What Is Ad Rank & 3 Ways to Improve It Without Spending More

We all know the basics of ad rank – the specific position that your ad occupies on paid search results.

But, when you break it down even further, do you know what factors are at play?

What moves, edits, or selections you can make to improve or potentially harm your current ad rank?

If not, that’s what you are here to find out.

Ad rank is simple in nature. But finding ways to improve your ad rank isn’t.

Here’s everything you need to know about ad rank, why it matters, and how you can improve it fast.

What Is Ad Rank, Really?

Ad rank refers to the position that your ad occupies on a given paid search results page.

If your ad shows up second, your ad rank for that given search is number two.

Ad rank is a value that determines your ad position and if your ad will show up at all for a search.

But what factors actually impact your ad rank?

In early 2017, AdWords announced a few key changes to the way that Ad Rank functions. One of the big ones was the introduction of ad rank thresholds and machine learning.

Essentially, your bid amount, ad quality, and ad rank threshold get passed into Google’s system. There, the specific keyword search is analyzed to determine exactly what that user is most likely looking for based on previous and common behavior.

This means that every single search is fundamentally different, triggering different ad rank factors to carry more weight.

So in some cases, bidding higher might the only way you can rank higher.

But that’s not always the case.

According to Google, these are the key factors at play when evaluating your ad rank:

  • Bid amount/ad rank thresholds: The minimum amount you need to bid to be in a specific position. For example, you can’t bid 10 cents and rank first for a term that costs $2. Ad rank thresholds on specific keywords mean that, depending on the context of the search, your bid amount might be the determining factor and more important than the factors below.
  • Ad quality: CTR, relevance, landing page experience. Essentially, your quality score.
  • The context of search: Device, time of day, terms, etc.
  • Ad extension impact: Were they relevant, and did they produce increases in CTR at or above the norm?

Because Google AdWords is an auction where you bid on keywords and pay for search terms, it’s often assumed that simply bidding higher is what lands the top spot.

After all, that’s how auctions work: The winner is the highest bidder.

But not when it comes to AdWords.

You could be paying significantly less than a competitor yet outrank them by multiple positions if your ads are better.

To put it simply, paid search results function a lot like organic results. Google wants to provide searchers with relevant information that solves their problem fast.

If you’re running an ad for hospitals but your headline just says “hospital,” you can bet that other competitors will outrank you for less money.

While bidding high helps, relevance and solving the user’s problem is a huge factor, too.

Now that you know the ins and outs of ad rank, here are three ways to improve it without spending more on clicks than you have to.

1. More Isn’t Better: Focus on Relevant Ad Extensions Only

Bidding more is the most obvious way to improve your ad rank. But nobody wants to spend more for clicks.

Not when it impacts your bottom line, your acquisition costs, and more.

Instead, focus on producing ads that are more relevant.

Ad relevance is a huge piece of the ad rank puzzle.

Here are Google’s own words:

“When estimating the expected impact of extensions and ad formats, we consider such factors as the relevance, clickthrough rates, and the prominence of the extensions or formats on the search results page.”

If your ad extensions aren’t standing out among other results, producing higher click-through rates, and aligning perfectly with your calls to action and campaign goals, then you can kiss your rank goodbye.

Most people think of CTR increases when they hear ad extensions. Easy wins, right?

Sure. In some cases, yes.

But most take this the wrong way. Simply adding a random ad extension doesn’t mean that you’ve struck it rich.

In fact, adding the wrong ones can be devastating.

Check out this ad I recently came across:

Notice anything wrong?

I’ll give you a hint: they showcased both right and wrong ways of using ad extensions in the same ad.

Their call to action is clear in the second headline:

Get directions and call their business today.

So you look down at the site link extensions and can clearly see a direction-based link.


But what if I wanted to call?

I can’t. I have to click. There is no call extension.

And that’s a perfect example of a CTA falling short due to bad extension usage.

Google uses the “expected impact of extensions” to gauge your relevance and success. They directly factor that into your ad rank.

If you are using ad extensions that don’t match your CTA, you can bet that ad extension engagement will be low, which sends negative signals to Google.

Don’t use extensions for the sake of using them. Use them to enhance your offer and drive action.

If you want phone calls, utilize a call extension and use your ad to clearly tell your audience to call your business.

If you want site traffic, use site link extensions to direct users to relevant pages that relate to your ad.

If you want local business traffic, utilize location extensions.

If there’s anything to learn from AdWords, it’s that specificity always wins.

2. Improve Your Quality Score: Utilize More Specific Ad Groups

If you haven’t noticed yet, there are two specific themes when it comes to improving your ad rank: relevance and specificity.

And that begins with a well-constructed ad group.

Ad groups are critical components of success in ad ranking.

If your ad groups aren’t specific enough, you run the risk of producing ads that underperform on expected CTR.

For instance, let’s say you run an electronics company. You want to improve overall sales of your products.

How do you structure your ad groups?

If you follow Google’s advice, you’ll probably set them up wrong:

Um, 10-20 keywords to start?

That’s a disaster waiting to happen. You can’t possibly find 20 keywords that are related closely enough to produce ads that are relevant.

For example, even grouping earbuds and headphones in the same category wouldn’t work.

While the products are similar, they are still different.

And searchers expect exactly what they searched for.

Writing ads in ad groups with dozens of keywords requires you to write generic ads like “headphone for sale.” Then, the ad will show up even when searchers are clearly asking for wireless earbuds.

That only produces ads that underwhelm and generate a CTR way below your top potential. Bad CTRs and low relevance impact your quality score, forcing you to pay more for higher rankings than you need to.

The answer? Create more specific ad groups.

There are a few popular ways to do this in today’s landscape.

I opt for single keyword ad groups (SKAGs). They have the most proven track record. Some have seen them increase CTR by over 28 percent and increase quality scores by multiple points in just days.

While they take a fairly large amount of work if your accounts and campaigns are extensive, they are easily worth it when you look at the data.

Dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) is likely easier and more efficient than SKAGs if your accounts are massive, but smaller campaigns should always use SKAGs.

SKAGs simply take a single keyword and break it down into three match types.

Using these three match types (broad modifier, phrase, exact), you get the benefits of specificity and broad searches while ensuring that your most-searched terms get specific ads that can include your keyword every time without fail.

You can even get more specific by breaking down your SKAGs into a single match type. But again, that all depends on your account size and structure.

SKAGs allow you to write ads with customized CTAs and value propositions for every keyword. Meaning every single searcher is getting the most personalized and specific offer pertaining to their exact search.

It’s one of the easiest ways to improve ad ranking without spending a dime more on your bidding.

Once you’ve created SKAGs, it’s time to develop better landing pages.

3. Better Landing Pages: Create Unique Offers for Each Ad

If you’ve ever clicked on a paid search ad and gotten something other than what you expected, you know how frustrating it can be.

The ad says one thing, and the landing page is generic. Heck, maybe it’s even their homepage.

And as a searcher, nothing is more annoying than that.

You literally searched for a specific term. It’s not like the advertiser had no idea what you wanted to see. The keyword is a clear indication of what you expected to get.

Landing pages should have clear message match. In fact, message match from ads to landing pages can improve conversions by more than 200 percent.

The problem with creating unique landing pages for each ad group is that it’s time-consuming.

If you need to create dozens or hundreds of pages, it can take months of work.

What you need to do is standardize your landing page copy for each campaign, allowing you to edit simple bits of text at scale to customize the offer.

I’ve done this for clients countless times and found huge increases in performance and the amount of time saved.

On the back end, you simply edit key characteristics of your landing page templates to match your ad group and offer:

Landing page experience has to be on point if you want a higher ad rank and quality scores without spending more money.

The easiest way to do that is by creating unique landing pages for each ad group.

Lay out your current ad groups and campaigns and see what copy and structure you can standardize.

Consider using landing page elements like dynamic keyword insertion for products that are closely related.

Don’t settle for subpar landing pages. Put in the work, and results will show.


When looking to increase the rankings of your ad, do you head straight to your bid adjustments?

Do you increase your max CPC and daily budget?

If you do, stop and ask yourself one question: Have you exhausted all other options?

If not, then don’t consider touching your bidding until you’ve done the following:

  • Create more relevant ads by utilizing minimal ad extensions that tie directly to that ad group’s goal and call to action.
  • Segment your ad groups into smaller, more specific groupings to improve quality scores.
  • Develop more specific landing pages with unique offers for every ad group.

Only then should you consider bidding higher to continually dominate the top positions for your keywords.

More Paid Search Resources:

Image Credits

Featured Image: Pixabay.com
Screenshots taken by Brad Smith, June 2018