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Goodbye Average Position

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

Written by Neil Baker

As we bid farewell to Google’s average position, M.i. Media warns that advertisers need to be on the front foot.

In its biggest change to advertisers since removing the side ads, on 30th September Google are taking average position away from us - one of its oldest and most used metrics. Google seems to think that this is an outdated metric and feels that we should concentrate more on impressionable metrics as opposed to average position.

What is Average Position?

When competing in a Google ads auction you will be assigned an ad rank based on numerous factors including your quality score and your bid. Based on your ad rank in that given auction, Google will then give you an ad position somewhere on their search page -position 1 being the top spot. Average position is then the average ad position you have appeared in a given period of time.

What Can We Do Now?

Now is the time to switch tracking Average Position to the top two alternatives:

1. Search Top IS:

This metric will allow you to see how often your ads appear in any of the 1-4 positions available above the organic search results. This is dependent on how many ads appear in the particular search.

2. Search Abs. Top IS:

This metric will allow you to see how often your ads appear in the number one spot, the absolute top position.

The Issue

Google Ads and search marketing is about bidding on a keyword to hit a position on a page that gives you the greatest return on investment. The position you appear in is an important part of this, as different positions tend to determine different levels of results e.g. a different amount of impressions, a change in CTR, different amount of conversions etc. What Google aims to achieve by making this information vague and less specific is difficult to work out, particularly when all of us PPCers’ depend heavily on using data to make strategic decisions.

It shouldn’t really affect those appearing in the top spot, as position 1 is essentially now put into a percentage by Search Abs. Top IS. However, to replace positions 1-4 with Search Top IS is more concerning. There can be a huge difference in performance between position 2 and 4, so to group it all together is a big jump.

A problem will also come with people wanting to appear in a lower position in a search, such as 3 or 4. These positions are cheaper and therefore can be more cost effective but we are now unable to test the difference in positional strategies. Effectively, Google could take more money appearing in a higher position and all we would know is that its appeared somewhere in one of the top search areas, not knowing whether we can bring bids down or should raise them.

It seems as though their intention is to push us into relying more on automation, specifically automated bidding. This is not how they have framed it to advertisers and a lack of openness about their intentions has certainly ruffled feathers. Even though average position isn’t perfect, it is a lot clearer when mixed with impression metrics than by using the impressionable metrics alone

Will Microsoft Ads Follow Suit?

Whatever Google changes, Bing are never far behind. They have recently (July 2019) introduced Top Impression Share and Absolute Top Impression Share to their metrics as well as metrics to show if either are lost to rank or budget.

Nahva Tecklu, Program Manager at Microsoft has confirmed that there is no intention to remove average position as they have “heard continuous feedback that shows this information is still very valuable to you”. Thanks for listening to your advertisers Microsoft.

Potential Side Effects

We could see one of four things happen here in terms of costing.

  1. People go wild bidding for a larger impression share (highly likely at first).

  2. Impression share automated bidding takes over (this could lead to people bidding for more share than they are used to and driving costs up).

  3. Bids come down as people are more content with having a split impression share.

  4. Nothing changes (unlikely).

What steps should you take now?

You firstly need to know what position you perform best in - how do you translate it to the impression metrics?

You should be creating spreadsheets of the different positions you have been in, how they performed in these positions. Next step is to find how that translates to the new impression share metrics - this will get you ahead of the game and more importantly, ahead of your competitors. However, you must hurry as this has to be done before the metric disappears!

Due to the nature of our performance focus and rigour here at M.i Media we have already begun testing impression share strategies for clients and will continue to be adaptable to any changes that Google throw at our clients. If you have any doubts whether your search teams are as prepared, then why not get in touch.

Goodbye Average Position. We’re ready for the new Google era.