AdWords Impression Share: Understanding and Improving Your Impression Share

Billy McCaffrey
December 19, 2017

Many times I have seen instances where clients pause keywords because they aren’t generating click or impression volume. While pausing is certainly one method for acting on low-performing keywords, I typically recommend pausing only as a last resort. There is plenty to consider when it comes to diagnosing why a keyword isn’t generating volume, and one often overlooked, yet informative metric is impression share.

Impression share is the number of impressions you've received divided by the estimated number of impressions you were eligible to receive. Eligibility is based on your current ads' targeting settings, approval statuses, bids, and Quality Scores. You can view impression share data at the campaign, ad group and keyword levels.

Types of Impression Share in AdWords

There is more to impression share than just a simple number; there are different facets that you can use to get an even greater depth of analysis. The different breakdowns for impression share are as follows:

  • Search impression share – your impression share strictly for impressions generated through the Search Network.
  • Display impression share – your impression share strictly for impressions generated through the Display Network.
  • Search lost impression share (budget) – the percentage of impressions you lost out on for the Search Network due to an insufficient budget (this is available at the campaign level only).
  • Display lost impression share (budget) – the percentage of impressions you lost out on for the Display Network due to an insufficient budget (this is available at the campaign level only).
  • Search lost impression share (rank) – the percentage of impressions you lost out on for the Search Network due to low ad rank.
  • Display lost impression share (rank) – the percentage of impressions you lost out on for the Display Network due to low ad rank.
  • Search exact match impression share – your impression share from the Search Network for search queries that matched your keywords exactly.

Impression share is important because it can give you a great indication of why a keyword may not be performing. Based on the data breakdowns mentioned above, you can use it to identify if your keywords aren’t performing due to bidding or budget-related issues, which are two important items to keep in mind when assessing performance.

Still figuring out what search marketing is all about? Check out PPC 101: A Beginner's Guide to PPC

If your keyword bids are too low, you might risk your ads not appearing on the first page, which may lead to missed opportunities for impressions, clicks, and even conversions. Ensuring that your bids are high enough that your ads are appearing in competitive positions will greatly improve your chances of capturing impressions and clicks, and generating traffic to your site. You will definitely want to use this metric in conjunction with the average position of your keywords. You may notice that the average position for your keywords is high, but that your impression share is low. This can tell you that when your ads appear, they appear in high positions, but because your impression share is low, those ads aren’t getting as much exposure as they could be in those high positions.

As a general rule of thumb, Google will stop displaying your ads for the day once your daily budget is exhausted. If your campaigns have a low daily budget, and that budget limit is reached early in the day, your ads will not be shown later in the day.  So again, your ads may be generating impressions for you, but they can only generate those impressions for as long as your budget can allow for. Increasing your budget can allow Google to run your ads more frequently throughout the day, and allow you to increase that impression share.

How to Improve Your AdWords Impression Share

Take a look at the impression section of the WordStream dashboard graph for a client I have been working with. When they signed onto WordStream at the beginning of September, their impression count was 12,839. The client was focused on how exactly they could improve that impression share, so we worked together to examine their metrics and construct a plan of action. As all things in the PPC world, the improvement didn’t happen overnight, but within just a couple of weeks, their impression level jumped up to 38,331 – that’s almost a 200% increase.

Google AdWords Impression Share

So as you can see, impression share can be improved, using the techniques we have discussed. There are also some additional strategies you can use to increase your impression share:

  • Adjust geo-targeting settings – If you decrease or restrict your location settings, you may see a spike in impression share. Targeting one specific location or area only will allow you to focus all efforts on that one area, and allow you more control over a specific target. While you will be serving your ads to a smaller area in general, you can take steps to ensure your ad is shown to as much of that area as possible.
  • Improve your ad quality – As mentioned earlier, ad quality can also have an impact on impression share. If you can take steps to improve your PPC ads, then Google will display those ads more frequently by virtue of quality score. Try improving your ad text by making it as specific and relevant as possible to the keywords in their respective ad groups.

You can find impression share under the Columns button in AdWords. You will want to choose “customize columns,” then “competitive metrics,” where you will find all of the different impression share metrics (again, don’t forget that lost impression share due to budget is only available on the campaign level). 

Impression Share

Impression share can really give you a great indication of how you can act on low-performing keywords. Whether it is increasing bids or daily budget, improving the overall quality of your ad and keywords, or using search terms to identify new keywords and negatives, you have many options for improvement before considering pausing a keyword. If you have questions about how to interpret impression share, leave a comment or reach out to your Customer Success rep.