Google’s Removal of Average Position & How it Will Affect Your Campaigns

March 27, 2019


Google recently announced that it plans to sunset the average position metric within Google Ads in September 2019.  Average position is a performance metric that tells advertisers in what order their ad appears on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) in relation to other advertisers.  Advertisers use this metric to understand where their ads appear on the page, how visible their ads are to searchers, and how to optimize keyword bids in order to reach a target position.

In November of last year, Google released 4 new metrics indicating that this change may be coming.

  • Impression (Absolute Top) % – the percent of your ad impressions that are shown as the very first ad above the organic search results.
  • Impression (Top) % – the percent of your ad impressions that are shown anywhere above the organic search results.
  • Search (Absolute Top) Impression Share – 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 – 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.

Search marketers have historically used two main bid strategies when it comes to average position; automated and manual bidding.  Automated bidding allows the search engine to automatically make bid optimizations necessary for an ad to potentially reach a target position as often as possible in any given auction or search.  Manual bidding is when a search team will manually make bid optimizations in an effort to control where an ad appears on the SERP. The constant with both methods is that all campaigns were able to bid to specific positions on the page. Regardless of what method is used, this update will impact the way search campaigns are managed, especially when it comes to pharmaceutical search.


Pharmaceutical search campaigns, and more specifically DTC and HCP overlap strategies (as well as Brand Franchise strategies), will certainly be impacted.  With patients and HCPs having overlapping search behavior, the strategy behind how search is approached for overlapping keywords will need to be re-developed.  Historically, overlap strategies were often put in place for overlapping keywords where DTC and HCP ads would double-serve, meaning both ads would appear for the same query as long the two sites do not share a root domain.  In these cases, both DTC and HCP would bid to agreed-upon and pre-defined ad positions on the SERP.  For example, for the keyword “[pharma brand name]”, the DTC campaign would bid to the first position while HCP would bid to the second.  For a more competitive keyword like “[indication] treatment”, the overlap strategy may define ranges in which each ad should appear.  For example, DTC would appear on average in positions 1-3, while HCP would appear on average in positions 2-4.  This overlap strategy allowed advertisers to keep CPCs down and limit internal competition, while also getting the right audience to the right site. With the average position metric being removed, a new approach to DTC/HCP overlap will need to be defined.

Next Steps

The CMI Search team largely takes a performance-based marketing approach to making optimization decisions. Given that the nuances of this update are rather vague, we’ve created a point of view for both campaign types that focuses on directionally using the metrics that are at our disposal. For Branded, we will use existing bid policies to establish overlap between audiences. Namely the “Absolute Top” bid policy for whichever audience was determined to be in the #1 ad position, and the “Top of Page” bid policy for whichever audience was determined to be in second position. For Unbranded, we will continue optimizing against performance, and utilize metrics supplied to us through Auction Insight reports as a pulse for position. For example, if an advertiser desired to be competitive but not in the first position, CMI would manage to “Top of Page” and then utilize Auction Insight Reports for supplemental metrics like “outranking share” and “position above rate” [both indicators of where the ad and the competitors’ ads fall within the SERP]. This would give us a better idea for where our ad is appearing and allow us to increase/decrease max bids accordingly. We also understand that clients will require custom approaches in cases where brands are part of a franchise, or if branded and DSA campaigns are operating at the same time. In these instances, it is critical for there to be alignment between CMI and our clients for what the priority campaigns are. From there, a strategic plan will be developed and implemented, identifying percentage benchmarks for how much Campaign #1 should outrank Campaign #2. Setting this up will provide the SEM team with the necessary boundaries to optimize with high agility.

At this time this change is specific to Google, as Microsoft Bing has not announced any plans to do the same. For more questions or updates, be sure to contact your CMI Drive Search lead.