The recent YouTube advertising scandals that’ve been plastered over the news have prompted questions about Google’s advertising algorithms.

Everyone you speak to seems to have a different opinion on the advertising platform, from the die-hard fans to the unwavering sceptics.

Even for data heads, the complex (and ever-changing!) algorithms that make up Google’s advertising platforms can often leave you muddled. What this confusion usually means is that those who’re less familiar with the platform can end up ‘out of pocket’, with no idea where their money’s gone, how it’s disappeared so fast and why.

Rather than trying to understand the nitty gritty details, getting to grips with the basics and making sure you’re on top of your spending will make sure you’re getting the most out of Google Adwords.

Google Adwords: The Two Networks

Before we dive straight in, you can use Google Adwords to target two networks: search and display, which are two different ways of advertising.

In this blog we’ll go into search advertising and in April I’ll talk more about display.


The search network refers to paid search advertising, which is text-based advertising that displays on a search engine’s results page, also known as SERP.

You might recognise it as looking a little something like this…

With the first position on Google’s results page yielding a 30% click through rate (CTR) it’s no wonder they employ such a complicated algorithm for ad ranking. (source: search engine optimisation)

So how does it work?

Well, Google Adwords’ search network uses an auction-like system where advertisers can bid on keywords that match a user’s search query. When a match is made, the advertiser’s ad becomes eligible for display on the search engine’s results page, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll show.

If more than one advertiser is bidding on the same keyword, an ‘auction’ is triggered, but unlike a conventional auction, the highest bidder doesn’t always secure the top positions. This is because Google wants to show the most relevant ads to what the user is searching.

Therefore, to determine if and where your ad is ranked on the results page, Google looks at two factors:

  • Maximum bid (You will set this when you launch your ad)
  • Quality score (Google will award this score based on: expected CTR, quality of the landing page, ad relevance and the ad format)

The best combined score will secure the highest ad rank, meaning your ad will be shown in the best position.

So, how can you ensure a high quality score for your ad and give it the best chance of achieving a high ad rank?

Let’s take a look at the factors that contribute to a quality score and see what you can do to give them a boost!

Expected CTR

The expected click through rate is defined by Google as:

“How likely it is that your ads will get clicked when shown for [your target] keyword, irrespective of your ad’s position, extensions, and other ad formats that may affect the visibility of your ads.”

Google uses archived and realtime customer click data to predict how likely it is that the searcher will click on your ad after typing in the keyword you’re bidding on (or how closely aligned the search term is with your keyword). They predict this by considering how well the keyword has ‘historically’ performed, both in terms of your account and all other advertisers’ accounts.

Keywords that their users are positively responding to and interacting with will received higher expected CTR rates.

Once your ad starts being displayed, you’ll receive an expected CTR, its status will either be: above average, average, or below average.

Google defines these status’ as:

  • Average or above average” means that there are no major problems with this keyword’s expected clickthrough rate when compared to all other keywords across AdWords.
  • Below average” means that you might want to consider changing your ad text so that it’s more closely related to your top keywords.

Quality of Ad Landing Page Experience

Make sure your landing page (the page your ad directs the user to) is relevant and high quality, you can do this by making sure the page:

  • Has original content that’s relevant to both the ad and the keyword/s you’re bidding on*
  • Is easy to navigate around and for the user to find what they’re searching for
  • Is clear about what your business does
  • Is optimised for your user’s devices (e.g mobile, desktop, tablet)
  • Is transparent about how you intend to use their info

* In the past, Google’s algorithms for landing page relevancy were more simple; the more target keywords used on the landing page, the more ‘relevant’ it was deemed. But advertisers got wise and started ‘stuffing’ their pages with matched keywords (even hiding them on invisible layers of websites) so Google stepped it up a notch.

Today, Google closely monitors the context in which the keywords are being used on landing pages and ensures you’re not overdoing the frequency of use. This prevents ads from driving traffic to nonsense landing pages just because they’re ‘stuffed’ with the same keywords.

Ad Relevance

Google also analyses the language in your ad copy to determine how well it relates to the search query. They do this to prevent unrelated ads being displayed. It means that however much your max bid is, your ad won’t be shown unless your ad copy directly relates to the search terms and key words you’re bidding on.

Ad Format

Ad formats are also taken into consideration. Advertisements with visual enhancements such as ad extensions like location annotations and site links (links to other pieces of relevant content from additional pages within your site) have a better chance of securing the top spots. These can be added to your advertisements by visiting the “Ad extensions” tab at the top of your Adwords campaign.

These four factors contribute to your ad quality score. Your ad quality score and bid will determine your ad rank (where your ad shows on the SERP). The higher the quality score and bid, the higher your ad rank, and therefore the more likely it is that your ad will be displayed.

The Google Adwords platform is simple to use but it’s not easy to understand. If you’re struggling to get your head around what exactly you’re paying for, we can help.

Why not look into one of our training courses, which we can tailor specifically to Google Adwords (or any other marketing-related concepts you’re struggling with) or speak to us about how we can use Google Adwords as a tool to generate inquires for your business.

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