How Does Google Determine Ad Rank?

Understand how Google ranks ads and achieve a higher ad position for less spend

It’s the ultimate goal in PPC marketing: trying to get your ad to appear higher in search results while still keeping your costs down. But how achievable is it?

Many advertisers new to the world of AdWords assume that those who bid the highest amount will then receive the highest listed position in Google’s search results. However, this is not always the case. If you want your ads to rank higher than your competitors, it’s important to understand how Google determines ad position and why this is not always based on being the biggest spender!

What factors influence how Google chooses to position ads?

The order in which ads are displayed within search results is based on your ad rank score determined by the auction. Google uses this ad rank score to determine whose ads will appear, and in what order.

There are many things that influence how Google works out where to display your ad. In simple terms, this is based on a combination of how much you’re willing to bid for keywords, also known as your ‘cost per click’ or CPC bid, as well as your quality score.

How is a quality score determined and why is it so important?

Your quality score is primarily based on the relevance of your ad’s keywords, your ad’s clickthrough rate (CTR), and the relevance and quality of your landing page. This is where the importance of having a good quality score comes in; by having a high quality score your ad is more likely to appear higher in paid search results compared to your competitors who may be bidding more but have a low quality score.

To break it down; quality score can affect the following things in your AdWords campaign:

  • Your ad auction eligibility: Higher quality scores make it easier and cheaper for a keyword to enter the ad auction
  • Your keyword’s actual cost-per-click (CPC): Higher quality scores lead to lower CPCs. That means you pay less per click when your keyword has a higher quality score
  • Your keyword’s first page bid estimate: Higher quality scores lead to lower first page bid estimates, so it’s easier for your ad to show on the first page of search results
  • Ad position: Higher quality scores lead to higher ad positions, meaning your ad can show up higher on the page when your keyword has a higher quality score

As you can see, your ad rank is not just based on how much more you’re spending on your AdWords campaign compared to your competitors. If your ad rank isn’t high, you can improve your CPC bid, but more importantly you should work on improving your quality score.  A high quality score often results in ads displaying in a higher position on Google search results, while still maintaining a lower CPC bid to keep your costs down; overall a win-win situation! 

Disclaimer: This article was produced as part of a learning initiative for our graduate program. The tips and facts presented are not necessarily shared by

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