When it comes to Google Ad campaigns, impressions are like a double-edged sword.

You want to have a lot of impressions for your ads, so you can reach as many of your prospects as possible.

Yet, you also want to make sure these impressions are relevant to your business.

The wrong kind of impression can hurt you in a number of ways.

One of the questions I’m most often asked by clients is what are impressions on Google Ads and how are they determined.

What they don’t often ask is what is a good impression on Google Ads. And how they can cut down on their impressions, which is often just as important.

What Are Impressions on Google Ads?

An impression is whenever someone is exposed to an ad you’re running on Google Ads or any pay per click platform. In other words, its the number of times your ad is seen.

Google Adwords Impressions are when your ad is displayed
An impression on Google Ads is when your ad is displayed

For example, you’re targeting the word Boston locksmith and 5 people type in the phrase on their phone, desktop, or tablet.

Then the number of impressions is potentially 5.

Potentially.

Because it's dependent on where your ad is showing for that word.

If you’re in the top 2 or 3 positions, then 5 is the likely number.

Ads that show at the bottom of the page are credited with fewer impressions.

Similarly, if your ad appears on page 2 and the searcher doesn’t go past the first page in their search, then you won’t be credited with an impression for this query.

Keyword match type has a tremendous influence on impressions, as one would imagine.

Broad match produces the greatest number, while exact match the fewest, and everything else falls in between.

Yet, Google has made changes to keyword match types so even if your using exact match, your keywords will be shown to a greater number than what it would have in the past.

And as I'll show negative keywords are also a factor.

Why Some Impressions are Bad and How They Impact ROI

The problem with Google Ads is that, depending on the type of keywords your targeting and how you’re targeting those keywords, you can be getting a lot of impressions for words that don’t apply to your business.

If you’re using broad match you get a lot of impressions, but often for words that aren’t as relevant to your business. While Google has improved this targeting option it still has flaws.

One of the best ways to see this is by monitoring your search term report.

These are the words that people actually typed in on Google that triggered your ad. In most cases, more than a few of these words don’t apply.

For example, you’re targeting Cleveland plumber through broad match. When you look at the search report data for that phrase you find you're showing up for phrases like plumber school near me or getting a job with a Cleveland plumber. Neither of these phrases would benefit you.

This impression wouldn't benefit this particular plumber and costs him money.

With broad match you often show up for competitor’s name. This means you could show up for when they're looking for a competitors address, their hours, or their fees.

By adding negative phrases such as school, job, or names of your competitors you can block your ads for showing up for these phrases.

This eliminates you from wasting any money on future clicks for these phrases.

It also limits the number of impressions your keywords will receive.

One of the best ways to limit your impressions and lower your costs is to monitor your search term reports regularly.

Eliminating your ads from showing for words that don't apply or in places you don't serve will help to dramatically lower your number of impressions.

How Impressions Impact Costs on Google Ads

As I wrote about in a previous article on how to improve your click-through rate, CTR is determined by the number of clicks out of the number of impressions you received for your ad.

The better your click-through rate, the better your Quality Score is likely to be.

A high Quality Score can result in your ads appearing higher than competitors who have bid higher but have lower scores.

The reason is that Google gives preference to ads that get clicked on more, even over competitors who might bid higher, but that aren't being clicked on.

Even if your number of clicks doesn't improve, the mere fact that your impressions have gone down will lower your click through rate.

Why Your Not Getting Impressions

If the problem is that your not getting enough impressions, or worse, not any impressions, then other factors are involved.

Below first page bid often means no impressions.

Most likely, your bidding too low on a keyword and as a result not showing up on the first page of Google.

Google will even give you a warning that your bid is below first page bid. Since most searchers don't go past the first page, this is important.

Another reason could be that people simply aren't typing in your keywords.

Again, Google will give you a warning by flagging a keyword as having low search volume. And that as a result your ads aren't running for that keyword.

The nice thing about Google Ads is you can test out a lot of words by simply adding them to your campaigns. The bad thing is that these words might not be used by anyone.

If your words are all being flagged as low impression share then you need to go back to the drawing board and do more keyword research.

There are more ominous reasons for words not getting impressions.

If your words have red wording beside them that states your words are Rarely Shown (low Quality Score) then your words aren't being shown very often, if at all.

When Google is actively warning you that there is an issue, then take notice. Look at your ads, your ad groups, and your landing pages to see where you can improve.

Finally, your keywords might be getting no impressions because there is an issue with your campaign. It could be that your credit card needs to be updated or your ad has been disapproved.

Your Impressions Count Too

One mistake many business owners make is to search for their own ads on Google. They’re curious to see if their ads are running and so type in one of their keyword phrases.

How to use the Google Ads Preview Tool
The Google Ads Preview Tool Allows You to Safely View Your Ads

It seems like a small thing, but even this search adds to the overall number of impressions.

And it doesn’t really benefit a marketer anyway. If they don’t see their ad, it could be for a number of reasons.

The need to know is understandable, but there is a better alternative.

The Google Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool can tell you a lot about your account.

To find the tool click the wrench at the top of the screen.

That will trigger a drop-down menu where you can find the tool under Planning at the far right. Click on this and you’ll see the tool.

When using the tool make sure the location is set to where your ads are running. If you target just Atlanta, for example then make this your location.

You can check to see if your ads are running on either mobile or desktop.

This is how to search for your ads.

Not only will it not count as an impression, but if your ads aren’t running it will tell you why and what to do to change that. It could be that your budget is depleted or has a low Quality Score.

This way you’ll know if there is a problem.

Impressions Aren’t the End All Unless Your Branding

One pitch I’ve heard from other advertising platforms or agencies is their boasting of the number of impressions a client’s business will receive if they advertise with them.

It used to be a tactic that salespeople for Yelp would do and which the telephone companies still do as part of their online strategy.

What they don’t tell you is how these impressions are generated.

Are they by people actively looking for your service or do your ads happen to appear on a page someone visits? Your goal with Google Ads is not to get a lot of impressions. It’s to get business. This only happens if someone clicks on your ad.

You want to reach as many prospects in your market as you can, but only if they are legitimate candidates. By limiting your impressions, you help to weed out people who might have clicked on your ad but aren't real prospects.

The only time impressions matter is if you're doing a branding campaign and want to get as much exposure as possible.

Even with a branding campaign you want your ad in front of people who are relevant to your business.

Learn When You're Missing Out On Valuable Impressions

One of the ways to detect the effectiveness of your campaign and potential missed opportunities is search impression share.

Impression share is how often your ads were eligible to run for a keyword in your market when your campaigns are active.

Search impression share can be a good indicator of how many potential searches you're missing out on because of insufficient daily budget or low bids.

It only shows data from when your campaigns are running.

If your running ads from 9-5 Monday through Friday, the data only pertains to that specific time frame. It’s also only based on the market in which your ads show.

To find your search impression share you first have to add it to your dashboard. Click the three vertical lines that say columns. It's found just above the columns with data on your keywords. When you click on modify columns you'll be faced with a lot of options.

When you click on competitive metrics you'll be presented with a number of choices. Click search impression share.

Competitive metrics in Google Ads
Go to modify columns to show search impression share

Search impression share is your overall score for each phrase. A low number indicates your ads aren’t showing as often as they could for your keywords. While this number is important, it’s the other two columns that indicate why your impression share is low.

Search Lost Is (Rank) is the number of times your ads didn’t show because of their position. If you’re ads regularly appear on the second page of queries, then your number will be even higher.

To improve rank share you could increase your bid, work to improve your Quality Score, or better yet, both.

If your ads aren’t showing all the time during your time frame, you have a few options. One is to increase the budget. Unfortunately, if your budget is limited, then this might not be an option.

A second is to lower your bids slightly, which could result in more clicks at a lower cost. This is a better option, but be careful though for if you bid too low your rankings will be too low and result in no impressions.

A final option is to evaluate the keywords your targeting. If some keywords convert better than others, then pause some of the latter phrases. This will allow more budget to go toward your best keywords.

If you have a high impression share for your budget and you want to spend more advertising dollars, then you need to look for additional keywords to target.

If you don’t see any data related to search impression share, it likely means your campaigns haven’t been running long enough or you have enough data.

Impressions and Google Ads Display

Impressions are still shown in display campaigns, but they don’t have the importance they do in search. Because of the targeting options in display your click through rate is often a fraction of what it would be in search.

Google Adwords imrpessions on display are often mobile apps.
Impressions On Google Display Often Involves Mobile Apps

One thing I often look for is if you have a very high number of impressions in a short period of time.

I look to see what is driving so many impressions.

In many cases, its because your ads are appearing on mobile apps or highly trafficked sites that aren’t related to your business.

Look at the placement reports and see where your ads are appearing. If they are joke sites, or sites devoted to different emojis, or similar nonsense, then block these placements.

This will cut down on a lot of impressions and often wasted spend.

Google used to offer a simple solution to block all mobile apps, but most likely this affected their bottom line as they changed this.

You can block a number of mobile apps by going into placements and the clicking on exclusions. Then click the pencil icon on the next page. This will result in a list of sites you've excluded, but also lists 141 different categories of apps to block. By checking each box you eliminate a lot of the mobile apps on the Apple Store and Google Play.

Unfortunately, this still doesn't block all mobile apps.

If you still see a lot of clicks and impressions from mobile aps, then blocking them is unfortunately a waste of time. For each app you block there are dozens that will replace them. The only option is to not advertise on mobile at all. And tablets too.

Unfortunately the only way to eliminate all mobile apps is to bid lower on mobile and tablet.

Anything related to apps in Google Display is a bad idea
Block categories of mobile apps on Apple Store and Google Play in Exclusions.

The goal of most campaigns is to get clicks from potential prospects in your market. Impressions are a factor in your campaign, but never lose sight of your goal. I’ve seen campaigns with a very low number of impressions, but the clicks from these words are often extremely effective.

It’s really about getting the most clicks from potential prospects and not the most impressions.

If you’re bewildered by the data in your account or simply frustrated with the results of your campaign, then consider hiring a Google Ads consultant. I can provide monthly Google Ads management services or assist you in going in the right direction.