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Vertical vs. Horizontal Relevance Factors

Vertical vs. Horizontal Relevance Factors

Every paid search manager knows relevance is an important factor in quality score. In fact, it’s right behind Click-Through Rate in quality score factor importance.

If you think understanding quality score relevance should be relatively easy, boy, are you in for a surprise. There’s no precise definition, but Google attempts to summarize it here:

“Relevance refers to the usefulness of information to a user (such as an ad, keyword, or landing page). Relevance, or the quality of an ad, is reflected by a keyword’s Quality Score. The AdWords system is designed to match our users’ needs as closely as possible to relevant ads. This ensures a positive user experience so that users click on AdWords ads more often, while maintaining the advertising value the program provides to our advertisers.”

Craig Danuloff got it right in his book Quality Score in High Resolution: “Google has taken a simple well-rounded concept and made it confusing and frustrating.”

Rather than going into in to full on Adwords scientist/geek mode and attempting to decode Google’s secret behind relevance, I’m going to explain the two kinds of quality score relevance factors: vertical (controllable) and horizontal (uncontrollable).

Vertical relevance is described as the relevance of the keyword to the ads in its ad group. In other words, it has to do with how closely the keyword matches with other elements of the search query and ad copy. It is controlled by having keywords in your ad group if they are clearly related to the ad, landing page, and the product of service you are offering as well as utilizing keyword match types effectively.

The idea boils down to whether or not your ad group is tightly focused on one central theme. Like this:

An example of this would be the keyword “apartments for rent”. That phrase would be highly relevant to the search query “apartment rentals”. On the flip side, “apartment furniture” would not be a relevant query for “apartments for rent”.

Horizontal relevance is described by Craig Danulof as the “relevance of the keyword and the matched ad to the search query”. Basically, it is how close your keyword and ad copy are to the intent of the people doing the search. Horizontal relevance is a concept that can’t be controlled.

An example of horizontal relevance would be the keyword “green vacuum”. You’re bidding on this keyword because you sell the world’s most eco-friendly or “green” vacuum. But, what happens if most of the people searching for “green vacuum” are actually looking for a green colored vacuum and only some of them are looking for eco-friendly vacuums? The result of this would be poor horizontal relevance; you’re eco-friendly vacuum is not what the searchers are looking for. Most of the time, no matter how tightly themed your ad group may be, horizontal relevance can’t be controlled.

Have a question about relevance, other quality score factors, or just what the heck quality score is? Let us know and we’ll shoot ya an answer!


Davis Baker
Davis is the PPC Team Lead at Forthea and a digital advertising veteran of six years. Outside of the office, you can find Davis running, riding his dirt bike, or searching for the perfect cup of coffee (freshly ground and brewed with a French press. Anything less just won't cut it).

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