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

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

The basic definition of ad rank has not changed over the years.

Ad rank is the value that determines your ad position on Google Search, relative to other ads.

While we all know that ad rank is the main factor in your ad positioning, what exactly are those factors?

What goes into the calculation of ad rank? What can you control to improve your ad rank?

If you’re not sure where to start with ad rank, this is for you.

While ad rank may seem like a simple calculation, it can feel like an uphill battle trying to improve it.

You’ll find out everything you need to know about ad rank, why it matters, and how you can improve it without spending more.

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What Exactly Is Ad Rank?

According to Google, the official definition is: “a value that’s used to determine your ad position (where ads are shown on a page relative to other ads) and whether your ads will show at all.”

For example, if your ad shows up in the second position on the page, your ad rank for that particular search is a two.

But, what factors actually impact your ad rank?

Before 2017, ad rank was a more simple calculation involving your max CPC and the number of competitors relative to the search.

Since Google Ads introduced some key changes to the way Ad Rank is calculated, such as thresholds and machine learning, it’s become much more complex.

Simply put, Ad Rank is calculated by:

  • Your bid amount.
  • Auction-time ad quality.
  • Competitiveness of auction.
  • Context of a user’s search.
  • Expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.

Each specific keyword search is analyzed by determining the above factors to give it an Ad Rank.

That means that every search is fundamentally different. That means in one search auction, you could have an Ad Rank of one. But the very next search auction, you could have an Ad Rank of four.

In order to fully understand Ad Rank, let’s dive deeper into each of the factors above.

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  • Your bid amount: This is the amount you are willing to pay to show up in a specific position when a user searches a keyword. There are the minimum and maximum thresholds. For example, if you set a maximum CPC of $2 and the next highest bidder has a max CPC of $1.60, you would then pay $1.61 in that auction.
  • User signals and attributes: These signals include things such as location, device type, and time of day. Ad rank thresholds will vary based on these factors.
  • Context of search: Two different people could search the same keyword and have two completely different contexts.
  • Competitiveness of auction: Your ad rank can also depend on the auctions for related but similar searches. For example, [wedding invitations] and [wedding invites] search terms could be informed by each other because they are similar in nature.
  • Expected impact of ad extensions and other formats: Google will look at your ad extensions for the relevancy, CTR, and overall experience with the ad.

Because Google Ads is essentially an auction, it’s often assumed that if you just bid higher, you’ll land the top advertising spot.

In the world of complexity, that is not the case anymore.

You could be bidding significantly less than a competitor of yours in an auction but still, outrank them if your ads are better!

While there are many differences between organic and paid searches, they do function similarly in the fact that Google will favor more relevant information for searchers.

Now that we’ve gone through the basics of ad rank and how it’s calculated, here are three ways you can improve your ad rank – all without spending more money.

1. Improve Your Ad Relevance

Ad relevance is a major component of your ad rank. As mentioned above, ad relevance is one of three components that comprise of ad quality or quality score.

According to Google’s official definition, ad relevance is “how closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.”

So, how do you improve your ad relevance?

Start by auditing your current ad copy and cross-reference the keywords that you’re bidding on.

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Do your headlines or descriptions include keywords that a user is searching?

Responsive Search Ads are a great way to test out different copies to determine what resonates best with a user.

Google does give some reporting on headlines and descriptions, including how they rank from “low” to “best” in terms of performance.

If you have found a winning ad copy that performs well, you could also pin your top-performing headline to the top of your ad, ensuring that it always shows up in your ad.

Now, while you should focus on including relevant keywords in your copy that a user is searching, don’t get this confused with keyword stuffing.

Gone are the days of focusing on SKAGs (single keyword ad groups). It used to be easy to have higher ad relevance with SKAGs because you were almost always matching a particular search term with your headline.

With Google’s expansion of Exact match types, advertisers have had to switch away from SKAGs and focus on the holistic picture. Everyone searches differently, and if you’re relying on SKAGs in your account to drill down to a particular level, you could be limiting yourself.

Secondly, part of Google’s definition of ad relevance is how much the ad matches a user’s intent.

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Say I search for [keyword research tool cost]. I’m clearly looking for how much a tool like that would cost me per month.

Screenshot from search for [keyword research tool cost], Google, June 2022

This example above hits on all the key points of a good ad:

  • The headline aligned with my search query.
  • Good use of sitelink extension to compare plans and pricing.
  • Provides brand authority with over 10 million users.
  • Additional trial period to test out before purchasing.

To sum it up, ad relevance is not just trying to fit keywords as many times into your copy as possible.

Google is focused more on the intent of a user and how well your ad can help that user solve a problem.

2. Focus On Ad Extension Content

Ad extensions are something that can easily be forgotten when setting up new campaigns and ad groups.

While they may seem tedious or unimportant to set up, the contrary is true.

Ad extensions are a vital part of increasing your ad rank on Google. They help increase your CTR, therefore in turn help increase your ad rank.

Why do they help increase CTR? Glad you asked!

Ad extensions allow you to give users additional information about your business that you couldn’t convey in your ad. After all, we are still limited by character count with headlines and descriptions.

However, don’t just add extensions for the sake of adding them.

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In fact, if you add extensions to a campaign or ad group that don’t align with the search terms, this could actually lower your ad rank.

So, what should you use ad extensions for?

Well, almost anything! Google continues to produce additional ways that we as advertisers can get our message across to a user to help them solve a problem.

As of now, these are the available ad extensions you can create:

  • Location (and Affiliate Location).
  • Sitelink.
  • Callout.
  • Structured Snippet.
  • Price.
  • App.
  • Image.
  • Lead Form.
  • Promotion.
  • Call.

With all these options, how do you choose which ones to add?

Ideally, you should create ad extensions based on your campaign goal(s).

For example, if you are a local business and trying to drive in-store traffic, you’d benefit from adding location extensions.

If your goal is to drive more web traffic, try adding relevant sitelinks to different areas of your site that can help solve a user’s problem.

If your main goal is lead generation, try adding a lead form extension to your ads – especially if you don’t have a stellar landing page. But, we’ll get more into landing pages in the next section.

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To summarize, be specific about the extensions you add to your campaigns. Aligning them with your campaign goals could help significantly increase your ad rank.

3. Create Better Landing Pages

Landing pages are often a forgotten piece of the conversion puzzle.

However, I’d like to argue that this is the most important part to get right in improving your ad rank.

If you’ve ever clicked on a paid ad and were disappointed about your landing page experience, you know how frustrating that can be.

As a searcher, the user experience can make or break whether or not they purchase from you.

Your search query should be a direct indicator of what you expect to see when you get to a website.

Back in the day, many advertisers would consume so much time creating a different landing page for each ad group to ensure that the page had exactly what the user was searching for.

Well, in theory, that’s good, right?

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It is good – if you are helping them solve a problem. If you’re creating landing pages with fluff copy just to match the search term, you’ve got it all wrong.

If you haven’t noticed the theme of Google lately, it’s all about intent.

We need to stop worrying about our landing page headline matching exactly what a user searches for and more about what they actually see when they land.

There are many things to consider in creating a good landing page:

  • What device a user is on.
  • How much “white space” (or unnecessary space) there is on the page.
  • Whether there is a clear call-to-action (CTA) before a user has to scroll.
  • How many clicks does it take a user to get their problem solved.
  • How fast the site loads.

The list can go on and on if you get my drift.

The point is, that your landing page experience has to be of quality and consistency in order to improve your ad rank.

So much so that Google even adopted the landing page experience into its Quality Score metric!

By putting in the legwork now on your landing pages, the results will show over time.

Conclusion

When it comes to improving ad rank, are you more apt to manipulate your bids and budgets?

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If this has been your go-to strategy, I encourage you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your campaigns.

There are many factors you can influence in your ads to shift the ad rank metric, all without spending more on campaign budgets.

  • Improve your ad copy to align with a user’s search intent.
  • Increase your ad’s CTR with strong and relevant ad extensions.
  • Focus on improving the landing page experience for higher conversion rates.

Once you’ve put in the work on these pieces, then you can feel comfortable with shifting bids and budgets to dominate the top search position.

More Resources:


Featured Image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

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SEO

8 Pillar Page Examples to Get Inspired By

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8 Pillar Page Examples to Get Inspired By

Pillar pages are high-level introductions to a topic. They then link to other pages, which are usually more detailed guides about parts of the main topic.

Altogether, they form a content hub.

Example of a content hub

But not all pillar pages look the same. 

In this guide, we’ll look at eight examples of pillar pages to get your creative juices flowing.

Excerpt of beginner's guide to SEO by Ahrefs

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 1,200
Backlinks: 6,900
Referring domains: 899

Overview of Ahrefs' beginner's guide to SEO in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This is our very own pillar page, covering the broad topic of search engine optimization (SEO)

Why I like it

Besides the fact that I’m biased, I like the custom design we created for this page, which makes it different from the articles on our blog. 

Even though the design is custom, our pillar page is still a pretty classic “hub and spoke” style pillar page. We’ve broken the topic down neatly into six different chapters and internally linked to guides we’ve created about them. There are also custom animations when you hover over each chapter:

Examples of chapters in the SEO guide

We’ve also added a glossary section that comes with a custom illustration of the SERPs. We have explanations of what each element means, with internal links to more detailed content:

Custom illustration of the SERP

Finally, it links to another “pillar page”: our SEO glossary

Takeaway

Consider creating a custom design for your pillar page so that it stands out. 

Excerpt of Doctor Diet's ketogenic diet guide

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 92,200
Backlinks: 21,600
Referring domains: 1,700

Overview of Diet Doctor's ketogenic diet guide in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Diet Doctor is a health company focusing on low-carb diets. Its pillar page is a comprehensive guide on the keto diet. 

Why I like it

On the surface, it doesn’t exactly look like a pillar page; it looks like every other post on the Diet Doctor site. But that’s perfectly fine. It’s simply a different approach—you don’t have to call out the fact that it’s a pillar page. 

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Diet Doctor’s guide is split into 10 different sections with links to its own resources. The links bring you to different types of content (not just blog posts but videos too).

Video course about keto diet for beginners

Unlike the classic pillar page, Diet Doctor’s guide goes into enough detail for anyone who is casually researching the keto diet. But it also links to further resources for anyone who’s interested in doing additional research.

Takeaway

Pillar pages need not always just be text and links. Make it multimedia: You can add videos and images and even link to your own multimedia resources (e.g., a video course).

Excerpt of Wine Folly's beginner's guide to wine

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 5,600
Backlinks: 2,800
Referring domains: 247

Overview of Wine Folly's beginner's guide to wine in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Wine Folly is a content site devoted to wine knowledge and appreciation. Its pillar page, as expected, is about wine. 

Why I like it

Wine Folly’s pillar page is a classic example of a “hub and spoke” style pillar page—split into multiple sections, with some supporting text, and then internal links to other resources that support each subsection. 

Supporting text and links to other resources

This page doesn’t just serve as a pillar page for ranking purposes, though. Given that it ranks well and receives quite a significant amount of search traffic, the page also has a call to action (CTA) to Wine Folly’s book:

Short description of book; below that, CTA encouraging site visitor to purchase it

Takeaway

While most websites design pillar pages for ranking, you can also use them for other purposes: capture email addresses, sell a book, pitch your product, etc. 

Excerpt of A-Z directory of yoga poses

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 11,100
Backlinks: 3,400
Referring domains: 457

Overview of Yoga Journal's A-Z directory of yoga poses in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Yoga Journal is an online and offline magazine. Its pillar page is an A-Z directory of yoga poses.

Why I like it

Yoga Journal’s pillar page is straightforward and simple. List down all possible yoga poses (in both their English and Sanskrit names) in a table form and link to them. 

List of yoga poses in table form

Since it’s listed in alphabetical order, it’s useful for anyone who knows the name of a particular pose and is interested in learning more. 

What I also like is that Yoga Journal has added an extra column on the type of pose each yoga pose belongs to. If we click on any of the pose types, we’re directed to a category page where you can find similar kinds of poses: 

Examples of standing yoga poses (in grid format)

Takeaway

The A-Z format can be a good format for your pillar page if the broad topic you’re targeting fits the style (e.g., dance moves, freestyle football tricks, etc.).

Excerpt of Atlassian's guide to agile development

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 115,200
Backlinks: 3,200
Referring domains: 860

Overview of Atlassian's guide to agile development in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Atlassian is a software company. You’ve probably heard of its products: Jira, Confluence, Trello, etc. Its pillar page is on agile development.

Why I like it

Atlassian’s pillar page is split into different topics related to agile development. It then has internal links to each topic—both as a sticky table of contents and card-style widgets after the introduction: 

Sticky table of contents
Card-style widgets

I also like the “Up next” feature at the bottom of the pillar page, which makes it seem like an online book rather than a page. 

Example of "Up next" feature

Takeaway

Consider adding a table of contents to your pillar page. 

Excerpt of Muscle and Strength's workout routines database

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 114,400
Backlinks: 2,900
Referring domains: 592

Overview of Muscle and Strength's workout routines database in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Muscle and Strength’s pillar page is a massive database linking to various categories of workouts. 

Why I like it

Calling it a pillar page seems to be an understatement. Muscle and Strength’s free workouts page appears to be more like a website. 

When you open the page, you’ll see that it’s neatly split into multiple categories, such as “workouts for men,” “workouts for women,” “biceps,” “abs,” etc. 

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Workout categories (in grid format)

Clicking through to any of them leads us to a category page containing all sorts of workouts:

Types of workouts for men (in grid format)

Compared to the other pillar pages on this list, where they’re linking to other subpages, Muscle and Strength’s pillar page links to other category pages, which then link to their subpages, i.e., its massive archive of free workouts.

Takeaway

Content databases, such as the one above, are a huge undertaking for a pillar page but can be worth it if the broad topic you’re targeting fits a format like this. Ideally, the topic should be about something where the content for it is ever-growing (e.g., workout plans, recipes, email templates, etc.).

Excerpt of Tofugu's guide to learning Japanese

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 39,100
Backlinks: 1,100
Referring domains: 308

Overview of Tofugu's guide to learning Japanese in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Tofugu is a site about learning Japanese. And its pillar page is about, well, learning Japanese.

Why I like it

This is an incredible (and yes, ridiculously good) guide to learning Japanese from scratch. It covers every stage you’ll go through as a complete beginner—from knowing no Japanese to having intermediate proficiency in the language. 

Unlike other pillar pages where information is usually scarce and simply links out to further resources, this page holds nothing back. Under each section, there is great detail about what that section is, why it’s important, how it works, and even an estimated time of how long that stage takes to complete. 

Another interesting aspect is how Tofugu has structured its internal links as active CTAs. Rather than “Learn more” or “Read more,” it’s all about encouraging users to do a task and completing that stage. 

CTA encouraging user to head to the next task of learning to read hiragana

Takeaway

Two takeaways here:

  • Pillar pages can be ridiculously comprehensive. It depends on the topic you’re targeting and how competitive it is.
  • CTAs can be more exciting than merely just “Read more.”
Excerpt of Zapier's guide to working remotely

Key stats

Estimated organic traffic: 890
Backlinks: 4,100
Referring domains: 1,100

Overview of Zapier's guide to working remotely in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Zapier allows users to connect multiple software products together via “zaps.” It’s a 100% remote company, and its pillar page is about remote work. 

Why I like it

Zapier’s pillar page is basically like Wine Folly’s pillar page. Break a topic into subsections, add a couple of links of text, and then add internal links to further resources. 

In the examples above, we’ve seen all sorts of execution for pillar pages. There are those with custom designs and others that are crazily comprehensive.

But sometimes, all a pillar page needs is a simple design with links. 

Takeaway

If you already have a bunch of existing content on your website, you can create a simple pillar page like this to organize your content for your readers. 

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Keep learning

Inspired by these examples and want to create your own pillar page? Learn how to successfully do so with these two guides:

Any questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter.  



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