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6 min read

What is the difference between Ad position and Ad Rank?

2/20/20 4:32 PM

How often do you use a search engine? If you’re like most people, then chances are it will be at least once a day. In fact, popular search engine Google receives an incredible average of 40,000 searches every single second – that’s 1.2 trillion searches every year1!

Appearing higher in search engine results pages often requires intensive SEO, and in popular industries, this can be very difficult to do. However, there is an alternative option. Paid search advertisements help increase exposure of your products and services – although, where you appear is determined by Ad Position and Ad Rank.

As most of you know, Google AdWords is an auction where you bid on keywords and pay for search terms. The problem with this logic is that it is often assumed that the highest bid is what lands the top spot. After all, that is how an auction works – the winner is the highest bidder.

But, not when it comes to AdWords.

An advertiser could be paying a whole lot less than a competitor and still outrank them by multiple positions.


Paid Search results function similarly to organic search results in that Google wants to provide searchers with the most relevant information that solves their problem and FAST. While bidding high does help, relevance and answering or solving the user’s problem is equally as important, if not more!

Time for a deep dive
Put simply, Ad Rank is a value that determines your ad position and if your ad will show up at all for a search.

At the end of 2019, Google unveiled new metrics that help advertisers better understand the location of their ads on search engine results pages. These prominence metrics include top impression rate, absolute top impression rate, top impression share, and absolute top impression share.

Top and absolute top metrics are a set of prominence metrics. Prominence metrics help advertisers get a better sense of their ad’s location on the page. It's basically an estimation of an ad’s visibility on the search results page.

The absolute top impression rate and top impression rate tell advertiser’s the location of their ads on the Search engine result pages (SERPs).

  • Absolute top impression rate is the percentage of ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the search results over the total number of impressions.
    Search absolute top impression rate = impressions on the absolute top/impressions
  • Top impression rate is the percentage of ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results.

    Top impression rate = impressions on top/impressions

Absolute top impression share and top impression share help advertisers understand if there is any possibility for their ads to reach the top (anywhere above the organic search results) and absolute top (the very first ad above the organic search results) of the search engine result pages (SERPs).

  • Absolute top impression share is the impressions an ad received in the absolute top location divided by the estimated number of impressions the ad was eligible to receive in the top location.

    Absolute top impression share = impressions on absolute top/eligible impressions on top
  • Top impression share is the impressions an ad received in the top location compared to the estimated number of impressions the ad was eligible to receive in the top location.

    Top impression share = impressions on top/eligible impressions on top

Unlike average position, these metrics do not reflect the order of your ads compared to other ads, but the actual location of your ads on the SERPs.

Blog - GSM_AdRank-Position-02

How is an Ad Position determined?

There are many factors in determining your Ad Position and it is calculated by your Ad Rank – with the highest ranked appearing at the top of the search results. According to Google, there are six primary factors in determining your rank: 

  1. Your Bid: This is the maximum amount that you are willing to pay for your ad (although you may actually end up paying less).
  2. Ad and landing page quality: Search engines such as Google will not only look at how relevant your ad is, but also how useful it is to the person searching. Quality Score evaluates the relevance of your keywords, your ads, and your landing page content to the person who will see it. These assessments are constantly monitored, and you can see your quality ranking throughout the process.

    Higher quality ads lead to lower ad expenses and better ad positions. A high Quality Score means your ad meets your potential customers’ needs. Essentially, Google charges you less for ad clicks the better you are at meeting the searcher’s needs.

    Blog - GSM_AdRank-Position-01

  3. Threshold: To ensure that people are always viewing high quality and relevant ads, search engines put in a minimum threshold that ads must meet in order to be shown. The threshold is the minimum amount you need to bid to be in a specific position.

    For example, you can’t bid 25 cents and rank first for a term that costs $1.50.

  4. Competitiveness: If multiple ads are competing for the same position and have similar rankings, then a search engine will offer equal opportunities to both companies. As the gap between advertisers grows however, the higher ranking ad will appear more frequently but may pay a higher cost-per-click for that highly desired spot.

  5. Search Context: When calculating Ad Rank, context matters. Specific keyword searches are analyzed to determine exactly what that user is most likely looking for based on previous and common behavior. This means every single search query is different and triggers different ad rank factors that affect the ad’s position.

    Ad Rank considers the search terms the person has entered, their location at the time of the search (think, mobile ‘Near Me’ searches!), the type of device they’re using (mobile vs. desktop), the time of the search, other ads and search results that show on the page, the nature of the search, and more. All of these factors help determine how relevant your ad is to the user and their search, and how likely it will be shown.

    For example, a consumer in Dallas who is searching for a new Hyundai Sonata will not see Paid Search ads for the San Diego Zoo. Why? The consumer’s location and search query are not even close to being contextually relevant to the San Diego Zoo.

  6. Expected impact from ad extensions and formats: When a marketer creates an ad, they are given the option to add additional information such as a phone number and links to specific pages on their website. These are called ad extensions and they impact your ad performance, often helping your ad appear in more searches because of the additional information included.

    Expected impact considers factors such as: Were your ad extensions relevant, and did they produce increases in click through rates that are at or above the norm? If your ad’s call to action is “Call today to schedule your appointment” and you do not have a call extension  that allows searchers to click-to-call, then your ad will suffer.

What about Ad Rank?
Your Ad Rank is calculated every time your ad is triggered by someone searching a relevant term. This calculation is based off a number of measurements, including: 

  1. Expected Click Through Rate: This is typically based on your ad’s historical clicks and impressions. This measurement is adjusted by considering factors such as ad position, ad extensions, and other formats that may affect the visibility of an ad that someone clicked.
  2. Relevancy: This looks at how relevant your ad is to the search terms people are using.
  3. Your landing page: Your rank is also determined by the quality of the landing page your ad links to, including its relevancy to the search, and how easy it is to navigate.

Why do Ad Rank and Ad Position matter?
These two metrics determine where your ad will show, how much you will pay per click, and if your ad will even show. Focusing on the ‘quality components’ of each metric will help your ad show up in more searches and higher up on the page.


1 Internet Live Stats

Written by GSM

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