Google recently announced the somewhat controversial decision to ‘sunset’ the Google Ads average position metric by September 2019. Google Ads has seen many changes over the years; even changing it’s name in the not too distant past (I’m still not quite out of the habit of calling it AdWords) and many features and metrics have come and gone, but the average position metric has been one of the constants. But that is all due to change so let’s take a look at the pro’s and con’s and what it means for advertisers.
Google’s official line is that average position has become obsolete and 4 new metrics rolled out in November 2018 – “Impression (Absolute Top) %”, “Impression (Top) %”, “Search absolute top impression share” and “Search (Top) IS” – actually give you a better view of your prominence on the page than average position does. And that is largely correct. What you may not know is that you could actually hold an average position of 1.0 and yet still not appear at the top of the page. Average position is just an indicator of where you appear in relation to other ads, so you could be at the bottom of the page below the organic results but still in position one. You could also hold a very high average position with a low impression share. So you appear in top position when your ad shows, but it only shows on a small proportion of searches. The new metrics show you your position on the page rather than just your position versus other advertisers.
But the question is does average position even matter for a well-developed target driven strategy? I realised when considering this change that I actually rarely look to average position when I’m making bidding decisions. The major decision-making metrics are ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) or CPA (Cost per Acquisition) or any other conversion driven KPI. If a keyword is picking up enough traffic and data to suggest it is not performing to target, I would be inclined to pull the bid down and reduce spend on that keyword regardless of average position. The average position does play into thinking on the other hand when we’re considering increasing bids on keyword performing above target. But only to the extent that if a keyword was already holding average position 1.0 the chances are you are not likely to gain more of that traffic by increasing your bid as you already have position dominance. But actually as mentioned above the new metrics just make that analysis easier and more accurate.
There is a drawback though if you wanted to understand the competitiveness of the auction or to gradually move toward prominent positions. I have in the past made small incremental bid increases to keywords near to target to see what level of CPC (Cost per Click) it would take for us to gain a position and the impact that has on CTR (Click Through Rate), clicks and conversions. And that is made harder to analyse. You can make a connection between a position change and any change in the other metrics – whereas if the increases have no impact on average position and the other metrics change you can analyse whether that was a factor of seasonality or maybe other external influences. The new metrics don’t give you the same opportunity as positions 2-4 are technically grouped under the same percentage score with Impression (Top) %. You can still test the impact incremental bids have on CTR, Clicks and conversions, but it’s harder to understand whether a small bid increase has made any difference to the auction prominence (and whether that was, therefore responsible for any changes in other metrics).
So the question is who wins and loses from this change?
Time will tell just how big or small an impact this will have, but I think a good tip is to start understanding the correlation between average position and the new metrics now while they’re both visible to you and when the time comes that we wave goodbye to average position you’ve already build “Impression (Absolute Top) %”, “Impression (Top) %”, “Search absolute top impression share” and “Search (Top) IS” into your strategy so average position won’t be missed.