Marketing

Impressions vs. Reach vs. Engagement: Understanding Metrics

Impressions vs. Reach vs. Engagement
Written by Nicki Escudero

What are impressions vs. reach vs. engagement? Impressions and reach are most often used when dealing with social media channels and paid advertising campaigns. Engagement can apply more broadly to ads and social content as well as to actions users take on a brand’s website and blog.

As a marketer, you may be tasked with explaining to higher-ups how your efforts are impacting the company’s bottom line. Business owners want to see a return on their investment. You’re the one who has to prove what you’re doing is working.

Defining meaningful marketing metrics is one of the more daunting tasks of marketers’ job duties. Proving return on investment (ROI) is even more difficult. It’s consistently one of the top challenges marketers have. It landed in the top five obstacles B2B marketers face in a 2020 report by Forbes since sales cycles in these markets are typically long and complex.

It’s great to have a social media content calendar full of posts and a blog schedule queued up and ready to go. But marketing content without results doesn’t matter — especially to the stakeholders paying for your budget.

Impressions vs. reach vs. engagement: What’s the difference?

As you’re sifting through a marketing dashboard to find data to pull out and present, it’s important to know the differences between the following marketing KPIs:

  • Impressions
  • Reach
  • Engagement

Impressions and reach are most often used when dealing with social media channels and paid advertising campaigns. Engagement can apply more broadly to ads and social content as well as to actions users take on a brand’s website and blog.

Impressions, reach and engagement are three of the most commonly used terms in marketing analytics, but they’re not created equally. This guide explains what each one means, why they’re worth tracking and how you can use marketing data to determine ROI.

Impressions

Impressions

Impressions refer to the number of times your content has been shown on someone’s screen. Say you have a Facebook Ad that has popped up on screens 500 times. That means it has 500 impressions.

Impressions really aren’t a meaningful metric for ROI, especially considering how some networks treat them. For example, you may run a video ad campaign on Facebook. Your video ad doesn’t even have to start playing in order for Facebook to count the ad as an impression. It just needs to pop up in someone’s feed, even if the user scrolls right past it.

Reach

Reach

While impressions refer to the number of times an ad is displayed, reach refers to the amount of users who have seen a piece of content.

Say you have an ad that is displayed on a screen 500 times to 300 users. Your reach would be 300 users. Some of those users may have seen your ad once, while others may have seen it multiple times.

The number of impressions an ad has will always be equal to or greater than an ad’s reach. Networks like Facebook typically show an ad multiple times to at least some of the ad’s target audience.

That’s good for brands, as a study by Facebook Marketing Science found higher frequencies of an ad being shown are necessary to impact greater behavior change. Repetition with advertising is key.

You may have heard of the “Rule of 7,” a marketing principle that states a prospect has to be exposed to a message at least seven times before they’ll perform an action. That number’s going to vary widely depending on the type of industry, product, or service you’re dealing with. But as research has shown, in many cases, exposure may breed liking.

You’ll want to pay attention to your impressions-to-reach ratio to see how many times it’s ideal for your ads to be shown to a target audience, depending on when engagement starts to gain momentum.

Engagement

Engagement

Engagement trumps impressions and reach in terms of how meaningful a piece of content is. Engagement refers to the action a user takes with content. It could be:

  • A click through to a website on an advertisement
  • A social media share of a website article
  • A comment on a blog
  • A click of a “Shop Now” button on an Instagram photo
  • A click on a hyperlink within an article that takes the user on a customer journey throughout a website

As you can see, engagement is the only metric out of these three that shows a user is actually interacting with a piece of content. With impressions, you don’t know if the person looking at a screen is even seeing your ad when there are other things to pay attention to. Same with reach — mere exposure may not have any actual effects, even when a user is being shown the same ad multiple times.

Engagement clues you into how people are responding to your content. You can use A/B testing to learn how to make your ads and content more effective. Maybe a certain call to action is driving more clicks. Or an ad with one type of photo is getting way more engagement than another.

As you edit ads and content to optimize it for conversions, you’ll want to pay attention to what pieces of content users are engaging with. Ideally, you’ll want to get the most engagement for the least amount of money. In the best-case scenario, you won’t need as many impressions to get meaningful engagement.

What to focus on

What should you focus on: impressions vs. reach vs. engagement?

When you’re running an advertisement campaign, you should track all three of these metrics: impressions, reach and engagement. Why?

  • Impressions indicate your ad is running smoothly and that the network has deemed it suitable to show to the users you’re targeting.
  • Reach helps you understand how many times users need to see your ads before they’re taking action on them.
  • Engagement shows you whether or not your content is resonating with users.

When two ads have similar reach-to-impressions ratios, you can determine which content is more effective by looking at engagement. If people are seeing your ad frequently (low reach, high impressions) but aren’t taking action (engaging with your ad), you’ll need to tweak it or abandon the campaign to optimize your marketing dollars.

Ultimately, engagement provides you with the most insight into your ad performance. Engagement helps you determine ROI because you can determine how much each user action is costing you.

At its simplest, an ROI calculation is:

(Benefits-Investments) / Investments x 100 = ROI

Say you’ve spent $100 on an ad that brought you 10 clicks to your website that are worth $20 each, based on the data you’ve gathered about how users interact with your site. Your ROI for clicks to your website with that ad would be:

($200-$100) / $100 x 100 = 100% ROI

Content and ads don’t mean much without engagement. As you set up a marketing dashboard, make sure to monitor engagement metrics. Assign a dollar value to those metrics based on the actions users take and how those actions impact your bottom line.

Optimize Engagement

Optimize engagement for higher ROI

Most ad platforms will enable marketers to use impressions or reach as their key target metric to optimize an ad for. But decreasing your cost per impression on an ad is meaningless unless users are taking actions on (engaging with) those ads.

While you should pay attention to metrics like impressions and reach while you’re running your ad campaigns, think about how to increase your engagement on all of your content. Whether it’s getting more blog readers to share your articles or getting more clicks on buttons on your ads, driving down engagement costs is the best way to improve your ROI.

What metrics matter most: impressions, reach or engagement? We explain what each metric means and what #marketers should be tracking. #PPC #ads #socialmedia Click To Tweet

About the author

Nicki Escudero

Nicki Escudero is a journalist, marketing copywriter, editor, and social media strategist with more than 14 years of experience. She is a regular contributor to the ClearVoice blog who writes for hundreds of brands in worldwide markets.

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