I'd like to take the opportunity to revist the Google AdWords shakeup of mid-July. Many of you will remember the roasting I received back then for my blog post "What determines quality score?" — definitely not my finest moment! This time I've done my homework, conducted my research, consulted with experts, and now I'm ready to put my ideas out there again.
First let's do a quick recap: Google recently made changes to its Quality Score assessment algorithm. The quality score is determined by a number of factors, including your ad's clickthrough rate (CTR), relevance of your ad text, the historical performance of the ad, and the quality of the website's landing page. (Google blog post about Quality Score.) Your quality score determines the minimum bid for your Adwords ads. So if you have a high quality score, you have a low minimum bid, and it costs less to use Adwords. If your quality score is eye level with the gutter, you're going to end up paying between 50c and $50 for each and every click on your Adwords ad.
The change to the quality score algorithm that we're concerned with specifically centered around landing pages. A landing page is (quite obviously) the page that a person first lands on when they click your Adwords ad. Google singled out a number of landing page behaviours that they considered to lower the user experience, and penalised them. (A poor user experience means that users are less likely to click an Adwords ad in future, meaning that even though Google will lose a lot of money initially due to fewer advertisers on Adwords, they will ensure the longevity of Adwords as a whole by retaining the loyalty and goodwill of Google users. Google rides into town, defends the defenseless and shoos the baddies away. Yay Google.)
As a result of this heroic behaviour and self-sacrifice on Google's part, websites with landing pages falling into the "poor user experience" category saw their Adwords costs shoot through the roof overnight. Many people lost many thousands of dollars and everybody had a grumble. This guy's blog quite nicely illustrates the experience of many websites.
Let's quickly take a look at the sites most affected, and why Google chose to single them out:
These are the pages that usually follow the following formula: Big header, bulletpoints and a form to sign up for more information or to receive a "free report". They're usually very brief with the sole aim of getting an email address out of the user. Google considers these to be "poor user experience" sites because they don't contain much content and they don't offer the user any alternative action other than the signup form.
Affiliate "review" sites:
These are the one-page sites with a whole bunch of affiliate reviews for products. The aim is to get users to click on one of the review products and purchase through the affiliate link. By the looks of it, Google doesn't consider that these sites provide enough content to warrant a decent quality score.
You're bound to have seen these pages. Sometimes they're short and to the point, but often they go on for screens and screens... one big long sales letter. Since these pages often have a lot of content, you have to assume that the penalty is because they contain no external links. Most normal sites have multiple pages. Those that don't are obviously selling something. This applies to squeeze pages as well.
These are the sites set up purely as AdSense ad farms. The user clicks the AdWords link and is taken to this landing page which contains very little besides a whole lot of AdSense ads with the aim of making more money from AdSense than is spent on AdWords. These sites provide a very poor user experience indeed. The user clicks on an AdWords ad expecting to find the information they're looking for, and they're sent to another page full of more ads! You can understand why Google would want to kick these sites in the bum.
Ok, enough of the recap. What can you do about it?
LINK TO CONTENT
This is something I, my colleagues and some of my Affilorama members have tested on many review and squeeze sites. Whether it'll stand up to future quality score changes or human evaluation remains to be seen.
The idea is that you want to boost your quality score by producing a multi-page website with lots of content. Of course providing pages and pages of content doesn't fit so well with the single-minded nature of an affiliate review site (or even a sales letter or squeeze page). With these sites you don't really want your visitor wandering around too much. So how can you provide lots of content while keeping your visitors flowing through your site correctly?
What I've done is to add a bunch of links to the bottom of my landing pages, reasonably small and unobtrusive and unlikely to attract much attention. Make a "contact us" link, a "privacy info" link, you know, the standard stuff. But also make an "articles" link. Have that "articles" link go to another page in your site with maybe about thirty articles in it. You can easily get articles on pretty much any topic from websites like www.ezinearticles.com. These articles are free to use provided you include the author's resource box at the bottom.
So now your landing page links to an article page with thirty articles in it, and you suddenly have a content site. You can try to make money from your article pages if you feel so inclined by including an image and an affiliate link, or throwing in a bit of AdSense. You can repeat your reviews at the bottom of each article too, if you like. Your articles won't be particularly good from a search engine optimization point of view since they'll be duplicate content, (I highly recommend unique, search engine optimized articles if at all possible), but the aim in this case is simply to boost your quality score. And this seems to work.
Of course, increasing the content on your page any other way is also good. Even if you just add some extra content in small type at the bottom of your page.
RELEVANCY! RELEVANCY! RELEVANCY!
You need to make very sure that your landing page is optimized for BOTH your search term AND your Adwords listing. All the words you use in your Adwords ad should be used on your landing page. In other words, make your site relevant to your ad. If that means you need to make separate landing pages for each ad or ad group, then that's what you need to do. No point arguing the matter.
BREAK OUT THE SEO
If you haven't already optimized your site for organic search engine listings (ie. not pay-per-click), now would be a good time to do that as well. It stands to reason that what works for boosting relevancy from a SEO point of view will also boost relevancy from a quality score point of view. So if you've been a bit lax on the SEO front with the idea that since you're paying for your ads it doesn't apply to you... you now need to think again. By optimizing your site you're not only increasing your relevancy to your search terms (and hopefully lowering your minimum bids) but you'll also be helping improve the flow of free traffic to your site, and you'll be less likely to feel the effects of future algorithm changes.
It's like brushing your teeth. It just needs to be done.
Once you've implemented all this stuff it might take a while for Google to crawl back your way. So you can either be patient, or request a manual review from Google. As I said, these are the things that have been working well for me and for people I know. We've had particular success with linking to an articles page, but I'm not sure if this technique would work if these sites were human-reviewed at any stage. The best thing to do — and it's not so hard when you think about it — is to just ensure that you're providing a site that's worth visiting. Forget about what you're trying to achieve in terms of profit and look at it from a user's perspective. Worthwhile? No? Back to the drawing board.
That's my two cents, guys, I look forward to your comments on this one.