Google has officially announced that at the end of this month (Sept. 2019) they’ll be removing the average position metric from Google Ads and will be introducing some new metrics to help advertisers better understand where their ads appear on the search results page.
This announcement caused confusion among many advertisers because many people are bidding and optimizing their advertising campaigns in order to get their ads to a top position.
In this post, I’ll try to cover exactly why Google is removing the metric and what actions you need to take if you’re using position-based bidding strategies.
Why Removing Avg. pos.?
Why did Google remove the average position metric?
Based on their official announcement “Prepare for average position to sunset”, they remove the column because they now have 2 new metrics to provide a “clearer view of where your ads appear on search pages”.
The keyword here is “clearer view”.
In other words, Google considers that the Average position doesn’t’ provide a good understanding of where your ads appear in the SERPs anymore and they want you to start using the new metrics in order to better understand and optimize your ad position.
It also turns out that many advertisers understand the Average position as the actual position where the ads appear, which is not exactly the case, as I will explain below.
What is (was) Avg. pos. in Google Ads?
Before I get into more details, I will just remind you what exactly is (or used to be) Avg. position in Google Ads.
Google’s definition of the metric Average position was:
“A statistic that describes how your ad typically ranks against other ads. This rank determines in which order ads appear on the page.”
Avg. position was a mean average calculation made on individual ad level, determined by the number of impressions that your ad will get at each position.
Avg. position was based on (but not equivalent) to your Ad position.
Ad position, on the other hand, is the order of your ad in the auction results as compared to other ads.
For example, an ad position of “1” means an ad was the first ad shown, with no other ads ahead of it. An ad position of “2” was the second ad shown, and so on.
However, Ad position is not the exact location of your ad on the search results page, but it relates to the way the ads are ordered on the page.
For example, an ad position of “1” doesn’t necessarily mean that your ad is above the organic search results. It can mean that there are no ads above the search results and your ad is the first ad shown beneath the organic search results.
Ad Rank or how Ad position is determined
The exact location of your ad on the search results page is determined by another score called Ad rank: a score that Google calculates for every ad in the auction.
The Ad Rank is calculated based on your Quality Score and your Max CPC/CPM specified.
For more visual representation about Ad Rank, you can check the image below:
And even though Ad position is largely used and considered the same as Ad Rank, the two terms are not exactly the same. Ad Rank is the formula used to determine Ad position and Ad position it the ordering of the ads starting from the highest Ad Rank.
The result of this formula will return a value from 1 to 80, and the exact Ad positions (from 1 to 10) will be distributed based on the Ad rank score.
So, all of these metrics Avg. Position – Ad position – Ad rank – Quality Score – Max CPC work in equations together in order to determine where your ads will appear, but they don’t tell you the exact location of the ads.
They are meant to tell you how you perform in the ad auction and if you achieve the top ad positions in the auctions.
The Avg. Position metric was just a mean average calculation, determined by the number of impressions that your ad will get at each Ad position.
The evolution of the SERPs or why the change now?
Sure, Avg. Position and Ad position had always spur some confusion among advertisers, but they became particularly confusing and useless because of the significant changes in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) from the past 2-3 years.
Back in the days, the SERPs had 3 positions for ads on the top of the page (above the organic search results) and a space for ads on the right side.
Back then, when an ad was in position one, it could mean the ad was at the top of the page or that it was the first one on the right side of the page (if no advertisers won the top in the auction).
During recent years the SERPs changed drastically: we lost the ads on the right, we have more shopping ads, Google’s own offers, and in addition and mobile search is on the rise. All this means that for some keywords, the majority of the space is already taken by other elements and Ad position number one may be very low.
This is especially true on mobile devices, where the number 1 Ad position can even come after the first scroll.
New metrics will replace Avg. pos.
So, we can say that because of the complexity of how the actual ad position is calculated and the evolution of the SERPs in the past few years, Google doesn’t think that Avg. Position is a useful metric anymore.
Instead, in November 2018 they’ve decided to introduce 2 new metrics which, instead of giving a position number, describe what percent of your ads appear at the top of the page and absolute top of the page. The new metrics are called:
- Search absolute top impression rate, also written “Impression (Absolute Top) %”
- Search top impression rate, also written “Impression (Top) %“.
In addition to these, Google Ads advertisers will also be able to bid on the following related metrics:
- “Search absolute top impression share”
- “Search (Top) impression share” and
- Target Impression Share
New Google Ads position metrics to understand the location of your ads
Search absolute top impression rate: “Impr. (Abs.Top) %”
Search absolute top impression rate, abbreviated as “Impr. (Abs.Top) %” is the percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results.
The first ad above the organic search results is called Absolute Top.
Search absolute top impression rate = Number of Impressions on the absolute top/Total Number of Impressions x 100
Search top impression rate: “Impr. (Top) %”
Search top impression rate, abbreviated as “Impr. (Top) %” is the percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results.
Search top impression rate = Number of Impressions on top/ Total Number of Impressions x 100
Note that the Top placements include the Absolute top, but the Absolute top is limited to the very first position only, as they are shown in the image below:
New position metrics to bid on to improve the location of your ads
Advertisers can use the impression rates explained above as reporting metrics to understand where their ads appear.
On the other hand, if you want to bid to increase your ads positions, you’ll need to use “Search top impression share” and “Search absolute top impression share”
Search top impression share: “Search top IS”
Search top impression share, abbreviated as “Search top IS” is the impressions you’ve received in the top location (anywhere above the organic search results) compared to the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location (anywhere above the organic search results).
Search top impression share = Number of Impressions on top* / Number of eligible** impressions on top
*Notice that the top location is anywhere ads appear above the organic search results.
**Eligibility is based on your current ads’ targeting settings, approval statuses, bids, and quality.
Use this metric to bid on the top page locations, above the organic search results.
Search absolute top impression share: “Search abs. top IS”
Search absolute top impression share, abbreviated as “Search abs. top IS” is the impressions you’ve received in the absolute top location (the very first ad above the organic search results) divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location (anywhere above the organic search results).
Absolute top impression share = Number of Impressions on absolute top / Number of eligible impressions on top
Use this metric to bid on the very first position in the SERPs; the first location above the organic search results and above the other top locations.
How will Google advertisers be impacted by this change and what actions should you take?
To prepare for this change advertisers will need to review and modify different settings in their Google Ads campaigns and reports, such as:
- Rules using average position
- Google Ads scripts using average position
- Custom columns using average position
- Saved reports that filter on average position
- Saved filters with average position
Naturally, you will lose all filters, column sets, and dashboards that include the average position column.
You will be most impacted by this change if you’re using target position bidding strategies and bidding rules, which are still based on average positions. In this case, you’ll need to start bidding to impression shares instead of the target position.
How do you shift your bidding strategy?
If you used position bid strategy in Search Ads 360, Google had already forced you to replace them with bid strategies that target impression share, as keyword position bid strategies were deprecated in August 2019.
Target impression share is a Smart Bidding strategy that automatically sets your keyword bids depending on where you want your ads to show. There are three options (goals) for the Target impression share strategy:
- On the absolute top of the page, or
- On the top of the page, or
- anywhere on the page.
If you’re already bidding on Target impression share, Google is actually using search top impression share and search absolute top impression share, so no further actions are required.
However, if you’re using third-party bid management tools to manage SEM campaigns, you may need to make the change directly in the bidding tool, depending on their instructions.
Marine Software, for example, informed all their clients that in order to facilitate the switch from target position to impression share bidding, they will automatically set suggested impression share targets “based on your current folder settings and the resulting folder performance”. Advertisers will then need to review the suggested impression share targets and manually adjust them if needed.
Above, you can see the recommended impression share metrics that Marine Software recommended to target instead of the avg. position metric. I would recommend closely monitoring your performance during the first months after the switch and manually adjusting them accordingly.