Defining marketing metrics that matter and proving your return on investment (ROI) can feel daunting. Don’t worry, you’re not alone – it’s consistently one of the top challenges marketers have.

And let’s be real: while it’s great to have a jam-packed social media content calendar and a blog bursting with scheduled posts, if they’re not driving results, what’s the point? For your stakeholders paying your budget, it’s all about tangible outcomes.

So, in this article, we’re going to break down and compare three main marketing KPIS: impressions, reach, and engagement. We’ll explain what each one means, why they’re worth tracking, and how you can use marketing data to determine ROI. Then, we’ll pinpoint which one you should focus on.

Impressions vs. Reach vs. Engagement: What’s the Difference?

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

  • Impressions: the total number of times your content is displayed, regardless of click.
  • Reach: The unique number of individuals who’ve seen your content.
  • Engagement: Tracks actions such as likes, shares, clicks, and comments.

Impressions, reach, and engagement are three of the most commonly used terms in marketing analytics, but they’re not created equally. Let’s dive further into each one and break them down.



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

Impressions aren’t really that meaningful a metric for content marketing ROI, especially considering how most platforms 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, which isn’t an accurate representation of your content’s engagement impact.



While impressions refer to the number of times an ad is displayed, reach refers to the number 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.

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

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.

Always pay attention to your impressions-to-reach ratio. It gives you insight into how many times it’s ideal for your ads to be shown to a target audience, depending on when engagement starts to gain momentum.


When it comes to marketing KPIs, engagement trumps impressions and reach in terms of how meaningful a piece of content is. Engagement is the action a user takes with content, and it could be anything from:

  • A click-through to a website or ad
  • A social media or website article share
  • A comment on a blog or social post
  • A click of a “Shop Now” button on an Instagram photo
  • A click on a hyperlink in an article that guides a user’s customer journey

Out of the three metrics we’re talking about right now, engagement is the only one 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. 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 them in 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 to Focus On: Impressions vs. Reach vs. Engagement

Well, honestly, when you’re running an ad campaign, you should track all three of these metrics. Here’s 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 take action on them.
  • Engagement shows you whether or not your content is resonating with users.

When two ads have similar reach-to-impression 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 though, engagement provides you with the most insight into your ad performance. It 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. When setting up a marketing dashboard or analytics platform, 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

Want to Elevate Your Engagement Game?

When it comes to tracking impressions vs. reach vs. engagement, think about your overall marketing goals. But, in the end, it all comes down to one thing: driving your audience to take action through your content. And that means crafting high-quality content designed to elicit an emotional response. If you’re looking to up your engagement numbers, it might help to partner with a content agency with a proven track record in that department.

At ClearVoice, our managed content creation solutions provide you with a content plan customized to your specific needs and budget. To put it simply, we build you the content you need when you need it. Talk to a content specialist to see how we can pump up your KPI numbers and increase your ROI.