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Last week, we stumbled upon what appears to be a quietly rolled out development in the Google Adwords ranking algorithm.

If you are one of the thousands of Adwords advertisers that regularly do Google searches to confirm your ad’s positioning on key search terms, you may notice some very strange things going on, as our most involved clients and acute account executives found in the last week.

Several days ago, I was checking our ad positioning on a small handful of top spending keywords for our internal marketing efforts, such as “online advertising”, “search engine advertising” and “ppc management”. Expecting to see us in the top 1-3 results in the banner as usual, I was shocked to find us in considerably lower positioning, 7-8 in most cases. Quickly logging into our accounts, I saw that our average position that day was what I would expect, around 1-2 in all of the tested keywords. Why would I be seeing such dramatically different results?

While I was waiting to hear back from one of our terrific Google Agency Team reps, I tried a few things, including clearing my cookies. I tried the searches again, and we are back at the top where we should have been.

What does this mean? Basically, if you repeatedly do the same searches on Google — within the same cookie session or while logged onto a Google account — without clicking on the links coming up top, Google assumes that you aren’t getting search results in the ads that interest you, and show you different ordered results. Essentially, this means that you are getting results that are not an accurate reflection of the normal ad-rank algorithm, which takes into account your bid, your click-thru rate and a number of other, less weighted factors.

To the normal Google user, this will go entirely unnoticed. For PPC advertisers and their obsessive managers (I for one catch myself doing test searches in Google without really thinking about it, completely in auto-pilot sometimes) this means that you may find yourself confused about as positioning that is different from what the rest of the world sees.

What to do? You can clear your cookies for one, that seems to remedy the situation. If you do not want to clear your cookies (which results in websites logging you at and a myriad of other annoyances) you can use an alternate browser from your preferred program for test searching, and regularly clear your cookies on that one. Or you can use the Google-recommended route, which is to perform all test searchesusing Google’s Ad Preview Tool. The benefit of using this tool is that by appending the URL with the appropriate codes (as explained here), you can see how users in any specific zip code, region, country or other geo-targeting option will see results. This is excellent for evaluating other markets and doing test searches for campaigns targeted to areas outside your own.

In my several conversations with Google regarding this issue, there has been significant confusion and frustration among advertisers, but time will tell whether there is any change in the way this new development operates.

UPDATE: I am curious as others test this to find out if others see what we seem to be noticing. Specifically, the URL that we are “looking for” in these test searches seems to be the one that is coming up lower in the searches. In other words, we dot not seem to be seeing a general jumbling of all the first-page ad results. Is Google tracking other activity, linking URL’s in Google Adwords accounts or looking at other data? At this point we need more data and it is too early to tell. If you have noticed anything like this, let us know; we are eager to learn more about this subtle, intriguing Google update.

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