Beyond Jargon: Untangling Ad Impressions and Reach

Amrita Hemdev
By Amrita Hemdev
April 25, 2018

Is your business working toward better brand awareness and getting leads? Are you doing everything possible to grow and influence your audience online? If so, it’s crucial to know the difference between reach vs. impressions.

In digital advertising, we talk a lot about ad impressions and reach, but understanding what this jargon means and how it impacts your business is essential.

You know that you want your digital ad to be displayed in the news feed of as many people as possible, but how do you know how many people actually saw your digital ad? Reach and impressions often get tangled up together, so let's define them and then figure out why they are important to you and your business.

Ad impressions explained

The most common unit of measurement in digital advertising is the ad impression. And, it’s the most common way that digital advertising is bought and sold today.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines an ad impression as a "measurement of responses from an ad delivery system to an ad request from the user's browser, which is filtered from robotic activity and is recorded at a point as late as possible in the process of delivery of the creative material to the user's browser — therefore closest to actual opportunity to see by the user.”

Impressions are the total number of exposures to your advertisement. One person can receive multiple exposures over time.  If one person was exposed to an advertisement five times, this would count as five impressions.

Ad impression is the number of times a post from your page is displayed, whether the post is clicked or not. People may see multiple impressions of the same post. For example, someone might see a page update in the news feed once, and then a second time if a friend shares it. If the same person sees the same content two different times, that would count as two impressions.

So why are impressions important to you?

They give you a clear understanding of how many times your content has been exposed in the news feeds of people on social media. Measuring your impressions will help you understand what content has the ability to be viewed by the most people the most number of times.

Ad reach explained

Ad reach is the number of unique people who received impressions of a digital ad. This number might be fewer than the number of impressions since one person can see multiple impressions. If the same person sees the same content two different times, the reach would still be one. Reach is important because it gives you the exact number of people who viewed your digital ad.

Confusing impressions and reach is easy to do. Just remember this: The number of impressions is the total number of times that your digital ad is displayed in the news feed of anyone, any number of times on social media. Reach is the total number of people who saw that digital ad.

A deeper dive into reach & impressions

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between reach and impressions, but there’s still an intrinsic difference when it comes to engagement.

For example, let’s say you have 100 followers on LinkedIn and you published one post. If each of your followers sees that post, you have a reach of 100 users, along with 100 impressions.

To continue, say tomorrow you publish two posts to the same 100 followers. Your reach is still 100 users because your follower count did not change. However, now you have 200 impressions. Why? Because every single one of your 100 followers saw both of the posts that you published. Put simply:

Ad Reach =  The number of people who see your ad 

Ad Impressions = The number of times your ad is displayed

How impressions and reach work together

The primary and most common goal of every ad campaign is increased website visitors via clicks on the ad served. The hope is that your display or social ad will get people excited about your product or your brand so that they visit your website and eventually buy your product or service.

Awareness comes before clicks, and reach and impressions drive people to take that action. Reaching as many people as possible and growing your audience is spreading awareness about your business. You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t improve one without also tweaking the other.

So when you’re thinking about how to increase website hits, do so while also considering how reach and impressions play into it. The metrics are there to make the process more efficient.

Readers: What other digital advertising terms lead to confusion?

Our team at ZypMedia is ready and willing to answer any question that might cross your mind. Feel free to reach out and share your thoughts with us.


Picture of Amrita Hemdev

Amrita Hemdev

Amrita is an inbound marketer. She studied marketing and project management at UC Berkeley and proceeded to work in a fast-paced, digital advertising tech startup, with a goal of increasing brand awareness. She is currently the Content Marketing Specialist at ZypMedia. Passionate about digital marketing and having six years of experience in this field, she also started her digital marketing and creative agency, Sociato, based in India.