The Sunset of the Average Position

On August 12, 2019, Google officially announced that the ‘average position’ metric that has been present in the Google Ads interface for years will begin sunsetting (or phasing out) the week of September 30. Why? Because they’re introducing two new metrics that “provide a clearer view of where ads actually appear in a SERP”, according to SearchEngine Journal.

As a result, the following will also be disabled:

    • Rules using average position
    • Custom columns using average position
    • Saved reports that filter on average position
    • Saved filters with average position

Why Average Position was an Inferior Metric Anyway

Back in the day, average position was a useful metric because ads appeared in consistent locations on a search results page. So, when comparing your average position in Google Ads to your actual ad “position” in the search results, it would typically line up pretty well.

However, Google has since become more advanced with their advertising interface and have altered the eligibility requirements for an ad to show in a specific position. Search Engine Land clarifies that now, “the ads with the highest rank would only be shown above the organic results if they met a certain relevance threshold” to ensure users “only see the most helpful ads above the organic results”. So, average position began indicating that your ad was “winner of the auction”.

Because of this development, the location of where your ad showed was no longer certain since the term “position” refers to a relative position compared to other advertisers. In reality, “position” has nothing to do with physical ad position on the search engine results page (SERP).

Surely, Google’s decision to phase out the average position metric sheds light on the frequency of this metric being misinterpreted by advertisers. To avoid all the confusion, average position probably should have been named “auction rank” or something similar to better clarify its purpose.

The Introduction of Two New Metrics

Google recommends using their two new metrics, ‘absolute top impression’ and ‘top impression’, as an alternative to average position.

So, what are these metrics and what do they tell us?

Absolute top impression is the percentage that your impressions are shown in the very first ad position above the organic results. In other words, this represents the percentage of time your ad is displayed in the “absolute top” position – makes sense, right? This metric helps advertisers better understand whether changes in ad performance are due to changes in your ads’ physical location on the SERP.

The formula to calculate this metric is as follows:

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

Top position refers to how often an ad is displayed in any position within the top set of paid listings when an impression is served. So, this represents the percent of your impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results – whether that’s the first ad position, the second, or so on. This metric also helps advertisers understand whether performance changes are the result of changes in your ads’ location.

The formula to calculate this metric is as follows:

            Search top impression rate = Impressions on top / Impressions

How to Improve the Location of Your Google Search Ads

If you’re not happy with the location your ads are currently being displayed in, there are a couple main factors to consider in order to improve this:

  1. Budget

Do you have sufficient budget to appear for the keywords you are bidding on as often as they are searched for or is your budget often constrained? A couple of new metrics that help advertisers identify this issue are ‘search lost absolute top impression share (budget)’ and ‘search lost top impression share (budget)’ – these metrics estimate how often your ad wasn’t placed in the very first ad position or in any of the top ad positions above organic due to low budget.

You can also easily see that your campaign budget is constrained by viewing the ‘Status’ attribute for your campaign under the ‘Campaigns’ tab in Google Ads. ‘Eligible’ indicates that your current budget is sufficient for anticipated search volume and ‘limited by budget’ indicates that you are constrained.

If you’re frequently dealing with a constrained budget, then this will greatly affect your ability to show within top ad positions. The simple solution to this issue is to increase your daily budget until you are no longer constrained or, at least, increase it as much as you can. If the status of your campaign is limited by budget, you can click the grey line graph icon as shown in the above screenshot (under the ‘Campaign’ tab) to preview a sample of Google-provided budget changes and their estimate results as shown below.Weekly estimates for new budget table

If increasing budget is not a realistic option, then you can look to refine your keyword targets and only run your top-performing keywords. This allows you to concentrate your budget on the keywords that are most likely to drive conversions for your business. The more keywords you bid on within your campaigns, the further your daily budget is stretched and the more likely you are to need to increase your budget in order to fully cover related search volume for those terms.

2. Rank

If budget is not an issue, it’s likely that Ad Rank may be your problem. Ad Rank is a value used to determine your ad position (not average position) and whether your ads will show at all. Ad Rank is calculated using:

    • Your bid amount
    • Your auction-time ad quality (including expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience)
    • The Ad Rank thresholds (or the reserve price for your ad)
          • If your bid is lower than the threshold, your ad won’t show
          • If none of your competitors are eligible to show, the threshold (reserve price) is the price you pay for the click
    • The context of the search (for example, the user’s location, device, time of search, nature of search terms, and search results shown on the page)
    • The expected impact of extensions and other ad formats

Your Ad Rank is recalculated each time your ad is eligible to appear and enters in an auction. Therefore, Ad Rank can change continuously throughout any given period.

Unfortunately, you can’t control what your competitors are doing within their Google campaigns. But you can control what you are doing.

You can improve your Ad Rank by increasing your bids to improve your competitiveness in the auctions. You can also ensure that your keywords are present within your copy as well as on your landing page(s) to enhance your relevance for that query. Additionally, you can incorporate as many relevant and high-quality ad extensions as possible to help boost your overall relevancy and improve the expected impact of your ads since extensions are known to improve click-through rate (CTR).


Google Ads is an ever-changing landscape and there are many factors to consider when optimizing your digital marketing campaigns for success. In order to efficiently manage your campaigns, it’s important that you remain up-to-date on the latest changes and product releases. And when you’re too busy managing your business to stay updated on digital marketing news, bfw Advertising is here to help with all of your digital needs. Contact us to learn more.