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Where has average position gone in Google Ads?

April 11, 2019 / Reading Time: 4 minutes /
Rich Martin
PPC team Clicky

In the world of PPC, it’s sad times for us old-timers.

After being around since day dot, Google announced on February 26th 2019 that it will retire average position reporting from Google Ads on September 30th, 2019. Out goes knowing exactly where your ad was in search results to the nearest decimal point; in comes the vague notion of ‘Impression (Absolute Top) %’ and ‘Impression (Top) %’. Here at Clicky, we had noticed that the avg. pos. tick box had become more difficult to find in the main performance metrics when modifying columns. Hiding something and making it more difficult to find is usually Google’s first step when it wants to change behaviour.

The new average position replacements don’t exactly slip off the tongue – search absolute top impression rate (or “Impr. (Abs. Top) %” for short) and search top impression rate (“Impr. (Top) %”) – and they are probably best illustrated by the image below.

Absolute Top & Top PPC

So, in a nutshell:

How do the new position metrics compare with the old?

The major issue with the change is a big fat loss in visibility. As we move away from knowing exactly where your ads fell in the SERPs on average in a given time period, the data has been blurred – sometimes your campaigns and keywords fall into this percentage category; sometimes they fall into this other percentage category. And if they weren’t in either of these two percentage categories (i.e. not top or absolute top), were exactly where they? No one knows.

They could have been predominantly hovering around position 4.1 and on the cusp of “top” percentage category or they could have been off the first page and in no man’s land. Obviously, your course of action would be a lot different if your ads are predominantly in position 4.1 compared to position 10, or worse, so to have zero information of what’s going on outside of Impr. (Top) % is going to be a problem.

While we still have average position data in Google Ads, we have compared this nearly 20 year old metric to the new Impr. (Abs. Top) % and Impr. (Top) % metrics. Enjoy this while it lasts, guys. Pretty soon we’ll all be flying blind. Or at least with blurred vision.

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In the example below, being in a relatively visible and prominent position in the SERPs say Avg. pos. 3.1 or 2.8 doesn’t look good for Impr. (Abs. Top) % and Impr. (Top) %.

Average position 3.1 PPC

Despite getting 360 clicks and a healthy amount of traffic at average position 3.1, we’re only in positions two to four 36.98% of the time and in position one 6.71%. That means 56% of the time the ads are below the fold. The solution? Panic! Bid up and up.

We can see the situation becomes even more dire for keywords below avg. pos. 5 – even though they are getting a reasonable number of clicks, they are registering single digits percentages and even 0.00% most of the time. For most advertisers with no avg. pos. info, this will be a code red and bids will be cranked right up on a wholesale basis.

avg pos 5 or less PPC

We can breathe a sigh of relief when we crank up the bids and glue the ads to average position 1.0. Then we can see we’re pretty much at 100% for the new metrics. Phew!

avg pos 1.0 PPC

Final Thoughts

It will be sad to see the average position go after 21 years (Goto.com had it before Google was around). To remove it and all historical traces of it is quite a drastic move. Indeed, there are reports of some advertisers having to carry out massive (100mb+) exports to archive the data since Google won’t provide an archive of it.

These fuzzy notions about what percentage of the time your ads are near the top and the absolute top of the SERPs means we’ll be optimising campaigns without a full and complete picture of what is going on. If your ads slip past the top positions, you’re kind of trying to optimise a campaign from behind a blind corner with no idea of how close or far away your ads are.

So why is Google doing this? The answer is simple: to push us all towards automated bidding. Let Google take the reins and get you up to a 100% visibility for Impr. (Abs. Top) % and Impr. (Top) %. Let us bid what we want and we’ll get you the exposure at the top of page 1 that you crave.

At the moment, it is still possible to use manual bidding in a Google Ads campaign, but the signs are there that it won’t be too long until this option is removed, too, and automated bidding will be compulsory in all Google Ads accounts. It has already been hidden away in the campaign settings and, as we said before, this is always the first step when Google wants to change behaviour.

It is more important than ever to get to grips with automated bidding

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