What are impressions? // Metric Meaning


Approximate reading time (5 to 10 minutes)

Impressions are one of the first metrics you encounter in the digital marketing process. But chances are you're not yet even thinking about marketing metrics. Chances are you're just interested in more bottom line business activity, sales; or perhaps marketing metrics still mean nothing to you... 

If so, great this article is for you. Understanding impressions will allow you to position your businesses advertising properly. In turn maximising the likelihood of creating a return on investment. 

By the end of this article you should be able to:

  • Answer the question what are impressions?
  • Understand why not all impressions are equal.
  • Think about where you might want to obtain impression.

Put simply impressions are opportunity. They're people viewing your ad or presence, at a certain time and place in their life. Perhaps they're interested, but they're probably not. Now don't take offense that they're probably not interested. Understand that probability is the game you're playing here and you aren't just competing for their attention, you're also trying to out compete your competitions.

To begin, let's start with a non digital example and then move into a digital example. An ad on the outside of a bus. An ad on the side of the bus captures a lot of impressions and working backwards, the cost per impressions is probably very cheap (compared to other types ads and their cost per impression). Many people will see this ad and in a variety of different locations, although generally within a local area. Some questions you should start to consider about this advertising piece:

  • How many impressions would you expect from a bus?
  • Would different bus routes change the number of impressions?
  • Would different bus routes change the types of people who would be viewing your ad? Consider a suburban route vs a CBD route.
  • What about time of day?

So let's say our bus route drives from Swansea to Newcastle and back all day. Each way is considered one route. Let's say that on each route this bus generates on average 10,000 impressions. That's 10,000 different people, from pedestrians to other drivers who will see your add. Let's say the bus with our ad on it does 6 routes a day. That's 60,000 impressions per day. There's then a day on and a day off as they service and clean the bus, so on average it will be on the road 3.5 times per week. That's 210,000 impressions per week or 840,000 impressions per month

Before we continue, let's consider what expectation we should have of these ads. Is your expectation to:

  • Drive awareness about your brand?
  • Direct engagement your products and services?
  • Boost leads and or sales?

Of course you would want to impact all three, but you need to accept that there will be drastically different rates of impacts on each. It's likely going to drive excellent awareness of your brand, moderate engagement with your product and services and partial impact on sales. This is important to understand from the perspective of impressions. Out of 840,000 impressions, let's say that:

  • 30% will notice the ad content - 25,200
  • 5% will look you up and engage with your website - 4200
  • 0.05% will call to enquire - 42

Is 42 leads per month a good number? How does that help justify the investment in the bus advertisement? To be clear, these are hypothetical numbers, but they do express the model. Also, this is not to say that sales will or won't produce an ROI for the ad.

This is simply to say that advertising causes a variety of positive effects, and there's value in each of these. Just because a bus is not boosting sales as aggressively as you might like, it's absolutely generating attention for your brand and then this also can lead to engagement with your services. But let's cover interactions in a different article and focus back on impressions.

So we have looked at impressions that can be generated by transport advertising, lets now go digital. Where might we want to go to generate impressions and why? Facebook? Google Search? Youtube? Let's go with Google Search for the following reason, when a user searches on Google their is an obvious intent and or purpose. They're looking for something. When that something is a business service or your product, that's a very powerful moment to display your ad.

When you're setting up advertising on Google search you basically have two options. Paid advertisements or Organic advertisements.

  • Paid ads are run through Adwords, and typically you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. The price you pay is called your cost per click, which will go into in a different article
  • Organic is often the product of search engine optimisation (SEO). Where Google's algorithm believe your website and page offer value to the searcher. You're paying for SEO services to get to the top of google, but you aren't paying for a click each time. This means you will have a cost per acquisition, but no cost per click. Again, more details in another article.

But let's not stop there, you also have location. Where the searcher is searching from. You also have device, which is, what device is the searcher using. Are they on a mobile, desktop or tablet? We'll go into these in future articles, as we will simply focus on impressions in this article. But important to know that all of these options are available.

Let's say the searchers are typing in "digital marketing newcastle". Google allows you to see on average how many people are searching for this query each month. This average number of searches per month (SPM) generally speaking, allows us to approximately understand how many impressions are available for that query. Things to consider when you're looking at your digital impressions are your filters. What location are you focusing on is that "newcastle" Australia or "newcastle" England? If you're not careful the numbers can look a lot bigger than what they may be and you may come to overestimate the number of potential impressions or opportunity of a query.

Let's say the "digital marketing newcastle" query might have an SPM of 260 for Australia only. If we had a big enough budget, then we could compete for everyone one of those opportunities when someone searches for "digital marketing newcastle". But then so might all of our competitors, everyone in your market is after that opportunity. We will go into the auction mechanics of Adwords in a future article.

But before we breakdown that 260 SPM, let's look at our expectations again. How would we expect these potential 260 impressions to impact our business? Will we be:

  • Generating awareness of our brand?
  • Engagement with our products and services?
  • Boosting conversions in the form of online leads or sales?

A google search ad is likely going to benefit engagement and conversion. WIth some exposure of your brand being presented. But ultimately what sustains Google search advertising is engagement and conversion. These are hot leads and you're competing for the opportunity to sell your services.

These ads may generate up to 260 impressions per month, but they're potentially 260 searchers looking for your services, or at least, they have shown a strong degree of intent to interact with the services of your market. As opposed to 840,000 impressions, of which perhaps 260 of those are people looking for your services.

But that's not really how we should consider our advertising, we ought not to compare transport advertising against Google search advertising. We ought to consider how do each of these advertising forms could compliment each other.

We started with an offline advertising product on the side of a bus. This bus drives from Swansea to Newcastle along a very specific route several times a day on specific days each week. So what if we layered a digital marketing campaign on top of that bus route and what if we adjusted our campaign to be in sync or at least boosted when the bus is in each of those local zones on a route? This may not in fact be an effective strategy, but it's the way you can start to consider where to generate impressions and when!

Digital marketing isn't powerful because you can focus on obtaining very targeted impressions. Digital marketing is powerful because of the way you can configure filters for around ads.

Thank if you have made it this far and I think by now you should understand what impressions are. I think you should also understand that not all impressions are equal and I hope you're now starting to think about where you might want to obtain some impressions.