Recent search metric updates: a signal generative AI is entering paid search

May 03, 2024

Markus Riemer
Explore the evolving world of search as we delve into Google's latest metric updates, providing insights and strategies for navigating the shifts of paid search in the age of generative AI.

Recent search metric updates: a signal generative AI is entering paid search

To discuss the state of search engines today is to discuss the state of generative AI. The tailwinds of technological improvement and competitive pressures have directed companies to accelerate development of their AI solutions. For Google — and particularly its search engine results pages (SERPs) — the outline of its AI development is shaded in by the rollout of its Search Generative Experience (SGE), which is sure to bring a more dynamic, less consistent layout to results pages. While premium search advertising inventory is likely to be the final facade of the traditional Google SERP structure to be refurbished, a recent announcement about changes planned for certain search metric definitions indicates that SGE is in the early stages of forging its way into the advertising landscape.

Dynamic placements + refined metrics

In the recent announcement, Google acknowledges ad placements are becoming more dynamic. This acknowledgment was followed by refinement and updates to certain search metrics that help advertisers decipher the relationship between their ad positioning and organic search result listings. Metrics like top and absolute impression share have been refitted to align with more dynamic results. Below are the two key changes from the announcement and the implications they surfaced for advertisers and the search engine experience.

1. Top and absolute top metrics

Top ads refer to the bundle of ads that are the first to be displayed in search results. While these ads have historically existed above organic search listings, the variability of the recent changes to the SERP has impacted the previous predictability. As outlined in the screenshot on the right, top ads can now appear below the top organic search results on certain queries. Google has leaned away from any top-of-page certainty, which is demonstrated in the updated definitions of “search top impression share” and “search absolute top impression share.”

Updated definitions from Google:

“Search top impression share (Search top IS) and Search absolute top impression share (Search abs. top IS) help you understand the opportunity for your ads to improve triggering among top ads or in the very first position among top ads.

“Unlike average position, these metrics don’t reflect the
order of your ads compared to other ads, but the actual placement of your ads on the SERPs.”

While this definitional tinkering won’t upend search advertising strategies, Google’s explicit acknowledgement of the variability of ad placements is a signal of more SERP dynamism to come. One example? Once SGE launches, this entirely new element will be added to the SERP, and as a result, ads will appear both within SGE results and around them. Where and how often paid result types will appear in the SERP will be a variable marketers will have to become accustomed to in this new age of search.

2. Prominence

Perhaps an even more noteworthy change to Google’s glossary is the new definition of prominence, which “is the estimation of your ad’s visibility on the search results page.” Prominence, which is an estimation, is affected by ad positioning and ad formats. According to Google, prominence is primarily measured by the average change in click-through rates from adding ad formats or moving to a higher position.

The prominence metric, when compared to older and deprecated positional metrics like average position, is a much “squishier” metric than most advertisers prefer. For example, advertisers used to have visibility into the exact average position an ad appeared in relation to other ads. Now, with the introduction of prominence, advertisers will receive a broader estimation of their ad’s positioning and visibility on the SERP. Perhaps more information will be disclosed in the future, but it’s likely many advertisers will remain distant from deeply utilizing prominence in its current state. Ultimately, prominence is Google’s acknowledgement that with more generative-AI-influenced ad positioning variability, and potentially more ad formats to come, a high-level metric like prominence may be the best option for marketers to gauge ad visibility.

What marketers need to know

Ultimately, these changes necessitate that advertisers re-evaluate their relationship to the impression share metrics available in Google Ads. Why? Because most brands care deeply about ad appearance, the ability to see share of voice, and where they rank compared to other advertisers in the auction, it’s easy to become fixated on these metrics. But impression share metrics like search top impression share (Search top IS), search absolute top impression share, and prominence are imperfect gauges to accurately understand the full relationship a brand’s ad has with visibility and SERP positioning. And these metric changes make impression share even more imperfect as a metric, which necessitates a re-evaluation.

In the search marketing landscape, initial tweaks to longstanding definitions of longstanding metrics are often signals of more changes to come. Given that these updated definitions coincide with Google’s overarching development and rollout of its highly anticipated SGE, marketers must prepare for more significant changes to positional metrics downstream. To get ready for these impending changes in the meantime, re-evaluating your brand’s relationship with these impression share metrics is critical. Start viewing them as more directional than absolute indicators of success. As marketers wait to learn what other changes Google has planned in the future, this shift will help you make informed decisions based on trends and overall campaign health.