Google’s “Quality Score” Release NOT About Transparency

Author: | Posted in Google, SEO 5 Comments

Google created quite a stir last night by announcing their impending release of their “Quality Score” data for AdWords advertisers. The AdWords blog broke the story and Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim, and Barry Schwartz via Search Engine Land (SEL) quickly followed. Both bloggers apparently spoke to Nick Fox, a Google representative to get some “inside” information. However, I’ve got to say I’m a bit disappointed in both blogs. I subscribe to both, and thoroughly enjoy nearly every single article that appears on both blogs (which is really saying something), but my overwhelming response to both posts was “COME ON!!”

Google AdWords - In it for the Money not the TransparencyThe official blog post cited two main reasons for instituting this change: Transparency and Quality. The Quality drum has been beating from the ‘Plex’ for years now and is hardly anything new. However, I would like to discuss this very briefly. Google admits that ads can be optimized to improve your Quality Score. My question is this, how does changing your ad, have anything to do with the quality of information you’ll receive once you click said ad? Let me make it easy for you… it doesn’t! So, why would Google call optimizing ads “improving quality?” We’ll get to that in a minute. For now let’s get back to the second reason Google has decided to bless us with this “new” information, transparency. Transparency is a phrase we don’t often hear in reference to Google (unless of course it’s people asking for more of it from the big G). Nevertheless, there it is in black and white on the AdWords blog:

Transparency – Later this week, we’re releasing an optional Quality Score column that shows the minimum bid for all of the keywords within an ad group as well as a Great, OK, or Poor quality label for your keyword. You can select this column by clicking ‘Customize Columns’ in one of your ad groups (selecting this will also automatically populate the column for all other ad groups within that campaign).”

Well lucky us! That’s just so nice of Google. This point was echoed by the Marketing Pilgrim post which said “Fox explained the addition of the new column was Google’s effort to ‘improve transparency’ and ‘make it easier to understand the quality score.’ He also explained that Google hoped the new Quality Score information would ‘help advertisers optimize their ads.’ [emphasis mine] ”

Here’s the only problem… This has absolutely nothing to do with being more transparent. Nothing!

Google has been taking a LOT of heat from their advertisers after jacking up their minimum bids on thousands of words in an attempt to improve the “quality” of those ads. In fact, the SEL article simply stated that “The reason Google is launching the Quality Score column is to give advertisers a heads up on their score. This way advertisers can be prepared for the new quality score algorithm, when it comes into play in a couple weeks from now.” At this point, it should become glaringly obvious to all that this is nothing more than yet another PR (the public relations kind) snow job. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at what’s actually going to be happening.

Google is going to be releasing their data about their secretive “Quality Score”. How? Well they’re going to show advertisers one of three rankings. Poor, OK, and Great. You’ll forgive me if I don’t find that very revealing. For this to be transparency you’d have to believe that Google themselves only use three different categories in their calculations. I for one, don’t buy that. And, advertisers have been able to get a pretty good idea of where their quality score ranks by looking at their minimum bids. If it used to be 5 cents, but jumped to 50, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re Quality score could probably use some work. So essentially, Google is just repackaging information that is already available to advertisers, their just going to make it easier to understand. That’s fine, I wouldn’t call it transparency (since again, that information is ALREADY out there) but let’s move on.

So, if it’s not for the sake of improving transparency, why is Google releasing this data? Surely it must be to improve quality. I mean Google’s ALWAYS out to improve the quality of the web right?

Wrong. As I mentioned before, the words in your ad hardly change the content on the other side of those ads. Now sure we don’t want to see ads for baby gifts and get taken to a site dedicated to motorcycles, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. The “optimizing” ads that Google is talking about involves changing the wording, putting your targeted keywords in the ad rather than your company name etc. As I said earlier, that hardly improves the quality of the content behind the ad.

Ok, fine, if it’s not for the sake of transparency and it’s not about improving quality, why the hell are they going to the trouble of releasing this data?

Google's true goal... more moneyThe simple answer… Money. By releasing this data Google will be able to keep more of their advertisers in the loop by seemingly providing them “new and more helpful” information when really all they are doing is repackaging information already available. And, when the next AdWords change happens and thousands of advertisers see their costs increase even more, Google will be able to just point at the Quality Score. Despite the fact that Google controls the score, they’ll use it to blame the advertisers for the cost increases. Many advertisers will buy this excuse, and thank Google for so kindly showing them the error of their ways. Happy advertisers translates to more money in Google’s increasingly bloated pockets. Also, if more advertisers optimize their ads, they will be much more likely to get clicked on. However, as mentioned earlier, changing your ad will not change the content behind that ad, so conversions aren’t likely to increase at the same rate as advertiser’s costs. So, similar to the content network or made-for-adsense sites, Google gets paid while the advertiser sees little to no return on their investment.

So, despite the fact that Google is merely repackaging information already available to the public (Remember in Google’s own words, this is to “make it easier to understand the quality score”) and trying to avoid the negative PR storm that ensued the last time they tinkered with Adwords, we’ve got two prominent SEO/SEM blogs spouting the company line. I completely understand the desire to stay on Google’s good side. But honestly, do we really need to read MORE of Google’s propaganda? We already know what Google says. That’s what the AdWords blog is for. The readership of Marketing Pilgrim and Search Engine Land have come to expect balanced, and even handed articles, not just Google’s BS reworded and spat back out as the God’s honest truth.

I’m not looking to pick any fights or make any enemies. As I said, I thoroughly enjoy both blogs. But come on guys, maybe dig a little deeper next time? Maybe examine what other possible motivations Google might have other than improving quality, the user experience, and the internet as a whole. I mean aren’t we past believing Google is in this game for anything but money? I know I am…

  1. Posted by Andy Beal
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