Google’s Ad Rank 101: How to Rank Well in Google Ads?

Google Search Ads are relatively simple to set up thanks to the self-service ad creation manager. Getting them to rank well, however, can be another story.

Rank is going to impact the visibility of your ads, and it can make a direct impact on the results you can get from the platform.

Knowing the factors that influence Google Ad Rank, how to leverage them for your brand, and what it all means in terms of impact on your campaigns is crucial. Because of that, this Hub piece is going to focus entirely on Google’s Ad Rank system and what it means for you.

What Does “Ad Rank” Mean for Google Ads?

Google’s Ad Rank details which ads show up in what search results, and in which position.

Let’s look at an example. This is the search page for the term “party planning company.”

search term for party planning company

You’re going to notice the very top ad first most likely. This is called the “absolute top” ad rank.

All of the ads here are “top” ad rank, because they’re showing up at the top of the first search page.

There are plenty of ads that are trying to rank for this keyword that won’t even show up here. They were ultimately beat out by these ads, which were given higher ad rank, due to a number of different factors.

This is easy to see with most searches. When we refreshed this search three times, it showed different ads each time.

search term for party planning company

So what determines which ads show up when, and in what position? Google’s Ad Rank algorithms are defined by three core factors we’ll look at in a minute.

Why Does Ad Rank Matter?

The position of your ad matters a great deal. Ads with the best positions get the most visibility.

Since they’re at the top of the search engines, these top-ranking ads may be the only ones a customer sees before making a buying decision. If you’re not running top-ranking ads that are showing up in a decent chunk of the impression share for that keyword, your competitors are getting those clicks instead.

You want to rank high and rank often— and ideally both. It means more opportunities to draw users in, get clicks, and capture sales.

The 3 Factors That Impact Google’s Ad Rank

It’s easy to see the importance of creating campaigns that are designed to perform well with Google’s Ad Rank formulas.

There are three essential factors that directly impact Google’s Ad Rank algorithms. Let’s take a close look at the three factors and what you can do to improve your performance in each.

1. Ad Relevance & Quality Score

Your ad relevance is reflected in your Quality Score, so we’re going to refer to them both fairly interchangeably here.

Your Quality Score tells you how relevant Google perceives your ad to be based on several factors. These factors are:

  • Expected and current click-through rate (CTR). Google looks at your current CTR and your expected CTR for your ad campaigns (partially based on historical performance) to assess quality score. Starting off with a high expected CTR can help you gain positive momentum fast.
  • The display URL’s past CTR. Have you run ads in the past sending campaigns to your landing page? The past CTR performance of clicks to the landing page is going to make up part of that Quality Score calculation.
  • Relevant keywords in the ad copy. Are the keywords you’re targeting showing up in the ad copy, either in the headline, description, or both? What about potential extensions? This will impact Quality Score directly, because Google needs to see that the ad aligns with the user’s search intent.
  • The quality and relevance of your landing page. Is the landing page that users see after clicking on your ad a direct reflection of what the ad said it would send them to? Are offers consistent, and are you sending them to the right product or service pages?
  • The overall performance based on different types of devices. If your ad funnel isn’t optimized for mobile devices just as well as it is for desktop, that can impact performance and your ad ranking.

How to Improve Your Quality Score

We have an entire guide on how to improve your Google Ads Quality Score that covers this topic in extreme detail, but here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  • Pay close attention to your landing page and make sure it matches the search intent for every keyword that you’re targeting
  • Use negative keywords to reduce the risk that you’ll show up in irrelevant searches that can impact performance metrics
  • Test out responsive search ad campaigns and see if it helps increase relevance
  • Use tight or single keyword ad groups (or dynamic keyword insertion) to make sure that your keywords directly apply to the copy for each ad

2. Your Bid

All else being equal, if you’re willing to pay per more click than your competitors, you’re more likely to show up often and in top-ranking positions.

Your Google Ads bid will not outweigh or overrule all of the other factors here. This is important to stress. You cannot pay your way to success just by being willing to drop more ad spend.

It still does matter, as does finding the right balance between a high enough bid to have solid ad rank while still maintaining a solid ROAS.

You can let Google handle bidding for you; the default is that they’ll bid whatever the keywords require, unless you otherwise specify something different.

How to Improve Ad Rank with Bid

If you think that bidding is part of your problem with your current Ad Rank, these are a few tips that might help:

  • Remember to test bidding options— including bidding strategies and the bids themselves— just like you’d test all other parts of your Google Ads campaign
  • Know that Google will automate the bidding process for you to keep your bids competitive unless you otherwise specify some sort of bid limit or target
  • Focus on your Quality Score; a high score will not only improve your ranking, but it will also reduce your CPC
  • Consider bidding more on high-value keywords as needed, funneling more ad spend to campaigns that are driving significant results

3. Expectation of Relevance of Extensions & Additional Information

This is one ranking factor that many businesses (and even some advertisers) seem to miss.

When Google is determining ad rank, they aren’t just looking at your ad itself. They’re also looking at your extensions. These are the “add-ons” that go beyond your allocated headlines and description copy, potentially adding clickable phone numbers, additional URLs, and more.

ad extension example for google search ads

If you need a quick refresher on Extensions, check out our Ultimate Guide to Extensions.

How to Improve Ad Rank with Google Extensions

Looking to improve your Google Ad Rank with Google Extensions?

This is the best tip we have:

Create as many relevant extensions as possible and add them to each ad they apply to.

Google will determine which are most relevant for each potential placement, and if you have some that help with ad rank, all the better. Not only will you improve your ranking, but you’ll gain more real estate with your ad thanks to the extension, which can directly lead to a higher CTR. This in turn, can lead to a higher Quality Score, which pushes your rank up even more while lowering the ad spend that you have to pay for each click.

Why Your Ad Rank Position Won’t Be 100% Consistent

If you and a friend both sit down and search for the same high-competition keyword at the same time, there’s a solid chance that you’ll see different results (or at least see them out of order). This is even more likely to happen when searching days apart, or if you have very different search histories.

There are plenty of reasons why a high-performing ad isn’t going to have the number one position for every impression every time.

There are a few reasons for this, which apply to both Search and Shopping Ads:

  • It’s very, very, very rare to get 100% of the Google Ads impression share on a single keyword; high performing ads will have a solid impression share but Google does try to keep it relatively fair
  • Your individual search history may be taken into account; Google will always optimize based on specific users and their past actions
  • There are always going to be changes in the ad auction and marketplace, including new competitors, which can impact ad ranking

How to Improve Low Ad Rank

Do you believe your ad campaigns are currently experiencing issues coming from low Ad Rank?

These are a few additional tips that may be able to help, especially if you aren’t sure exactly where the problem is coming from:

  • Assess your performance in each of the three core ranking factors that we’ve already discussed; if you have no extensions, start there, and if you’ve got low bid limits maybe test out an increase
  • Increase your bid for high-value keywords that you know work well for your brand and see if that seems to have an impact
  • Tighten up ad groups with more limited keywords and more targeted copy; this can help you see if relevance is a core problem
  • Test out phase match or exact match keywords first on a new campaign; broad match can easily drop you into less-relevant placements with wider reach, which can hurt your CTR and potentially impact performance rates or Quality Score

Final Thoughts

If you want to improve your Google Ads Ad Rank (and everyone should!), the three factors of relevance, bid, and extensions are where you need to focus most closely. An experienced Google Ads agency can help you work on all three.

It’s important to note that the three factors are all interconnected, but approaching each one individually can be key, especially if you need to troubleshoot low suspected ad rank now. This can help you better understand what’s working and what’s not, so that you can optimize and fix any potential issues that are hurting your campaigns.

Need help creating high-ranking Google Ads that work for you? We can help. Get in touch with us to learn more about what we can do for you.