Posted: Thursday 5th September 2019 in News, Paid Media, Thought Leadership.

Google has announced that in September, Average position will be removed. Average position is one of the oldest metrics available from Google Ads (formerly AdWords), so naturally, this change is quite a significant one for PPC bid management. This metric has been deeply ingrained into advertisers reporting and for many into their bidding strategies. In order to prepare, advertisers must scramble to adapt and to review bidding strategies.

In this article, we will explain the new metrics, and look at what we’ll gain and lose.

The new metrics

Google has released four metrics over the last year or so in preparation for the sunset.

  • Search top impression rate – the percentage of times that your ad is above natural search.
  • Search absolute top impression rate – the percentage of times that your ad is at the absolute top of the page.
  • Search top impression share – the impressions that you receive at the top of the page divided by the estimated number of eligible impressions.
  • Search absolute top impression share – the impressions that you receive at the absolute top of the page divided by the estimated number of eligible impressions

These metrics give you something that average position lacks: context.

Being in the third position could mean being below the natural search results. Average position gives no indication as to where on the page your ads sit, as shown in figure 1.

Google Ad positions

Figure 1.

Another reason why these new metrics are being introduced is that currently, average position has become harder to understand. There are bid modifiers that you can apply on devices, audiences, location, ad scheduling and not to mention smart bidding. Average position used to mean much more in the earlier days as you and your competitors had few bid modifiers, therefore, less variability in position.

These days, your position can vary wildly depending on how your accounts are set up and so can your competitors meaning they don’t make as much sense anymore.

The false dawn

With all the advantages of the new metrics, there are some major questions that this change raises.

These new metrics help to show a complete picture of how you are doing with respect to the search page, but average position gives you useful insight into the auctions and how you are doing with respect to your competitors.

Being at the top or the bottom of the page is something that you have very little control over if your ad is right in the middle of the auction, say. Yes, you can bid higher to give yourself a chance to go on top but the number of ads that google shows on top is something that Google determines from each search result.

Using both sets of metrics has a potential to provide a rich set of insights that can help you optimise your campaign more than any single one of these metrics can by themselves.

For example, see figure 2, my search for “buy pens” gives PPC 4 ads at the top.

Google Ad positions - fig. 2

Figure 2.

You will see a relatively high search top impression rate for this keyword, but your position may not be particularly high.

We can infer that Google predicts an intent to buy and so makes more advertising space. I could also infer that lower positions can be prominent. Hence, I could lower my bids and still deliver good ROI.

Now compare that with another search for “pens”: Only one PPC ad at the top, so your search top impression rate is likely to be low, even if your average position is 1.5, for example. There will be many other, less obvious keywords in your accounts that exhibit similar behaviour.

Post-September, we see the absence of average position warranting very different decisions from advertisers, as you will not necessarily know if you are at the bottom because your rank is too low or if the results page is structured unfavourably.

How we’ve responded to this change

At Summit we use Forecaster, our proprietary marketing technology to manage budget and bid manage retailers’ campaigns. Forecaster understands where and when to spend a retailer’s budget across paid search to deliver the greatest returns. For the last 8 years, Forecaster’s methodology for planning budgets and executing bid changes has included average position as a key part of its bespoke models for each retailer.  Our team of data scientists have researched, tested and evolved our models, utilising signals from the new metrics to improve our approach. Since this change, we have found that our predictions and subsequent optimisations are better than ever.

Top tip

To prepare for the sunset, we recommend leveraging historical average position data together with the new metrics to find as many page insights as possible while you still have the chance. 

Remember to ask your agency or PPC bid management provider how they have factored this change into the way that they optimise your paid search campaigns, especially if your strategy is centred around bidding to position, as this will not be possible across any paid search optimisation solution due to the removal of average position. All PPC management tools should have a clear plan for this significant change.

If you would like to find out more about how Forecaster can improve your paid search performance contact our Forecaster team on +44 (0)20 3948 4696 or email [email protected]


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