Digital Marketing

Reach vs impressions: Understanding two essential metrics in performance marketing

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Brand awareness is a key objective of all marketing campaigns because it is at the very top of the marketing funnel. Measuring each campaign’s effectiveness with metrics like reach and impressions will help you understand how potential customers learn about your offerings and ultimately take the first step of the buyer’s journey.

The basics: Reach vs impressions

Understanding the difference between these essential marketing metrics is crucial to optimizing your campaigns.

  • Reach is the number of people who see your content.
  • Impressions represent the total number of times your content renders on users’ screens.

Your impressions will always be equal to or greater than your reach, because each unique user can make multiple impressions on a single piece of content.

The distinction between these metrics is important to understand when making adjustments to your marketing campaigns. Tracking your reach will help you understand the size of your audience and how it grows over time. Taking measurements of your impressions will help you see how users engage with your content.

Deepen your understanding: Reach

As an engagement metric, reach helps you to visualize the size of your audience. Low reach means that your message isn’t traveling very far. Emerging brands often struggle with increasing their reach because they lack brand recognition and don’t yet have the momentum to build a large audience. The earliest stages of audience building are the toughest — you must fight hard for every new follower or returning site visitor.

What is potential reach?

As the term suggests, potential reach is the number of unique users who are likely to see your posts. But, aside from possessing psychic abilities, how does one calculate this metric?

To be clear, you’re most likely to encounter the potential reach metric on Facebook. Its advertising platform is equipped with machine learning functionality that enables it to predict the likely outcome of any one campaign based on a variety of factors, including the results of previous marketing efforts.

According to Facebook, potential reach isn’t a promise. The metric “isn’t an estimate of how many people will actually see your ad, and may change with time. The number of people your campaign actually ends up reaching depends on your budget and performance.”

The difference between organic and paid reach

Whatever platform you’re considering, you’ll usually have the ability to measure organic and paid reach:

  • Organic reach is the number of people who see your content naturally.
  • Paid reach is the number of people who see content that you’ve paid to promote, such as an advertisement.

The type of reach you pursue will depend on your goals as well as your current position in the marketplace. If you’re struggling to reach a significant audience with your content, a paid campaign can make a difference. But remember, the ability to pay to reach new users doesn’t guarantee that those people will engage with your content.

What is viral reach?

As your brand’s total number of followers, and customers, expands, you’ll see your reach metric grow. Eventually, you’ll generate a new type of reach: Viral reach. This is actually a subset of organic reach, but as a marketer, it’s exciting to see, so that’s why we’re making the distinction here.

Viral reach refers to the number of people who see your content because it was re-posted or shared by other people in their network. For example, if one of your followers retweets your post and 100 people who don’t follow your account see it, they would count under the viral reach metric.

Deepen your understanding: Impressions

Impressions are a widely used metric because they represent the number of times people have an opportunity to view your content. Often, a campaign’s impression numbers will be much higher than its reach because the same people will be exposed to the content on multiple occasions. Just think about a meme that you can’t seem to escape online. Every time you encounter it would count as a unique impression.

The difference between served and viewable impressions

With impressions, there’s a key consideration that shouldn’t be ignored:

  • Served impressions represent the number of times a web page or app loads your content, regardless of whether or not the content is actually viewable. For example, a user’s feed might load your content, but if the user doesn’t scroll to its position in the feed, he or she won’t actually see it.
  • Viewable impressions represent the number of times your content was at least 50% visible on a user’s screen. Take this metric with a grain of salt, however, because there’s no way for a web page or app to determine a user actually acknowledged an ad.

Should you care about cost-per-impression?

Cost-per-impression is a calculation of how much you spend to get your content in front of a single user. For example, if you spend $100 on a campaign and you get 100 impressions, your cost-per-impression is $1.

This can be an important metric to track because it shows you how much money it takes to generate an opportunity to increase your brand awareness. Even though users may not interact with your content, you can be reasonably sure that they saw it. While simply making someone aware of your brand isn’t likely to convert them into a paying customer, it is an important and necessary step for growing your audience and increasing your pool of potential customers.

Keep in mind that impressions and reach are both top-of-funnel metrics.

You’re casting a wide net to get in front of as many people as possible. By targeting your messages carefully, you’ll appeal to an audience that is likely to be interested in your offering. Tracking these early engagement metrics in relation to other measurements such as clicks and pageviews will help to improve your assets designed for deeper stages of the sales funnel.

Which is more important: Reach or impressions?

Which of these metrics is more important will depend on your current marketing goals. If your goal is to grow your audience, then focus on reach. If your goal is to engage your existing audience, focus on impressions. However, you should always consider both of the metrics in tandem, as they tell a more complete story together.

Ultimately, both metrics will help you to track the performance of your campaigns. Low numbers mean that your content isn’t engaging. Adjusting your copy, imagery and calls to action can help you increase your numbers and draw more potential customers to your offers.

Reach and impressions on social media

Reach and impressions are crucial metrics to track on any social media marketing campaign. Your analytics dashboards will display these social media metrics to help you understand the performance of each campaign as a whole, as well as individual components of those campaigns. This is important for marketers who like to test multiple versions of ad copy to see which resonates the most with their target audience. Take a look at how these metrics appear on the top social media platforms:

Facebook

When considering metrics for your Facebook ads and posts, keep in mind that these are estimated measurements. Facebook can’t guarantee accurate measurements because users may not actually acknowledge seeing specific content. For example, if users scroll through their feed very quickly, they may pass by several ads without actually pausing to look at them. However, since these ads were rendered on the screen — if only for a second — they will be counted.

With the right strategy, Facebook ads and posts can go viral, which will greatly improve your brand awareness. Remember that you can put money behind a regular post to boost its potential reach, and you can also create more traditional PPC ads on the platform. Our guide explains the difference between these types of content.

Instagram

Instagram tracks both reach and impressions of individual posts as well as Instagram Stories. As in most cases, it’s best to track reach and impressions together, as each metric alone can’t show you the whole picture. Importantly, Instagram will show you where your impressions come from, whether from your followers scrolling their feeds, visiting your profile or searching through hashtags.

Although an Instagram story will disappear after 24 hours, it’s still important to monitor the unique reach and impressions of this content. Over a long period of time, you should see your average engagements increase as you gain followers.

Twitter

If you have 1,000 Twitter followers, then every tweet you publish should have a potential reach of 1,000, right? Unfortunately, you can’t guarantee that all of your followers will log in to see your content, and you also can’t guarantee that they won’t scroll right past it. As a result, Twitter impressions can be difficult to measure accurately. Twitter analytics are better at tracking user engagement, such as people replying to your content or sharing it with their own followers.

Reach and impressions for PPC campaigns

Reach and impressions are key metrics for pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Keeping track of your campaign impressions will help you to understand how your brand is performing online. In every campaign, your impression rate is an early indicator of success or failure.

Google Ads will show you the reach, impressions and viewable impressions for your ad campaigns. If you conduct A/B testing, it’s important to keep track of your ad impressions. That way, you can increase the ad frequency on campaigns that generate higher impression rates.

Check out our guide to impression marketing to learn more about how to best use these metrics in your PPC efforts.

Reach and impressions on Google Analytics

While Google Analytics doesn’t have a reach metric, it does count the number of unique users who visit your site under the users metrics. In addition, it measures sessions, which is similar to impressions in that one user can have more than one session on your site. As with your marketing campaigns, these metrics can be useful for tracking the performance of your website, which is your most valuable marketing tool.

Tracking the average number of visitors to your site can put your other marketing efforts into perspective.

For example, if your social ads get a lot of impressions, but don’t drive much traffic back to your landing pages, it’s an indication that you need to create stronger calls to action. Likewise, a low number of pageviews can suggest that, once users land on your site, they are not compelled to explore your resource pages.

Measuring the success of your marketing campaigns with these important metrics

Measuring reach and impressions helps you understand what’s working and what needs more work. Low reach and impression numbers might mean that you need to examine your content from another angle. As you learn more about your target audience, you’ll be able to optimize your marketing strategy by creating more targeted content that encourages engagement and moves users down the sales funnel.

Professional search engine marketing consulting services can make the difference between a campaign that doesn’t leave a mark and one that makes a lasting impression. Learn more about how to use essential marketing metrics to improve your brand awareness and win more customers.