In Google Ads, being number one sounds like the ultimate goal, but it could cost more than it's worth. Many PPC managers with deep Google Ads experience stayed focused on reaching the top ad spot on the SERP.

It's a big goal for a reason. Ads in the top spot get the bigger share of clicks. But here's the thing. The cost of getting to the number one ad position keeps many businesses from running their most effective campaigns.

Being #1 is overrated.

We suggest you aim for a few spots down instead. Here's the big reveal: target ad positions 3-5. This is your best shot for running the most efficient campaign when budget is a factor. Let's start with a little background to help explain why.

First, a bit about being at the top of Google Ads

The search results at the top of the page are usually paid ads. You'll see the word "sponsored" or "ad" next to them. Over the years, Google has played with placement of these ads, with some to the side of organic results and a few at the bottom. Most recently, Google's SERPs will display a few ads at the top of the results page with the rest below the organic results. That top zone is usually made up of 3 ads, but Google can (and might) change this at any time.

To give themselves more flexibility, Google defines top of page ads as those being "anywhere above organic results."

Top of Page vs. Absolute Top/First Position

Those first (usually 3) ads above the organic results are the "top of page" ads, but only the top position ad is called the first position or absolute top.

You will see the use of "absolute top" your Google reporting, but when you set up your bid you will see them use the term "first position."

How Much Does it Cost to Be At the Top?

You pay by bidding on keywords, and in general, landing your ad at the top of the results will cost the most of any other ad position. Of course that's overly generalized as these other factors play a role:

Every industry sees different costs. Personal injury law firms bid on incredibly competitive and expensive keywords across their campaigns. They often see cost per click well over $50 on average with some soaring into the $500+ range. A florist will see just a few dollars per click on average for far lower transaction costs.

Your relevance and landing page success also affect your cost. Google accepts a lower bid when your ad closely matches the search. As you get more people clicking through to your landing page, that track record helps to reduce your costs as well.

Still, you can strike a balance between being high enough to get people to click your ad but not in the #1 position that will strain your budget.
Instead, target the next few positions. This should help you get the exposure from being at the top of the page while protecting your overall ROI/ROAS (return on ad spend).

We'll explain in depth, starting with the big question.

So why not aim for the Top Ad Position?

While the top spot on Google Ads can seem like a shining beacon, there are several reasons why we think you should drop your target from the #1 ad position.

1. Cost

The top spot on Google Ads is typically the most expensive position to target. And remember, you're not advertising alone. Competitors are just that--competitive. If you are up against a competitor with deeper pockets, you would exhaust your budget quickly. That's a big risk for a relatively small increment.

Advertisers can target more cost-effective positions further down the page that still have a good chance of attracting clicks and conversions.

Speaking of clicks…

2. Inflated Click-through Rate (CTR) concerns

Interestingly, some advertisers may intentionally avoid the top spot because searchers who click the top spot from muscle memory aren't necessarily connecting with your message. They're clicking just to click.

Advertisers who target the top spot may find that they receive a higher volume of clicks, but that those clicks are less likely to result in conversions.

When that happens, you lose the chance to set expectations or set the tone for your landing page. It's a lost opportunity to qualify the shopper. With that, your conversion rate could suffer.

This could be because users who click on the top ad are less likely to be qualified leads, or because the ad's messaging doesn't align with the user's search intent.

There's another thought that takes the opposite stance.

There's no data to verify it, but we are hearing about users growing accustomed to skipping the top position and looking to discover the "unsung, smaller guy" in business. It's a choice to avoid the advertiser with the deepest pockets. Compare this to the coffee drinker who passes Starbucks to get their morning brew from a local coffee shop. Top ad position = deep corporate pockets.

What should I do instead?

Aim for positions 3-5, especially when there are many advertisers on this keyword.

People still see--and click--ads below the 1st and 2nd spots. This is where your copy does the heavy lifting. Just like with SEO meta descriptions, your ad copy tells the reader what they can expect if they click. It should align with their search intent in a way that your offer feels like a solution they can't pass up.

Remember that an ad reader at this point might glance down from the #1 ad position to see if your offer is worth their time. They're not going to be patient. Clear descriptions, compelling offers, and even clever writing can all convince a reader to click your ad in the 3rd or 4th spot.

When you write strong ad copy that is clear and specific to the keyword topic's ad group, you drive your click-through-rate. As you drive your CTR up, Google begins to take notice. They serve up ads more likely to be clicked, so you could see your ad start to creep up on position without having to adjust your bid.

Ideally, you will reap the benefits on this ongoing cycle. You can pay less per click for a stronger position than what you started with. The key is learning early from ad copy tests.

Note: If you ever need to check the number of advertisers on a term from the past few months, search the phrase in SpyFu.

Once you get the results, click the Advertiser History tab under Keyword Research. Look all the way to the right on the chart so see how many advertisers we've seen on this term in the past few months.

How can I spend less and still get clicks?

When you set up your ads in the Google Ads editor, you're going to look for a few details.

First, determine what to bid.

There is nothing in Google Ads that lets you bid for a specific position (after the first result). You can't say "Give me #2." However, blending the bid suggestions that they share can help get you in the ideal target range.

Google will show you bid estimates for every keyword you plan to advertise on. Zero in on these two:

  • Estimated first position bid -- Position 1
  • Estimated top of page bid -- Positions 1 to 3 (estimated)

The best strategy is shoot for somewhere between first position estimate (let's say it's $10) and the top of page estimate (let's say it's $5). You're gambling that other advertisers are bidding $5 to be at the top of the page. Here's the call directly from our in-house Google Ads pro:

In this case, I would probably bid $6 and then see if I still get pushed out of the top of the page.

This will give you an idea as to how much you need to bid for your ads to appear up top of the search results page.

It won't be perfect the first time, or every time.

Treat this like you do every choice in your ad campaign: test and adjust! The ad might land in the top 3-5 spots, but if you lose visibility and clicks, bump your bid up slightly. Test and adjust again.

Remember that other factors play a role. As the CTR and relevance rise (Quality Score), you can pay less per click, and that could end up having your ad run more often. The right combination is bidding to be top of page and optimizing your ad as much as possible.

Optimize your ads even further.

As you see your ad campaign's overall performance improve, you will pay less overall for your ads. That's because Google rewards relevance. High relevance comes from people clicking through on your ads more often, with generally good conversion rates on your landing page.

Google wants to serve up ads that will bring in clicks, so they serve your ads in a stronger position over time.

See the benefit?

You can optimize your campaigns even further to try to get more eyes on your ads at a lower cost per click.

We have a couple of suggestions.

Try dayparting.

This technique is when you set your ads to run on certain days of the week or parts of the day (lunchtime, for example). It works two-fold: it limits the frequency of your ads by restricting when they can run, and it targets searchers more likely to be connecting with your ad at that time.

When we think of dayparting, we go to obvious industries: restaurant and dining services at midday and early evenings. However, you might find opportunities with how time of day or day of the week affects ad performance. Look at your current ad performance and see if any times or days stand out. Try limiting your run to see if it positively affects your click through rate and conversions.

Our immediate goal is to increase your Quality Score. It's built on three key factors:

  • Expected Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Ad Relevance
  • Landing Page Experience

If you can raise your CTR by targeting people more likely to click, that contributes to a stronger Quality Score. A stronger Quality Score is the key to paying less per click.

Play with unexpected ad messaging.

We've talked about finding a strong offer and testing ad copy. Another angle is to play with mood or tone. Try something cheeky. Be bold in the way you talk to your audience.

We ran with this ad on a competitor search a few years back and had excellent results.

An unexpected message could be the key to gaining more clicks. Remember though, it's just as important to deliver on the landing page! You need that landing page experience to drive your Quality Score but also to do that ad's ultimate job--convert visitors.

Some final tips

Don't go too low

We like the spots 2-5, but anything outside of the top of page positions risks a loss of ad extensions.

Google Ads offers several ad extensions that can be used to enhance ad visibility and attract clicks. These extensions (such as site links, callouts, and location information) are only available in certain ad positions--usually the top of page spots.

Watch the competitive landscape

The competitiveness of an advertiser's industry and the number of other advertisers targeting the same keywords can also impact ad positioning. As we mentioned, multiple advertisers might be bidding for "top of page," but there aren't enough spots to go around. This is where knowing the number of consistent advertisers and ongoing testing will help.

This Google Ads hack is our advice for flexible PPC advertisers. It may not always be the best choice for every campaign. Ad managers should carefully consider their goals, budget, and competitive landscape when deciding which positions to target.