By far the digital world offers better insights into how people visualize, interact and convert in relation with ads, compared with the traditional media. Just imagine how hard it is to count how many people have seen your billboard ad, it’s almost always a guessing game and there is always a margin of error.
On the other side digital advertising platforms offer robust measuring capabilities that make it possible to find out how many times your ads have been shown. Those “ad views” are called impressions and we will delve deeper into what they are, how to find them and how to use them.
Note: This article will explore only the concept of ad impressions, or impressions generated by running advertising.
This article will be the first of a series of articles called “Back to Basics”. This series aims to give the reader a better understanding of key concepts in digital marketing.
I chose to start this series with impressions because they are one of the most fundamental metrics available in the digital marketing world and also one of the most overlooked. The reason for the latter is mostly due to its simple and plain nature, but at the end of the day ads are made to be shown and this metric reports on that. Without further ado let’s find out…
What are impressions?
Impressions are found throughout platforms and might mean different things according to the environment in which they are found. But everything just boils down to something being shown. What is that something and how it’s shown can be different from platform to platform.
My main recommendation is to always check the description box or support documentation for any metric or feature you are not familiar with.
Make sure to watch the video version of the article to get an even richer experience!
What are impressions?
Each advertising platform defines impressions slightly differently, I will list below the definitions offered by some of the biggest advertising platforms out there. But first I would like to start with a sound definition coming from the IAB themselves.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau defines impressions as “A measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user’s browser, which is filtered from robotic activity and is recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivery of the creative material to the user’s browser — therefore closest to actual opportunity to see by the user.” (Source)
This is possibly the most sophisticated definition out there, but for a reason. IAB is in charge of developing industry standards, thus they must be pretty thorough with everything.
Now going into more “natural” ways of defining impressions, Google Ads interface offers us the following definition: “An impression is counted each time your ad is served on Google’s ad networks, such as on Google.com, YouTube or other publisher websites and apps.”
These definitions, as many more can be found by hovering the metric names in Google Ads interface.
Facebook has an even more light definition, which says the following: “The number of times your ads were on screen.” (Source)
All the definitions above have a common point, more specifically that impressions measure how many times a particular ad has been shown to the users. The IAB adds a layer of complexity by mentioning that those “views of the ads” must also be visible.
Where to find impressions
Each advertising platform gives you the possibility to view impressions generated by ads as a metric. Although most of the platforms give you this metric out of the box, in the performance view, in some cases can be hidden due to changing of the default metric layout or choosing of a specific data preset.
Let’s see how to see impressions in both Google Ads and Facebook Ads.
How to see impressions in Google Ads
- Navigate to “Campaigns” from your left-side menu
- If the metric is not shown in the table next to your campaign name click “Columns”
- A menu with multiple drop down options will appear, click “Performance”
- Tick the box next to “Impr.” and click the Apply button
How to see impressions in Facebook Ads
- From your Ads Manager click the columns icon under the date selector (upper-right side)
- Scroll down and click “Customize Columns…” option
- Under performance you will find “Impressions”, tick the box and click the Apply button
Now the metric will be visible and you will be able to see how many impressions have your campaigns generated.
Why impressions are important
Impressions come in handy when you are dealing with awareness and branding campaigns. Both these campaign types are trying to reach the same goal, maximum exposure, in other words reaching the highest number of people.
Impressions analyzed across campaigns and channels help you better understand which of those generate the highest exposure and allow you to make better optimizations.
Impressions also have a very important role as being a component of other marketing metrics such as CPM, CTR, etc. The accuracy of the latter implies that impressions themselves are being tracked accurately.
As mentioned above impressions do help in the calculation of other metrics, let’s find out something more about them.
CPM – cost-per-mille or cost per 1000 impressions is the most common method for selling digital inventory in the digital marketing world.
Formula: The “cost per thousand advertising impressions” metric (CPM) is calculated by dividing the cost of an advertising placement by the number of impressions (expressed in thousands) that it generates. (Source)
CTR – click-through rate measures the rate at which your ads are clicked. It’s presented as a percentage.
Formula: CTR is the number of clicks that your ad receives divided by the number of times your ad is shown: clicks ÷ impressions = CTR. (Source)
One common metric that is usually wrongly associated with impressions it’s called reach. Again, here we are talking about paid reach, not organic reach.
If you will start searching Google for “impressions vs. reach” you will be able to find more than 73,900,000 results for this particular search.
The biggest difference between impressions and reach is that reach is unique per user. Let me give you an example that will help you better understand: Let’s say a person visits a page and it’s exposed to your ad twice. This will be counted as two impressions, but one reach (because the reach is unique to that one user)!
This metric is great when you want to better understand the number of individuals that have seen your ads.
Note: Keep in mind that this metric is usually estimated (see Facebook’s definition on estimated metrics) and due to limitations in tracking technologies used might have a higher or lower error percentage.