Breaking AdWords News: Impression Share Metrics Go Ad-Groupie

One of the most useful metrics in all of AdWords is also one of the most obscure: Impression Share. This past week, it just became more useful.

In this post you’ll learn about Impression Share: what is means; how to find, interpret, and act on it; and what Google did to make it even more powerful than before (and how to view that data).

What is Impression Share?

Impression Share is the percentage of possible impressions that your ads actually received. In other words, just because your ad is eligible to show for a particular search, doesn’t mean it did. The “lost opportunities” are what Impression Share shows you.

Why might your ad not have shown for a particular search? Two main reasons:

1. Your ad didn’t rank high enough.

Someone searched for your keyword but 11 advertisers’ ad ranks were higher than yours. Your ad appeared on page 2 of the search results but the searcher didn’t get to page 2 (few do). That constitutes a lost impression, and will reduce your Impression Share.

2. Your daily budget was too low.

Depending on your campaign settings, one of two things happened.

If you selected Accelerated Ad Showing, your ads showed all morning, but at some point in the day your click costs exceeded your daily budget, so Google cut off your campaign until the following midnight.

If you selected “Show my ads evenly throughout the day,” Google throttled your impressions so you’d get roughly the same amount any hour of the day.

Either way, your budget limited your exposure.

bidding and budget
Depending on your chosen delivery method, you can lose impressions throughout the day or after a certain time if your daily budget is too low.

The Significance of Impression Share Impression Share matters in two contexts only:

  1. You want to know how big a market is and you wisely don’t rely on keyword tools’ estimates of search volume
  2. Some campaigns in your AdWords account are profitable and you want to send as much traffic as Google will give you to these campaigns

Sizing up a Market Keyword tools are notoriously inaccurate at predicting the number of searches your keywords will actually receive. You can use impression share multiplied by actually impressions to determine the exact number of searches Google tallied for your keywords. (Chapter 4 of Google AdWords For Dummies goes into this technique in detail; suffice it to say here that if impression share is 50% and you receive 2000 actual impressions, the total number of potential searches for that market is 4000.

Maximizing Traffic Once you’re making money on each impression (on average), you want as many of those impressions as possible. Impression Share less than 100% means you’re missing out on opportunities to generate more profitable leads and sales. Knowing about the missed opportunities allows you to take steps to correct them.

How to Find Impression Share Impression share is actually several metrics, and they can be called from the All Campaigns page of your AdWords account. If you don’t see them by default, click the Columns button and select Customize Columns from the drop down list (it’s the only item on the list, so you should have no trouble finding it).

Then check the four Impression Share boxes, as shown in the figure below, and click Save at the bottom of that section to display the Impression Share columns.

impression share boxes

How to Interpret Impression Share The first column, Impr. Share, is the total for that campaign. The next two, Lost IS (budget) and Lost IS (rank), break out the total by cause, insufficient daily budget or low ad rank.

The fourth column, Exact match IS, tells you what percentage of your Exact Match keyword impressions triggered your ads. A low Exact Match IS implies that your ad rank is poor even when your keyword matches the user’s search term perfectly. If your Lost IS due to ad rank is low but your Exact Match IS is high, this suggests your phrase or broad match keywords aren’t being triggered by actual user search terms.

poor ad rank

In the figure above, the total Impression Share was 19.37%, meaning that campaign received about one-fifth of the impressions for which it was technically eligible over the specified time period. The culprit was not budget, which accounted for 0.06% lost Impression Share, but rather poor ad rank, which was responsible for nearly all of it (80.57% out of 80.63%). Exact match IS is low, suggesting that poor ad rank is throttling even my most relevant keywords.

How to Act on Low Impression Share Again, you care about low Impression Share in your active campaigns only when the campaign is profitable. Since every additional impression creates additional marginal profit, you want to get as many impressions as your cash flow and delivery capacity can support.

  • If your Lost IS (budget) is high, raise the daily budget for that campaign.
  • If your Lost IS (ad rank) is high, increase your Max. CPC (if you have the margins) or write better ads (always a good strategy).
  • If your Lost IS (ad rank) is high and your Exact Match IS is also high, then you need to add more exact match keywords to your campaign. You can find suggestions for these keywords by running the Search Term report (see Chapter 12 of Google AdWords For Dummies for details).

How Google Just Improved Impression Share Getting Impression Share data on the campaign level is groovy, but what’s even more groovy is getting the data on the ad group level. That makes it easier to spot weaknesses in your account. It also makes the quantitative market analysis described in Chapter 4 of Google AdWords For Dummies simpler and more powerful.

Unfortunately, you can’t see Ad Group Impression Share simply by drilling down into ad group data tables in the Campaigns tab.

Instead, navigate to the Dimensions tab and again click the Columns button and follow the same procedure described above to show the Impression Share columns. While you’re there, you can drag the Campaign and Ad Group columns up to the top of the stack of green buttons for easy viewing. Next, to avoid slicing the data into dozens of rows, click the View: Time button, then select Time and then Year from the nested drop down lists. See the figure below for an easy visual:

time is


Now you’ll see your ad groups’ Impression Share metrics in a straightforward data table, by year (see figure below). If you want to view time in smaller increments, a combination of View: Time > Time > Month and selecting a particular month from the date range finder at the top right will do nicely.


is ad group table

If you’re running an AdWords test to determine the actual search volume of 5 main exact match keywords in your industry, you can now set up one single campaign with 5 ad groups, one for each of the keywords. Before, you would have had to set up 5 different campaigns, adding time and complexity to the task.

Now, a single campaign can tell you all you need to know about actual traffic volume prior to your expending a lot of time and energy in a niche that may not be worth your while.

You can also use the search volume data to determine how long your ad and landing page tests will take to achieve statistical significance, and therefore how much time and money you’ll need to spend to make them worthwhile.

So go forth and play with Impression Share. I trust you’ll be Impressed, and I hope you’re glad that I Shared.

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