AdWords Campaign Health Grades Are Misleading

I have not paid much attention to the “Health Grade” feature that AdWords rolled out a while back. The idea, in theory I suppose, is to provide some type of “objective” measure of how your account is doing if you don’t know enough about AdWords to figure it out for yourself. Not a terrible concept. There are certainly plenty of advertisers running AdWords that have no earthly idea how to look at their data and determine if a campaign is performing well and/or if it is well optimized. A tool that would give them a better sense of how they are doing and some solid ideas to do better, would be great.

Here’s the thing though… it is not quite working that way in real life. There was an alert in one of my accounts about Health Grades, so I decided to click on it, both to clear it and to see what it said. Oooh boy. It gave our best performing campaign the worst score. And, many of  the suggestions didn’t make sense based on what I know is happening in the campaigns either. I find that troubling, as this tool is clearly designed for people who know way less than I do to utilize and make decisions about their accounts based on the recommendations therein.

Here is what the grade and suggestions are for our best performing campaign:

Best performing campaign suggestions

Grade and suggestions for the best performing campaign in the account

The push to have advertisers use “Optimize for clicks” ad setting is real. This campaign uses negative keywords pretty extensively to keep the traffic as relevant as possible to the content. And, sitelink extensions are certainly not right for all situations. This one is a great example, in that we are trying to drive traffic to a very specific page and section of the web site, so we have chosen not to use extensions to keep traffic where we want it landing.

Now, for the worst performing campaign in the account:

NOTE: this one is not managed by me, but is part of the main account, in the interest of full disclosure

Worst performing campaign suggestions

These are the suggestions for the worst performing campaign in the account

Interestingly, this campaign does not use negatives effectively, if at all in newly created ad groups, and yet, it gets a passing score in that category. By the way, I love that “Ad groups have keywords” is even a box to tick! I find it really interesting too that 3 of the 4 suggestions are pretty significant as far as AdWords basic set up and best practices go – like having ads in your ad groups and having more than a single ad running. Of course the “Optimize for clicks” recommendation is here too.

This campaign performs a lot less well than the one above which was graded more poorly. This campaign makes frequent and liberal use of single word and broad match keywords, whereas the first campaign does not. The best performing account has quality scores of almost all 10 with a few 8s. The other account? Highest quality score is a 7, with many below a 7 and quite a few terms with no QS rating at all.

So what gives? How can this poorer performing campaign be graded better than one that performs really well? It seems that this “health grader” is much more concerned with ticking off a set of account setup boxes than actual performance. I’m not the only one seeing this either. After putting the question out on Twitter, Kirk Williams took a look and had this to say:

Why Does This Matter?

In my day to day life as a PPC manager, it really doesn’t. I don’t need this to know how my accounts are doing. But, it does matter for two significant reasons, in my opinion – (1) as I stated earlier, there are many advertisers who don’t know enough to know that this health score isn’t really what it is portrayed as and (2) it could potentially cause yet another unwanted headache for PPC professionals if clients either see the alert while logged in to their AdWords or if they start getting emails about it from AdWords, cue the inevitable “why are you not addressing this” type of questions from some of them.

Kirk and I went back and forth on this on Twitter and privately and he also shared this, which further reinforces my thoughts on the matter:

One thing I would note is that this goes beyond us simply complaining of one more Google change that impacts work, or UI, or whatever account-management aspects. The reason I am so concerned about this Health Score notion (especially as it is evidently being scored), is because false alarm arbitrary health scores have the potential to disrupt agency/client relationships. One could scoff and claim that this merely demonstrates the need for a client & agency to trust one another, and that does come into play. But even then, we all have those clients, whether new or complicated, that we have to handle with slightly more care… where a decree from Google on the health of the account would have greater impact than it should.  – Kirk Williams

How Could It Be Better?

I think providing better context or maybe changing the name. To me, it functions a lot more like a completeness figure, like you get in LinkedIn for how complete your profile is. It is not based on performance, forget about your conversion numbers or other client facing information, it isn’t even looking at performance, it is looking at a list of account setup items and seeing if you’ve done them or not. I’d call it something like Account Setup Assistant or Account Setup Status rather than Health Score.

Here is how LinkedIn does it, as a contrast:

LinkedIn Profile Suggestion

This is how LinkedIn does it – encouraging me to add more info about my high school

I think AdWords would benefit from setting theirs up more like this instead of what it is now.

What about you? Have you even looked at the Health Scores in your accounts? Have your clients? As always, sound off in the comments or hit me up on Twitter! (@NeptuneMoon)

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