Don't Be Impressed By Impressions
By Brian Allen on October 20, 2015 in Digital Marketing
Do you feel that rumbling under your feet right now? Listen closely. That is the sound of a mass movement of traditional advertising moving to digital advertising. This has been happening for a while, but has really picked up steam over the last 12 months. According to a recent study by Mondo, 80% of companies surveyed plan to increase their digital marketing budgets over the next 12-18 months. 40% said they would increase them between 5% and 10% and 32% said they would increase them between 10% and 15%.
Obviously, this won’t all be new budget so a shift in spend will need to happen. With the effects of this, we are seeing media companies and publishers who have been focused on more “traditional advertising” (newspaper, tv, radio and billboard) trying to jump into the digital marketing space head-first. It completely makes sense, we certainly get it! The problem, is that traditional measures of success are being applied to a new paradigm and it’s not translating.
If you have been in the business world for any amount of time, you have no doubt been approached by one or fifty different companies selling pay-per-click or display advertising. A key selling point that you have probably heard has been, “We can guarantee you X number of impressions per month.” This term “impressions” may sound familiar to you. You have bought newspaper space, TV ads and radio spots before and were sold the same way. It’s familiar, so why would this digital space be any different? Here are a few things to consider before opening your wallet to this pitch.
What is an impression?
Let’s break it down. The concept is very simple, if an ad is shown on a web page or search engine results page, that results in an “impression”. What if I see my banner ad on the top of the CNN homepage? That’s 1 impression. What if I see my banner ad in the bottom footer of your son’s worm collection website? That’s 1 impression. What if I search for a term in Google and I see it in the search results? That’s 1 impression. (You get the idea).
Why aren’t all impressions created equal?
If we are going to talk about impressions, we should be able to focus on at least two things. First, what is visibility and prominence of those impressions? Secondly, how can I be assured that I am reaching only people in my target audience?
Considering our example above about the front page of CNN and your son’s worm collection page, which one of those would have more visibility and value? An impression that sits alongside a nationally-respected news site in a top prominent location above the fold, or a small thumbnail banner in the footer of a site really only meant for 13 year old worm collectors. Both of these examples are considered the same when talking about impressions. (See the issue)
Just taking the placement of the examples above into account, the CNN example has a much higher probability of visibility and brand retention, because it is at the top of the page where most the eyeballs are. Having banners lower on the page or being very small has a high possibility of not being seen at all. If the page loads and an advertisement is on the page, it is still an impression even if the viewer never laid an eyeball on it. A recent Google study has shown that 56% of ad impressions are not even viewable.
To be fair, there is a drastic cost difference between the front page of CNN and your son’s worm farm website. We would never want to only go for the premier placements as it would eat our budget fast and limit our exposure. On the other hand, we would not want to pull our bid back so far as to only get the cheap placements and then just get a high volume of impressions.
Wasted Impressions (money)
One of the biggest concerns about using “volume of impressions” as a key performance indicator is that in most cases your promised volume is way beyond the size of your target audience. For example, if we had a client selling a specific hair product aimed at mid-age women it wouldn’t make sense to leave men in our target. Also, considering that our product only really applies to middle-age women, it wouldn’t make sense to leave 18-24 years in the mix either. Most publishing platforms have a large array of targeting options allowing the advertiser to be hyper-relevant to who they target. This is one of the biggest differentiators between digital and traditional. These targeting options should be strategically used to your advantage to limit cost to relevant audiences.
So why are companies selling “impressions”
To be frank, it’s easy (and kind of lazy). It is a ubiquitous term that most people can wrap their heads around. And frankly, it sounds good on the surface! Developing good creative, establishing goals, measuring goals and aligning tactics across channels all take more expertise and more strategy. But it is this upfront strategy that sets a strong foundation for success and makes your advertising an investment versus a liability.
The fall back response to this argument is that you are getting “brand awareness”. Don’t get me wrong though, we certainly value brand awareness and it’s place in the buying/consideration cycle. This is a primary goal of display advertising (not so much for search advertising). To be fair in evaluating that claim though, you should ask yourself “do X number of more relevant people know about your company,” “do X number of more relevant people better understand what my company does?”, and “Did X number of people even see my ad at all.”
So, how should we market online?
Ultimately, if you strip away the word “digital” from “digital marketing”, you are left with just “marketing”. And from that standpoint, it goes back to basics. You need to have a goal and you need to have a way to measure that goal. In general, banner ads and search ads are not used as educational pieces or brochures (at least they shouldn’t be). They are meant to intrigue enough interest to get the user to click the ad and learn more about the product or service and ultimately entice that user to buy your product or service. How the user engages with your ads and how they interact with your site after they engage with your ad is a huge factor in determining the effectiveness of the advertising.
As a general statement, we don’t like to sell single tactics. In most cases a multi-channel digital marketing strategy that looks at all levels of the buying cycle will provide a better return on investment. There are times when certain tactics are an obvious play, but in most cases once we understand the target audience and business objectives we can create a multi-faceted strategy that works within most budgets and have a greater chance of success than putting all your eggs in one basket.
Is this a confusing subject for you? Do you have other questions around this space that we can help answer? We would love to help! Give us a call or contact us today to continue this conversation. We geek out easily. :)