In some significant news out of the Ads wing of Google HQ last week, it was announced that Google Ads will be sunsetting the Average Position metric. If you’re surprised (like I was) you can relax for now – the change isn’t coming until September. Surprised as I was, upon reflection the change makes a lot of sense. Below I’ll explain the “why” behind the move, as well as metrics to pay attention to moving forward.
Why Did Google Ads Get Rid of Average Position?
From my first day in Paid Media, average position has been there as a metric to determine the viewability of your ads. In addition, it could be used to optimize your campaigns – if your campaign ROI was good and average position was low, raise your CPC bid. If your campaign ROI was poor and your average position was high, lower your CPC bid. Things aren’t quite that simple anymore – here are some other things that were also true at that time:
- Ads were one 25 character headline and two 35 character descriptions
- Ads were shown at the top, the side, and the bottom of the search results
- Yahoo was a big player in the PPC world (harsh but true, sorry Yahoo)
- Facebook didn’t have an ads program
- Bing didn’t exist yet
- Neither did Twitter
Old man “back in my day” facts aside, enough has changed to make Average Position an obsolete metric, namely the first two bullets. Ad copy has tripled in size, giving advertisers the opportunity to provide much more information pre-click. In other words, Google expects users to choose the right ad rather than click on the first one shown.
In addition, sidebar ads were eliminated a few years ago to offer a better user experience and to align Desktop and Mobile layouts. A less prominent consequence is that ads don’t show above all organic listings for every auction, let alone the same quantity of ads. So if one ad is shown #3 in the top listings and another is shown #1 below all the organic results, #3 had the better viewability. Think about it like you would with Display Ads and viewable impressions – why would you measure an impression someone didn’t see the same as an impression above the fold?
Given the news, I realized I have rarely prioritized Average Position when optimizing campaigns for my clients. Campaign ROI, regardless of position, is always much more important than relative viewability. The ad’s position naturally contributes to this position, but ROI and position are not linear. If you could buy one first position click or five third position clicks for $20, your success is going to be much more likely to buy the higher volume of less expensive clicks.
What Are the Alternative Metrics to Average Position?
Just because Average Position is going away doesn’t mean that you should stop measuring the positioning and viewability of your Google Ads. It’s just time to be smarter and more strategic about it. Below are some metrics you should get familiar with and add to your default columns in Google Ads!
Impression Share – Impression Share provides you a percentage of impressions you received overall compared to all eligible impressions. Eligible impressions refer to searches on keywords that match your criteria, within your ad scheduling & location targeting. While Impression Share doesn’t tell you where your ad is showing (more on that later!), it’s important to focus on *why* you’re losing out on impressions.
Google provides two additional metrics tied to this one, Impression Share Lost (budget) and Impression Share Lost (rank). If your campaign is meeting its ROI goals and you’re losing impressions due to budget, you’re costing yourself money! Increase that budget and drive a higher volume of sales. If your campaign is exceeding its ROI goals and you’re losing impressions due to rank, increase those bids to cut into the margin but increase your scale!
Important to note that just as achieving a 1.0 Average Position for a campaign is an unrealistic goal, so is 100% Impression Share. If your campaign is set up using Advanced Targeting (device, location, audience, demographic) it should have bid modifiers set up to win impressions that will convert and lose impressions that won’t. To use a baseball analogy, the pitches you don’t swing at are just as important as the ones you do swing at.
Top Impression Share – What exactly is a Top Impression? Google kindly provided a graphic to answer just that:
Top Impression Share is going one step further from your Impression Share by letting you know your market share in the real estate above the organic results. These are your above the fold impressions on Desktop and Mobile (at least the top two). From a strategy perspective, the closer this total is to your Impression Share the better, as these are the most likely to be clicked. You can also use Top Impression Rate to measure this goal. In addition, if you have top performing Audiences or Demographics you will want to make sure to optimize to this metric to be sure your most likely consumers are seeing your message.
Absolute Top Impression Share – Referring back to the Top Impression graphic from Google, you can see an Absolute Top Impression is position 1. Absolute Top Impression Share tells you what percentage of your eligible impressions are ending with a #1 ranking. This is the closest metric to Average Position if you wanted to mimic a positioning bid strategy. If your campaign objective is branding and visibility, setting bid strategies to maximize Absolute Top Impressions will be key.
Average Position has served us well for over a decade, and we’ll always have those early days. It’s not you, Average Position, it’s us – our marketing skills have evolved and advanced past simply fighting for the top spot. As marketers, let’s spend the next few months promoting and embracing our new metrics, educate our clients, and update those bid strategies!