Google Gets Rid of Average Position Metric. Now What?

Beginning September 30th, Google will officially commence sunsetting the average position metric in the Google Ads platform.

Google originally announced the shift back in February, and if no uproar is heard from the advertising community, they’ll continue as planned without significant delays, which they have a history of implementing. There was little hubbub made around the announcement, so they’re moving forward.

How Important was Average Position?
When it was announced, the removal of average position didn’t come as a huge shock to advertisers. The metric had historically provided some semblance of ranking, but never painted the fullest of pictures.

For example, an average position of 1.0 could be achieved by appearing as the first paid advertisement within a search engine results page (SERP) – regardless of ad placement. So, an ad could appear in position 1.0 above the organic results, but could also show below the organic results and earn the same ranking. Quite misleading, seeing as ads at the bottom of the page have a much lower likelihood of getting clicks. This, in turn, affects click-through-rate (CTR), which affects quality score (QS), which affects cost-per-click (CPC).

Metrics Advertisers Should Focus on Moving Forward
The removal of average position puts the onus on newer metrics – introduced Q4, 2018 – that provide insight into placement as opposed to rank. Google has labeled these prominence metrics. They are:

  • Absolute Top – ad was shown in the very first position above the organic results
  • Top – ad was shown in any of the positions above the organic results
  • Impression (Absolute Top) % – percentage of impressions appearing at the absolute top of page
  • Impression (Top) % – percentage of impressions appearing at the top of page

There are also new impression share metrics that depict an advertiser’s share in relation to these new metrics:

  • Search (Absolute Top) Impression Share – impressions received in the absolute top position divided by estimated number of impressions eligible to receive in the top position
  • Search (Top) Impression Share – impressions received in the top position divided by estimated number of impressions eligible to receive in the top position

These new metrics help advertisers understand one vital piece of information: how often they’re appearing above the fold. The average position metric couldn’t say that. Despite providing absolutes (i.e. an average position of 1.6), it never truly gave advertisers an understanding of where their ads were shown.

The addition of the auction insights feature within Google Ads gave a little more gravity to average position. For example, advertisers could use auction insights to understand how much higher or lower their average position was compared to their nearest competitor. But if the competition’s ads show above the fold more often, does it really matter if you outrank them on average?

The idea of an ad not being viewable was never a problem associated to paid search, but it has been flying under the radar for quite some time. These prominence metrics will bring some semblance of the concept of viewability to search, something that has been noticeably missing since Google reimagined the SERP layout in early 2016.

Similar Issues with Impression Share
Other metrics within Google’s arsenal have also had similar faults – impression share being one of them. An overall impression share number rarely provides the best representation of market share for a campaign.

First off, impression share is dependent on the mix of keywords within a campaign. The keyword build of one advertiser is guaranteed to be at least somewhat different than their competitors. Having a higher impression share than a competitor doesn’t mean you own more of the market, it means you garner more impressions for the terms you’re both mutually advertising on.

Second, there will always be lower impression share keywords that are vital to a campaign (think broader category terms that aren’t regularly clicked), but end up driving high impression totals. These keywords can single-handedly bring down the overall impression share of a campaign. At Empower, we like to concentrate on the idea of impression share for converting terms i.e. what’s the impression share of terms that have converted – or resulted in a desired action – over a given timeframe? How these terms perform from an impression share perspective can help determine a brand’s true market share as it relates to their search-specific goals.

Bidding Farewell to Average Position
Despite the positives this change will usher in, there will still be those who lament the loss of average position. Advertisers who have grown accustomed to using it as a direct gauge of competitive pressure and advertisers using the metric to inform their algorithmic bidding or automated rules strategies fit under that bucket.

These advertisers should rest easy, though. For those worried about understanding competitive pressure, the new prominence metrics will paint a more vibrant picture of the competitive search landscape than ever before. The same can be said for those concerned with bidding and automated rule adjustments. They should be agile enough to shift towards basing these decisions on the prominence metrics as well.

Overall, the shift away from average position comes with more pluses than minuses. It will allow advertisers to understand what position their ad spend is truly earning them. There’s also solace in the fact that advertisers will know their ads have the capacity to be seen. With all the dollars going towards understanding viewability within the programmatic space, it’s nice to finally see that same logic applied to the search landscape.

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