Ad position, the forest containing all your account metric trees! (Sorry, it’s Friday, and the clichés abound.) A high quality score combined with the right keyword bid means your ad gets a higher and higher position on Google SERPs. But, how do you analyze your ad position in AdWords? And, how do you know what your optimal position really is? Some accounts do perform better when ads are shown on the side versus the top of a page, as we’ll explore a little later in the post. My goal today is to help give you a solid understanding of ad position in AdWords so that you can think about this metric in the right way for your individual accounts.

Ad Position Basics

First, let’s start with some ad position basics. As of November 2011, Google considers your ads to be in one of two areas of SERP real estate, “top” or “other.” Not specific enough for you? Let me illustrate. Ads in the top position are outlined in red below, and ads in the “other” position, which in this example is the side of the page, are outlined in orange.

Here’s where things get a little hairy. Google recently decided that ads could be shown on either the side or bottom of a SERP. Translation: “other” means side or bottom (outlined in purple below).

Keep in mind that if ads show on the side of a SERP they will not be on the bottom, and vice versa, so side vs. bottom ad position is an either/or situation. Google’s reasoning behind showing ads at the bottom of pages is that for some searches the natural flow of a searcher scanning from top to bottom has yielded higher click-through rates (or so they say). Ads will only show at the bottom once they’ve already been shown on the side, and, of course, which ads are shown on the bottom of a page is something determined by Google behind the scenes.

What does this all mean? In short, knowing your average position doesn’t really tell you exactly where on the page your ads are showing, but you can determine whether yours ads perform better at the top or side/bottom of the page.

Finding Your Optimal Position

“Why wouldn’t all my ads perform the best at the top of all SERPs?” you just asked yourself. Well, many reasons. Maybe your top of page cost per click is too expensive for you to see a good return on ad spend. Or maybe your competitor’s ad position is having a shading effect on your ads, and people are just more inclined to click on your ad when it’s on the side or bottom of a SERP.

Whatever the reason, you can easily view top vs. other segmentation in AdWords. On the Campaign, Ad Group or Keyword tab in the AdWords interface, go to segment in the sub menu below your tab headings and choose “top vs. other:”

Then you’ll see the break down of your account metrics by page position for both Search and Search Partners:

As you can see in my example above, this particular account clearly performs better on the top of search results pages for this specific time period. To get a complete snapshot of your account’s ad position performance, I would create a report that segments your account’s metrics, including ad position, monthly for the past year. Take note of how your account metrics have improved (or not) as your ad position has increased or decreased. Once you can identify a definite trend, you will know the position in which your ads perform the best, and then you can optimize your account accordingly. How might you optimize your accounts for a specific ad position? Excellent question.

Optimizing Your Account Toward A Specific Position

As of April 2011, Google retired their AdWords position preference option, which let you specify which positions you wanted your ad to show for. While this system wasn’t perfect, it took a lot of guesswork out of achieving an optimal position. Google stated that they wanted to dissuade advertisers from focusing on a specific position, but we all know that it can be a good account tune-up to spend some time analyzing this data.

So, how do you optimize your account manually for a certain position? If you want to target a higher position, focus on your keywords’ quality scores. This will improve your position and lower your cost per click. Obviously if you determine your optimal position is below the first spot, you’ll want to focus on conservative keyword bids. Don’t be afraid to lower your bids if you need to come down in position to achieve better performance.

In regards to quality score, sometimes a low quality score is okay, but if you want to have the most control over your campaigns, you might want to consider segmenting your account by quality score to have more of an effect on each campaign’s position. Your branded terms, for example, might have lower quality scores, but are valuable in terms of gaining name recognition. Likewise, your competitor keywords probably also have a lower quality score. For more information about when low quality score keywords are okay, check out our post on this.

If you want an estimation of what bid you would need to achieve a specific position with any given keyword, you can use Google’s Traffic Estimator. This tool allows you to enter a keyword and a cost per click, and will show you your estimated ad position. You can also enter a daily budget amount to see how that would affect your estimated daily clicks.

You can access this tool from the Tools and Analysis menu in AdWords:

This might be labor intensive to do for all your keywords, but it can help give you a ballpark range to start with for your keyword lists.

Closing Thoughts

While ad position in AdWords can be fluid, and actual page placement a never sure-fire bet, it’s still good to analyze and optimize your account for a position that conclusively yields the best results. You may find that this boosts your account performance, and if not at least you’ll know that your account is not effected one way or the other by its page position. Also, if your page position starts to mysteriously drop down and you haven’t made any drastic changes to your account, don’t forget to take a look at your competitive landscape. External factors, i.e. your competitors, can dramatically change where your ads are showing.

If I’ve left out any tips for using ad position data advantageously, feel free to let us know in the comments below. I hope this has helped clarify some things for you in regards to ad position!