Let's say your Google AdWords budget is $50,000 a year. You're competing against much larger companies with budgets several times larger. That means they can bid much more than you on the key words or phrases where you want your ads to appear. You're out of luck, right?

Not necessarily. Bidding for keywords on Google is not a straight auction. Instead, Google assigns each ad a Quality Score, a number between 1 and 10 that reflects whether Google thinks its users will like your ad and the web page it links to. That number influences how high your ad will rank in an auction. A higher Quality Score means you can outrank competitors with higher bids, and get much more for your advertising dollar. "Doubling your Quality Score means you only have to pay half as much per click," explains Frederick Vallaeys, AdWords evangelist at Google.

Okay, you're sold on the idea of raising your Quality Score. How do you do it? Here are tactics that can really help.

1. Don't run ads users won't click on. Let's just try this ad and see if anyone clicks on it. After all, since it's pay-per-click, if they don't click it costs us nothing. That may seem like good logic, but it's a big mistake. Click through rate (CTR) is one of the most important elements of Quality Score, so if an ad for your company runs and users don't click it, it can lower your Quality Score, thus costing you more to run the same ad or even other ads in future. (Google assigns Quality Scores to ad groups as well as advertising accounts, so a bad CTR can hurt you in many ways.) Constantly testing slightly different wording and picking the ads with better CTR will help you not only by bringing you more customers but also by lowering your cost per click.

2. Divide and conquer. "We used to get 2,000 keywords in one group of ads that sent everyone to the same page," says Howie Jacobson, author of Google AdWords for Dummies. "What we've learned is that it's better for both Google and for advertisers if we divide those into groups of a few words each that relate to a common desire and then send users to a dedicated landing page. For example, if I sell camera supplies, instead of grouping 'Nikon,' 'Canon,' 'point and shoot,' and 'SLR' into one ad group, I'd break it down. I'd have an ad group that related only to batteries for Canon PowerShot cameras, and someone who clicked on that ad would go to a landing page with links to those specific batteries."

"A small company can refine its budgeting and bid on very specific key phrases that a larger company might not," adds Peter Levin, manager of paid search at LSF Interactive, an online marketing company. "Small companies can use this to their advantage."

3. Get rid of keywords that aren't helping you. David Sarment, D.D.S. reports that new customers from Google increased dramatically with a few small changes to his AdWords strategy. One of these was changing the keywords his practice bid on. "I treat gum disease and I also do implant, bone grafts, and bone reconstruction surgery," he explains. "So I had two distinct campaigns, one around 'dental implants' and related terms, the other around 'periodontal' or 'gum disease.' Dental implants are a hot topic so the effect of that ad campaign was diluted. At some point, I decided to stop the dental implants campaign and focus on the gum disease side. It worked out well because there were a lot fewer ads popping up for patients interesting learning about gum disease."

For LoopFuse, a marketing automation company, better keyword performance meant avoiding keywords that fit its market, but were too general. "We have a lot of competitors in our space, but we specifically target small and mid-size businesses," says Sean Dwyer, CEO. "Bigger companies might outbid us on 'lead management' so we targeted 'lead management SMB' searches. Homing in on our market has been essential to our AdWord success."

4. Add content to your website and landing page. "Having useful content is one of the big things that will help your Quality Score," Vallaeys says. "We warn people not to repurpose content from other sites. We want unique content, a variety of content, and frequently updated content. We believe this leads to a better user experience."

To Jacobson, all this adds up to one piece of advice. "I tell all my clients to get a blog," he says. "There's no business that can't position itself as a source of credible information. It doesn't matter whether you're selling office supplies or microsurgery equipment. People use Google because they don't know what to get yet and are seeking information. So positioning yourself as expert is great for your Quality Score, and it's great for your customers who are usually looking for someone to trust."

5. Give users choices. You may want your landing page to urge users toward a strong call to action, such as "Click here to learn more about our product" or "Sign up for our free e-newsletter." But Google wants users to have a wide array of choices, and having a menu of navigation options on your landing page will improve your Quality Score.

"If users go to a landing page, they usually want more information," Vallaeys says. "They may want to explore the site, and if they can't they become frustrated. That will be reflected in a poorer landing page Quality Score."

6. Tell about yourself. Does your site have prominent links to an "about us" (or "company") section? And does it offer a privacy policy anyplace users are asked to enter information such as their e-mail addresses? If the answer to either question is no, your Quality Score will suffer. "We want our advertisers to offer transparency," Vallaeys explains. "And if users are going to give you their data, we prefer to see a good privacy policy and no-spam policy in place."

7. Make sure your pages load quickly. "If a page loads too slowly, that's not a great user experience," Vallaeys says. "That's one specific area we tell advertisers to look at, and if your landing page is loading slowly, put up a bigger server, change hosting companies, or change the graphics on the page."

"Site up time is critical," adds Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of online marketing firm WebiMax. "Even small down times that are otherwise unnoticeable are picked up by Google's automatic quality checks. Obviously, if Google checks a landing page and it's down, by definition it's not relevant and there's a high probability of a Quality Score penalty."

To keep this from happening to you, he advises, "Consider using a site monitoring service. And if necessary, changing to a different provider."