There is no such thing as a 'true' universal search engine results page for a given query!
SERPs vary to some degree by time of day, day of week, by geography and IP, by pacing, by performance, by testing, by competitor strategy, or even by user search history. The concept is hard to explain and even harder for advertisers to understand. In their defense, if they are investing in a paid search program, they want their ads to show up!
The checklist below outlines the most common factors (in order) that might affect the ranking of our ads and will be very helpful in guiding the conversation when asked I just Googled our brand and we didn't show up in position one, why?!?!
Google's algorithms make ad placements unique for each user, varying results according to previous searches and click behavior. Ads may rank lower (or not at all) depending on these personalized results.
Day Parting (Ad Scheduling)
According to the strategy we implement, bid adjustments are made throughout the day so that our ad ranks more competitively during valuable times and lower during down times.
Budget Pacing and Bid Management
Keywords are frequently optimized according to efficiency (CPL and ROI) and monthly budgets. Keywords might rank lower for a period of the month due to poor performance or because of slower pacing/less spending in general. In some cases, a campaign may hit its daily/monthly cap and stop showing ads for a period of time.
We are constantly mining for new keywords and keywords to exclude from our portfolio, according to performance. We may not appear on some search queries because we are not bidding on the queries or even negative-targeting them specifically.
SEM has a dynamic bid landscape; what our competitors do can change how much we pay and where we rank. Since most engines determine ad rank through an auction system, our ads can appear higher or lower based on how others bid.
Some keywords and ads are targeted specifically to different geographical regions. For these keywords, search results from Baltimore may vary from those in Chicago, which may vary from New York, and so forth. This may also include exclusions of specific users according to their IP address.
Launching New Copy
If we're testing ads, about 50% of the time we might be showing an ad with a lower Quality Score (or without any Quality Score). Ranking on this ad might be lower than usual. Also, new copy might not be immediately approved by the engines (or may not be approved at all).
* Using Google's Ad Preview Tool is the only way to get 'clean' and unpersonalized search results. Use this tool for all searches to get the most accurate preview.