Google is changing the way Ad Rank, the system that determines which ads show for a query and their position on the page. Needless to say, this is a pretty important development but Google isn’t giving away much, as per usual.

What we do know is the changes have been rolling out since the beginning of May and Google isn’t done yet. There are two tweaks being made to how Ad Rank thresholds work and some account holders are already reporting impacts.

What are Ad Rank thresholds?

Ad Rank determines ad positions by calculating max CPCs, expected CTR, ad relevance, landing page UX, use of ad extensions and ad formats. The exact calculation is a Google secret but ads need to meet a certain threshold to show for any given query.

There are also various thresholds that determine where ads show and this is how Google separates the pack. These thresholds also help Google decide how many ads to show for each query.

Ad Rank thresholds now consider the meaning of queries

The first change is that Ad rank thresholds can now take the meaning of a query into account when it determines ad placement. So context now plays a part in the Ad Rank process, which sounds like a positive step from the search giant. People searching for news don’t want to see your product ad and you probably don’t want to show it to them either.

We haven’t got any details on how Google is determining the meaning of queries – ie: whether it’s linked to Google’s machine learning technology. We’re hoping for more information on this soon but we won’t be holding our breaths and we don’t suggest you do either.

Bids get more weighting (depending on query meaning)

Somewhat related to the first change, bids may get more weighing in the Ad Rank calculation for certain query meanings. Again, Google isn’t revealing what kind of query meaning this will apply to (or how it determines them) and this particular change makes us a little sceptical.

More emphasis on bids means less emphasis on quality factors like Quality Score, ad relevance, landing page UX and the other Ad Rank criteria. It might also force advertisers to up their bids for certain campaigns if they see a sudden drop in impressions or ad performance – an idea we’re not too comfortable with.

Changes rolling out now

These changes are rolling out right now and some advertisers have already reported seeing an impact – some minor, others more significant. We haven’t seen anything yet that we can attribute to the change, as it will take time to monitor all of the accounts we manage, but now is a good time to keep an eye on your core ad metrics.

Above all, don’t hit the panic button if you notice any movements. You won’t know for sure they’re caused by Google’s tweaks to Ad Rank or some other factors, until you’ve had a chance to gather some comparable data. As always, get in touch with us if you think you might be affected or you have any other doubts about the changes.