Is Adwords a ranking factor in Google Search?

Is Adwords a ranking factor in Google Search?

15th September 2014

SEO is the reflection of the psychology of the people who composes it, and, as in real life there are those who believe the girl of the corner or the Yeti, so in the world of Search Marketing there is people who believe in myths that nothing (or very little) have to do with the reality of the facts.

Myth and legend often originate from real events, which with the passage of time and the accumulation of claims based on ignorance or simply to word of mouth distortion turn into something completely distinct.

On the other hand, some people created them as myths from the very beginning, but then people – like the two girls who tried to assassinate a schoolmate because the Slenderman had told them – consider real.


One of the most persistent myths of SEO is the one stating that having an Adwords account – better if powerful – helps obtaining better organic search rankings too.

We just need to type in in the Google search box “Does Adwords” to start seeing suggests like:

  1. Does Adwords affect SEO
  2. Does Adwords help organic search;
  3. Do Adwords help Page Rank;
  4. Et al.

If queries like those are presented by Google Suggest, that means that many people are performing them.

I also had a personal confirmation of how this myth is very persistent and believed. It happened last spring, when I was talking at OMEXPO Madrid in a panel with our own Aleyda Solís and Fernando Maciá Domene. We were asking questions to the attendees, and one question exactly was: “Do you believe Adwords affects organic rankings?”. The majority of people answered yes.

In recent days, the myth has gained new impetus because of a Google patent, in which abstract states: Systems and methods for improving on search rankings using advertising data are disclosed.
Many, including some dear friends and very skilled SEOs, wanted to see in this patent the definitive proof that Google also uses Adwords as a ranking factor.

We must remember – as a disclaimer – that a strong hate/love relationship exists between SEOs and Google, especially because of the ambiguity Google always has in its communication, so it is quite normal seeing a strong conspiranoic way of thinking in the SEO world (I too indulge to that side sometimes).US08676790-20140318-D00002

Does, though, that patent really confirm that tin-foil hat theory?

My answer is that it does not confirm it, at least not in the terms people usually think.

That patent, published last March, does not really say that. This is the complete abstract:

Systems and methods for improving search rankings using advertising data are disclosed.
In one embodiment, a search engine implements a method comprising receiving a search query, identifying a plurality of articles relevant the search query, determining advertising data associated with the search query, and ranking the articles based at least in part on the advertising data.

The confusion seems generated by Google itself, which use the word “ranking”, when – maybe – it should had had to better use the world “SERP’s rewriting” in a personalized search environment.

Why do I say this?

Because Advertisements presented in response to a query are one of the seven search entities Google lists in the Search entity transition matrix and applications of the transition matrix patent.

The relations between search entities might create what Bill Slawski defined as “probability score” related to a query, and the higher is that score for a certain web document the higher is the probability that it will rank (better) in a personalized SERPs answering to that query.

I underline the personalization factor also due to the fact that the Methods and systems for improving search rankings using advertising data patent cited a good number of patents related to personalization of search as, for instance, the old Information retrieval based on historical data and the Ranking search results by reranking the results based on local inter-connectivity ones,

Why may Google feel the need of using also data of documents presented under an ad format? Google gives us the answer in the patent itself:

The more information a search engine has about documents and search terms, the better determination it can make regarding the relevancy of the documents and thus, the better it can rank the documents.
Thus, a need exists to increase the accuracy of the ranking of documents in search results.

The problem, again, is link spam. If Google feels that if it was only relying on the link-graph, then its users will not receive the best answer to their queries. Therefore, Google may use also advertisement data for designing better SERPs.

Google   History

How does it do it?

I will try to offer an answer in plain English, which I do not pretend it is the correct one, but I am quite confident to say it has a high probability to be so.

  1. When a user clicks on an ad, that click is stored in his/her Search History.
  2. Google, hence, analyzes the relations existing between the web documents the user visited from Search during a session and for a certain query.
  3. Therefore, when the user performs that same query in the future (or one substantially identical… remember Hummingbird), then Google will also take into consideration that Search History information and
  4. So it will present to that user a SERP, which will presents both documents that are in his Search History and documents that are not, but which are consistent to the query based on the probability score they have generated by the relationships existing between the different search entities.

We should also remember, then, that all these steps are just one of the tasks Google may perform when rewriting the SERPs.

We should not forget, for instance, the weight geo-targeting of the users has in private search.

Moreover, we should also not forget how signals like CTR and Pogosticking may have an influence in how Google determines the relevancy of a web document with respect to a query and the intention behind that query.

Finally, in a similar way as social shares correlate well with rankings, we may also consider that the more a website is visible in the SERPs due to its advertisement, the higher the probability that people will discover it and, eventually, link to it or mention it. At the end, is this not why more and more advertising is used for promoting content marketing campaigns?

So, what is my answer to the always-asked question if Adwords is a ranking factor?

My answer is that our site will not rank higher simply because we are also running an Adwords campaign.

The patent does not say running a PPC campaign will increase organic rankings and also common sense should make us think the contrary.

Maybe our ad is present in a SERP answering to a certain query, but it is the user behavior toward that ad and the relationships between that ad and all the other search entities, which may help our site ranking better also organically… and not an Adwords representative.



Written By
Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO and Web Marketing Strategist, who operates in the Italian, Spanish and English speaking countries market. He also works regularly as independent consultant with bigger international SEO agencies.
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