When you can see how your target audience interacts with your digital ads, you can optimize your content, keep ad viewers engaged and win more customers.

As a metric, ad impressions can be a stumbling block for marketers who don’t fully understand how to leverage this information to improve their campaigns. With a better understanding of what this digital marketing and advertising metric actually means, you can use it to drive engagement with your content.

What is an ad impression?

An impression is the number of times a piece of content was displayed to a target audience.

When you examine your advertising analytics, you’re likely to see your impression metrics alongside your reach metrics. Reach is the number of users exposed to your content. These two key performance indicators (KPIs) provide valuable context for how your ads perform.

As we explained in our guide to understanding reach versus impressions, it’s important to track these two metrics in tandem. Reach metrics will help you understand the size of your audience and how it grows as you publish new campaigns. Tracking your impressions over time will help you understand how your audience engages with the content you publish. In this article, we’ll focus on the importance of impressions and how this metric can help you to optimize your campaigns and engage your target audience.

How do ad platforms calculate ad impressions?

Let’s say you’ve just published an ad or an ad set on an ad network like Facebook or Google Ads. Is an impression of a Facebook ad measured the same way as a display ad featured on another network? The answer is a little more complicated than you might think. First, it’s important to understand the difference between served and viewable impressions:

  • Served impressions represent the number of times a web application loaded your content, regardless of whether or not that content was rendered on the user’s screen. For example, if the ad network delivered your ad, but the user did not scroll far enough to actually see it, the platform would still count the impression.
  • Viewable impressions represent the number of times your content was actually rendered on the user’s screen. Depending on the platform, an impression may represent any instance when the ad was fully or partially visible. In general, platforms consider ads as viewable if at least 50% of the content is rendered on the screen.

Here’s how some of the most popular ad networks define impressions:

  • Google: At least part of your ad must be rendered on screen to count as an impression.
  • Facebook: The platform only counts impressions the first time an ad appears on screen.
  • Twitter: The platform counts impressions when users see a promoted tweet in their home timelines or within search results.
  • LinkedIn: The platform counts impressions anytime your ad is viewable.

How do ad impressions affect campaign performance?

If you’re wondering if ad impressions are an important KPI for pay-per-click campaigns, the answer is: Yes. For every campaign you produce, your impressions count signals how relevant your ads were to users. For instance, if you log into your Google Ad Manager dashboard and see low impression figures, it’s a sign that your campaign may not have utilized the right keywords.

If your campaign has a low number of impressions, it means your target audience isn’t seeing your content.

For example, the Google ad server will only send ads to people who search for relevant search terms. In recent years, Google’s algorithms have gotten better at determining related keywords, but it’s still important to use the words your customers are likely to use when searching for information or when they’re ready to make a purchase.

How do you boost ad impressions?

Often the number of ad impressions your campaigns receive is a matter of spend. Remember, when you publish PPC ads, you’re bidding for your audience’s attention. If a competitor consistently outspends you on keywords, you may struggle to keep up.

According to Google, you can boost your ad impressions by increasing your campaign budget or raising your bids. If you’re not prepared to increase your spend, you can also consider decreasing your regional targets — that means directing your spend away from a specific region to improve your chances of engaging members of your audience in another region. Finally, you can increase your impressions by improving the quality of your ads. Choose specific, intent-driven keywords and use strong calls to action to entice your audience to click.

What type of content drives ad impressions?

Let’s say you’ve published a campaign around a high-intent keyword, but you’re still not getting as many impressions as you had expected. It might mean that you’re not using the right form of content. If you know for sure that you’re using a keyword that signals intent, you need to make sure that your content satisfies that intent in some way.

If you were trying to create a campaign around a keyword like “ice cream shops near me,” you may not get many ad impressions for a PPC campaign. Why? Because Google is more likely to send users searching for that phrase to its Google Maps results. So, if you’re trying to attract customers to your social media pages, you might be better off using another keyword with a different type of intent, like “unique ice cream flavors.”

Always keep intent in mind when determining what type of content to use. For instance, keywords with a purchase intent should direct users to a landing page that answers relevant questions.

Ad impressions are just one of many metrics that marketers use to optimize their campaigns. To learn more about how to find and attract your customers wherever they are online, check out our complete guide to display, search and native advertising.

Alexander Santo is a Brafton writer living in Washington. ​He enjoys searching for the perfect cup of coffee, browsing used book shops and attending punk rock concerts.