Data Explained: Using Google Ads Impression Share fields

Question

Average position is gone, but now I see these Impression Share fields in some of Alight's standard Google Ads datasets. What's the story? How should I interpret these new fields? Why is Average Position gone and why are the new fields better?

Data Explained

What's the story?

Average position (Avg. Pos.) was removed in September of 2019 to make room for top and absolute top impression metrics. These new metrics give you a better picture of where your ads are appearing on search pages and are designed to help you optimize your ad position. Our Google Ads Ad Performance, Ad Group Performance, Campaign Performance, and Keyword Performance datasets have been updated to include these new fields.

How should I interpret these new fields?

In order to understand the new fields your see in ChannelMix, it's important to have a good grasp of Impression Share as well as Top and Absolute Top metrics.

Top and Absolute top metrics are prominence metrics. They give you an idea of where your ads are appearing on the page. Unlike average position, top and absolute top metrics don't tell you the order of your ads compared to others, rather the literal location of your ads on the Search engine results pages.

Impression share (IS) is the percentage of impressions that your ads receive compared to the total number of impressions that your ads were eligible to get. You can use impression share to determine whether your ads might reach more people if you increase your bid or budget. Impression share = impressions / total eligible impressions. 

Now the new metrics should make more sense:

Absolute Top Impression Percentage [Impr. (Abs. Top) %] - The percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results. 

Top Impression Percentage [Impr. (Top) %] The percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results. 

Search Absolute Top Impression Share [Search abs. top IS] - The impressions you've received in the absolute top location (the very first ad above the organic search results) divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location.

Search Top Impression Share [Search top IS] - The impressions you've received in the top location (anywhere above the organic search results) compared to the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive in the top location.

But... why not Average Position? Why are these new fields better?

Though long considered a key metric in search advertising, using Average Position to make decisions does not come without risk - it can lead to some confusion and doesn't always tell the complete story of your advertising. I'll summarize three scenarios outlined by Frederick Vallaeys over at Search Engine Journal to explain these risks and how the new Impression Share fields can mitigate them.

Scenario 1: Only ads that meet the relevance threshold can show at the top

  • Advertiser 1: position 4 (the final ad above the organic results)
  • Advertiser 2: position 4 (the first ad below the organic results)

One advertiser did better than the other, but both advertisers are showing the same Average Position.  Why does this happen? Not all SERPs display ads in the same order. The number of ads shown and where depends on whether the ads in question meet the SERP-specific threshold for relevance, quality, and ad rank. It also depends on the query used (whether the query is commercial, or not). 

If an ad doesn't meet a certain threshold, it might be shown on the page but not promoted above the organic results. In this case, Average Position wasn't equipped to convey the difference.

How the new fields help: 

Impr. (Top) % and Average Position tell different stories in this scenario. Had they been looking at Impr. (Top) %, Advertiser 1 would see that the ad was "good enough" to meet the top promotion thresholds.  Advertiser 2 would invest in improving their quality score after seeing that the ad didn't qualify for top of page promotion because it did not meet the top promotion thresholds (despite being the 4th highest ranked ad).

Scenario 2: Averages can disguise the real truth

  • Advertiser 1: position 1 + 4 + 4 → avg. pos. 3
  • Advertiser 2: position 2 + 3 + 4 → avg. pos. 3
  • Advertiser 3: position 1 + 5 + not shown → avg. pos. 3

Average Position is the same for these three advertisers, but that value came from three very different individual placements. Without more information, it's difficult for the advertisers to know what to optimized. 

How the new fields help: 

Advertiser 2 was never position 1 relative to other advertisers, and Impr. (Abs. Top) %  would convey this information. If being the first ad shown above organic results is a priority, Advertiser 2 might focus on improving their quality score or decide to increase their bid.

Average Position might have led Advertiser 3 to believe that they were usually a top 4 ad showing near the top of the SERP. Their Impr. (Top) % vlaue of 50% paints a slightly different picture. 

Scenario 3: Average Position is only reported when an impression happens

  • Advertiser 1: Not shown + Not shown + 1 → avg. pos. 1
  • Advertiser 2: 1 + 1 + 1 → avg. pos. 1

Here, both advertisers have an Average Position of 1, but only Advertiser 2 consistently shows their ad. Advertiser 1 actually misses out on a lot of impressions, but the one they do get is in a great position. Their sample size is quite small, and doesn't paint an accurate picture of performance. 

How the new fields help: 

Advertiser 2 has a Search top IS of 100% - they're turning every opportunity to show an ad into an impression at the top of the page.  Advertiser 1 has a Search top IS of 33% - they are missing opportunities and might consider shifting strategy.

Again, Average Position is ill-equipped to convey the subtleties that one of the new Impression Share fields can.

Conclusion

Hopefully the information provided above has convinced you that you're going to be okay without Average Position. The new Impression Share fields provided by Google Ads were designed to provide a more reliable picture of how your ads are performing, and that should help you make more informed, and therefore better, advertising decisions.

Sound intriguing? Access these valuable metrics by activating some of our Google Ads standard datasets!

 

 

 

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