Why Google’s latest tweak will increase your rankings
On Wednesday night, Google announced they have changed how average positions are calculated in the Top Search Queries report. These changes are effective immediately.
Average position is an SEO truth that seems to struggle to take hold even though it is far more appropriate to today’s personalised search landscape than the old concept of absolute rankings.
That is to say that there are still expectations are that SEO experts; either boutique agencies or full service, should aspire to boost hero keywords to position #1 – even though that position is now entirely relative. If you have put together an RFP for SEO services that uses Google’s average position as a metric then you are ahead of the curve.
So, what’s changed?
Previously Google took the average of all the positions returned by a search to calculate the average. From today, Google will only calculate the average based off the highest position.
This screen grab of results for [necatar car insurance] illustrates the situation.
Here we can see that, for my search; Nectar.com commands positions #1 and #2, Sainsbury’s Bank has position #3 and Confused.com has positions #4 and #5.
Notice also the Search plus Your World highlighting on Confused.com’s #5 position – that URL is there, in part, because of a social signal created back in 2009.
Google’s old system would have given; Nectar.com an average position of 1.5, Sainsbury’s Bank an average position of 3 and Confused.com an average position of 4.5.
The new system gives; Nectar.com an average position of 1, Sainsbury’s Bank an average positionof 3 and Confused.com an average position of 4.
This means that the positions reported by Google’s Webmaster Console have increased for two out of the three brands in the top 5 positions. Just to be clear; no site has changed rankings – just that Google’s own report now lists them in a higher position.
However, it’s important to note that average position does not stop there. That example was overly simplified because it only looked at one search. Different people will get different results for a [nectar car insurance] search. These three brands will have different rankings, or may not rank at all, if you attempted the same search as me.
Here’s Google’s own example;
Let’s say Nick searched for [bacon] and URLs from your site appeared in positions 3, 6, and 12. Jane also searched for [bacon] and URLs from your site appeared in positions 5 and 9. Previously, we would have averaged all these positions together and shown an Average Position of 7. Going forward, we’ll only average the highest position your site appeared in for each search (3 for Nick’s search and 5 for Jane’s search), for an Average Position of 4.
The fact that different searchers get different results combined with the fact that personalised search (with or without Search+) sites to grab high positions if they’re utilising multi-signal based SEO tactics means that last night’s adjustment to the Top Search Queries feature will likely show “better” results for many sites.
Although the concept of average position may be less straight forward as absolute position it is still the most meaningful ranking metric to use. Google will likely continue to tinker with some of their calculations and presentations within reports but this is neither new nor harmful; in fact, it’s a natural part of the SEO world and progress is good.