Average Position: an Obituary

Bidding Farewell to One of the Oldest Metrics in Google Ads & Understanding What That Means for Your Campaigns


In February, Google announced that it would sunset the average position metric, but officially let us know a few weeks ago that we have less than a month before average position is laid to rest. 

On September 30, rules, custom columns, saved reports, and saved filters that use average position will be disabled.

You don’t really have much time to mourn, with everything you need to do to make sure your account is ready for the change, but we wanted to take a minute to remember average position and let you know what Google Ads is going to be like now that it’s gone. 

What did it do?


If you’re not familiar with average position, or if you’re just shocked to hear the news that Google is getting rid of it, here’s a refresher that might help you understand why. 

Google Ads is an auction system. Every ad that competes in the Google Ads auction is given an Ad Rank based on bid and Quality Score.  Your ad’s position in search results depends on what your Ad Rank is relative to your competitors’. 

However, “ad position” isn’t necessarily a spatial term. It was, at first – when AdWords was originally introduced, expensive ads that were sold to larger companies on a CPM (cost-per-thousand viewable impressions) were always shown above the search results. Less expensive ads that were sold to smaller companies on a CPC basis through what was then AdWords Select were always shown on the right side. In these simpler times, your average position was your physical position. If your average position was 2, for example, and you were not an AdWords Select advertiser, you knew that your ad was showing in second place above the organic search results. 

And then the CPC ads on the right side began making more money than the expensive ads on top. Google realized this wasn’t fair or good for business, so they merged AdWords and AdWords Select and used AdRank (which combines the CPC bid and CTR) and only showed the ads with the highest rank in the position above organic search results if they met a certain relevance threshold. Now, if your ad was in position 2,  you know your ad was in the second spot, but you couldn’t be sure where it was showing up; it could be at the top of the page or the right side, depending on the relevance threshold. Google then started showing ads below the search results, added more slots to the top of the page, introduced new ad formats, and otherwise changed its layout. Average position was still a metric to compare an ad’s rank to competitors’ ads, but no longer a metric showing you the actual position of your ad. 


 Why did it die?

The surface answer (which is still true) is that it was no longer a clear indicator of where your ads were showing up. You could have an average position of 1 and have your ad showing beneath the organic search results, while ads with an average position of 4 would show before yours. Average position lived a long life – 15 years – but Google feels like it’s not a useful metric anymore. So they’re retiring it in favor of four new metrics (released last November) that “give you a much clearer view of your prominence on the page than average position does”

The New Metrics

“Search absolute top impression rate” and “search top impression rate” reflect the actual location of your ads on the SERPs (search engine results page) rather than the auction rank. 

Search absolute top impression rate (“Impr. (Abs. Top) %”) is the percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above organic results. Search top impression rate (“Impr. (Top)%”) is the percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above organic search results. 

“Search top impression share” and “Search absolute top impression share” are other new metrics that reflect actual position on the SERP. 

Search top impression share (“Search top IS”) tells you the rate at which you’re turning opportunities to appear at the top of the SERP into actual impression above the organic results, while Search absolute top impression share (“Search abs. top IS”) tells you the rate at which you’re turning opportunities to appear in the highest spot of the SERP into actual impressions as the first result above the organic results. 

Google Ads product manager Pllavi Naresh recommends using these metrics to optimize for position. 

If you read between the lines, though, the sunsetting of average position is just the latest casualty in the shift toward automation.  Google thinks that these new metrics are going to be more useful in assessing performance, and because average position is gone and bid-to-position strategies are no longer as effective, Google is making a push towards automated bidding. Google thinks machine learning can do it better. 



Should I be upset?


It depends….it’s certainly a lot of work to do, if you’ve been using average position in any way in your accounts, you need to review and change all of your scripts, rules, custom columns, reports, and filters. 

If you want to optimize for location, you should be concerned. Average position is the only competitive geo metric, and the four new ones have not (yet?) been introduced. And if you use a manual bidding strategy, you should realize that this change is a push towards automation and the overall decreasing of the amount of control advertisers have over their accounts.

But this change isn’t necessarily something that many marketers are sad to see occur. Most have stopped using the muddled metric to assess their performance anyway (favoring impression share instead), so it’s like “Oh that’s going away? I don’t look at it that much anyway so it’s probably not a big deal?”

Whether or not you should be miffed, it’s not the end of the world. Like with any Google update, it will take a few weeks to monitor the impact and decide what this means for campaigns and accounts moving forward. 


What now?

Like we said, review your scripts to make sure they’ll continue working, and update your bidding if you’re using a position strategy. Research the new metrics and learn how they work, because they will soon be the only ones available. You should experiment with the auction insights reports to see how your ads look compared to your competition. Other than that, there’s not really much we can do at this point!

You don’t have to change anything until September 30th, but we’d recommend getting a head start.  


Have questions about the death of average position? What do you think this will do to current campaigns? In lieu of flowers, send questions or comments- we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Empirical360 specializes in PPC marketing. We’re Google Partners, and we have managed over $15,000,000 in search advertising spend. We’re always up to date with the latest paid search trends, and we know how how to take chiropractors, insurance agents, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and many other business types to the next level online!




Shea Antonucci - Author

Director of Content Marketing

Shea is an expert content writer and is a classic literary nerd! She loves writing highly engaging content and has a knack for making it convert!