Average Position in Google Ads is no more – Here’s why it’s a good thing!

11 October, 2019


Welcome to the post-Average Position world of Google Ads.

If you’ve managed a Google Ads account in almost any capacity, this metric will likely have been a major factor in your strategy. 

Google announced earlier in 2019 that they were going to remove Average Position from their interface. The change is now a reality.

Many of Google’s recent updates, such as the heavy promotion of automation, new bidding strategies, Responsive Search Ads and other machine learning updates, have been opt-in. Canning average position, however, is mandatory.

As with most Google updates, not all advertisers were happy about this. Some lamented the loss of a simple and concise way for us to connect the interface with the SERP. Average Position, however, is no longer as useful - or as accurate - as it once was. 

This blog will explain why the end of Average Position and the introduction of its replacement metrics are actually a good thing!

The problems with Average Position

Average Position was one of the original reporting metrics featured in Google Adwords.  Needless to say, Google has evolved their ad platform significantly since the big bang of Paid Search in the early noughties – it has outgrown Average Position.

The SERP changes with each search

Looking at Average Position was a useful metric when the search engine results were fairly rigid. Position 1 would be at the top, position 2 and 3 beneath that, and positions 4 and below usually at the bottom of the page (or previously in the right hand column), and so on.

The problem now is there are many more components of the SERP that appear alongside the ads, including Google Shopping Ads and Google Maps results. These can change with each search, so position 3 is no longer the same place with each search. There will even be instances where an ad at position 1 appears below the organic search results.

Higher position ≠ best performance

It may be tempting to assume that the higher your position, the better the performance. This reasoning may tempt you into making aggressive bid adjustments in pursuit of a more competitive position. This is an issue for a few reasons, including:

  1. In real terms, the competitive difference between position 2.2 and 1.7 is very small, especially if we consider that these positions may vary on screen depending on what other SERP elements are also present.
  2. As you approach the very top of a page, you may need to bid excessively to push your ads through – the inflated CPC required to sustain the best position may diminish the value of actually being there. 

Now let’s take a look at the shiny new replacement metrics.

Top & Absolute Top Position

Google have simplified things into two basic “positions”. These are: 

  • Top
  • Absolute Top

These new definitions may sound more vague, but they are simple and direct. 

The new terminology simplifies ad positions into what advertisers really care about: “Are we top, or not?”

What is Top position?

The new Top position refers to any position that is above the organic search results on the page. This is what we would think of as being at the “top of the page”, and thus removes the question of whether your position 3 ad is actually being pushed down by other SERP elements.

What is Absolute Top position?

Absolute Top refers to what we would consider to be “position 1”. If your ad is appearing Absolute Top, it is the very first ad on the page – no ifs or buts.

This is an important distinction to make because ads in the old position 1 may not be where you think they are. Take the example below. The highlighted ad is at position 1, but nowhere near the top of the page.

Top & Absolute Top – Competitive Metrics

In your Google Ads interface, you can now use the following four metrics to measure where your ads are appearing in relation to your competitors.

  • Impr. (Absolute Top) %: What percentage of ad impressions were at the very top of the page. This is what you may have previously referred to as “position 1”
  • Impr. (Top) %: What percentage of ad impressions were above the organic listings. This is what you may have previously referred to as being at the top of the page.
  • Search (Absolute Top) IS: This is your impression share for ads appearing at the absolute top of the page.
  • Search (Top) IS: This is your impression share for ads appearing above the organic search results on the page. 

These new metrics can help you paint an accurate and useful picture of where your ads are being shown (and how often) in the modern and more fluid SERP, allowing you to make more educated and data-driven decisions.

Top, Absolute Top & Auction Insights

The new metrics are now included in the Auction Insights of your Google Ads account – again, they have replaced the average position metric.

These now appear as Top of Page Rate and Abs. Top of Page Rate. These are very useful indicators of how you are really positioning next to your competitors.

How to reach Absolute Top position in Google Ads

So how do you achieve and sustain Absolute Top position? Generally speaking, the criteria are the same as achieving the old position 1. Where your ads place is a result of an auction and several factors relating to bids, ad quality and relevance. 

It’s easy to assume that increasing bids is the simplest way to reach Absolute Top. This is something of a myth. If your ad is low quality, not sufficiently relevant, or has a low CTR (click-through-rate), cranking up bids will not necessarily see you hit the top spot.

Instead, you need to have an appropriate and relevant combination of landing page, ad copy and keyword, in conjunction with an appropriate bid. The more relevant and useful the ad, the higher your Quality Score will be. The higher your Quality Score, the less you will need to bid to get the best positions. 

Remember: Chasing the top position isn’t necessarily the right strategy.

Summary

The removal of the Average Position metric in favour of Top and Absolute Top positions may feel like a drastic change, and it will certainly require a shift in the way you think about the placement of your ads. 

Despite this, advertisers who embrace the change and use the new metrics as intended stand to benefit from a much clearer understanding of where their ads are appearing in an ever more crowded and fluid SERP. 

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Written by Tom

Tom cites his key strengths as communication, writing and presenting. He enjoys working in digital due to the way it satisfies both the creative and logical sides of the brain.

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