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.
What Exactly Is Ad Rank?
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.
- 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.
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.
Say I search for [keyword research tool cost]. I’m clearly looking for how much a tool like that would cost me per month.
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.
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).
- Structured Snippet.
- Lead Form.
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.
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?
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.
When it comes to improving ad rank, are you more apt to manipulate your bids and budgets?
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.
Featured Image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)
Creating and selling educational courses can be a lucrative business. But if you already have a product to sell, you can actually use courses as a marketing tool.
Back in 2017, about two years after joining Ahrefs, I decided to create a course on content marketing.
I had a very clear understanding of how an educational course would help me promote Ahrefs.
- People like courses – Folks like Brian Dean and Glen Allsopp were selling theirs for $500 to $2,000 a pop (and rather successfully). So a free course of comparable quality was sure to get attention.
- Courses allow for a deeper connection – You would basically be spending a few hours one on one with your students. And if you managed to win their trust, you’d get an opportunity to promote your product to them.
That was my raw thought process going into this venture.
And I absolutely didn’t expect that the lifespan of my course would be as interesting and nuanced as it turned out to be.
The lessons of my course have generated over 500K+ in total views, brought in mid-five-figures in revenue (without even trying), and turned out to be a very helpful resource for our various marketing purposes.
So here goes the story of my “Blogging for Business” course.
1. The creation
I won’t give you any tips on how to create a successful course (well, maybe just one). There are plenty of resources (courses?) on that topic already.
All I want to say is that my own experience was quite grueling.
The 10 lessons of my course span some 40K words. I have never attempted the feat of writing a book, but I imagine creating such a lengthy course is as close as it gets.
I spent a tremendous amount of time polishing each lesson. The course was going to be free, so it was critical that my content was riveting. If not, people would just bounce from it.
Paid courses are quite different in that sense. You pay money to watch them. So even if the content is boring at times, you’ll persevere anyway to ensure a return on your investment.
When I showed the draft version of the course to my friend, Ali Mese, he gave me a simple yet invaluable tip: “Break your lessons into smaller ones. Make each just three to four minutes long.”
How did I not think of this myself?
Short, “snackable” lessons provide a better sense of completion and progress. You’re also more likely to finish a short lesson without getting distracted by something.
I’m pretty sure that it is because of this simple tip that my course landed this Netflix comparison (i.e., best compliment ever):
2. The strategy
With the prices of similar courses ranging from $500 to $2,000, it was really tempting to make some profit with ours.
I think we had around 15,000 paying customers at Ahrefs at that time (and many more on the free plan). So if just 1% of them bought that course for $1K, that would be an easy $150K to pocket. And then we could keep upselling it to our future customers.
Alternatively, we thought about giving access to the course to our paying customers only.
This might have boosted our sales, since the course was a cool addition to the Ahrefs subscription.
And it could also improve user retention. The course was a great training resource for new employees, which our customers would lose access to if they canceled their Ahrefs subscription.
And yet, releasing it for free as a lead acquisition and lead nurturing play seemed to make a lot more sense than the other two options. So we stuck to that.
3. The waitlist
Teasing something to people before you let them get it seems like one of the fundamental rules of marketing.
- Apple announces new products way before they’re available in stores.
- Movie studios publish trailers of upcoming movies months (sometimes years) before they hit the theaters.
- When you have a surprise for your significant other (or your kids), you can’t help but give them some hints before the reveal.
There’s something about “the wait” and the anticipation that we humans just love to experience.
So while I was toiling away and putting lessons of my course together, we launched a landing page to announce it and collect people’s emails.
In case someone hesitated to leave their email, we had two cool bonuses to nudge them:
- Access to the private Slack community
- Free two-week trial of Ahrefs
4. The promotion
I don’t remember our exact promotion strategy. But I’m pretty sure it went something like this:
I also added a little “sharing loop” to the welcome email. I asked people to tell their friends about the course, justifying it with the fact that taking the course with others was more fun than doing it alone.
I have no idea how effective that “growth hack” was, but there was no reason not to encourage sharing.
In total, we managed to get some 16,000 people on our waitlist by the day of the course launch.
5. The launch
On a set date, the following email went out to our waitlist:
Did you notice the “note” saying that the videos were only available for free for 30 days? We did that to nudge people to watch them as soon as possible and not save them to the “Watch later” folder.
In retrospect, I wish we had used this angle from the very beginning: “FREE for 30 days. Then $799.”
This would’ve killed two birds with one stone:
- Added an urgency to complete the course as soon as possible
- Made the course more desirable by assigning a specific (and rather high) monetary value to it
(If only we could be as smart about predicting the future as we are about reflecting on the past.)
Once it was live, the course started to promote itself. I was seeing many super flattering tweets:
We then took the most prominent of those tweets and featured them on the course landing page for some social proof. (They’re still there, by the way.)
6. The paywall
Once the 30 days of free access ran out, we added a $799 paywall. And it didn’t take long for the first sale to arrive:
This early luck didn’t push us to focus on selling this course, though. We didn’t invest any effort into promoting it. It was just sitting passively in our Academy with a $799 price tag, and that was it.
And yet, despite the lack of promotion, that course was generating 8-10 sales every month—which were mostly coming from word of mouth.
Thanks to its hefty price, my course soon appeared on some popular websites with pirated courses. And we were actually glad that it did. Because that meant more people would learn about our content and product.
Then some people who were “late to the party” started asking me if I was ever going to reopen the course for free again. This actually seemed like a perfectly reasonable strategy at the time:
7. The giveaways
And whenever we partnered with someone, they were super happy to get a few licenses of the course, which they could give out to their audience.
8. The relaunch
Despite my original plan to update and relaunch this course once a year, I got buried under other work and didn’t manage to find time for it.
And then the pandemic hit.
That’s when we noticed a cool trend. Many companies were providing free access to their premium educational materials. This was done to support the “stay at home” narrative and help people learn new skills.
I think it was SQ who suggested that we should jump on that train with my “Blogging for Business” course. And so we did:
We couldn’t have hoped for a better timing for that relaunch. The buzz was absolutely insane. The announcement tweet alone has generated a staggering 278K+ impressions (not without some paid boosts, of course).
We also went ahead and reposted that course on ProductHunt once again (because why not?).
All in all, that relaunch turned out to be even more successful than the original launch itself.
In the course of their lifespan on Wistia, the 40 video lessons of my course generated a total of 372K plays.
And this isn’t even the end of it.
9. The launch on YouTube
Because the course was now free, it no longer made sense to host it at Wistia. So we uploaded all lessons to YouTube and made them public.
To date, the 41 videos of my course have generated about 187K views on YouTube.
It’s fair to mention that we had around 200,000 subscribers on our channel at the time of publishing my course there. A brand-new channel with no existing subscribers will likely generate fewer views.
10. The relaunch on YouTube [coming soon]
Here’s an interesting observation that both Sam and I made at around the same time.
Many people were publishing their courses on YouTube as a single video spanning a few hours rather than cutting them into individual lessons like we did. And those long videos were generating millions of views!
Like these two, ranking at the top for “learn Python course,” which have 33M and 27M views, respectively:
Well, the “single video” version of that same course has blown it out of the water with over 1M views as of today.
I’m sure you can already tell where I’m going with this.
We’re soon going to republish my “Blogging for Business” course on YouTube as a single video. And hopefully, it will perform just as well.
So that’s the story of my “Blogging for Business” course. From the very beginning, it was planned as a promotional tool for Ahrefs. And judging by its performance, I guess it fulfilled its purpose rather successfully.
Don’t get me wrong, though.
The fact that my course was conceived as a promotional tool doesn’t mean that I didn’t pour my heart and soul into it. It was a perfectly genuine and honest attempt to create a super useful educational resource for content marketing newbies.
And I’m still hoping to work on the 2.0 version of it someday. In the past four years, I have accrued quite a bit more content marketing knowledge that I’m keen to share with everyone. So follow me on Twitter, and stay tuned.
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