Position switch at Google: ‘average position’ is disappearing

Changes and innovations are the only constants in the online marketing community.
Google is no exception: it recently announced that the ‘average position’ will be disappearing in September 2019 because the relevance of this statistic has decreased over the years. It is hardly a surprise, but this change does have all sorts of repercussions for reporting and optimisation techniques. We discuss the expected impacts below. 

Why the average position is being scrapped

When Google Ads was launched 15 years ago (under the name Google AdWords), the ‘average position’ provided useful insights for advertisers. It could be used to check the impact of strategic decisions. Advertisements were consistently displayed in certain locations, which meant that the average position statistic was a reflection of the genuine average position in the search results. We are talking about a period in which advertisements were either displayed above the search results or on the right hand side, with two separate auctions. 

Since a uniform auction based on Ad Rank—in which quality was a very important factor—generated far more income, the dividing line between the two types of auction was scrapped. 

The introduction of Ad Rank has meant that a minimum quality is required to appear at the top of the search results. This has led to ‘position’ becoming an increasingly vague concept. Thus ‘position 1’ may mean that the ad is the first ad to appear, but not necessarily at the top of the results page. Last but not least, the positions on the right-hand side have also disappeared, leading to more and more advertisements appearing below the search results. 

In essence, the term ‘average position’ has evolved into a term that should probably be called ‘relative position’: reporting is based on the ranking of your ads in comparison to other ads, rather than the actual location of your advertisements on the search result pages. Clearly advertisers attach more importance to the actual location, since this is directly linked to click-through rates and visibility. 

These insights led to Google’s decision that it was time to innovate and introduce four new statistics as reference points. 

New position statistics

These changes mean that the current bidding strategies need to be called into question and reporting models that rely on this statistic need to be revised.

From now on, therefore, it is better to use the statistics Search Absolute Top Impression Rate, "Impr. (Abs. Top) %", and Search Top Impression Rate,“Impr. (Top) %”, which were introduced in November 2018. These statistics show respectively what percentage of your ads is displayed in the absolute first position and which ads are displayed at the top of the page.The introduction of these new statistics enables us to get a more detailed impression of your prominence on the page than ‘average position’ gave.

Search (Absolute) Top Impression Share complete the picture and provide an estimate of how often the ads appear above the search results, as well as how much potential they still have to obtain a top position. 

Impact on bidding strategies and scripting

Depending on your goals, you may want to opt for a bidding strategy where brand awareness takes precedence over conversions. If so, it is worth optimising on the basis of position.  What will then become clear is that manual cost-per-click bidding for a top position has little to offer, since it does not correlate with the position within the organic search results. 

The “target search page location” bidding strategy ensures that bids are automatically set with the goal of displaying ads at the absolute top position of a page, at the top of the page or on the first page of search results.   

If scripting and automatic rules are used to adjust bids, for example, you should bear in mind that these scripts will stop working in September 2019 for ‘average position’. 


So are we mourning the demise of Google’s ‘average position’ statistic at The Reference? Far from it. We admit to feeling a bit nostalgic for the days when we still had ads on the right, when we could set up autonomous app campaigns and do quick adjustments in the old AdWords interface. But standing still would mean a failure to innovate, and that is a position that The Reference refuses to take. Here, we have given serious consideration to the etymology of the term ‘position’. 
Are you curious to find out how this change will impact your business?

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