Google Adwords Desktop Results Update: Position Reports & Bid Rules

Thanks to an announcement on Search Engine Land last week, we learned that Google has changed the structure of its search results page, which will affect how paid ads are displayed.

Wave Bye-Bye to Ads on the Right

Ads previously displayed in the right side of the desktop search results page are no more (with a couple exceptions). Google will now display three to four ads at the top of the page to precede organic results. This update only affects desktop search and mobile search will remain the same for now.

Three Quick Takeaways from this Announcement

1. This was not done by accident. The team at Google Adwords performs countless tests on its search results pages to determine how best to appease users and support its business model.

2. This update will likely change the way many advertisers approach bidding. Despite the fact that ads resting on the right rail performed less efficiently in most cases (see chart below courtesy of WordStream), advertisers likely found comfort just knowing their ads made it to the search results page, no matter the position. The top three or four positions will be coveted (justly or unjustly so), and we can expect bids to increase as a result.

The image below shows average click rate by ad position.
Click Rate by Ad Position

3. Adwords advertisers can use a few different tools to determine their current positions by keyword, what a “top of the page” bid will cost, and how to set rules to remain in prominent positions. I explore all these items below.

View Your Average Position

Your current average position on the search results page can currently be viewed by keyword or by ad. On either tab click on the “Columns” button near the top of the page. From the “Performance” metrics list, find “Avg. Pos.” and drag it into your selected metrics.

The interface in Adwords will look a little something like this:

Adwords Ad Position Report

Please note that you’ll want to maintain positions of 4.0 or lower to establish a top-of-page position.

View Top-of-Page Bids

As I’ve written previously, ad position is not merely a function of bidding. This is not a pure auction in which the highest bidder gets the top spot. Several elements play a role such as Click Rate, Ad Relevance, and Landing Page Quality.

However, as your bid does factor into your ultimate position, you can check to see what it might take to own a top-of-page bid. Both top-of-page and first position bid metrics are available on Keywords reporting within Adwords.

To see top-of-page and first position bids, go back to the “Columns” selection. Within the “Attributes” metrics, you’ll find “Est. top page bid” and “Est. first position bid.” Add both of these to your reporting metrics.

Adwords Top Page Bid Report

Once you have your Ad Position and Bidding metrics in place. Take a look to see what phrases will likely not show in the new Google search results page layout. I’ve provided a sample here with low positions highlighted in red.

Adwords Position Bidding

You may choose to update bids on a keyword-by-keyword basis. You can also create bidding rules…

Set Bidding Rules to Own Prominent Positions

Please note that I’m not necessarily advocating that you implement this tactic. The following just provides some instruction on how to do so. Please be careful. No matter your positions or bids, plan to accomplish your objectives. Sometimes a terrific position on a highly contested keyword phrase does not equate to a tremendous return on investment. Your ultimate measure should be the revenue, profit, and/or customer/lead quality your program generates.

The bidding rules are all controlled within the “Shared Library” section of Adwords. Find your Shared Library on the left-hand side of the Google Adwords interface. Select “Bid strategies.”

When you click on the bright red “Bid Strategy” button, you will be presented with some options. For this exercise, select “target search page location.”

Bid Strategy

On the following page, you can create a rule to adjust bids to enable your ad to show at the top of the page.

  1. Give your bid rule a name.
  2. Select either “Top of the page” or “First search results page.” Please note that the latter option, “first search results page,” might include listings at the very bottom of the page.
  3. Choose your bid automation technique. Either match all top bids automatically or set bids yourself, but have Google adjust them when they are lower then position #1. The former option will match every top bid. The latter option will only adjust bids when there is a higher bidder.
  4. You can also choose to adjust your bid just above the top page bid or just below by a percentage. Some may find it a more successful strategy to bid below the top bidder, who may garner a high volume of low quality clicks.
  5. I recommend always setting a Max Bid. This technique can get very expensive very quickly. Know your limits and try to determine the point at which an expensive click is just too costly.
  6. Finally, apply this new rule to an active campaign(s).

Top Position Bid Rule

You also have some advanced options to not apply this rule if you are hitting your daily budget on a regular basis. Google will also allow you to forego bid adjustments on keywords with low quality scores (i.e. poor performers).

Again, please show caution when setting bid rules. The #1 spot on the search results page does not always translate to campaign efficiency or outstanding performance. Use these metrics and rules to devise and execute a sound strategy that accomplishes your program’s objective.