Commentary

How Google Paid Search Will Shift Focus To Insight And Improvement

Focusing on top impression shares will encourage marketers to excel and serve their customers better.

Google is retiring the average position metric. Search marketers will tell you there is nothing average about any account. Keywords, customer segments and bidding strategy can change according to the focus of a client’s latest campaign, not to mention activity run by competitors.

That is why paid-search executives will not be particularly concerned about the news that Google’s average position metric is to be retired at the end of September. In its place, they will shift focus to Top Impression Share and Absolute Top Impression Share. These reveal the proportion of times an ad appeared in the top positions, above organic results, as well as the amount of times it has appeared in the first position.

This metric is far more useful to marketers. The average position metric was useful in some circumstances, but not all. Discovering that an ad appeared, say, on average in the second position could have meant it still ended up below organic results or even on the second page of a search result.

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Location and inflation concern

The changes make sense, but there are some issues that paid-search executives will have to figure out. First of all, there is no geotargeting breakdown for top impression share, whereas there has been for the outgoing average position. This could be provided at a later stage by Google, but it seems that search marketers will have to start out with the new metrics without the additional insight of impression share by location.

There may also be the risk of cost-per-click inflation. Top-position metrics are more accurate and more revealing as to where a company’s ads are appearing, and this could prove a revelation to many marketers. The result could be that those seeking more top spots are putting extra budget into paid search and raising their maximum bids.

The problem could be exacerbated if advertisers running campaigns where they always aim to be in the top spot decide to pay whatever it takes to maintain that top-of-page impression strategy. If this proves to be the case, search marketers will need to decide how much the clicks from each target audience for each key phrase are truly worth.

What marketers need to do

The end of September is not far off. There are some practical steps marketers need to take to be ready when the average position metric is retired.

It may sound mundane, but on a day-to-day basis, executives will need to change the way they assimilate figures and report on each campaign’s progress.

Bid strategies will have to be revisited so that targets -- based on the old average position metric -- can be updated, so advertisers can decide where extra budget may need to be applied based on the more informative top-impression share metrics.

A metric change is a good opportunity to look at the quality of ad copy and the relevance of landing pages. If advertisers are giving consumers little reason to click through and then even less reason to stay on an unhelpful generic landing page, then quality score will obviously suffer. If marketers get these factors right, however, a better-quality score will be reflected in the new top-position metrics.

Encouraging search marketers to rely on more relevant figures, which in turn should prompt them to be more helpful to customers has to be the ultimate win-win, as long as marketers take the necessary steps so they are ready before the end of September.

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