Google to retire its Average Position metric

Knock Knock. Who’s there? No one because my average position is 6.9…

What’s Happening?

On most PPC reports it’s virtually guaranteed you will see the beloved average position metric. Earlier this year Google announced that it will be removing the average position metric in favour of Search absolute top impression rate and Search top impression rate. Here’s what we know…

When is this happening?

September 2019.

Wait… what’s average position again?

When bidding on a keyword in Google Ads, you compete for page prominence within Google’s Ads auction. The position of your ads in the Google Ads auction is determined by your ad rank, your ad rank is based on your bid multiplied by your keyword Quality Score. Ad rank determines where you appear in Google’s search results – which is your average position. Simple, right?

Is it really that simple?

While ad position was easy to understand and explain, it didn’t always mean much. The average position is better understood to be your relative page position against other advertisers – and not so much the physical location of your ad on Google’s search page.

The average position metric is determined by your ad rank and the ad rank of other advertisers competing on that keyword. However, the metric did not consider results ranking above you organically. The age-old question from clients of why their ad isn’t always top, despite having an average position of 1.1, reflected the lack of consideration for the ads auction. Average position has become less meaningful with Google’s ever-changing product offering and its removal comes as no surprise.

Why did Google pull the plug?

The critics argue that the removal of the average position metric is an attempt to make customers spend more to achieve position one without exactly knowing what position one is.

In reality, Google wants advertisers to use more suitable metrics when thinking about page visibility rank (which we’ll come to later). Google is also big on automated bidding and feels the new metric can help advertisers move away from manual bidding to gain greater efficiency.

What is the replacement?

In November 2018 Google introduced two new metrics under “competitive metrics” called “Impression (Absolute Top) Percentage” and “Impression (Top) Percentage”.

The metrics aim to give you a clear indication of where your ads sit in comparison to paid ads and other organic results listed on the same page.

Search impression (top) percentage takes into consideration the total number of impressions your ads achieved divided by the number of times you appeared in the top positions.

Impression (absolute top) percentage is calculated very similar to Search impression (top) percentage but also takes into consideration the organic results listed alongside your ads and how your ad ranks above organic results.

How does it change strategy?

You can still adjust your bids to achieve position prominence, but it is not as simple as increasing bids to raise your average position.

Greater emphasis will be placed on Google’s automated bidding strategy of Target Impression Share bidding, which will automatically set your bids with the goal of showing your ad at the absolute top of the page, on the top of the page, or anywhere else on a Google search results page. Once you decide where you would like your ads to appear (impression share goal), Google will automatically set the CPC of your bids to achieve your impression share goal.

The change from average position to top search page impression is a welcome one for brand advertisers that place emphasis on absolute impression share for their brand. The new metric will allow brand advertisers to monitor their average position against organic results, too.

Understanding how well your ad ranks against the organic listings will prompt you to increase bids if you find yourself not achieving the top impression rate stats. The new metric is a better indicator of how well you rank in the top three positions; but gone is the simplicity of the average position metric. This means it will take a few more columns in your report to understand and explain where exactly you or your client’s ads are appearing.

The move away from average position is also a strong indicator of Google’s intent to push automation as commonplace.

Conclusion

Google may have framed these changes as introducing new metric sets, but ultimately, there is an underlying intention to encourage more advertisers to use its automated bidding strategies. The introduction of the Target Impression Share strategy hinted at the sunset of the average position metric as early as November 2018.

There is also the argument that inexperienced advertisers may drive CPCs up to achieve absolute (top) search impression share without understanding what this means against top search impression share. The removal of average position may become further complicated when segmenting data to understand how your ad ranks for certain locations.

Although we are witnessing the sunset of one of Google’s oldest metrics, the new direction encourages us to understand the real-time placement of your ads. Previously, we would look at the average position of our ads versus the other ads in the current auction, the new metrics provide clearer insights on where your ads are appearing on the search results page.

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