Google to sunset popular average position metric

You may have caught wind of this already, but Google plans to get rid of AdWords average position metric on September 29, 2019, which has left many marketers (and clients) wondering why and what metrics they should be looking at moving forward. To explain this shift from both a pay-per-click and SEO standpoint, we’ve asked our Sr. Paid Search Manager, Claire Hawkes, and Sr. SEO Manager, Kenzie Austin, to team up to provide you with their POV and what this means in their world and, for our clients.

Why is average position going away?

Average position was one of the original metrics in Google Ads when they launched their search advertising product called AdWords. Ad position has been a popular metric for PPC marketers to understand how specific ads are appearing relative to other ads in the search results pages. An ad ranking in average position #1 technically means it is the first ad shown on the search results compared to all other ads appearing on that page (more on that later). For marketers, this metric has been one of the main KPIs in performance reporting, as well as a strategic guide to smart ad bidding decisions.

So why would Google remove such a commonly used metric? Google’s logic for retiring average position is that this metric has become obsolete since the rise of mobile, the removal of right rail ads on desktop, along with the introduction of a few new position metrics. Many marketers are also speculating that this is a step in Google Ad’s shift away from AdWords to focus more on automated bidding, but that’s a story for another day.What does this mean moving forward? In short, advertisers are encouraged to use newer AdWords metrics, including search top impression rate and search absolute top impression rate metrics, to understand where ads are ranking on search results page and overall search performance. Below we will dive into how the removal of Google’s average position metric will impact both PPC and organic search marketers today.

What impact does this have on search advertisers?

A pay-per-click perspective

For advertisers, the most immediate impact of this change means that we must adjust if we’re using average position in any reports, rules, or scripts. But more importantly, we must rethink bidding strategies and performance analysis without the average position metric. Specifically, we must look at the new position metrics and decide how to leverage them in accordance with the strategy and goals of our accounts.

In the past, average position has been a helpful metric to determine where bids should be higher for relevant keywords with high competition. The metric has also been useful for determining where bids can be decreased, as high QC helps to boost average position without a large CPC.

Search top impression rate and search absolute top impression rate reveal two things: how often ads are at the top of the page when they get an impression and what share of all the top of page impressions they’re getting.

Organic search perspective

While the removal of AdWords average position metric has a more immediate impact on PPC, it is still something to be aware of when analyzing and reporting on your organic search campaigns. Historically, your ad appearing in the top (#1) ad position meant that your ad appeared ahead of all other ads for that given term, but that didn’t necessarily mean that your ad was showing at the very top of the search engine results page (or as we search nerds call it, SERP). In fact, there’s a chance that ad was appearing below organic results. That’s because ad position refers to the ordering of paid search results versus the other ads in the ad auction, not the actual location where the ad appears on the SERP.

With the introduction of the new position metrics, we will be able to more accurately understand where paid ads are appearing on the SERP and how those positions may impact the user’s overall experience and actions taken on the search results page, whether it’s an action on a paid ad or organic search result. In short, it’s equally as crucial for SEO managers to grasp these new AdWords position metrics to better understand the overall search landscape for a targeted keyword term, and how those paid positions may impact clicks and engagement on organic results.

Understanding the new AdWords metrics

One of the key takeaways of this shift for both PPC and organic search advertisers is to fully understand and leverage the new AdWords position metrics to align with the strategies and goals of your accounts. With that said, below is a list of the four new AdWords metrics Google has released to support the sunset of average position and help us more accurately understand where our ads appear on the SERP.

  • Impression (Absolute Top) Percentage: the percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results.
  • Impression (Top) Percentage: the percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results.
  • Search (Absolute Top) Impressions: 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.
  • Search (Top) Impressions: the impression 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.

The future view of performance

The retirement of one of the oldest metrics in PPC and Google search is a clear illustration that advertisers need to constantly stay alert within the digital ad landscape. Overall, this new chapter in position-based reporting allows for increased clarity and analysis into ad performance within the search results. And with any Google change, we as advertisers must remain flexible and open to familiarizing ourselves with new features, new metrics and an ever-evolving search landscape.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Google removing the average position metric and what that means for search. Feel free to connect with us!