Why are impressions free in Google AdWords advertising?

Why impressions are free in Google AdWords-StratoServe (first published October 14, 2014 Updated January 4, 2021)


As Google AdWords or pay-per-click (PPC) advertisers know, the advertiser pays only for clicks on the Ad that gets you a visitor to your website. First some FAQ’s :

What are impressions in Traditional Advertising?: The number of times the Ad is shown is “impressions”. This is an old advertising term from long before the Internet. Circulation of newspapers and TRP ratings of TV shows estimate viewership. These estimates of viewership dictate advertising costs that you have to commit to pay upfront. Regardless of whether your audience skipped your ad. Through recorded Tivo or just went to the bathroom when your $5 Million SuperBowl ad came on.You pay for impressions (or potential views called Cost per Mille – CPM ) without really knowing if your prospect actually saw your ad. Even if there is considerable waste, advertising builds your brand and that is critical for success.

So what are impressions in Display Digital Advertising? Exactly as above. For all platforms viz. Google,YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook,Instagram etc. You have to pay for impressions of your Internet display banners,videos. A response in display advertising starts when your audience clicks on your ad. They arrive at your website and your relationship starts. Even if they don’t click on your ad, repeated views (called frequency) helps brand awareness.The skill in display advertising is how well your understand your target audience and use the amazing tools now available.

Free impressions is in Search or PPC advertising : Free impressions happen only in Search or PPC advertising. Search advertising is great because the consumer types something in the Google search bar. Whenever we type something (called “search term”) our mind is consciously/deliberately on that track- a very big deal as marketers know. Seeing a relevant ad at that point is very useful to make us happy and if we click to the advertiser website- they are happy.

Here are some more thoughts:

  1. Keyword-Ad- and search Intent is not known: Google gets about 33% new searches (called “search terms”) every day. Understandably, search engines  are not able to predict search intent when someone searches online and is shown a particular ad. So Ads are shown (impressions) free on a rotating basis against keywords (what advertiser predicts in the Google AdWords platform). Gradually some correlation between a particular keyword or phrase and click on an ad is established by Google. You pay only for clicks and not for the impressions.
  2. The “unknown” search intent is the main driver of free Ad impressions: Because Google wants to make the searcher happy, Ads are shown that might be relevant. The advertiser has to constantly work on making the ad and landing page relevant. If your ad is not relevant to the searcher’s intent, then the Ad will be shown less. Quality score is an important metric that allows your Ad to be shown more.
  3. Quality Score of keywords: The quality score for keywords (what you predict will be searched) is a number from 1 to 10 at the level of AdGroups. These keywords trigger ads in that group. Ads upon clicking take the searcher to a particular page or landing page . For the searcher to be happy, the landing page must answer the search intent embodied in the search keywords. For example, you have a bunch of gloves on sale. For the keyword “rubber gloves” you have an ad that talks about “rubber gloves” but lands the visitor on the website home page that is not very clear about “rubber gloves” or worse on the “woolen gloves” page. The visitor leaves immediately in disgust and that is counted against your quality score for the keyword “rubber gloves.” In contrast if you make sure that Ads take the searcher to the right page that is relevant to the searcher’s query everyone is happy. Your quality score goes up, advertising costs go down, the searcher spends time on your web page since there is something useful there.
  4. Impressions/Clicks ratio: While impressions will always be more than clicks. It is a good idea to investigate why people are not clicking on your ad? Possible issues might be a low bid for the keyword, the target market you have chosen ( eg. only top 10% income around 100 miles) and other settings.
  5. Conversion Tracking: It has become very simple to track conversion. The conversion could be a filled up lead form or an eCommerce purchase. This allows you to see the complete path to purchase.

All in all getting free impressions is a good thing because people are seeing your ad and brand name and that helps brand awareness.

[ Note: This post was originally published on October 14, 2014 and thanks to the great interest of our dear readers this is an updated version on January 4, 2021. We hope that the updated post will encourage all marketers to increase their efforts and wish everyone a great comeback after Coronavirus]

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