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Ad Rank Explained: What is Ad Rank?

Did you know the smallest change in your Ad Rank can dramatically increase your revenue? Whether you're an ad words newbie or veteran, you'll learn something new with our actionable strategies that you can use right away to Improve your current Ad Rank.

Did you know the smallest change in your Ad Rank can dramatically increase your revenue? Whether you're an ad words newbie or veteran, you'll learn something new with our actionable strategies that you can use right away to Improve your current Ad Rank.

As with anything in digital, launching is just the first step. Now you need to optimize. 

With Adwords pay per click campaigns, a massive part of optimizing is in improving your Ad Rank.

Ad Rank isn’t new, but it is a critical component of your Adwords success. 

It plays a significant role in determining where your ads appear in the search results page, as well as your cost per click (CPC). 

The smallest change in your Ad Rank can mean more visibility, more clicks and, ultimately, more revenue. 

So how exactly does Ad Rank work and how can you improve it?

Whether you’re new to Adwords or want to raise your game, this article will explain everything you need to know, plus actionable strategies you can use right now to improve your current Ad Rank.

What is Ad Rank?

Ad Rank is Google’s way of determining the ordering of competing ads on a search engine results page (SERP).

It also determines whether your ads are eligible to show at all. 

As a general rule, the Google ad with the highest Ad Rank gets the top position, the ad with the second highest Ad Rank gets the second position, and so on. 

Take this example:


Zoho ranks higher than Oracle in the ad positions for the search term “ERP software”, which means Zoho likely has a better Ad Rank than Oracle. 

In other words, Ad Rank has a very important role in how visible your ads are to potential customers.

Higher ad ranking typically means greater exposure for your brand, products or services because you gain a better clickthrough rate on your ads.

Ad Rank Examples

Let’s say the Ad Rank of three competing advertisers is 50, 15 and 5.

If Google sets the minimum Ad Rank required to show above the search results as 20, only the first advertiser will show above the search results.

If the minimum Ad Rank to show below the search results is 10, only the second advertiser will get the spot. 

For the “ERP software” search term, these two advertisers show below the organic search results:


The last advertiser with the Ad Rank of 5 won’t show at all as it doesn’t meet the threshold. 


How ad position is determined

Google uses the ad auction to determine which ads to show and where the ad positions on the page. That's where Ad Rank comes in. For every single ad in the auction, Google Ads calculates the Ad Rank. 

As a general rule, the ad with the highest Ad Rank score wins the top position on the search engine results page, the ad with the second-highest gets the second position, and so on.

To boost your Ad Rank and get better ad positions, you need to understand how the Google Ads system works.

How the Ad Rank formula works

The Ad Rank formula used to be very simple:

Ad Rank = Maximum Cost Per Click Bid x Quality Score

In other words, the best combined product of CPC x Quality Score got the best ad position. 

But when has Google ever kept things the same?

In 2013, Google announced big changes to how Ad Rank was calculated. 

The update meant that Ad Rank also takes into account the expected impact from your ad extensions and formats too. 

Then, in 2017, Google AdWords announced a few more key changes to how Ad Rank works. The most important one was the introduction of Ad Rank thresholds and machine learning.

Today, this is what Google says about Ad Rank: 

“Ad Rank is calculated using your bid amount, your auction-time ad quality (including expected click-through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience), the Ad Rank thresholds, the context of the person’s search (for example, the person’s location, device, time of search, the nature of the search terms, the other ads and search results that show on the page, and other user signals and attributes), and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.”

Clear as mud?

What you need to know is that, in the Google Ads system, Ad Rank weighs up six key factors:

  1. Your maximum bid: When you set your maximum bid, you're telling Google Ads the most you're willing to pay for a single click on your ad. You’ll probably end up paying less than this, but the maximum bid matters to Ad Rank. Remember, your bid is not set in stone - you can change what you are willing to pay at any time.

  2. Ad and landing page quality: Google Ads looks at the quality of your ads and the landing page it links to. How relevant and useful are your landing page and ad to the target audience? This creates your Quality Score. You can see your Quality Score in your Google Ads account, and work on improving it and create higher quality ads.

  3. Ad Rank threshold: This sets the bar for ad auction eligibility. Google sets minimum thresholds that your paid search ad must achieve to be eligible to show on pages at all. This helps Google ensure it is only showing high quality ads.

  4. Auction competitiveness: Let's say two ads are competing for the same position and they have similar Ad Ranks. They have a similar chance to win the position. But the more the Ad Ranks differ between the two advertisers' ads, the higher rank has more opportunity to win BUT it may also pay a higher cost per click as a result.

  5. Context of the user’s search: When calculating Ad Rank, Google pays attention to the search terms, time of search, location at the time of the search, device type (e.g. mobile or desktop), the nature of the search terms, other ads, organic search results and more. 

  6. Expected impact from ad extensions and ad formats: Adding additional information to your ad, like more links to specific pages on your site, are called ad extensions. Google Ads estimates how these extensions and other ad formats will impact your ad's performance.


Your Ad Rank is always changing in Google Ads

Here’s the important part: 

Your Ad Rank is recalculated each time your ad is eligible and competes in an auction. This means your ad position can go up and down with each auction depending on your competition, the context of the search, and your ad quality at that time.  

Because every single search is different, it triggers different ad rank factors to carry more weight in the formula.

In some cases, bidding higher might be the way you can boost your ad ranking and make sure your ad appears where your audience can see it.

In others, that won’t work.

But before you panic and throw in the towel with PPC, here’s the good news. We’ve got some proven digital marketing strategies you can put to work to improve your Ad Rank. 

Let’s dive in...


Actionable Strategies to Improve Your Ad Rank


1. Focus on creating better ad relevance

Quality really matters. 

Google looks at your ad’s expected click-through rate by taking into account your ad’s historical clicks and impressions. 

But it also looks at your ad’s relevance to the search. 

So with every ad, you need to focus on making your ad text super relevant to what a person searches for. 

How do you create better ad relevance?

Understand the user’s intent, and mirror this in your PPC ad copy

Start by thinking about a specific buyer persona, what they want to accomplish or what problems they are trying to solve.

Write your ads in a way that directly answers this need. 

For example, if your potential customer is searching for a remedy to remove bags from underneath their eyes, this is an ad they see on the search results page:


This ad stands out because it addresses the exact problem the searcher is looking to solve. 


2. Make your ad extensions stand out

We've already shown how ad extensions play a role in your ad ranking. Your ad extensions need to align perfectly with your calls to action and ad campaign goals.

Google uses the “expected impact of extensions” to determine your ad’s relevance and success. This is a factor in your Ad Rank. 

So, you need to use ad extensions that match your call to action. 

Check out this example from Mercedes-Benz:


Mercedes-Benz knows that location is important when people want to browse and test drive cars, so it has included a link straight to the online retailer locator and lead capture form.


3. Nail your landing page experience

Google doesn’t just look at the quality of your ad, it scrutinizes the quality of your landing page too. 

What kind of experience will the searcher get when they click through? 

How relevant, informative and easy to navigate is your page?

Your goal is to optimize landing pages to deliver an exceptional user experience every time. 

If your landing page doesn’t offer a good experience, Google Ads will penalize it with a lower Quality Score. 

How can you increase your Quality Score?

Ensure the landing page is relevant to the search terms 

Take the visitor directly to the product or service your ad talks about. And make sure the copy in the ad is consistent with the landing page messaging.

The best landing page looks like an extension of the Google Ad. It should essentially complete the advertisement and seamlessly continue the conversation.

This means everything about the content design, copy, messaging and layout should match the targeted keywords in the Google Ad.

The main thing that you need to do is include the search term in all the right places on the page. The keyword needs to appear in:

  • Headline

  • Intro

  • Body copy (at least 1x)

These are really the basics of SEO, but many people overlook them because they’re paying for ads. 

Here’s an example by private health insurer, Bupa. Take a look at the ad:


Now check out the landing page:


See how the ad and landing page match perfectly? There are no surprises when you click through. This will produce a higher quality score. 

Here’s another one by a car hire company. 

We searched for “cheap car hire Chicago” and got this ad:


Clicking through to the landing page, this is what we see:


It reinforces the message that we can save 53%. 

Better yet, they have automatically pre-filled some of the search enquiry form to make our user experience better. That's how you win leads!

Here are some more landing page tips to help improve ad ranking:

  • Make it easy to navigate

  • Make the landing page easy to use on mobile and desktop

  • Keep the page load time fast - check your page speed on the free tool, Google PageSpeed Insights


4. Create super specific ad groups 

Another way to make your ads appear more relevant to customers is with ad groups. 

Each ad group in your Google Ads campaign should focus on a single product or service. 

In other words, be specific.

Every ad group needs to have a tight theme. Every keyword needs to be relevant to the ad group. 

So, if you see one keyword that deviates from your theme, create a whole new specific group for it.

Your aim is to ONLY deliver the ad that’s relevant to the keyword used. That then improves your Quality Score and Ad Ranking. 

One way to approach this is using Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAGs). 

SKAGs have a proven track record of increasing CTRs and quality scores. 

Because you have one keyword per ad group, your ads are insanely relevant to the keyword and, therefore, the search query. 

SKAGs break your ads into 3 match types:

  • Broad Match Modifier: Your ad will only match when the search includes words you select with a + sign. Words can be in any order. 

  • Phrase Match: The keyword must include the terms you bid on in order and uninterrupted. They can still include other terms before or after the phrase.

  • Exact Match: Not as exact as they used to be - Google made changes in 2017 so that function words can be added or changed, and it is still an exact match.

SKAGs also let you write ads with customized calls to action (CTAs) and value propositions for every single keyword. 

This means every searcher is getting the most specific, personalized offer for their exact search.

The result? 

You improve your ad ranking without having to bid more. 


5. Tailor your landing pages to ad groups

Now you have specific ad groups, your next step is to tailor your landing pages to match. 

This ensures every landing page is highly relevant to both the keywords and ads.

Message match from ads to landing pages is proven to improve conversions by more than 200 percent.

Okay, it can be time-consuming. 

But there is a way to show unique landing pages for each ad group without having to spend time creating hundreds of different pages. 

Simply standardize your landing page copy for each campaign, then only edit small and simple parts of the text to customize the offer.

This provides huge increases in performance while saving time. 


6. Use your keyword in the ad title and the display URL

This small change will increase your quality scores almost instantly.

It immediately shows people that your ad is relevant to their search. That means they have more chance of clicking through to your landing page. 

Then, when they get there, they’ll see that your landing page is also consistent with their search query. 

Like this ad for small business insurance - the keyword is right upfront:


This ad for “cheap Seattle flights” starts with the value proposition, which is the low price. Yet “Seattle” and “Cheap Flights” are still included in the headline and copy:



7. Test everything (including ad formats, offers, etc)

Experiment with different offers and calls to action to see what performs best.

For example, when you customize ad copy for specific ad groups, run multiple ads within a specific group to see what performs best with your target audience. 

Set up the rotation schedule which allows your ads to automatically switch over, so you can get insights into how they’re performing.

Over time, you’ll see that certain ads perform better than others, which you can use to inform your future ad copy. 


8. Optimize your bid strategy

Finally, you can also bid more to improve your ad rank. But nobody really wants to spend more on higher bids for clicks, do they?

In the long run, this will impact your acquisition costs and your bottom line. So increasing your bid without looking at the metrics is never recommended.

But you should optimize your bid strategy.

Think about it: your Ad Rank is determined in part by your maximum bid. So, it’s worth reviewing your bid strategy to check it is helping you achieve the best return on Ad Spend (ROAS). 

Work out whether it’s worth increasing your max bid. Does the increase in revenue outweighs the increase in costs?

The trick is to test different bidding strategies and track the results, like conversions, conversion rate, cost per conversion, return on ad spend, to see what works. 

9. Use negative keywords

Negative keywords let you exclude search terms from your campaigns, which means you can focus on targeting the keywords that really matter to your target audience.

Your negative keyword list tells Google which search queries are NOT relevant to your products and service. So you don’t pay for irrelevant clicks for products that will never lead to sales.

Once you’ve worked out your negative keywords, add them to your Google Ads campaign either at a campaign level or an ad group level:

  1. Campaign level - This tells Google to NEVER show any of your ads for these keywords.

  2. Ad group level - This instructs Google not to show your ads for negative keywords in this particular ad group.


Final Word

Now you know how Ad Rank works and the proven strategies to improve your ad position, all you need to do is get started!

Remember, whether you try one or all the strategies, the best performing Google Ads campaigns come from continually optimizing, refining and tracking to improve your results. 

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