Google Ads has announced that one of its oldest performance metrics, “average position” will be retired by September this year.
Last year, Google Ads made the long-awaited transition over from its old interface to its new one, permanent for all advertisers. With the switch came a number of new features and updates. One of the more subtle changes, which can now be viewed as a precursor to the most recent update, was the removal of “Average Position” as a default metric for campaign performance, requiring any user who wished to look at it, manually go into the “modify columns” option to re-add it as a metric to the overall dashboard. “Average position” was then quietly moved from “Performance” to “Competitive Metrics”, making it even more of an inconvenience to add back into the standard metric display.
Then in November, Google Ads introduced four new ad position metrics. First, it was the “Impression (Top) %” and “Impression (Absolute Top) %” metrics that aimed to provide a more accurate way of measuring an ads prominence on the SERP. Then Google brought in the “Search (Top) IS” and “Search (Absolute Top) IS” to help advertisers measure the impressions their ad received, relative to the number of impressions it was eligible to receive.
Now, Google has announced their plans to withdraw the long-standing “average position” metric from its advertising experience because, they say, it lacks the clarity required for advertisers to understand ad prominence, and has effectively been made redundant by the four new metrics mentioned above. What’s more, “average position” has long been misinterpreted as the position of where that ad appears on the SERP; whilst it is more accurate think of it as a form of ad rank within the ad auction.
The Evolution of “Average Position”
When Google AdWords (now just Ads) launched almost 20 years ago, “average position” was a metric used to define how an ad had performed in the ad auction, in comparison to its competitors. As the Search landscape has evolved over the past two decades, the way in which we measure the performance of our ad campaigns has changed simultaneously and this the consequence of that change.
From the earliest days of Google AdWords, right up until 2016, ads could be displayed on the right-hand side of the search results, as well as above and below. Initially, before Ad Rank was introduced, the ad positions above the organic search results were reserved for more premium companies that paid for ads on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) basis whilst smaller advertisers ads would be displayed on the right rail, and paid for on a CPC (cost per click) basis. Therefore, whatever your “average position” was reported to be, was the position within either the right rail or above the search results, depending on your bidding strategy.
This method of ad positioning was then replaced with Ad Rank which is a ranking metric calculated from CPC bid and CTR; only the most relevant ads would take the top of page positions above the organic results. This now meant that an “average position” of 1 meant that your ad had won the auction and was positioned first before any other ads. Whether this was at the top of the page, or on the right rail, was now an unknown.
To complicate the meaning of “average position” even more, Google then began displaying ads beneath the search results. Confusingly, those displayed beneath the search results ranked higher than those displayed on the right-hand side which meant that lower ranking ads would be displayed higher on the SERPs than higher ranking ones.
Over time, more developments have led to the real meaning of “average position” to become more blurred and less helpful for advertisers. Changes to auction rules, the introduction of new ad formats such as shopping ads, the removal of the right rail and more, have all slightly altered how the “average position” score translates into an actual position on the SERP.
Furthermore, Google is eager to eliminate the use of manual bidding as it improves and expands on its machine learning offerings. The ease and speed of automated bidding, now means that advertisers are no longer using “average position” to help them set bids for bid-to-position strategies, which have become so much as defunct over time. Instead, automated strategies such as Enhanced CPC and Target ROAS promise to provide advertisers with much better results.
As one of the original and oldest performance metrics of Google AdWords, those that have been advertising with Google for a long time may feel sad to see “average position” go. However, Google understandably feels the need to make changes that align with the direction in which Search advertising is going. Plus, it is replacing “average ad position” with metrics that will actually tell you where your ad appeared on the SERP which will be much more useful. “Average position” is going to be discontinued from September 2019, so there are six months to get to grips with what Top and Absolute Top impression share mean, update your bidding strategies and reconfigure how you report on your campaigns.