I’ve got good news, bad news, and great news.
The good news: Google Ads yields an average ROI of $2 for every $1 spent. Not surprising since 89% of buying journeys begin with a search engine and that for commercial intent queries, 64.6% of the clicks go to paid ads.
The bad news: This is not a secret and everyone wants a piece of the pie. According to Hanapin Marketing, 93% of businesses are allocating budget to search engine marketing, making it the top paid channel.
The great news: You don’t necessarily have to keep hiking up your bids to compete in Google Ads. In fact, bidding higher does not guarantee top ranking, nor does it guarantee clicks or that those clicks will convert—and conversions are what matter most.
Read on to learn eight strategies (and 20+ tactics!) to stand out in paid results and see the results you want—without reverting solely to bid-pumping tactics.
To actually get a leg up on your competitors in Google Ads without raising bids requires a holistic approach. It’s about first understanding how the algorithm works, then creating a strong foundation based on that foundation, and then using the tools and tactics available to you to get ahead. Let’s dive in.
With the way the Google Ads auction works, higher quality ads get rewarded with higher positions and lower costs.
Why? Because if Google serves crappy ads, it will lose searchers. And if no one clicks on those ads, Google doesn’t make money.
How? By factoring your Quality Score into the algorithm. Your Ad Rank is your Quality Score multiplied by your maximum bid. Higher Ad Rank = higher position on the SERP. And your cost per click is the Ad Rank of the ad below yours, multiplied by your Quality Score, plus one cent.
As we see in the example, Sam gets the highest position and pays the lowest CPC even though he has the lowest bid, because of his stellar Quality Score. Jane, on the other hand, has bid the highest but hasn’t made it onto the SERP because of her poor Quality Score.
In short, you can’t just raise your bid if you want to compete in Google Ads. You need to raise your Quality Score. So how do you do that? The three main drivers of Quality Score are click-through rate (CTR), ad relevance, and landing page experience. So the next three tips will cover those.
✴️ How does your Quality Score compare to others in your industry?
Find out instantly with the Free Google Ads Performance Grader.
A high click-through rate will improve your expected click-through rate, which bring up your Quality Score. Make your ads shine and you’ll outpace your competition and spend less money. Here are just a few of the many ways to increase CTR:
The first ad above has unique copy (“We help people get unstuck”) and sitelink extensions—very clickable.
Relevance has been taken to a whole new level these days. It’s not just about being relevant to the search query, but also to the searcher themself. Here’s how to do that:
The third piece to the Quality Score puzzle is landing page experience. Even more importantly, the landing page is how you make sure conversions happen, so even if your CTR is great and costs are low, you’re not really competing if you’re not converting. Here’s how to improve your landing page experience and optimize them for conversion:
Get more tips in our complete guide to persuasive landing pages.
At the heart of a successful Google Ads campaign is the right keywords. But it’s not enough to just do your keyword research, input the list into your campaign, and call it a day. You need to regularly maintain keyword lists and seek out new keywords to target. Here are some of our tips for keyword optimization:
This last one tends to get overlooked. We get so wrapped up in our own metrics that we forget the obvious: Look at your competition. Look at their ads and offers. Ask yourself if you’re truly competitive. If you can’t compete with the offer, make sure your ad copy and extensions improve your “click appeal.”. Appearance, enthusiasm, and words sell!
You can find these and plenty more ideas in our roundup of Google Ads examples.
Do some sleuthing, too. Find out which keywords are most important to your competitors. If you know this you can attack them head-on for those keywords, or find weak spots (keywords they’re not focused on) and capture those clicks.
This guide focuses on all of the things you can do to compete in Google Ads without raising your bids. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a solid bidding strategy to begin with. You can also adjust your bids so that you’re spending more in one area but less in anotherHere’s how to achieve that:
Between the reports and features within the Google Ads interface as well as the tools and templates from others, you have an arsenal of resources at your disposal to help you compete for clicks. We’ve got a handy roundup of free Google Ads tools you can check out, but here are the ones available to you from us:
Now you’ve got the tips and tools you need to take down your competition in Google Ads—without toppling over your budget. Start with your Quality Score to build a strong foundation—which means focusing on great ad copy, properly themed ad groups, and optimized landing pages. Build on that with bid adjustments and keyword optimization, and then top it off with more specific competitor targeting. Use the free tools to make it all easier and you’ll be taking the lead (and generating leads (and sales)) in no time.
To recap, here are the eight strategies to compete in Google Ads:
Kristen is the Senior Managing Editor at WordStream, where she helps businesses to make sense of their online marketing and advertising. She specializes in SEO and copywriting and finds life to be exponentially more delightful on a bicycle.
See other posts by Kristen McCormick
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