Get a Great Adwords Ranking: More than CTR x CPC

Ian Lurie

Why do some PPC ads rank well, and others fall no matter what you spend? There’s more to your pay per click ad ranking than your bid and your clickthru. Read on to learn what we know matters, and how you can get a better paid search ranking.

Nuthin But Love…

The folks at MindValley Labs just did a nice post, Get a Great Ad Position in PPC Right from the Start, but oversimplified how Google sets PPC ad position. Now, I have to say that MindValley rocks!!! I read their blog daily. I’m just trying to shed a bit more light on what can be a murky topic.

They state that ‘PPC Ad Position = CTR X CPC’. While your cost per click (CPC) bid and clickthru rate (CTR) are huge factors, there are several others that will affect your AdWords PPC Ranking. Here are all the factors – I heard about these at Search Marketing Expo Stockholm, in a panel session that included a Google rep, so hopefully I’m not leading everyone astray. Google uses a number of factors to generate an ad and keyword quality score:

Note: You can see a very rough quality score in your Adwords keyword page: Click ‘customize columns’ and select ‘show quality score’.

Your Bid

No question, your bid is still a huge factor. The maximum CPC bid you place will affect your rank. If you bid $.10/click on a keyword that has an average bid of $5, you’re facing an uphill battle.

All other things being equal, a higher bid = a higher ranking.

Clickthru Rate

Clickthru rate (CTR) equals the number of clicks your ad gets, divided by the number of impressions (views). So, if Google shows my ad 1000 times, and 100 people click on it, then that ad will get a 10% CTR score.

A higher CTR can help you gain a higher ranking, even if you have a lower bid.

For example, we had a client bidding on a very competitive keyword. They bid $.75/click. Their main competitors were bidding at least $1.25 and $2.00. So our bid should gain a #3 position.

But our ad gained a relatively high 5% CTR. I don’t know what the competitor CTRs were, but our client gained the #2 spot. Our high CTR was part of that.

But there’s more to your PPC ranking on Google (and soon on Yahoo, too) than CTR and CPC.

Industry and Semantic Space

If you’re in an industry or semantic space that Google considers prone to unethical behavior, you’re probably going to get a lower quality score.

For example, you may run a gambling web site, and want to buy the keyword ‘Las Vegas’ for your ‘better than Vegas’ campaign. ‘Las Vegas’ isn’t necessarily a topic that Google considers bad. But the combination of that phrase’s possible association with gaming, plus the fact that you’re in the gambling industry will almost certainly lower your quality score.

Landing / Destination Page ‘Quality’

The page at which you point your ad matters, too. If you point your ad at a page that’s highly relevant to your keyword and ad text, you’re more likely to get a higher quality score, and a higher ad position.

In addition, if your page has the hallmarks of a suspicious site:

  • Lots of links.
  • Lots of PPC ads on the landing page.
  • An immediate redirect elsewhere.
  • A succession of forms, one after the other, before the user can claim whatever you’re promising to deliver.
  • Text! That! Seems! Full! Of! Hyperbole!!!!!

…you’ll probably get dinged. A quality landing page is a must.

Ad Text (Ian’s paranoid suspicions)

I’m reasonably certain that ad content matters, too. Not just because it generates a higher or lower CTR, either. It appears that ads with copy that’s more measured, doesn’t include the word ‘free’ or references to pharmaceuticals, and includes the keyword for which you’re bidding, sees a better quality score.

I can’t verify this one. Take it with the usual ‘Ian is being paranoid’ grain of salt.

5 Ways to Improve Your Ranking

Given all this, how can you improve your paid search ad ranking? I have a few suggestions:

  1. Point your ads at highly relevant, well-written pages.
  2. Don’t go keyword-happy. Make sure each ad you create uses a highly-focused keyword list. If your ad uses 300 keywords, you may be going too broad. Break that up into 10 smaller lists, with ads and destination pages that are super-relevant to each list.
  3. Build history. Start your campaign and ad group with just a few keywords that you know will get a great CTR. After a while you can expand it, a bit at a time.
  4. Test! Test landing pages and ads for the best performers. What works for your users will usually work for the search engines, too.
  5. If you think you’re getting dinged, but don’t know why, contact the customer service folks. Seriously. The ad rep will sometimes help, and sometimes they’ll say they can’t help, but your ad will magically move up after they forward your complaint to the search team for review.

What have you discovered that helps with paid ad ranking?

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Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. Yeah, that’s the old formula. New ad rank formula is:
    Ad Rank = CPC X QS
    where CTR is one of the factors in the QS (quality score). Clearly, though, Google can tweak the QS as it pleases, as you have noted after talking to reps.
    Note, too, that landing pages do not impact ad rankings. Landing pages are only used to establish the min bid.

  2. Thanks Richard. And good catch – yes, landing pages affect minimum bid, not ranking. A lousy landing page will mean you have to pay more just to get your keyword listed.

  3. Good broad read.
    As announced by the Adwords Team on “March 06, 2008 Page loading times will be factored into your Quality Score.”
    I can’t stop thinking of techniques that will need to be utilised for landing pages that take longer to load but more relevant to users. e.g. contain more content or rich media.

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