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Advertising Impressions & How to Track Them: A Guide

Laura Smous

Senior Director of Product Marketing @ AdRoll

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Advertising impressions can be one of the most confusing digital marketing metrics to understand. Unlike click-through rate (CTR), pay-per-view (PPV), or cost per lead (CPL), which are all fairly self-explanatory, an advertising impression is generally thought of as hard to define. 

It may be an amount of time that your content was in front of a person who may or may not look at it. Sometimes people think of them as how many people saw your content, while others say the metric is the number of screens your content popped onto at some point in time.

What's a better definition of these impressions, and what do they offer marketing professionals today?

Advertising Impressions Explained

An advertising impression is a measurement of how many times digital content is rendered on a screen. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Pop-up advertising

  • Side banners

  • YouTube advertising clips

  • Flying digital coupons

  • Opened marketing emails

  • And more

In many cases, the first experience a person has with a company brand is through an impression. Based on that impression, they may or may not decide to go forward on the company’s customer journey. Other times, they may need another push to change their minds.

Advertising impressions are an excellent way to understand how many times your brand has appeared to the public. This metric alone is not great if you're trying to measure an impression's direct impact on your bottom line. 

While impression count was almost impossible to track in the past, today’s digital marketing tools allow companies of all sizes and industries to see how many times people may have experienced their marketing. Unfortunately, this also leads to a rampant misunderstanding of what these numbers actually mean and how they can best be leveraged to provide quantifiable results.  

Ultimately, advertising impressions are a piece of the entire puzzle that makes up the consumer experience of any particular brand. It also gives marketers greater transparency into their efforts and mile markers on the journey to success. 

Let’s take a look at what impressions can and can’t do and what they may offer you in your broader marketing strategies. 

What Impressions Do and Don’t Offer

Your number of advertising impressions is a number of times that your brand has been displayed on a screen. 

Impressions, however, don't mean your ads were viewed or seen by a person. Viewability is the measure of whether an ad is seen, but unfortunately, there is no standard and reliable way to measure it.   

Even with its limitation, impressions are a great way to get a brand's baseline awareness out to a vast audience. For example, an ergonomic phone case potentially has a broad group of people who would consider that product. Vintage engagement rings don't — they're more of a niche product.

Finally, advertising impressions are often used as the base to price ads. The more impressions your advertisement gets, the higher the price. CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, is the measure ad networks use to charge for advertising. As impression-based campaigns tend to focus on building brand awareness and targeting the audience at the top of the funnel (TOFU), it should work within a broader marketing strategy that incorporates engagement and conversion to create a full-funnel acquisition plan. 

How to Track Impressions 

There are three ways to track impressions — through each advertising channel individually, using an integration and reporting tool and cross-channel trackers.

Individual advertising channel

Advertising channels, like Google or Facebook, report on advertising campaign performance in their ad management platforms. Ad impression is typically one of the metrics reported. You can get the impression data from the related reports. However, if you run advertising across multiple channels, it's a manual and time-consuming process to gather all the data from each channel.

Integration and reporting tool

Rather than downloading data from each advertising channel manually, you can use a third party integration and reporting tool to connect to each channel to download the data you need. Once connected, you can see impressions and other data across channels on a single dashboard. However, since the data comes from each advertising channel individually, you don't get the insights into your customers' journey across channels. 

Cross-channel trackers

To understand how your ad campaigns across channels influence your customers in their journey to conversions, you need to use trackers. Trackers are special URL extensions added to a click URL or an image pixel in your ads. Because you collect data directly from your ads through the trackers rather than relying on the advertising channels' reports, you know if the same customer interacted with your ads across channels. If the channel supports impression trackers, you'd be able to track impressions for each person to whom your ads were displayed.  

Understanding the End-to-End Journey

As impression-based advertising campaigns are often aimed at building brand awareness, an advertising impression is likely the first "touchpoint" between your brand and your potential customers. This is why it's crucial to track impressions — so that you can understand the end-to-end customer journey and true ROI of your campaigns.

How to Track Your Impressions

There are three significant ways that you can track impressions in your campaigns. First, you can track impressions through an individual channel like Google or Facebook.

Second, you can track via an integration and reporting tool like AdRoll to integrate data into a single source. Last, you can track via a cross-channel tracker like AdRoll to collect impression data across your various campaigns.

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