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How to Spend Less and Still Rank: Unlocking Google Ads Success Without the #1 Spot

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

how to rank by spending less

In the world of Google Ads, it's easy to become obsessed with the notion of landing the coveted #1 spot on the SERP (search engine results page). However, this achievement often comes at a high cost, leaving many businesses struggling to justify the expense. In this blog post, we'll explore why targeting ad positions 3-5 can be a smarter, more budget-friendly approach, and how to optimize your campaigns for maximum efficiency and return on investment.

The Allure of #1 on Google Ads: What's the Appeal?

As the pinnacle of search engine advertising, the #1 position in Google Ads offers unparalleled visibility and a higher likelihood of attracting clicks. However, this prestigious spot also demands the highest bids, which can quickly drain budgets and limit the effectiveness of campaigns.

Here's a secret: you can still run successful and cost-effective campaigns by targeting ad positions 3-5 instead. Let's explore the reasoning behind this approach and how it can benefit your advertising efforts.

Google Ads: A Brief Overview

The top search results typically showcase paid ads, indicated by the "sponsored" or "ad" label. Google defines "top of page" ads as those appearing above organic results. Among these, only the first ad position is called the "absolute top" or "first position."

The Price of Being on Top

Bidding on keywords can be costly, with the top ad position generally demanding the highest bid. However, several factors can influence costs, such as industry competitiveness, ad relevance, and landing page success. To maximize your budget, it's better to aim for positions 3-5.

Why You Shouldn't Aim for the Top Ad Position

  1. Cost: The top ad spot is usually the priciest, and competing against deep-pocketed rivals can quickly drain your budget. Targeting more cost-effective positions further down the page can still attract clicks and conversions.

  2. Inflated Click-through Rate (CTR) Concerns: Some advertisers may intentionally avoid the top spot as users clicking out of habit might not be genuinely interested in the ad. This could result in higher click volumes but lower conversion rates, as these users may not be qualified leads or the ad's message may not match their search intent.

Interestingly, there's a growing sentiment among users to bypass the top ad position in favor of supporting smaller businesses. This behavior mirrors the preference for local coffee shops over corporate giants like Starbucks.

What's the Alternative?

Aim for positions 3-5, particularly when there are multiple advertisers targeting the same keyword. Although ads below the first and second spots might receive fewer clicks, compelling ad copy can still entice users to engage.

For example: Imagine you're a small e-commerce store selling eco-friendly products. Competing against big-box retailers with massive budgets for the top ad position can be challenging. By focusing on positions 3-5, you can conserve resources while still reaching customers interested in sustainable options.

To improve your ad's position without increasing your bid, focus on driving up your CTR with strong ad copy that aligns with the keyword topic's ad group. As your CTR rises, Google will take notice, and your ad's position could improve organically.

Further, research suggests that users who click on ads in positions 3-5 may be more likely to engage with the advertised content, as they've taken the time to scan past the first few ads. This can lead to higher conversion rates and a more engaged audience.

For example: A local gym may find that users who click on their ads in positions 3-5 are more likely to sign up for membership than those who click on the top ad. By targeting these lower positions, the gym can attract customers who are genuinely interested in their offerings, rather than users who impulsively click on the first ad they see.

How to Spend Less and Get More Clicks

When setting up your ads in Google Ads Editor, focus on determining your bid. Aim for a bid between the estimated first position bid and the estimated top-of-page bid. For example, if the first position estimate is $15 and the top-of-page estimate is $7, consider bidding $8 to test if you can secure a top spot without overspending.

Keep in mind that your initial bid might not be perfect. Like every aspect of your ad campaign, test and adjust accordingly. As your CTR and relevance (Quality Score) increase, you can pay less per click, which could result in your ad running more frequently.

Be sure to optimize your ads

To reduce overall ad costs and improve performance, consider these strategies:

  1. Experiment with dayparting: Schedule your ads to run on specific days or during particular times of the day when users are more likely to engage with your ad. Analyze your current ad performance to identify patterns and refine your scheduling.

  2. Try unexpected ad messaging: Get creative with your ad copy's tone and style to capture users' attention. Just be sure to deliver on your promise with an effective landing page experience that drives conversions.

Some Final Tips

  • Avoid going too low: While targeting positions 2-5 is advisable, ads below the top of page positions may miss out on valuable ad extensions that enhance visibility and attract clicks.

  • Monitor the competitive landscape: Keep an eye on the number of advertisers targeting the same keywords and adjust your bidding strategy accordingly.

Ultimately, the best Google Ads approach depends on your specific campaign goals, budget, and industry competition. By prioritizing positions 3-5, optimizing your ad copy, and employing strategic techniques like dayparting and creative messaging, you can stretch your budget further and achieve a healthy ROI/ROAS (return on ad spend).

  • Stay vigilant and adaptive: Continuously monitor your ad performance, analyze the data, and make data-driven decisions to optimize your campaign. Be prepared to adjust your bidding strategy, ad copy, or targeting based on the insights you gather.

  • Focus on Quality Score: A high-Quality Score, which is determined by expected CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experience, can lead to lower costs per click and better ad positioning. Strive to improve these factors for a more cost-effective campaign.

  • Test and iterate: Don't be afraid to experiment with different ad variations, messaging, and targeting options. Learning from these tests will help you refine your approach and discover what works best for your specific audience and goals.

By rethinking your Google Ads strategy and focusing on positions 3-5, you can maximize the efficiency of your campaign without breaking the bank. Keep testing, optimizing, and adapting to ensure you're getting the most value out of your ad spend while reaching your desired audience effectively.


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