Google AdWords: Get ‘Em Where You Want ‘Em

In the good old days (when Overture was the only paid search vendor) it was easy. Just bid one cent higher than the other guy, and get into position one, or two, or six, or whatever you wanted. Then Google came along.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Google is an extraordinary advertising vehicle. But they are just a bit mysterious, and sometime the mystery can lead to advertisers over-paying for positions.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the issues relating to ad placement in Google AdWords, by answering the following three key questions: How does Google calculate ad placement? Where do you want your ads to show? How do you get them there?

How Does Google Calculate Ad Placement?

A “typical” search in Google will usually yield 11 paid search ads — three in the main body area and eight in the right sidebar.

According to Google: “Ad position on the search network is based on the matched keyword’s cost-per-click (CPC) bid times its Quality Score.”

Therefore, increase either your bid or your quality score (we’ll talk about how to do that later) and your position will rise.

Where Do You Want Your Ads?

Let’s look at the available slots in four different sections:

Position 1-3 — Top Placement

These premier positions require a higher combination of bid and Quality Score, and as a result, they tend to be fairly expensive to get into. I suggest shooting for this top placement for brand related keywords, and the top tier of critical keywords relating to your business.

In other words, I don’t suggest that all of your keywords appear in the top 3. In most cases, it’s simply too expensive.

Position 4-6 — The Sweet Spot

I consider appearing at the top of the right-hand column as the best-value placement for the majority of keywords in your AdWords strategy. The cost is less than top placement, yet the visibility is still very good.

Position 5-11 — Low Placement

The lower placed ads can still be useful for what I call “secondary keywords.” These are phrases that don’t exactly describe your products and services, but do indicate that the visitor might be interested in your services. For example, if you sell pet food online, you might consider phrases such as “dog training” or “pet care” as secondary phrases.

Position 11+ — Page Two

Honestly, I consider placement other than page 1 to be useless. If you’re not willing to bid the amount that will land you on page 1 (and you’ve done everything possible to increase your Quality Score) then perhaps that keyword doesn’t have a place in your Adwords strategy.

How Do You Get Them There?

Here’s my basic recommendation: Do everything you can to increase your Quality Score, and then adjust your bid amount to get you in the position you want (in some cases this will mean decreasing your bid).

Google tells us how Quality Score is calculated: “A keyword’s Quality Score for ad position is based on its clickthrough rate (CTR) on Google, the relevance of the ad and keyword to the search query, historical keyword performance, and other relevancy factors.”

Based on experience, here’s how to most people successfully increase their quality score:

  1. Make sure your keyword is in your ad. In many cases, this will require splitting single Ad Groups with a large number of keywords into multiple Ad Groups with a smaller numbers of keywords.
  2. Make extensive use of negative keywords to ensure that your CTR is as high as possible. As an example, if your site sells ice cream makers, you would use words such as “franchise” and “parlor” as negative keywords so that your listing would not appear for these ice cream-related search phrases. Typically, I add negative keywords at the Ad Group level, which is very simple. In order to do so, click the “Edit Keywords” link and simply add your negative keywords to the bottom of your keyword list. These words should be formatted with a minus sign and no spacing. For example, -franchise.
  3. Split test different ads to find the message that gets the best CTR (but don’t sacrifice your conversion rate).
  4. Ensure that the keyword is present on your landing page (according to Google insiders, this is one of the “other relevancy factors”).

As a final note, at the time of writing, Google was introducing a change to its calculation for ad placement. They’ve characterized it as a fairly major change, but personally I think the impact on a well-constructed Google strategy will be fairly minimal. The new formula (maximum bid amount times the Quality Score calculation) has been taken into account in this article.

Mat Greenfield
Mat Greenfield
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