The Good and the Bad about Losing Average Position

By Brad

7 comments

General, Google Ads Insights

Google Ads is sunsetting average position in September. After that date, you will no longer be able to access this metric for your current or older data. In this column, we’ll look at why they are making this change, the good, the bad, and what you might need to do prepare for this change.

Why Is Google Getting Rid of Average Position?

Average position has always been an overall average of your position from keywords to campaigns. Many marketers use this number to determine how visible their ads are on search and display pages. The problem with average position is that you don’t know if your ads are at the top or bottom of the page by looking at average position. An average position of 3 could be all top impressions or all bottom of page impressions – the average position number doesn’t give you that insight.

Google launched two new metrics last November to bring more clarity to your positions:

Search absolute top impression rate is how often your ads appeared at the very top of the page. In the interface, this is displayed as Impr (Abs Top) %.

Search top impression rate is how often your ads appeared at the top of the page. In the interface, this is displayed as Impr. Top %

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By using these metrics, you can see an accurate overall visibility score for your ads.

The changes are very mixed among marketers, so let’s look at the good and the bad of switching from average position to search top impression rate metrics.

The Good of Using Impression Top Percentage Metrics

The most obvious benefit is that you can actually tell how often your ads are showing at the top of the page and in the top position. These new metrics bring that missing clarity.

Another nice synergy for Google is that Google Ads often suggests bid changes based upon the top of page or absolute top of page data. These new metrics are aligned with the bid suggestions and data that’s easily accessible in your account.

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It’s easy to build bid rules around your visibility using Impr (top) % instead of average position. For this bid rule, if the Impr Top % is less than 75%, then we’ll raise bids to the top of page CPC, but not exceed the bid of $5.

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If you are bidding around visibility (which isn’t always ideal as that doesn’t care about your conversions) then the new numbers are useful. You can also build in conditions to only increase to the top of page CPC if your CPA is below a specific target ensuring that you are within your target CPA and then increasing your visibility as much as possible.

In the end, the Good aspects of this change are that you get a better idea of your ads visibility and you can use it for bid rules.

Now, let’s look at what you are losing.

The Bad of Average Position Going Away

Trending

The new numbers only go back to last November. Therefore, any year over year trending is destroyed. When you think of forecasting your high and low seasons, you often use year over year data and then adjust for positions based upon how aggressive you’ll be in the next season. When you trend the new numbers year over year, you only get infinity as the new metrics didn’t exist in the past. As average position will be gone, a lot of your comparison data will be destroyed.

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This is one of the biggest issues for companies. We often trend multiple years in the past to see seasonal trends and then make forecast projections. Google is making a lot of your long term trending useless unless you back up everything first and then join the data with the new metrics for trending. This is a lot of useless work when we’ve had this number for 17 years. I’m expecting a lot of accounts to do massive exports to save this data for the future.

No Bottom Impression %

If you want to trend your absolute top, top, and the bottom impression percentages, so that you can look at all 3 numbers in a nice line chart over time – you can’t. Google doesn’t have a bottom impression percentage number. The impression percentage numbers are not in the custom columns. So you need to download your data. Create a new column that is: Bottom Impr % = (search impresion share) – (top impression share). Once you’ve added that new column, then you can make a nice line chart to look at your data over time.

Simplification

Average position was such a nice, single, easy number to work with. It conveyed a lot of information in a single number. The human mind can easily compare that number. Using multiple percentages that require a bit of thought is much more complex to mentally process. Maybe over time, we’ll start to think of these numbers as easy to work with. But seeing average position 1.3 is much easier to just glance at and get an idea of what’s happening instead of seeing Impr (Abs top)% 73% and Impr (top)% 84% and then doing the math to get to the fact that Impr (bottom) is 16%.

Display Network

The display network is one of the worst losses that exist for this number. We would often go through this exercise:

  • Crawl our top placement sites to determine how many ads exist on a page
  • Compare our average position to the number of ads displayed on a page
  • Determine if we need to change bids to go up the page or to determine that we’re rarely showing on a page

In the new UI, Google has already removed average position for display. That happened a while ago. Google doesn’t have an impression share number for placements. Therefore, if you are doing placement targeting, there is no way in Google Ads to determine your visibility on a site or page without also using a 3rd party tool to examine web traffic and then merge it with your actual placement impressions. Google has really pushed people away from doing a lot of placement targeting through Google Ads and making the 3rd party programmatic display partners much more useful for these types of buys.

Just a few years ago (before the new UI), we’d often just use Google Ads to buy placements as we didn’t have to deal with 3rd parties. While sometimes it was a tiny bit more expensive, it was just so easy to bundle the buys in the same interface we were already using for a lot of our online buys that we’d just do placements with Google as well. These days, if you are really focused on particular website buys, it’s better to go direct or use a 3rd party than do it via Google Ads.

What You Need to Do to Prepare for the Change

If you are involved in any type of seasonal business and need year over year data comparisons; then you need to do a lot of exports. This is where we’re starting:

  • Date range: All time
  • Statues (check campaigns, ad groups, keywords): All
  • Segment: Daily (you could choose weekly or monthly if that’s how you trend data)
  • Navigate to every tab: campaign, ad group, keyword, search terms, etc
  • At each tab, download the data

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If you are not familiar with .gz files, do not use the compression option for the download and just get the Excel CSV file.

This can take a long time. Just to download that data for keywords for one account that has been active for 11 years took Google more than 60 minutes to prepare the file (after it timed out multiple times) and the file was massive. If your account has been active for several years, it seems more efficient to download your data a year at a time and join the data manually than to do single large exports.

Conclusion

If you are setting bids by position, you should start rethinking your bids now as average position will be gone before the year is up.

Remember, this data will be gone forever, so do not forget to backup any data that you will need with average position for trending, evaluating the past, and so forth.

The new numbers do give you better visibility into where your ads are showing over average position. However, it’ll take your clients (or boss) a while to start thinking in the new metrics for determining exposure and comparing it to the old average position.

For now, it’s best to add the new metrics next to average position within the interface so that you can start to look at all of them at once. This will help ease the transition from average position to impression top percentage numbers as you can use them both for the next few months while you recreate your reports, bids, and workflow to use impression top percentages and prepare for the sun setting of average position.

Charts & Graphs

We’ve added a new article on How to Graph the New Impression and Click Share Metrics to Find Data Insights in Your Google Ads Account, so you can see exactly how to graph this data for yourself and the steps involved.

Related Post

7 Comments

  • Azhaar Hussain

    Great insights. Auction insights reports are a great way to see where you stand with respect to your competition. I have used auction insights to manage the position of the ads, it was unique to that client as they wanted all of the affiliates showing below them and used a % of impression share as a metric, getting a trend will be a pain.

    Reply
  • John

    Good article.

    Google is having a really hard time explaining the difference between the 4 metrics.

    What is your opinion on the difference between search top/abs top VS impr. top/abs top?

    Reply
    • Brad

      There’s very little difference; it’s primarily a way of differentiating search and shopping campaigns as shopping has slightly different metrics and can’t be an absolute top compared to search but it can be an absolute top compared to shopping. It’s a very nuanced difference that won’t matter at all if you are just looking at search only campaigns.

      Reply
  • Jim Banks

    Great post Brad.

    I’ve never understood why advertisers did not use the Valuetrack Parameter for ad position {adposition} in their tracking URL.

    That way they would know the exact position that their conversions took place in the auction and not an average.

    As an example, my two-year-old granddaughter and I average 150 pounds in weight…

    I’d also suggest the BigQuery Data Transfer Service for Google Ads as a way of warehousing the data for future analysis.

    I’m not entirely sure how far back that goes, and it is likely to be expensive, but at least enterprise businesses would have their data to analyse.

    Reply
  • Lyubomir Popov

    The big question is, why Google doesn’t keep avg.pos and to add additional metrics, instead of removing it?

    Reply
  • Jarryd Rautenbach

    I think one piece you are missing is that average position was a near real-time metric and these impression share metrics are not. That’s the biggest issue that I have with the whole thing. Average-position was a misleading metric by its name, it should probably have been called Average Auction rank. But it was a very helpful, simple metric that would give fast feedback on bid levels. I don’t see what the justification is to remove the metric just because there are new ones and that loss of YoY comparison is a big deal.

    Reply
    • Brad

      That’s a good point about it being in real time, especially when you were using valuetrack so you could pull the data in real time and then set bids based upon some of that data.

      The real-time reporting is a large loss – we should have added that one – thanks for the suggestion 🙂

      Reply
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