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Any advice is much appreciated
The position preferencing is more for those who regularly get higher ranks and wish to limit their ad from being shown lower down the list.
To get higher ranks you must raise your maximum bid.
Improve CTR by writing better adverts.
And improve quality score.
It sounds to me that you're simply paying too little, try raising your CPC much higher (unless of course this really isn't an option).
1. separate words into more adgroups (no more than 5-10 words per adgroup
2. write mote targeted ads and run 2 per adgroup to determine which one has higher CTR and then test another one
3. check geo-targeting may be? sometimes it helps too
4. do more homework (what competitors are doing); make sure your ads scream for attention and are well-written (great title that matches main kws from that adgroup, benefit in 1st line, feature in 2nd desription line (or something that yr clients would Hate (i.e. "Never get fat again!") if you sell some weight-loss stuff, for example..
5. Really expand on negative kw list if there are any phrase or broad-matched keywords - that's just as important as having a good list of keywords
6. Heck, I would even get a new domain and create an SEO-friendly site, on a fast server and start copying the best perfoming keyword/ad combinations to a new ac.. (hm).. well, I mean, peel and stick, right?
They say it's possible to get to top positions in any market, although it would take alooot of time to do that. With all the ad split-testing and so on.. You can't expect new results using old methods - gotta keep on digging. There's a free book out there called adwords domination or smth like that (it's really free) and it quickly describes how to launch new campaign in competitive markets, it deals with position preference too, worth a look, I will be using some tactics from it soon. Sorry if it violates any TOS, no self-promotion here, really. HTH :)
Simply setting the position preference will not get you higher ranks
... to limit their ad from being shown lower down the list
1. my adgroups are very targeted and do not contain too many keywords (usually 5-7).
2. see above. I also tried PosPref to get more Impressions so I could get faster results in my splittesting. Now I had to increase the bid - OK.
3. Geo-targeting is not an issue. My settings are very strict and set to a certain country/language combination. Checked again and still ok.
what competitors are doing
5. Negatives are used to
a) prevent overlapp with other adgroups which are highly specific to the negative keyword and
b) to get rid of some broad matches
Thanks to both of you for input.
Gives me some things to think over again.