[ Updated Mar 13, 2023 ]
7-MINUTE READ · By Tina Arnoldi
To the dismay of many PPC marketers, Google announced that they will remove the average position metric from Google ads starting September 30th, 2019. This announcement wasn’t a complete surprise since they told us back in February that this metric at some point would no longer be available. Let’s take a look at what it means and why it may not even matter.
Why the change?
Remember when we had ads on the right side of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page)? Back then, when an ad was in position one, it could mean the ad was at the top of the page like the Top NYC Cosmetic Dentists ad seen below. It could also mean that it was the first one on the right side of the page if no ads did not make it to the top in the auction. In that scenario, the below ad for Best Dentist New York City would be position one. (In this example, it is position four because there are three above it).
Google Ads have changed. Not only did we lose ads on the right column, we have new options with shopping ads that take up a lot of real estate and any ad taking the majority of space on a mobile device. It wasn’t clear what position number one really meant.
Position was a relative term comparing ads to competitors rather than the physical position on the page. An average is an average. The average position could end up being a position your ad was never actually in. For example, if your ad came up three times in positions two, two, and five for an average position of three; three was a physical position the ad was never in.
Google says that absolute impression (top of the page) and absolute top impression (first listing on the top of the page) are better measurements because they indicate the prominence of an ad more than the average position does.
What to measure instead
For clients who tell you they want to be number one on Google, they will be most interested in the absolute top impression share metric – although it’s good to note that having your ad in top spot doesn’t guarantee a good ROI. This is how often their ad shows at the very top of Google. However, the top impression share may be easier to track because it indicates ads are in the top spot of the SERPs. These are the two metrics that replace average position and are more meaningful than average position.
Other metrics are the absolute top impression rate and top impression rate which are the percentage of impressions that come from the top or very top of the SERPs. The final metric, Click share, is the estimated share of all achievable clicks received, and is available only for Search and Shopping campaigns. It indicates how well ads engage people compared to competitors.
Bid strategies just got more important
Everyone wants to be number one on Google and with organic listings, it is still a consideration in your SEO strategy. You want to be the first result that people see when they do a search. With some accounts I’ve managed, clients wanted to be the top ad in PPC campaigns and would do whatever it cost to be there. Maintaining that with manual bidding could be a real pain requiring too much manpower. But automated bidding and conversion tracking take manual tasks off of PPC managers. Target impression share is a useful automated bid strategy when your goal is to get your ads to a top position in the search results and should be a consideration for those worried about the loss of average position.
If you still use manual bidding on your accounts, you need to change that. Today. Spend time learning about automated bid strategies and select the right one for your goals. If you have clients who fear losing control of their accounts by moving away from a manual bid strategy, you may need to educate your clients a little bit about the benefits of automated bidding. Let Google do some of the legwork behind the scenes with machine learning for bids.
Pay attention to these new metrics mentioned above that reflect the placement of your Google Ads in the SERPs. Any metric that used average position in rules, reports, custom columns, scorecards, and saved filters will be disabled starting September 30th. Technical marketers and developers should take note that requests for the average position (AdWords API, Google Ads API) will return NULL values. The ValueTrack parameter for ad position should also be removed from tracking templates.
Keep an eye on costs and test some campaigns with the target impression share bid strategy. Be aware that you may see an increase in costs if more PPC managers optimize for the impression share metrics with that strategy. This adjustment could increase CPCs so optimize your campaigns now. This may be a great time to audit your Google Ads account.
Now that we understand what the average position metric really means and the difference between relative and physical position, know this change is not a significant loss. This is the time to ensure you have a good grasp of automated bid strategies. I can’t say it enough — If you have accounts that are not on an automated bid strategy, you need to change that and make sure your clients understand that what we can do manually has limits. Take advantage of automated capabilities so you spend more time on the higher level strategic work.
For clients who want their ads to stay at the top, test the target impression share bid strategy now and monitor those costs. As PPC managers, we may look at the new metrics mentioned above, but top impression share is likely the most helpful one for our clients. (Even though I realize the current metric is only an average, I still have aimed for an average of one, two, or three so I can easily spot which ad groups need “fixing” first to regain position). The absolute top is more of a moving target and not a successful metric of success.
Remember too that conversions matter. Being seen on Google ads or having people click on an ad is a good start, but will not necessarily put money in the bank. So while any change from Google can feel like “one more thing”, this is one of those that will not be a major adjustment to day-to-day Google Ads account management.
These new metrics are available in Supermetrics so if you were tracking average position, you can use these instead.
About Tina Arnoldi
Tina Arnoldi is Analytics and AdWords Qualified and one of the few people in the United States recognized as a Google Developer Expert (GDE) for marketing. Her agency, 360 Internet Strategy, is also a Google Partner. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn.
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