What is an Impression in Online Advertising?

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

You never get a second chance to score an online ad impression, or do you? In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at what impressions are in online advertising and why it's an important metric for marketers.

Seeing is Believing

If you want to attract a lot of attention in New York City's Times Square, you need lots of billboards in varying degrees of sizes both big and bigger. Times Square is a tourism hot spot and a Mecca for advertisers hoping to get lots of eyes on advertisements of their latest and greatest products. In May 2017, roughly 337,000 people visited Times Square each day, adding lots of exposure for brands lucky enough to boast billboard space in the area.

In online advertising, getting eyes on your brand means something else entirely. You can't buy a billboard guaranteed to take over the internet and be seen by millions; you can only hope to place your advertising messages in places that will generate lots of traffic and, ultimately, business to go along with it.

For advertisers in the World Wide Web, the only way to count the pairs of eyes on a particular ad is through a performance metric known as an impression.

The Great Impression Debate

In online advertising speak, an impression is the measure for how many times users saw your ad on a webpage. Each view counts as one impression.

Impressions tell you how many times your ad has been viewed.
online advertising, marketing, impression, engagement, digital advertising

Impressions differ from clicks or other forms of engagement, so many marketers dismiss the metric as unimportant because, after all, there's no real interaction or lead that comes from it. Yet, impressions are how most ad costs online are configured, an equation known as cost per thousand impressions (or CPM, the M representing the Roman numeral 1,000). For example, if a website charges $1 per 1,000 impressions, that's the rate you'll pay to run your ad on their site.

Advocates of the impression metric say that it's all about getting your brand seen and making consumers aware that you're out there, whether they're clicking and converting into sales right away or not. After all, brand awareness is crucial too, and the more people who see you, the more likely you are to earn business down the road.

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