The basic concept of what PPC is can be very simple to explain. At its most basic, PPC with Google Adwords is giving Google a few bucks to let you cut in line. The value of a solid SEO campaign cannot be understated, but it can take time. Using Adwords lets you get results almost immediately.

What might not be common knowledge though, is just how does Google determine the order of its paid advertising partners? Of everyone trying to cut to the front of the SERPs, who gets to be first? The logical answer is that whoever gives the biggest tip to Google will get the highest rank. While your bid amount is in fact one of the main determining factors, its only one piece of the puzzle.

So what else does Google look at? How DOES Google determine ad rank for paid search? Just like organic results, ad rank for paid search is determined by an algorithm. The paid search algorithm is comprised of 3 main components: bids, quality score, and ad extensions.


Bidding is one way to improve your paid search ad rank.The first factor, like we mentioned earlier, is also the most obvious. The more money you’re willing to give Google per click, the higher your ad rank will be. So if you really NEED to be seen in that top spot for your keywords, you need to potentially be willing to bid higher than everyone else.

How much is that exactly? As we all learned in basic economics, supply will determine demand. The more people who are willing to bid on a specific keyword, the higher its cost will be. Each keyword will be different, and prices can vary drastically between industries.

No matter what group of keywords you choose, the basic principle remains the same. Higher bids will equal higher ad rank.

Quality Score

Factor number 2 is a little something Google calls “quality score”. This is a numerical value that Google gives to your individual keywords to represent their perceived relevancy. Simply put, Google looks at your keywords and your landing pages and gives you a grade on how well they match up with each other.

Google also takes historical performance into consideration when determining your quality scores. If you’ve been effectively managing a keyword for several weeks and outperforming industry average, Google will increase your quality score.

Quality score is not static, so it can and does change very often. Changing your quality score is not quite as simple as changing a bid however. You can’t simply “throw more money” at a problem with quality score.

Ad Extensions

This third factor is a relatively new addition to the ad rank equation. Not only does Google look at how much you’re bidding and how relevant the keyword is to your ad and landing page, they also want to see you using all the options available to you in adwords.

There are several enhancements you can make to a standard ad listing with paid search, and those enhancements are called ad extensions. Some examples of common ad extensions include posting your telephone number or physical address along with your ad copy. You can even include different sub links to other relevant pages found on your website.

Not only will these extensions make your ad stand out on the SERP, Google will give your ad rank a boost just for simply using them. Aside from directly increasing your bids, this is by far the easiest way to improve your ad rank.

Putting It All Together

Increasing your paid search ad rank is easy if you know how all the pieces fit together.While Google doesn’t release the exact equation it uses to determine ad rank, it’s well documented that the main components are exactly what we’ve talked about in this blog post. Perhaps the main takeaway from all of this is that it IS possible to increase your ad rank without spending more money.

Focusing on the other two parts of the equation can have a direct and profound impact on your paid search campaigns, without costing you an additional dime of adspend or limiting your traffic due to a tight budget. Keeping an eye on all 3 factors within adwords is what is going to get you the most bang for your advertising buck.

Do you currently have a paid search campaign that could use a tune up? Not sure how to make adjustments for quality score or set up ad extensions? Lucky for you, Big Leap has the talent to help you out. Contact us below to learn more about how we can help!

photo credit: kahunapulej via photopin cc
photo credit: lumaxart via photopin cc

Rob Hughes
Paid Search Analyst
Rob Hughes is a Paid Search Analyst at Big Leap who enjoys the creative aspect of online paid advertising. In his free time, Rob is a 3x Intramural Champion, a 17x Intramural Loser, and an avid climber of local mountains.