. My advice is to stop this campaign and to search for new keywords related to those you have which high QS.

On the other hand, if the only keywords you have with high QS are brand-related, then you have a problem on your website. This means, Google algorithm doesn’t understand what your business is and what you want to pursue with it.

Oh by-the-way, would you like to know what happened when we paused that low-quality score campaign?

CPC historical data

CPC historical data

The average CPC got back to normal! 🙂


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