It’s happened – Google has finally retired the Average Position metric. After making an announcement back in February 2019, one of the original search metrics has gone forever. So what are we supposed to use instead?

What was Google Ads Average Position?

Just in case you’ve already forgotten about it, Average Position referred to the order of where your ad appeared in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Note that it referred to the order and not the location. That means your ad could have been given the top position, yet still show underneath the organic results. More on this later.

Commonly used for reporting, it was a useful metric for seeing how you stack up against the competition.

However, the supreme overlords at Google no longer deemed it worthy of measuring performance, so axed it at the end of September 2019.

Why did Google get rid of Average Position?

In short: Google thought it was rubbish.

The good news is that Google has given us a few new metrics to play with.

The official announcement said that “[The] new metrics give you a much clearer view of your prominence on the page than average position does.”

You’d hope so since there’s now no way of finding out Average Position whatsoever.

(Cheers, Google.)

What do people in the industry think about the move?

That depends who you ask.

It looks like more people were against the removal of the metric than for it, but Google has given it the chop regardless.

Google managed to find at least one fan though:

“Top and Absolute Top impression share metrics have given my clients a clearer idea of where their ads show on the search results page. By focusing on these new metrics, we’re able to bid more effectively to achieve the very first ad position when desired.”

Some have suggested that sunsetting Average Position is part of Google’s not-so-subtle way of trying to encourage more advertisers to use automated bidding strategies.

“[The] goal of automated strategies is to get your ad wherever it has the best chance to convert—versus owning the top of the SERP—I think this decision reiterates the shift to automation and away from AdWords.”

Some people aren’t bothered whatsoever.

…and others turned to Twitter to vent their frustration.

Either way, now it’s gone, we all have to make do with what we do have.

Fortunately, Google has introduced a few alternatives to Average Position in Google Ads, so it’s time to get familiar with those if you haven’t already.

What alternatives to Average Position do we have?

New metrics to replace Average Position

There are a few new kids on the block that appear to be worthy contenders. In fact, one of them could even be used as something of a straight swap for Average Position, but it isn’t necessarily the one that you might expect.

With the exception of the aformentioned “ugly duckling”, in general, these new metrics tend to fall into two categories:

  1. Location metrics
  2. Impression share metrics

Google has provided more information about all of these metrics on its Google Ads Help website, which is well worth a read.

Location metrics

Search top impression share (IS): Search top IS

This metric measures the percentage of time that your ads appear above organic (SEO) results.

Search absolute top impression share: Search abs. top IS

Google describes this metric as “…the percentage of your Search ad impressions that are shown in the most prominent Search position.”

In English? How much of the time your ads show in position 1.

This is a particularly handy metric for brand bidding or if you have a boss or client who has to be in the top spot no matter what.

Impression share metrics

Search lost top impression share (rank): Search lost top IS (rank)

“Search lost top impression share (rank) estimates how often your ad didn’t show anywhere above the organic search results due to poor Ad Rank,” says Google.

This is definitely a metric to watch. If this shows higher than zero, then your ads aren’t always showing up above the organic results and you may need to increase your Ad Rank. That means improving your Quality Score, boosting your bids, or possibly both.

In fact, in my tests, I found that this metric correlated the most with Average Position. That is, as Search lost top IS (rank) got larger (closer to 100%), the average position also fell (went down to position 4 or lower).

That could indicate that the less Search lost top IS you have, the higher position you’re likely to have (or vice versa!).

Search lost absolute top impression share (rank): Search lost abs. top IS (rank)

This measures how often your ad wasn’t the very first ad above the organic search results due to having too poor an Ad Rank.

Search lost top impression share (budget): Search lost top IS (budget)

How often your ad didn’t show anywhere above the organic search results due to the budget being too low.

Search lost absolute top impression share (budget): Search lost abs. top IS (budget)

This is Google’s best guess of how often your ad wasn’t the very first ad above the organic search results due to having too low a budget.

Search exact match impression share (IS): Search exact match IS

“The exact match impressions that you’ve received divided by the estimated number of exact match impressions that you were eligible to receive on the Search Network,” according to Google.

This is probably useful to someone somewhere. Probably.

The ugly duckling

There’s a really useful metric that isn’t actually any of the above that could function as a bit of a straight swap for Average Position.

If you haven’t heard of it, Click Share may be your new best friend.

“Click share is the estimated share of all achievable clicks that you’ve received, and is available only for Search and Shopping campaigns.”

Since ads in higher positions tend to get a higher proportion of clicks in the SERPs, Click Share is pretty much identical to Average Position, just the other way up (the higher, the better).

If anything, Click share is arguably more useful than Average Position which wasn’t that useful in the first place.

Why Average Position wasn’t that great anyway

While plenty of us were sad to see Average Position go, this is probably as good a time as any to point out some of its many flaws.

“In essence, “average position” should have been named “auction rank” to better reflect its meaning. The word ‘position’ refers to a relative position compared to other advertisers and has nothing to do with a physical position on the page where the ad is shown. Advertisers often care more about where their ad is shown rather than who they were beating in the auction so the average position metric became less meaningful and it’s no surprise it is being sunset by Google.”

It gets worse. Let’s say, for example, your ad shows in Position 1, then Position 1 again and then in Position 4. Your average position is 2.

How is solely knowing that the Average Position is 2 useful for optimising those ads?

Answer: It isn’t.

More catches

Your ad could be sitting in position 2 above the organic results or below the organic results. What would you have seen for the Average Position in either situation? Average Position: 2.

You only used to get an average position when your ad showed too, so if your ad showed once in position 1, it’d say “Average Position: 1”, but wouldn’t have given you any indication whatsoever that the ad’s not showing most of the time.

Average position was a bit of a weird metric anyway. After all, there isn’t really a position 2.3, 1.4 or 3.5 – only whole numbers like 1, 2, 3 and 4. You might have optimised your ads to appear at position 2.5…but what did that actually mean?

So in summary, while we might be sad that it’s gone and it may make reporting a little more difficult, Average Position really wasn’t that great anyway.

What’s next? Predictions for the future

Some have suggested that, without the focus on position, we’ll either end up targeting the top spot or anywhere on the page. Who knows what kind of effect this could have on the Average CPC (or the knock-on effect on the average cost per acquisition), but costs are unlikely to swing in the favour of the advertiser.

This is currently only a Google-only announcement but given recent history, I’m predicting that one of the following three things will happen over on Microsoft Advertising:

  1. Bing will do what it always does and copy Google, introducing new metrics and eliminating Average Position
  2. Bing will do what it always does and copy Google, introducing new metrics and keeping Average Position
  3. or…they’ll do nothing whatsoever

My heart says number 2, my head says number 1. Only time will tell!

Data-driven strategy

At Impression, our team use the latest data-driven insights to power our PPC and paid media strategies.

We’re trusted by some of the UK’s biggest and best-known brands to tackle changes in the PPC landscape just like this, as well as smaller, local clients that we’ve stuck by and who have stuck by us for years.

To find out more about how we’re constantly navigating the ever-changing world of pay-per-click advertising and coming out on top, contact us today.

Nathan Ifill

PPC Executive

PPC Account Executive at Impression. Putting the ‘ting’ into ‘digital marketing’. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @nathanifill

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