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Google to Sunset Average Position Metric, a Signal of a Much Larger Transformation

Mike Farrell

Google has been on a tear with a flurry of announcements over the last couple weeks, many of them more interesting than their decision to sunset the average position metric. Those new features include the introduction of images in text ads, shoppable image ads, and video in Showcase ads, to name a few. Nonetheless, retiring average position does represent yet another step in the process of cleaning out dated features in Adwords and ensuring cross-channel alignment in the rebranded Google Ads platform.

Average position was once a guiding light for text ad management, long before Google Shopping was born. While it was never viewed as a definitive “position,” but by definition an “average,” it gave marketers an extra data point to determine bid direction.

Average Position Becomes Obsolete

There are many factors that eroded the value of this metric. The entrance of Google Shopping and the exit of text ads from the right side rail resulted in a restructured SERP. This development left advertisers fighting for the top three spots or risk falling to ad positions at the bottom of the SERP. The growth of mobile further muddied the waters of the average position metric given the difference in search experience. Lastly, Google’s continued testing of Shopping Ad units shed more light on the ineffectiveness of the metric. Advertisers were seeing Adwords list them in the top position, but their ads were sitting at the bottom of the SERP (technically in the top spot) gaining no traction.

When you speak to search marketers like Kelli Patterson, Director of Digital Marketing for Moosejaw, the sentiment is clear:

“With vastly different experiences across devices and queries in regard to where on the page the ads are displayed, especially with PLAs in the mix, average position hasn’t really been a valuable metric for us in some time. I think search top impression share coupled with clickshare (and search absolute top impression share) are more valuable for gauging general ad position.

For example, looking at keyword performance, my account has a keyword with an average position of 1.8, and you’d think that would reliably appear in the top position, but the search top impression share on that keyword is only 17% and the clickshare is 44%.”

New Metrics Are Gaining Prominence

The metrics Kelli references are the replacements Google ushered in back in November 2018 to guide advertisers on general ad position, which by most accounts are far and away better than the antiquated average position metric they are replacing.

They consist of four key metrics–search top impression rate, search absolute top impression rate, search absolute top impression share, and search top impression share.

Search top impression rate is the percent of ad impressions that are shown above organic search results.

Search top impression rate = Impressions on top/Impressions

Search absolute top impression rate, on the other hand, shows the percent of ad impressions that captured the very top ad spot.

Search absolute top impression rate = Impressions on the absolute top/Impressions

The search top impression share metric demonstrates the number of ad impressions a retailer earns that are above organic search results, compared to the total estimated of number of impressions the retailer was eligible to receive.

Search top impression share = Impressions on top/eligible impressions on top

And similarly, search absolute top impression share measures the ad impressions earned in the top ad spot, divided by the estimated number of impressions it was eligible for in that top spot.

Absolute top impression share = Impressions on absolute top/eligible impressions on top

How New Metrics Affect Bid Strategy

Heather Stierly, Search Marketing Manager who oversees both domestic and international text ad efforts for Lucky Vitamin believes search impression share and rate metrics could impact how retailers think about their non-brand strategy. She says:

“The sunsetting of average position will have different implications dependent on an advertiser’s strategy. If the strategy is 100% impression share and top average position on branded searches, then search absolute top impression share is an invaluable metric, and more insightful than average position.

If you’re heavily focused on non-branded searches with an ROI goal, the switch from average position to search top impression share might not be as impactful, as your optimization strategy shouldn’t change just to try and capture a higher search top impression share.

But if average position is part of your non-branded strategy, you should begin to familiarize yourself with the correlation between average position and search top impression share for your ads and the ads of your competitors now. Then when average position is sunsetted, you will be prepared.

Heather also suggests retailers take competition into account when thinking about search top impression share. She says:

“In a saturated market, it can be difficult to earn the top ad spot for upper funnel, non-brand searches without hurting ROI. And search top impression share can be misleading if the space is highly competitive.”

She provides the example of a retailer with a campaign that has a search top impression share of <10% and an average position of 5.9. Another campaign could see the exact same search top impression share but have an average position of 1.7. The <10% search top impression share metric demonstrates that the ad fell below organic search results, but the average position signifies how aggressive and competitive the bid is to appear in that spot.

When average position is sunset, says Heather, it will be critical for retail marketers to use every other metric Google provides to better understand their competition and make the right optimizations to hit their goals.

Unifying Paid Search and Google Shopping

Generally speaking, the announcement to sunset the average position metric is a formality and will not have any major impact on the day-to-day management of text ads other than getting familiar with the new metrics in relation to your specific campaigns.

Google sunsetting average position is a smaller signal of a much larger effort to unify paid search and Google Shopping. Retailers should keep a close eye on other telling changes suggesting yet another evolution of the SERP.

Text ads and shopping ads are becoming more and more alike with the introduction of images in text ads, and there is obviously an increasing importance of image based content. Other announcements like the increased exposure of Showcase ads, the launch of video in Showcase ads and the most recent announcement of shoppable image ads suggest advertisers should be planning for an increased demand in creative assets in the year ahead.

The SERP is going through a new transformation, and retailers need to adjust their strategies to prepare for a more visual and united Google Ads platform.

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