Google’s Average Position Is Gone. Here’s What We’re Measuring Instead.


To the dismay of many Pay Per Click (PPC) managers, in late September 2019 Google retired one of the original Search metrics in Adwords, Average Position, from Google Ads. According to Google, Average Position was a statistic that pinpointed how an ad typically ranked against other ads and determined the order in which ads appeared on the page. 

In lieu of this O.G. metric that PPC managers had become accustomed to monitoring, Google urged advertisers to use the new position metrics—Search Top Impression Share (Search Top IS)  and Search Absolute Top Impression Share (Search Abs. Top IS)—instead. 

The move by Google didn’t come as a complete surprise.  PPC managers had been hearing rumors of its retirement for months. And frankly, there’s not much to miss. Why? Well, one reason is that Average Position was represented as a decimal. While we could chart, graph, and report changes in position, it was an awkward conversation to have with a client if their ad fell in a position of 2.5 since there’s no such thing as half an ad space! 

With Average Position out of the picture, let’s take a look at some other valuable metrics we use in our digital marketing efforts for clients, and some considerations for making the most of them. 

What we measure 

  • Impression Rate (Top): The percent of ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results. 

We call this “Top of Page” to try and ensure position above organic. It’s useful for launches or new products. Impression Rate allows us to  better control ad messaging and sitelinks in order to funnel the searches where we want them. Furthermore, the ads at the top of the page typically receive the best click-through-rate (CTR) and drive more conversions. This can make the top positions more lucrative and worth the price hike.

  • Impression Rate (Absolute Top): The percent of ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results. 

Colloquially referred to as “position one,” being in this spot can be useful to moving negative organic press down the page to try and change the narrative. Clients often request that their ads appear in “position one” since this top position tends to get the most traffic. Again, it can be beneficial to bid for this spot even if it costs a bit more money. 

  • Search Impression Share: The percentage of impressions that ads receive compared to the total number of impressions that ads could get.

This is an indication of how often an ad appears versus how often it is eligible to appear. This tool can occasionally be used as a proxy for account health or competitor bid and  budget changes (note: actual impression share will be dependent on budget and bids associated with the campaigns).

  • Search Top Impression Share: The impressions an ad received in the top location (anywhere above the organic search results) compared to the estimated number of impressions it was eligible to receive.

Search Top Impression Share = Impressions on top versus eligible impressions on top

The most important aspect of having a high impression share is to make sure you are only showing an ad to the relevant queries associated with your keyword and business offering. Not all impressions are good impressions so maxing out on this metric, especially on an ROI-focused initiative, can definitely hurt your campaign if you’re too aggressive. 

  • Search Absolute Top Impression Share: The impressions an ad received in the absolute top location (absolute defined as the very first ad above the organic search results) divided by the estimated number of impressions it was eligible to receive.

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

This one’s very similar to Search Top Impression Share. The key to making Search Absolute Top Impression Share is a worthy metric or a KPI is to ensure your ROI is positive and worth the effort to continually increase this metric. In order to be successful, tie in relevant keywords with ad and landing page copy. This will help to increase quality score and conversion rates.

  • Click Share: The estimated share of all achievable clicks received. It’s only available for the campaign types of either Search or Shopping campaigns and indicates how well ads engage people compared to competitors.

To increase Click Share, you may need to increase your bids, improve the quality of your ads, or add more ad extensions. All three of these optimizations can help increase your quality score thus increasing click share and allowing you to win more auctions at a lower Cost Per Click. They can also help increase Click Through Rate and, potentially, lead to more relevant clicks and on-site conversions.

Keep in mind:

  • Branding campaigns should focus on target impressions. Bid strategy automatically sets bids with the goal of showing an ad on the absolute top of the page, top of the page, or anywhere on the page of Google search results. Maximize conversions automatically set bids to help get the most conversions for campaigns based on the allocated budget.
  • Target CPA (tCPA) for non-brand keywords. Your search should be performance driven, especially on brand terms. Be sure to choose targets that fit your goals.
  • Quality score for keywords. You can gauge performance if it’s low, think about the page you are sending the user to and make sure it aligns with both the ad copy and keyword, as well as making the desired action as easy as possible. The key here is a consistent experience.

So what? 

Forget the desire to always rank first or outrank competitors. Let go of the days of blind bidding by simply analyzing one (from our point of view) vanity metric. Remember that conversions matter. Getting seen on Google Ads or earning clicks on an ad is a good start, but will not necessarily put money in the bank. So while any change from Google can feel like “one more thing,” if you’re focused on the right things this is just one of those changes that shouldn’t be a major adjustment to your Google Ads account management.

About Ian Graydon

Ian Graydon is a digital marketing manager based in the Firewood Dublin, Ireland office.