Alexander Santo

It takes up to eight touches to generate a viable sales lead today.

And that’s just counting active engagement – people clicking on ads, reading articles, downloading reports and speaking with sales reps.

Between these active touches, your customers will likely passively view dozens of your advertisements or brand mentions. Each of these interactions may be brief, but that doesn’t make them any less important than your other marketing efforts.

Remember, the average consumer sees upward of 5,000 ads per day. A single viewed ad or logo may not be enough to generate a sale, but each builds brand awareness and recognition that will play an important role when customers are looking for solutions to their problems.

What type of impression does your brand leave on potential customers?

What are impressions in marketing?

We know that every ad and social media post leaves an impression on potential customers, but how do you leverage these subtle marketing touches?

Before we answer that important question, let’s get some definitions. In digital marketing, an impression is when an ad or social media post is served and made viewable by an internet user. Impressions do not count whether the ad or post was actually clicked.

We can actually define two types of impressions:

  • Served impressions: Any time a webpage loads an ad or social post, it is counted as a served impression. However, the ad may not actually be viewable due to its position on the page.
  • Viewable impressions: An impression is considered viewable if at least 50% of the ad or social post appears within the viewable portion of a webpage. Note that some platforms, like Facebook, use the term “viewed impressions,” but without eye-tracking technology, there’s no way to verify if someone actually looked at the ad.

How impressions are defined and counted can vary slightly from channel to channel, but the above definitions are generally representative of what marketers mean when they use the term.

Impressions vs viewable impressions vs clicks

Different channels, different impressions

Here are a few different ways marketers measure impressions in different channels:

  • Email: Impressions are counted whenever an email is opened. If you send 1,000 emails and 500 are opened, you received 500 impressions.
  • Social media: An impression is counted any time a social post is delivered to someone’s feed. One person can have multiple impressions of a single piece of content.
  • Pay-per-click display ads: For search engine marketing and paid social media campaigns, impressions are counted when your ads are displayed.
  • Website content: Google Analytics’ unique pageview metric shows you the number of sessions in which a specific page was viewed at least once.

Essentially, an impression is an opportunity – a chance to make a connection with new and returning customers.

What’s the difference between impressions and reach?

Whether you’re measuring content in a social media channel or a PPC bidding strategy, you’ll likely encounter two terms that may seem very similar at first glance: impressions and reach.

The difference is simple. Reach is the total number of people who are able to see your content. Your impression count will always be equal to or greater than your reach, because the same person can view content more than once.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you publish a new display ad and 50 people see it in total. Of that group, 40 people viewed the ad once, but 10 people saw it twice. In this case, your reach is 50, and your number of impressions is 60.

Impressions vs reach

Calculating cost-per-impression

Now we’ll determine the cost-per-impression of this display ad. Let’s say you spent $30 to get those 60 impressions. We just need to divide the total spend by the total number of impressions for a cost-per-impression of $0.50.

We can do the same calculation with an email campaign. For instance, if it costs you $100 to email 500 people and 300 people open the email, your CPI would be about $0.33.

Why are impressions important?

If impressions don’t count clicks, how is this metric useful to marketers?

First, your impression rate tells you how many people have the opportunity to see your branding. The more times customers see your brand, the more they will come to recognize it as a potential solution to their problems – and that’s when your other marketing collateral can take over and help you generate leads.

Second, impressions help you measure the health of your online marketing campaigns. Low impression numbers indicate that something is amiss, whether it’s your keyword research or your ad bidding strategy.

Organic marketing can be a slow burn – you can’t expect to publish a blog or email one day and start raking in the cash the next day. You need to build consumer trust first, and before you can do that you need to raise their awareness and recognition of your brand.

Essentially, marketing impressions matter because they let you know that your brand is being viewed online. Low impression numbers mean your campaign needs a tune up. Like a canary in a coal mine, your impression rate is one of the first indicators that you may need to adjust some piece of your digital marketing strategy.

What are strategies for getting more impressions?

A low number of impressions can mean many things. If you’re talking about an email campaign, your subject line and preview text may not be compelling enough for people to open the message. If you’re talking about social media marketing, your content may be getting drowned out by your competitors. If it’s a display ad campaign, you may not be bidding aggressively enough.

Increasing the number of impressions your content receives can be a matter of trial and error. For instance, if your ad copy isn’t grabbing anyone’s attention, you may need to try out multiple headlines to see what sticks.

Google Ads provides two unique metrics to help you better understand your impressions: impression share (IS) and absolute top impression share (ATIS). On one hand, IS calculates the total number of ad impressions divided by the total number of eligible ad impressions. This metric helps you understand if your ads could reach more people if you adjusted your bidding strategy higher. ATIS, on the other hand, calculates the number of times your ad appeared in the top position divided by the total number of eligible impressions. It is useful for determining if you should increase your ad budget to rank higher.

Impressions vs search impression share

Your bidding strategy is just one piece of the puzzle. Here’s a checklist of questions to ask when your impression rate is low:

  • Does your IS or ATIS indicate your bids are too low?
  • Are your keywords relevant?
  • Have you A/B tested your ad copy?
  • Is your imagery attractive and engaging?
  • Does your ad or post include a call to action?
  • Are your landing pages relevant to your ads or social posts?

On social media, your impression numbers could be low if your page doesn’t have many followers. Without people to share and interact with your posts, they’re less likely to reach people who don’t follow you. There’s a good chance your impression rate will rise when you gain more followers.

impressions vs clicks vs click-through rate

What if you’re getting many impressions but no clicks?

Many beginning marketers ask, “Why do my ads generate lots of impressions, but no clicks?”

A high number of impressions means your bidding and keyword strategies are working – but maybe not the way you want them to. It can be very frustrating when user interest does not translate to action.

What’s a marketer to do in this situation?

High impressions but low click-through rate may indicate one or more issues:

  • Keywords: You may be targeting broad keywords that attract a high number of search users, but not the most relevant users. Alternatively, you may be targeting keywords with low search volume. Consider A/B testing your ad copy with keyword variants to see which attract more clicks.
  • Ad quality: PPC platforms like Google Ads use a Quality Score (QS) o determine where to place ads on a page. QS is affected by keyword relevancy, landing page quality, click-through-rate and other factors. If your QS is low, your ads may appear far down on a page where they are less likely to attract attention. Do keyword research and optimize your landing pages to raise your QS.
  • Imagery: The images in your ads and social posts can affect user perception. For instance, if your pictures are blurry or look unprofessional, consumers may hesitate to click on them. Compare your images to your competitors and look for differences and similarities.

Identifying the specific reason(s) why your impressions are high but your clicks are low can be a difficult process. It may not be immediately apparent what’s causing the discrepancy. Testing different keywords, ad copy and imagery will help you determine where the problem lies. Every time you conduct a test, it’s imperative to measure and compare the results. Hard data will help you make informed decisions that increase the value and success of your marketing campaigns.

First impressions matter, and so do all the rest

Every time a potential customer sees your logo or hears someone mention your brand, it leaves an impression. The quantity and quality of those impressions has a direct impact on your ability to generate viable sales leads.

Marketers and advertisers should utilize served and viewable impressions to measure their campaigns and inform their strategies.

Let’s review. Impressions may not be the most exciting digital marketing and advertising metric, but they’re important because:

  • Impressions help you monitor the health of your campaigns. Low impressions and low clicks mean you need to adjust your ad copy, keyword strategy or PPC bids. High impressions and low clicks could mean you need to A/B test your copy or use more relevant keywords.
  • Impressions represent a way to measure brand awareness and recognition. Impression count shows you how often people have a chance to see your brand.
  • Impressions and reach help you understand your target audience. High reach and multiple impressions can help you determine the chances of your content going viral.

Now that you know more about why marketing impressions matter and how to use them to measure campaign success, brush up on some more digital marketing fundamentals.