Good-Bye Old Friend – ‘Average Position’ Metric is Leaving Google Ads

It’s been dreaded by PPC managers for a while now, but Average Position which was one of the original Search metrics for Google Ads will be discontinued on the week of 30th September 2019.

Users will have to learn to adapt as Average Position was one of the most fundamental ways one could gauge the performance of their campaigns and a metric one could optimize towards.

Importantly what are the reasons for Google making this change and how are we now meant to find out where our Ads will be placed within the Google Search results page (SERP)?

Why Remove Average Position?

To sum up Google’s view on Average Position, they pretty much view it as an obsolete metric.

Earlier this year in February they forewarned us of the impending removal of Average Position and suggested us to utilise two new metrics they rolled out known as “Impression (Absolute Top) %” and “Impression (Top) %” (more on this in our next section). In their eyes Average Position no longer provides a clear view of where your ads sit within the SERPs.

Average Position as a metric is a relative term that compares how you’re showing against your competitors but most importantly it doesn’t tell you exactly where you appear on the SERP (i.e. top of the page or below the fold). Since in Google Ads sometimes regardless of what your Average Position is, your ad could appear top or below the page even if you possessed a high Ad Position which makes this metric weak in displaying the full information you want on where your ad is placed. This aspect is essentially what Google is trying to convey in their decision to remove Average Position as a core metric.

How Should I Adapt Without Average Position?

Google rolled out two new metrics that are to replace Average Position which have been named as “Impression (Absolute Top) %” and “Impression (Top) %”. These two metrics can be used to find out the percentage of impressions that have been placed in the ad positions areas which Google describe as Absolute Top of the Page and Top of the Page. The image provided by Google shows where these two terms apply within the SERPs:

As can be seen in the image, ‘Absolute Top’ refers to what would be the highest position within the top of the page whereas ‘Top’ refers to being within the top of the page in general that is above the organic listings. We can see from this how Google aims to rectify the lack of positional information we get from Average Position as a metric before. Using “Impression (Top) %” as a metric to work out your position, if you had 60% ‘Impression (Top) %’ then you’ll know that 60% of your Impressions appeared on the top of the page whereas 40% of your other Impressions will have appeared on the bottom of the page. So simple enough in how to use the metric moving forward.

What’s Haystacks Verdict on The Changes?

From our view, this change won’t affect most people’s day to day running of their own Google Ads campaigns massively, but we can’t help but feel it’s just another further shift by Google in making changes to emphasise more towards automated bidding. Google is recent times have been strongly confident in how effective their automated bidding strategies are and this change further pushes their stance in encouraging users to shift towards them. Seen below is an example of how the two new metrics introduced can be used in the ‘Target Impression Share’ bid strategy, you can tweak the target percentage for any of the 3 ad position options ‘Anywhere on results page’, ‘Top of results page’ and ‘Absolute top of results page’.

From our experience, automated bidding strategies have always been very hit and miss in achieving the targets we set for them. We do still believe in good-old fashioned manual bidding in controlling how our campaigns perform and tweak them actively to guide them into the direction we want. For some manual bidding PPC experts they rely on Average Position to help gauge both costs and conversions to find the most optimum rank for certain clients and industries. In campaigns we’ve worked on, we would gradually bid around each Ad Position to find the most efficient position for our client to target.  With Ad Position being removed this can no longer be performed and if a client were to tell us he wants priority that we stay on average within 1st and 2nd positions within Google Ads, this target will need to be reassessed as no longer is it possible to gauge on average how often we reach 2nd position considering now it is part of the ‘Top of page’ metric.

As much as we appreciate that automated bidding strategies aim to make things simpler for advertisers in requiring less work when Google’s machine learning can perform it for you, it isn’t perfect. We do have experiences of it not working the way we want and costs being higher than if we were to manually optimise them ourselves. As Google continues eroding our bidding rights, the less control we will slowly have in fully influencing our campaigns as we move more towards automation.

Gary Chiu - PPC guru & food connoisseur