Impressions in Digital Marketing: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

impressions marketing

Whether you’re discussing a website or social media accounts, chances are you’ve either used or heard the term “impressions” a number of times.


The term “impression” has been used as a measurement metric for decades to help marketers try to quantify their efforts. I remember sitting in my marketing classes in college and learning how to estimate impressions and reach for direct mailers and even billboard advertisements.


But, as marketing evolved, so did our ability to more accurately report on impressions, leading us to today, where we can not only comment on impressions for traditional channels such as mailers or radio ads, but also for websites, SEO, social media campaigns, email marketing and more.


Before we dive into the importance of impressions in online marketing and the various ways in which they can be tracked, let’s first take a look at the impression definition as it relates to marketing terminology.


What Are Impressions in Marketing


“What is an online impression?”


This a question I get asked frequently from clients and my family and friends. There are so many similar terms used in marketing that it’s difficult to keep them all straight.


Investopedia states the impressions definition in marketing as “a metric used to quantify the display of an advertisement on a web page.”


While this definition focuses primarily on impressions as they relate to online ads, impressions in online marketing can really refer to anything on the digital platform such as email, ads, social media marketing, or blog content on your website.


In other words, a slightly tweaked answer to the question “what is an online impression” is that impressions in digital marketing refer to any time your digital content is rendered on a user’s screen. And therefore, the number of impressions can be described as the number of people who would've seen your content online.


How to Evaluate Impressions in Online Marketing


One important thing to remember is that impressions in online marketing are not measured by clicks or interactions with the digital media, only the potential of the user to seeing the piece of media.


In fact, impressions often get confused with reach, which measures unique users who view your digital content. Impressions metrics, meanwhile, track any time the content appears, even if this occurs multiple times for the same user.


For example, if you post a blog post to your 100 followers on Facebook, your reach would be a maximum of 100, even if one of your followers sees the content again from a friend sharing the same post. Your impressions, however, will increase each time someone sees your post, even if they’ve seen it before.


The Questions Surrounding What an Impression Is in Digital Marketing


Because of the way impressions are calculated in online marketing, it has raised some concerns about the validity surrounding the metric.


This controversy exists among marketers because some feel that impressions serve as more of an estimation rather than hard data.


Since there is no interaction or click and the metric is based solely on whether the content, post, or ad is being viewed, it’s difficult to determine whether or not the user is actually seeing and registering the content.


This, however, does not mean that impressions in marketing are insignificant or should be completely ignored. It's still an important metric.


And, compared to how marketers used them 25-30 years ago, measuring impressions in digital marketing is much more quantifiable compared to measuring traditional marketing tactics.


Why Impressions in Marketing Still Matter


Despite the discussion around impressions in online marketing, I don’t think any marketer is ready to write off the metric completely.


The reason for this is quite simple: impressions are a great complementary metric to help you better understand other aspects of your digital marketing data.


In our digital marketing agency, we are constantly looking at email impressions, social media impressions and more to better understand other data metrics such as click-through rate (CTR).


When looking at email impressions, for example, if we see that our impressions are quite high, but the CTR is quite low, it tells us that something in our email isn’t resonating with our audience. This can help us formulate a strategic plan moving forward with how we structure our emails and calls to action, or even if we should consider solving email deliverability issues, such as email bounce backs.


Another worthwhile way to utilize impressions in online marketing is through the perception of your brand. Brand awareness plays a huge role in marketing and business. Getting your brand noticed is essential to building and expanding your customer base.


By utilizing impressions through, let’s say, your social media channels, you can get a better understanding of the awareness of your brand and content. This, combined with other data metrics, can help you measure and evaluate your social outreach to create a more tailored strategic plan.


In Conclusion


Despite the ever-changing reporting processes of digital marketers, certain things hold true, one of which being that evaluating a range of quality data is a great way to formulate strategy.


Now that you have a better understanding of what online impressions are and how they are still important in digital marketing, it’s your turn to incorporate them in your campaign evaluations.


Check your email impressions the next time you send out an e-blast. Who knows, it might provide you with the insights you need to improve your CTR.

Want to track your impressions, and all your other digital marketing KPIs in seconds? Streamline your reporting with DashThis. 


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Taylor Hosey

Taylor Hosey is an Internet Marketing Strategist at Sixth City Marketing. Her favorite aspect of her role is the ability to both learn more about SEO and utilize creative outlets (i.e. Adobe Photoshop) on a regular basis. Outside of the office, she enjoys yoga, cooking new recipes and online shopping.

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