Google's Average Position Exits Stage Left

Google is continuing to keep advertisers on their toes by bringing changes to how we’ve historically viewed competitive position for search ads.

Last week, they announced that average position will be riding off into the sunset come September of this year, giving way to a group of new metrics recently released in Q4 2018. This is a big shake up to a metric that has long been viewed as the primary KPI to effective brand ownership, and a successful competitive share in the search engine results page (SERP). These new metrics are being called “Prominence Metrics” and include absolute top impression rate, top impression rate, search absolute top impression share, and search top impression share.

The Background

Since the start of Google search advertising in 2000, Google has provided average position as a metric to reflect where an ad shows in the order of the auction results. (What are “auction results”? An average position only describes where an ad ranks amongst other search text ads, without accounting for where those text ads ranked amongst the full results page. For example, this could mean that even with an average position of one, an ad could be below the top fold if there is a shopping unit or a local listings pack at the top of the results.) Advertisers and clients alike, have historically viewed an average position of one to be vital for core branded keywords, or any terms they want to increase visibility for.


In order to assist in this measurement, Google introduced Top Impression Share into Google Ads UI in November 2018, which highlights the percentage of your ad impressions that are shown at the top of the SERP. To further support this SERP measurement, they launched the Prominence Metrics.


Does this help advertisers?


Absolute Top Impression Share gives advertisers more clarity on whether their ads appear above or below the fold, providing deeper insight into changes in performance, including click-thru-rate and cost-per-clicks, when search ads are shown on specific parts of the page.


Google now allows “Target Impression Share” as a method for automated bidding strategies. Advertisers can now target Absolute Top of Results Page, Top of Results Page, or Anywhere on Results Page. This gives advertisers the ability to automatically optimize bids to achieve a specific spot on the results page.


What challenges does this create?

Compared to average position, impression share metrics are impacted by more factors than just bids. Daily budgets and geo targets can also play a role. Advertisers will need to consider additional optimization levers to impact top impression share.


Since these new metrics account for the full SERP, advertisers that are running both shopping and search campaigns will need to set new benchmarks on what the optimal top impression share should be for search ads.


Finally, contractual agreements regarding position in the auction will need to be revisited for any manufacturers or advertisers that produce their own brand/product, who currently have average position restrictions with their resellers or co-op partners.


Preparing for the switch

Advertisers should evaluate how these new metrics compare to their current KPIs and “position” goals. From there, determining the new mix of metrics and benchmarks will demonstrate true SERP ownership.

For any campaigns currently set to bid to an average position, they should be tested using the new impression share bid settings in AdWords. Most of the third-party management platforms, like Search Ads 360, Kenshoo, and Marin, will also be rolling out their updates for bidding to impression share in Q3 2019.

If accounts are currently impacted by average position restrictions from manufacturers or resellers, it’s best to begin those conversations now.

Our team here at iProspect has been preparing our accounts for these exciting shifts in ranking metrics. So far we’ve found, this new group of metrics, to be more impactful than average position in understanding where ads are being served on the SERP. As Google continues to introduce new ad formats, and testing changes to various pieces of the SERP, these metrics will be our primary tool to get a clear picture of how campaign performance is impacted.

So, in the famous words of Whitney Houston: “Goodbye, please don’t cry, we both know [average position] is not what you need.”

Lee Tatlock, Manager, Paid Search, also contributed to this post.