How Top vs. Side Position Impacts CPC, Traffic Volume

Ever done a search, and noticed that there are no paid search ads above the organic listings? Then do the same search later, and notice that ads are suddenly above the organic listings?

This is a part of Google’s ongoing testing in combination with an advertiser’s quality score. This difference has a great impact on a PPC ad’s performance.

However, when running an average position report you don’t see the difference. The ad position could be on the top, or the side, and still be considered the number one spot.

Google allows you to run a report to understand the differences. I recently examined our clients’ performance in the top three spots to better understand some of the differences. What I found was really worth understanding.

When your report for your keyword performance says you ranked greater than second, there is a 90 percent chance that your ad was shown above the organic rankings. The number decreases with each ranking, and only 6 percent of ads in the third position appear on the top of the page.

This may not be that big of a surprise to most people. However, the key to this data point is to understand the vast differences in click-through rate (CTR) as you move from the top to the side. While only 10 percent of impressions of position one appear on the side less than 1 percent of the clicks come from that side position.

The chart shows over a 15 point difference in CTR from top to side positioning, and while the difference isn’t as great for positions two and three, the CTR difference is about 4 points. These are massive click differences.

Even with the vast difference in CTR position three splits the clicks about 50/50 when shown on the top or the side.



Why is all of this even important? The importance comes in the amount and cost of traffic to your site.

The top positions really do drive significantly more volume at a higher CTR. The biggest reason to care would be the difference in CPC from the top to the side rail.

Our data shows that for the top three positions on average clicks were $1 less for the top positions vs. the side positions. So not only is traffic higher it comes at a reduced cost.


This data is available to all AdWords accounts. You can access this data by adding a segment when pulling down a keyword performance report. Keep an eye on these swings over time and their impact to your performance.

This is just one more way that looking at data beyond just the surface layer. It can provide you insights that help drive your optimizations to create more impactful campaigns.

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