how your placement on Google is determined

The Role of Quality Score and Ad Rank in Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is more than bidding for relevant keywords. To be successful an advertiser needs develop quality landing pages and engaging content.


What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of advertising that that involves bidding on keywords so that a specific ad will appear on the results page. It is commonly referred to as PPC (pay-per-click) advertising, and is popular on Google and Bing search engines.


Here is an example of search engine marketing from the searcher’s perspective:

pizza search query with sample ads from Pizza Hut and Dominos on Google AdWords


For this example, the search query was “pizza,” which also happens to be the keyword. If instead of “pizza,” a searcher entered “where can I buy pizza near me,” the search query would be that entire piece of text. Advertisers may bid for a single keyword (which may be a word in a search query), or a keyword phrase (which may match an entire search query).

When the keyword was entered into the Google search bar, an auction took place. In this example Pizza Hut and Dominos were two of the bidders competing for their ad to appear.


How Does Bidding Work in Search Engine Marketing?

To explain this process, it’s necessary to go back in time, to before the search occurred.

Well before the search for “pizza” began, Pizza Hut, Dominos and a number of other companies set up a Google AdWords account, and created a campaign targeting people searching for “pizza.” These companies can target people searching in specific geographic locations, by what type of device they were using to perform the search, or a number of other factors.

Within each campaign are a number of Ad Groups, which are commonly differentiated from each other based on advertising strategy, or the web page searchers visit when they click the ad (also known as a landing page). Each Ad Group contains a set of keywords and ads.


In Google AdWords, an Ad Group looks like this:

Ad Group example from AdWords

In Google AdWords, an ad looks like this:

ad example from Google AdWords


Keywords are words or phrases a company believes searchers will use when trying to find the product being offered. Essentially, an advertiser is attempting to guess (though it should more appropriately be called a well-researched, educated guess) what someone would search for if they knew what they wanted, but weren’t sure where to buy it. For each keyword, a bid is placed which represents the maximum amount an advertiser is willing to pay for their ad to appear when a person searches for that keyword.


In Google AdWords, keywords look like this:

keywords example from Google AdWords

Every advertiser performs the actions, which leads to an auction when multiple advertisers bid for the same keyword. If two or more advertisers bid for the same keyword, an auction occurs, but it’s not always the highest bid that wins.


How Does Google Determine Ad Placement?

Google, like most popular search engines, uses an algorithm and ranking system to decide which ads will appear on the SERP (search engine result page). The bid is only one factor that is considered.


Here is how Google determines which ads to show:

how your placement on Google is determined


There are two key metrics which are measured to determine where an ad will rank (Ad Rank). The CPC (cost-per-click) bid and the Quality Score are both evaluated when a search is performed. The keywords with the best combination of these two factors will earn the highest Ad Rank.

The CPC bid is the maximum amount an advertiser is willing to pay when a searcher clicks their ad. The Quality Score is a measure of multiple factors.


Here is how Google determines the Quality Score of a keyword:

how Google determines your quality score


A keyword’s Quality Score is measured by factoring in:

  • The relevance of the keyword, ad and landing page’s URL, to the search query.
  • The quality and relevance of the landing page to the search query.
  • The past performance of the campaign, including historical CTR (click-through-rate), previous Quality Scores and overall effectiveness of the campaign.

Based on these two metrics, Google determines the rank of every ad competing for the same keyword. Similarly, because both of these metrics have the potential to change from minute-to-minute, Ad Rank can constantly fluctuate.


Why is Ad Rank Important?

Ad Rank is important because people rarely view the second or third search results page; and they generally click the first result.

Based on one study by Chitka, the search result with the top position received nearly 33% of the total traffic. The second position received 18% and third result gathered 11% of the potential traffic. After that the results degraded quickly.

In total, the results on the first page received 92% of all the potential traffic, while the second page received less than 5%, and the third captured 1%.

From this research it’s clear that placement is critical, and explains why competition is tough for so many industries. Every business is fighting to gain the best Ad Rank because the top spot will often capture the most traffic.


What Determines a Good Search Engine Marketing Strategy?

Search engine marketing is more than choosing keywords and bidding more aggressively than competitors. The Quality Score is a measure of overall campaign performance, relevance and landing page quality. An ad gains the top placement because the advertiser addressed all factors that are measured by the Quality Score. This often requires the cooperation of multiple people within a business, or one person who knows how to do it all.


Search Engine Marketing is a mix of:

  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Keyword research
  • Market research
  • Advertising strategy
  • Web development
  • Web design
  • Content marketing


To be successful with SEM, an advertiser needs to:

  • Research and understand their target market, including how they search
  • Research and discover the keywords people will use to search for specific products or services.
  • Build an advertising strategy that targets the most qualified searchers at the exact moment they’re ready to make a purchasing decision.
  • Develop a high-quality landing page that is relevant to a specific set of targeted keywords.
  • Design a landing page that is engaging and clearly communicates its purpose and value to visitors.
  • Incorporate targeted keywords effectively and organically throughout the landing page.
  • Create engaging, interesting and valuable content for the landing page to keep visitors on page longer and encourage them to return.

A Professional Introduction

Remember when marketing and advertising was simpler? Buy a commercial during primetime, or in the Sunday paper, and rest assure you’ll have eyes on your message. Try that today and risk your target audience fast-forwarding through your commercial, or asking, “what’s a newspaper?” The options were not only narrower, but more popular. Netflix, Pandora and RSS Feeds have essentially killed the market-saturation approach. The internet has created a segmented market, and having all eyes on your message is, if not impossible, at least improbable. There are simply too many entertainment options competing for attention. How can Mr. or Mrs. Business tell the world they exist?

Every day the industry shifts closer to inbound, and away from outbound marketing. The consumer, if not actually smarter, is at least more clever about filtering messages. People, in general, spend much of their day trying to avoid advertisements. The shift is leading to companies utilizing a “branding” approach. Pushing the “brand,” rather than the “product or service,” prevents the consumer from instinctively tuning-out. A beneficial result of this shift is how creative possibilities expand. Focusing on “brand” broadens the businesses’ message. The objective shifts from, “buy our product,” to, “like us.”

Diversification has long been the safety net of investing. Even marketing strategies have incorporated the concept. Rather than focus a budget on a handful of media formats, spread the dollars across several. Not only does this allow for better market testing, but increases the likelihood of reaching your target audience. This isn’t a groundbreaking concept. Traditional marketing has prospered with this strategy for years. What is new, however, is the depth at which this concept is no longer a suggestion. Diversify or perish.

Today’s top marketing talent will be diverse. They will understand how to design quality content. How to create and curate. What it takes to build social engagement. How to turn a Like in to a Share. And a Follow in to a Customer. They will test and optimize as second-nature. Their ears and eyes will always be open to the latest trends, industry news and the competition. Most importantly, they will be capable of managing all of these concepts simultaneously. Top marketers will understand how to produce a commercial, upload it to YouTube, promote it on Facebook and Twitter, compose emails linking to it, edit blog entries about it, develop keywords for PPC advertising, and how to craft titles and alt-text for organic optimization. The segmentation of marketing disciplines, into specialties, is a diminishing necessity. Diversify or perish, in business, and professionally.

Internal corporate synergy is no longer an appealing business model, it’s an absolute mandate. The decisions of one department can no longer live in isolation. The consumer can now take their complaint directly to Twitter, for the entire world to see. Handling issues exclusively in-house can be detrimental in today’s culture. To succeed in marketing, all business divisions must communicate and collaborate. And the only way to truly foster this cooperation is to assure your marketer(s) understand the bottom-to-top concepts thoroughly. Today’s marketer(s) must understand the depth of systems, be they platforms, media formats or devices, because they all intersect. SEO, social media and advertising must all connect, and success depends on acquiring the talent that understands it all.

Today, more than ever, creativity is the key to marketing success. Digital marketing is such a new and evolving industry, that profit depends on equal parts “best practices” and “outside-the-box thinking.” The goal of every marketer should be: experiment, test, learn, and repeat. Follow the successes of industry leaders and expand upon their insights. However, as a wise man once said about obtaining knowledge:

“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know, you know?”

~ Daniel M. Christensen

The Voice of A Working Progress...

The Voice of A Working Progress…

I hate the sound of my voice. I still have no idea how my own voicemail sounds. I don’t want to hear it. The reality of my voice isworse than whatever it is I hear when I speak. To anyone that’s ever heard me, I apologize.

Regardless how it sounds, I’m glad I have one. My limited hand dexterity wouldn’t allow me to hold a full conversation in sign language (sorry ladies).

Hearing your voice is one thing. Finding your voice is something else altogether. What should your voice sound like? What will it say? How will it say it?

As I started my journey through the un-filtered landscape of digital marketing, At first, I simply wanted to be present. I hoped to experiment. Learn, Evolve. Improve. So I started creating and curating. Spreading content across as many platforms possible. I was a machine possessed. On a mission to spread like a virus.

But, as I look back at my work, I notice the mistakes. The gaps in optimization. The lack of quality engagement. I see all the content I marketed, and understand it had no voice. Not unifying message. My voice sounds terrible.

One post was a self-created gif. Another was a link for better SEO. I wrote about a trending sub-reddit one day. The next was about networking on LinkedIn. I’d gain a follower because of a meme I created, then lose them because my next curation had nothing to do with what interested them in the first place.

In the process, I’ve learned my content needs a voice. And it won’t involve speaking to anyone specifically.

My day-to-day responsibilities are overwhelming in scope. I’m a hybrid-marketer. I practice, research and implement a multitude of marketing components. Webmaster. SEO. Social media. Content creation. Content curation. Copywriting. Networking. Email marketing. Direct marketing. Digital marketing. Traditional marketing. Guerilla marketing. Promotions. Public relations. Google AdWords. Social media advertising. Print advertising. And so on. And so on.

As I compiled a list of articles I read, presentations I download, pages I shared, media I created, accounts I followed, etc., I heard my voice.

I’m A Working Progress…

I represent the evolution and growth of a digital marketer. A trial-by-fire experiment, from creation and curation, to implementation and optimization. My hat collection is expansive, and I wear all of them daily.

My guess is I’m not alone.

I can’t focus on any one of these aspects. Not for long, anyhow. My mind, like my to-do list, jumps from topic to topic. I’m the profile of a multitasker.

So follow me, as I experiment. Share the things I like. Curate the content of interest. And if the voice you hear today isn’t interesting, understand it’ll talk about something else tomorrow.