Bing Quality Scores: Match-Types & Magic Wands

Posted by Dr. Pete

There’s a dirty little secret among Bing (Microsoft adCenter) PPC managers. Back in the days of low traffic and dirt-cheap clicks, many of us let our broad-match keywords run wild. Performance was good, and we wanted all the cheap traffic we could get, so what was the harm?

Then Came Quality Scores…

Over the last couple of months, as Bing search volume steadily increased after the Bing/Yahoo integration, Microsoft announced its own version of quality scores (which they somewhat mercifully just called “quality scores”), and those scores started to appear in adCenter. The PPC community initially responded with an enthusiastic yawn – we wanted to care, but just couldn’t quite pull it off.

Measuring a thing has a way of changing it, though, and so I thought it might be time to collect some data. I started to do something that honestly scared me to death – pull back my big broad-match ad groups in Bing to tighter phrase-match groups.

Initial data was promising, but today I came as close to waving a magic wand as I’ve ever seen in paid search. These are the numbers for a small, tightly-focused Bing ad group:

Keywords with quality scores of 5

Although all of the keywords were set to broad match, each 3-word phrase only differs by the last keyword (I’ve removed the actual keywords for client anonymity). Keyword-relevance was high – search query reports showed mostly long-tail terms based on these phrases – and CTRs were strong. Landing page relevance showed no problems, but quality scores were stuck at 5s.

So, I switched all 3 keywords to phrase-match. As soon as I hit [Save], with no new data or time passing, I saw this:

Bing quality scores - 9, 9, 10

Same keywords, same timeframe, and quality scores instantly jumped from 5s to two 9s and a 10. Astute observers may notice that my historical CTRs for the period went up. I have no explanation for this – I double-checked in disbelief and was able to replicate the shift.

But Does It Matter?

Ok, so quality scores went up, but Bing currently claims that this is just informational – unlike Google AdWords, quality scores don’t impact position or pricing. Still, it begs the broader question: will the tighter match types hurt or help performance?

While the data above is from today, I’ve been making similar changes for a larger client (removing low-QS keywords and narrowing broad-match keywords to phrase-match) over the last couple of months. In early June, I overhauled one ad group – measuring 1 month before and 1 after, I got the following results:

Bing PPC ad group stats

CTR jumped dramatically, average position improved, CPC improved, and CPA dropped like a rock (except that when the rock landed on the client’s head, it turned out to be a wad of cash).

Honestly, I didn’t believe it. In the interest of total transparency, the client had undergone a major offline advertising push, and I figured this was simply lucky timing. So, I tried it again.

Here We Go Again…

A couple of weeks later, I rolled out similar changes on another large ad group. At this point, the offline ad-spend changes had settled in a bit. Again, comparing the month before and after:

Bing PPC ad group stats

Although some of the results weren’t quite as dramatic, the overall impact was still extremely positive. This is, of course, anecdotal, and conditions may have varied across the time periods in both cases, but I’m rolling out broader testing, because I think the data is compelling.

What Should You Do?

I’m not going to suggest that you instantly change all of your broad-match keywords in Bing to phrase- or exact-match, but I do think that you should start taking match-types and quality scores in Bing as seriously as you do in Google. Microsoft is still trying to figure out where to take quality scores, so there’s no time like the present to experiment. Pick an ad group and:

  1. Remove any low-QS keywords with very low volume
  2. Review your Search Query Report for keywords driving clicks
  3. Switch all broad-match keywords to phrase- or exact-match
  4. Add in any additional keywords turned up by the query report
  5. Turn it loose and start collecting data

Obviously, if you see anything close to the results that I’m seeing, start rolling changes out to other ad groups.

For the moment, Bing quality scores are a bit crude (and probably too easily manipulated), but I suspect they’ll advance quickly and we may be taking them a lot more seriously in the next few months. I also think that we Bing PPC managers just got a little lazy. Broad-match worked, so why fix it? If nothing else, it’s time to take a hard second look at our tactics.

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July 23, 2011  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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