Anyone who has a run an advert on Facebook can tell you that’s it’s the cheapest form of marketing with the most straightforward tools for targeting. You can get thousands of impressions with the least effort. But what’s the value of an impression? What about reach? Which should you be more concerned about? After typing the query ‘Facebook ads: reach vs impression’ on Google, I got over 3,000,000 results, a rather clear indication that lots of other people in the digital marketing sphere have identified these metrics as confusing or get frequently asked about the difference between impressions and reach.
All in all, I continued the search on Quora and Reddit as well since I find these two platforms quite informative mainly because the content geared towards answering questions and sharing information, rather than pleasing Google. True to my expectations, Quora had plenty of Answers and so did Reddit.
Last but not least, I did the same search on Facebook.com, after all, if anyone should know anything about Facebook ads reach and impressions, it’s these guys. The good news is that I got in-depth information on how these two metrics work. The bad news is that unlike what I intend to do in this article, the metrics were not compared side by side but instead, Facebook defines the different metrics on their own. Still, with all the information from Google, Reddit and Quora, analyzing the two metrics was all a matter of cross-checking and consolidating data.
What The Internet Thinks About Facebook Ads; Reach vs Impressions
According to Facebook, an impression is the number of times your ad is shown on a screen. However, on all queries performed, people mentioned that your target audience doesn’t have to see your ad for it be an impression. Even if your prospect was on Facebook watching a cat video and your ad is placed next to the video, that activity will be counted as an impression, regardless of the fact that your prospect never saw the ad.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that Facebook ad impressions can be viewed as a vanity metric, one answer on Quora reminded us that at the end of the day, when you pay Facebook for ads, you are paying for impressions; whether it clicks or conversions, because the ad has to appear on a screen first, right? Therefore, you really cannot afford to dismiss this metric.
Another answer on Quora also expressed that although Facebook ads impressions are an important metric to measure, large companies stand to gain most from it compared to small businesses who are looking to convert and make sales. For example, a company like Safaricom doesn’t care if you click on their ads, their primary concern is that they influence your buying power for the next 80 years. Small companies, on the other hand, will consider a Facebook campaign successful even if the ad only reached ten people and five converted.
Speaking of Reach
Most of the information on the internet implies that impression is a twin metric of reach, the same way, click through rate is a twin of unique click-through rate. That is, they go hand in hand. Think of it like this, have you ever seen an ad once and rushed off to buy the product? Quite unlikely, in fact, you have to look at an ad 3 times before you become aware of the brand, research more about the product before actually converting; therefore, impressions help you know the frequency in which your prospect ‘might’ be seeing the ad.
So where does reach come in? Reach is the unique number of people who saw your ad. It’s the solid truth of how your campaign is performing. You might have 20 impressions, but the ad was only displayed to five people four times.
So why would Facebook say your ad got 1,000 impressions when only 500 people were reached? Wouldn’t it make more business sense if they just went straight to the point?
According to an answer on Quora;
It is a much more common approach to calculate the higher-level metrics (CTR, CPM, CPC, CPA) based on total events happened (by event I mean ad impression, click, or website conversion). So everything is usually impressions-based.
Facebook Ads: Why You Should Pay Attention to Reach vs Impressions
1. To control the frequency of your ad
While it’s recommended to show a unique user an ad 3 times to create brand awareness, there is always the risk of overwhelming Facebook users with your ad. Keeping a tab on reach and impression to ensure more people click on your ad and the cost per click remains low.
2. To control ad performance
Monitoring reach and impressions will help you to diagnose and categorise any arising problems in ad performance. For example, if you notice your impressions have suddenly dipped, chances are your audience may be too narrow, or you payment info might be wrong, or the creative might not appeal to your target. On the other hand, if the impressions are growing fast but link clicks and conversion remain low, you might have the wrong objective, e.g. reach instead of conversion or problems with your budget limits.
3. To measure how many prospects in your audience have been served your ad
Using the reach metric, you can quickly tell how many of your targeted prospects have been reached. If 90–80% of them have been served an ad yet there aren’t any conversions; you might need to revise your creative or offer.
4. To report to clients
I recently dealt with a client who had just launched a new website. One of their main concerns was, what results should I expect if I spend x amount of money on marketing my new website? Keeping in mind that website launching campaigns are mostly about reaching those who already know the brand as well as finding new leads to grow a list; I explained to the client that we will use the metrics reach and impression to show how many people we were able to reach and how often they saw an ad. We would also provide a detailed breakdown of how many people saw the ads and how many of those people converted to sales. You can bet the client was more relaxed after hearing this.
Additionally, some clients have a specific budget and want to know how many people they can reach. Using historical data and Facebook estimates, I can easily forecast the reach and impression to send a viable proposal.
TL;DR: Although current trends among digital marketers and advertising on Facebook Advertising stress the importance of engagement; reach and impression are crucial metrics especially when it comes to controlling ad frequency, ad delivery and reporting to clients.