What is an Impression?

(Last Updated On: September 7, 2019)

The very first building block to pay per click marketing is to serve an ad. The common Impression.

It is important to understand what an Impression is, because it is the first measurement of your ads.

You might think something like an Impression could be a simple and straightforward PPC topic. For the most part it is. In the PPC marketing world, the short answer to “What is an Impression?“is, an Impression is an ad being served.

Boom! simple as that. Right?

Where the confusion comes into play, is that the simple definition of What is an Impression is conflated with “how many times your ad was shown” or worse “how many times your ad was seen“.

The problem lies in that “how many times your ad was shown” implies that an ad is visually seen. That may not be the case. “How many times your ad was seen” explicitly states people see an ad. This is not necessarily accurate. Serving an ad is not the same as being aware of, seeing or reading an ad.

To illustrate how an ad could be served but not seen, let’s consider a real world situation. The classic roadside billboard.

Think about the times you have driven down a road and traveled past a billboard.  I am picturing an expressway that has many billboards. Think of how many times you drive past one, that is an Impression of each billboard. The fact that you drove past the billboard doesn’t mean you looked at it, read any of it, or even noticed it.  

Regardless of if you noticed the billboard or not, you drove past. That is an Impression.

A second real world example would be television commercials. A commercial plays if you are watching it or not. Say the TV is on,  but you are not in the room. The commercial plays, even if you do not see or hear it.

It’s the same with pay per click Impressions. An ad serves, whether you noticed it or not.

An Impression does not require a person to have awareness of an ad.

As will many things in the PPC world, it depends on the specifics of each platform as to what exactly an Impression is.

In each platform, there is usually a definition that pops up when you mouse over the Impression column header.

Take a moment to review definitions of the specific PPC platform(s) you use to understand exactly what is an Impression.

Here are a couple of examples to clarify how different pay per click channels consider Impressions:

For Google Ads search campaigns, if an ad shows in a bottom Ad Position below the organic results, and a person does not scroll to the bottom of the page. Google Ads considers that an Impression. An ad serves on the search result page. Even though the User didn’t see an ad because they never scrolled to the bottom of the search results page.

In the case of a Google Ads search campaign, an Impression is that Google serves an ad on the search results page, not that a person actually sees it!

*Yes, Google Ads has Viewable Impressions for Display campaigns, but that is not what I am referring to here and is beyond the scope of this article. “Visible Impressions” in Google Ads is a good example of how defining “what is an Impression” is not always cut and dry. It  depends on the specifics of the platform.

Google Ads Tip

With Google Ads you can get a little bit more insight into where on a search results page you are accruing Impressions by taking a look at the Top Vs Others Segment. This will show you how many of the Impressions are at the top of the page before the organic results (likely seen by a User) and how many Impressions are from below the organic results (less likely a User scrolled down to even see the Ad).

Facebook is a little bit more reasonable. Counting an Impression each time an ad serves on screen. At least an ad has to be on the users screen to count as an Impression! If a person sees an ad in their newsfeed and scrolls past , then scrolls back up and sees the same ad again, that is one Impression. If a person sees an ad in two separate instances, each instance is an Impression.

As you can see, the definition of what is an Impression depends on the specifics of the platform.

For everyday use that will work for most PPC advertisers the definition of what is an Impression is Impressions are a count of how many times ads have been served. Not how many times an ad has been seen or noticed!

Now that we know what an Impression is, let’s take a look at the metric that goes hand in hand with Impressions, What is a Click?

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