This might sound cynical, but I’m starting to get to the point where, whenever Google Ads rolls out a new feature, I begin wondering what they’re trying to replace. Last November, Google unveiled four new metrics that report on where ads show up on the Search Engine Results Page. Last month, Google announced that these metrics will completely supplant Average Position starting in September of this year.
Average Position has been around since the earliest days of Google Ads. It’s reported as a number between 1 and 7 and indicates how a given keyword (or campaign) ranks relative to other advertisers who are bidding on the same term. An Average Position of 1 means that your ad always shows above the competition, and an average position of 7 means that you’re at the bottom of the pile. Since these numbers are averages, they may not be reported as whole numbers. For example, if your ad shows up in the top spot 50% of the time and in the second spot the rest of the time, your Average Position will be 1.5. Depending on the consistency of your and your competitors’ bids throughout the day, Average Position can be either very close to your ad’s current position at a given time, or it might be in the middle of two extremes.
Google’s New Metrics
The new metrics that Google has rolled out tell a similar but slightly different story. To understand what they mean, we’ll need to go over a few definitions first.
Google has introduced two new ways of thinking about where ads show on the SERP called Top and Absolute Top. An ad that appears in the Top section of the SERP is above all organic listings. There are typically up to 3 ads in this section, but the exact numbers may vary by keyword.
Absolute Top means the very first ad result on the SERP, which most of us think about as being equivalent to position 1 under the old system.
Here’s a quick graphic to help show the difference between these sections of the SERP:
Two of the new metrics, Impression (Top) % and Impression (Absolute Top) % indicate how much of the time your ads appear in the Top and Absolute Top sections, respectively. They’re calculated by dividing the number of impressions an ad received in whichever area you’re assessing by the total number of impressions served during a given period of time. To go back to our earlier example, if your ad shows at the very top of the page half the time and in the second spot the rest of the time, your Impression (Top) % will be 100% and your Impression (Absolute Top) % will be 50%.
Similarly, Search Top Impression Share and Search Absolute Top Impression Share tell you how often your ads appeared in a particular section of the SERP relative to how often they could have appeared there. If your budget or bids are too low, these Impression Share metrics will let you know how many opportunities you’re missing out on.
What This Means for Your Ad Campaigns
Depending on your current bidding strategy, the move from Average Position to the new metrics may have a profound impact on the way your campaigns work. If you’re using an automated strategy designed to maximize conversions or Absolute Top Impression Share, you probably won’t feel too much of a difference before and after Average Position goes away. If, however, you’re using a more manual CPC strategy or shooting for a particular Average Position that’s not 1, you’ll need to make some adjustments in the coming months.
Start looking now at the correlation between your top terms’ Average Position and the new metrics that Google has unveiled. Ideally, you’ll be able to determine which metrics best correspond with the way you’re using Average Position data now and change your processes to optimize toward new goals. For example, if your ads usually do best in position 2 or 3, you’ll want to start optimizing toward a high Impression (Top) % and a low Impression (Absolute Top) %. It remains to be seen how advertisers with very position-sensitive keywords will need to react, so starting to think about these questions early is the best way to be prepared for the upcoming changes.
Finding Silver Linings
While it can feel bad to be forced into making strategic changes based on data availability, there are some upsides to the new metrics that all advertisers can take advantage of, regardless of their current or upcoming strategies. Way back in the beginning of the article, I mentioned that the Average Position might or might not be an accurate reflection of your ads’ performance at any given time, depending on how consistent your and your competitors’ bids are throughout a typical day or week. Under the new system, advertisers with highly variant Average Position can’t be fooled by averages. Knowing exactly how often your ads are showing at the top of the page and which factors are limiting them (budget vs ad rank) can help guide your strategy to make sure that you’re making the best possible decisions for your campaigns.
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