Those running AdWords Accounts place a lot of importance on Ad Position and rightly so. Obviously, your Ad needs to be prominent to get noticed.

However, I often speak to long-time Account Managers who don’t fully understand how Ad Position works and therefore have trouble answering some of the more curly questions that clients throw their way. Ad Position seems like a straightforward concept but I thought I would explain some of the vagaries that apply.

Ad Position on Google’s result pages is determined by Ad Rank. Ad Rank is a simple algorithm that disguises a more complex one. When a browser conducts a search, Ad Rank is determined by the matched keyword’s Cost-Per-Click (CPC) Bid times the Quality Score (QS).

Quality Score is based on several factors, including Click Through Rate (CTR), the relevance of the ad to the search query, the relevancy of the keyword in the AdWords account to the search query it actually triggered, historical performance of that keyword in general, and other undisclosed factors.

How Ad Rank translates into your actual Ad Position is where it gets a little complicated.

Why Are The Top Spots Not Always There?

A question I often encounter is: “if my Ad Rank beats out all my competitors on a Search Term does that guarantee one of the spots above the natural results?” Based solely on the Ad Rank algorithm, the answer should be yes. In reality, the answer is no.

For Ads to appear in the top spots above the natural results, they not only need to win the Ad Rank auction, but also, beat certain thresholds that Google puts into place. An Ad can win the auction without exceeding the thresholds and that is why you sometimes get search engine result pages without the funny-coloured box (containing ads) above the naturals.

Does Ad Position 12 Mean No. 1 On The Second Page?

When a browser clicks next on the search engine result pages to view additional pages of search results, are they looking at Ad Positions 12 through to 22? The answer is no. Although many believe this to be the case.

When a user browses to subsequent search engine result pages, two rules apply to which ads are eligible to show:

1. The first rule is the one about top spot thresholds mentioned above.

2. The second rule relates to side placement. The side of a Google result pages can hold up to eight ads. Only ads that haven’t previously appeared within the side placement are eligible to appear on the side.

Let’s demonstate this with an example. Let’s say that Ads 1-25 are available to show for a certain, and of those ads, 1-7 exceed the top spot thresholds and are eligible to display above the natural results. The ads can be ranked on the page like this:

Top Spots – Side Spots

Page 1: Ads 1-3  – Ads 4-11

Page 2: Ads 1, 2, 4Ads 3, 12-18

Page 3: Ads 1, 2, 5Ads 19-25

Quality Score and the top spot thresholds are recomputed on every page, Ads may sometimes appear in a top spot on one page, and then again in a side sport, and then again in a top spot, but never will an Ad appear twice in the side spots.

So there you have it, Ad Position isn’t such a straightforward occurence after all. Like many aspects of online marketing, in-depth research and analysis is key to understanding the platform that you are working with. By gaining more insights you can in-turn make more informed and performance-based decisions to refine your campaigns and achieve improved results.