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Google's Search Ads Metrics Definition Changes Explained

Google's Search Ads Metrics Definition Changes Explained

10/25/19 UPDATE: Hello Facebook Agency Visitor Person!  We’re delighted to have you visit this awesome post. About a year ago, ZATO stopped offering Facebook Ads solutions so we could focus solely on what we do best: Google Ads. Because of this, we’re always interested in partnerships with great Social Advertising agencies (like yourself, wink wink!) and we offer referral fees for signed clients!  Anyway, back to it, and happy reading…

Post Summary

Phew, that headline is a mouthful.

So many plural words in there! After seeing the amount of confusion on social media, as well as internally here at ZATO, I wanted to dig in, learn, and share my learnings with you to simplify the Search Ad changes Google recently announced in an email. I’m a fan of whenever Google does let us know when something changes, and an even bigger fan at the way they go into detail in their policies (at least, on some things… others remain nebulous of course ;). My goal here is to help talk through what you can expect NOW from Search Ads metrics based on these changes.

First, the original announcement from Google went like so (in email form): 

What’s important to call out right from the get-go is that specific call-out that this is a “Definitional” change, and that performance metrics calculations have apparently not been changed by Google at all (per Google Ads Liaison Ginny Marvin on Twitter/X):

In fact, according to a shared (with permission!) DM conversation I've been having with Ginny, it's helpful to note that the metrics discussed here (including "ad formats") have  been around for years, even if they seem newer to some PPCers!

(This also means you can now display this badge proudly as a PPCer)

I want to focus specifically on the brief definitions, and then some quick here’s what this means for you.  By far the element that I saw create the most (recent) confusion from this release was the idea of “prominence” as it pertains to “ad formats”. We’ll discuss that in detail!

Here goes: 

Top Ads

These ads (as defined below), are describing a “grouping” of ad placements that are at the top of eligible ads for a SERP. The Absolute Top Ad slot is the one, well, in the absolutely top slot. At this time, I’m still unsure how Google defines what is a “grouping” of top ads and can 1 or 4 or whatever Google wants it to mean (I've not seen this clearly defined anywhere, please do let me know if you see it!).

The thing to keep in mind with the concept of “Top Ads” and “Search top impression rate” is that it is speaking of an “ads only” context. Don’t bring SEO into an Ad placement fight (otherwise you’ll get confused)! 


This metric is just about what ads were “top” among other ads (confirmed here by Ads Liaison Ginny Marvin on Twitter/X). 

IMO, this is one of those metrics that probably isn’t worth thinking too much about as you aim for conversion volume and/or efficiency. Unless of course you are utilizing the Target Impression Share bidding model, for brand campaigns for instance. Otherwise, I say focus your energy and mindset on value and not ad position. 

Helpful Google Policy Doc: About top and absolute top metrics

Tip: This is Search Ads only, and is separate from Shopping Ads Top ad metrics. Don’t confuse the two as they can both appear in SERPs and are calculated independently of one another. 

Tip: This metric does NOT include Search Partners.

Absolute Top Ads

This one is a little easier to understand, as it simply refers the ad slot that is the absolute highest of the top ad slots. This gives you an idea of when you are above all other ads. 

Helpful Google Policy Doc: About top and absolute top metrics

Click Share

This wasn’t discussed in the most recent release, but just a brief reminder that impression share refers to how often your ads COULD have showed (and did), whereas click share is how many times your ads COULD have been clicked on, versus of how often they did. This includes auctions you did NOT appear in, by the way. 

Helpful Google Policy Doc: About click share

Prominence Metrics

Here’s the one that caused a lot of confusion! I (and many others, based on the social media posts from seasoned PPCers) don't remember this being a (pun intended) prominent word from Google in the past, but be aware of something called "Prominence" moving forward.


According to Google, prominence is “an estimation of your ad’s visibility on the search results page. Things that affect prominence include: Ad position and Ad formats.” (Ad Formats, what does that mean??? More on that in the next point…)

So as far as I can tell, “prominence” is just a googley way of describing how likely your ads are to be “visible” to a viewer. Since prominence is “primarily measured by the average change in click-through rates (CTR) from adding ad formats or moving to a higher position” I have to wonder if this is just another way of hinting at ad rank, since ad rank is primarily determined by expected click-through rate.

In other words, Prominence might not really be something you need to obsess over, but it could give you a quick glimpse into what GOOGLE THINKS will be a good ad (and thus impact what you are paying for it, i.e., ad rank). I don’t know, I’m shooting from the hip a little there, but that makes sense to me. What do you think? 

Helpful Google Policy Doc: Prominence

Ad Formats

So I, along with everyone else, seems a little confused by this. As I mentioned previously, Ginny Marvin (Google Ads liaison) did note that "ad formats" have been around for awhile.

The question after this most recent announcements that I’ve seen posed more than once goes something like: how can one ad have a format and not another, don’t all ads have some form of format by nature of being an ad??”

I think this is one of those cases where, I get what Google is saying, but also think it was communicated kind of… unhelpfully. 


I believe Google is pointing out here that: 

A search ad by itself, let’s say in its base form of text-iness, is “format-less”. That is, without any additional format. It is simply a text ad (again, for those of us who care about words we might argue that is itself a format: a plain text ad… but I digress). 

Therefore, when something is added onto it such as an automated asset, or a manual ad asset (think location assets, images, etc), then it is miraculously now “with format”.

Does that make sense? 

So the simple way of looking at it is: ads with those additional ad formats, are more prominent since they’re more visual in nature. 

Helpful Google Policy Doc: Prominence

Helpful Google Policy Doc: Ad formats

What do you think, helpful?  Anything I’m missing here? Let me know on Social Media!

PPCKirk on Twitter/X

PPCKirk on LinkedIn

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Kirk Williams
@PPCKirk - Owner & Chief Pondering Officer

Kirk is the owner of ZATO, his Paid Search & Social PPC micro-agency of experts, and has been working in Digital Marketing since 2009. His personal motto (perhaps unhealthily so), is "let's overthink this some more."  He even wrote a book recently on philosophical PPC musings that you can check out here: Ponderings of a PPC Professional.

He has been named one of the Top 25 Most Influential PPCers in the world by PPC Hero 6 years in a row (2016-2021), has written articles for many industry publications (including Shopify, Moz, PPC Hero, Search Engine Land, and Microsoft), and is a frequent guest on digital marketing podcasts and webinars.

Kirk currently resides in Billings, MT with his wife, six children, books, Trek Bikes, Taylor guitar, and little sleep.

Kirk is an avid "discusser of marketing things" on Twitter, as well as an avid conference speaker, having traveled around the world to talk about Paid Search (especially Shopping Ads).  Kirk has booked speaking engagements in London, Dublin, Sydney, Milan, NYC, Dallas, OKC, Milwaukee, and more and has been recognized through reviews as one of the Top 10 conference presentations on more than one occasion.

You can connect with Kirk on Twitter or Linkedin.

In 2023, Kirk had the privilege of speaking at the TEDx Billings on one of his many passions, Stop the Scale: Redefining Business Success.

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