What is the Average Position?

In the search engine marketing (SEM) arena, the term average position refers to the placement of an organic entry or PPC ad on a search engine results page (SERP). Each time a user searches for a keyword phrase, the search engine’s algorithm, along with the advertiser’s bid (in the case paid search), will determine a website’s or ad’s ranking.

The results may vary with each user’s search.  So the average position provides a working measure of the effectiveness of a website’s SEO or paid search campaign for a specific period. Average position may also be a goal that search marketers are trying to hit for specific keywords.

Organic average position

There are various ways to track your average position for target keyewords on organic searches, particularly on Google. Several SEO tools cab track average positions on Google or Bing for each of target keywords.

If you have Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) installed and tracking your website, you can see your average position for top organic queries over the most recent period. [Organic refers to basic “unpaid” Google search results — i.e. not paid placement or paid search advertising.]

It’s important to note, however, that the average organic position provided by GWT is often different from people’s actual experiences:

  • Personalized search. When individuals use Google search, Google will personalize their search results based on their location, social connections and their search history, especially if they’re logged into their Google or Gmail account. To get closer to the average organic position, search users should log out of their Google account and set their location for the entire U.S. or home country.
  • Across multiple sources. GWT’s average position on each organic keyword query is based on results from multiple Google search results, including localized and personalized searches.
  • Time period. GWT’s average position is also based on the results for the defined period, and the default is usually for 30 days. If your rankings on specific keywords have taken a recent uptick or decline, that may not be reflected in the average position provided by GWT.

Paid search average position

The average position measurement is most important for online advertisers, especially when advertising on Google or Bing search results.  Different paid search positions have historically produced stronger or weaker click-through rates.

In general, the top positions generate the most click-throughs, relative to lower positions. But these higher positions also require higher cost-per-click (CPC) bids, which means that these higher positions will cost much more. But for many search engine advertisers, the higher prices are worth it.

Although Google will adjust the number of ads it shows for certain keywords, the following are the typical ad placement groupings on Google search engine results pages (SERPs):

  • Top 3. The top three text ad positions on SERPs are above the main column. These are the most expensive positions, but they also tend to generate the most clicks.
  • Sidebar. The right sidebar on Google SERPs typically show up to seven text ads. An interesting tactic employed by some advertisers is to target the top position on the right sidebar, which is usually the #4 text ad position. Advertisers have found that the #4 position sometimes generates more clicks than the #3 position — but at a lower CPC price.
  • Footer. Some SERPs will also show text ads at the bottom of the page, below the main column. This is usually the cheapest ads on the page, but they also tend to have the least visibility and lowest click-through rates.

It’s important to note that Google does not show ads on all search results. In fact, Google designates about half of all search queries as “non-commercial” and no search ads are shown on those non-commercial SERPs. Additionally, some keywords have low advertising interest, so only a few ads may be shown.

Advertiser on Google Adwords and Bing Ads often try to target specific positions with their bids. Some advertisers are willing to pay the highest CPC prices and target the top position for their target keywords. Other advertisers just want to appear on the first page and set their bids to the minimum required to show on the first page.

 

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