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What Is Search Impression Share and How Does It Work?

Google defines impression share (IS) as the “percentage of impressions that your ads receive compared to the total number of impressions that your ads could get.” So the formula for calculating impression share would look like this: impression share = impressions / total eligible impressions

The total eligible impressions is determined by your keywords, location targeting, ad schedule, etc. So if you are looking to target t-shirt keywords in Florida, your total eligible impressions won't include people that are looking for hats in Colorado (as long as everything is set up properly).

So how do you determine if your search impression share is good?

Analyzing Search Impression Share

First, lets locate where you can see your search impression share metrics. When you are in your AdWords account, click on the dropdown called “Columns,” and click “Modify columns.” On the left hand side, click “Competitive metrics” and click on the arrows for “Search Impr. share,” “Search Lost IS (rank),” and “Search Lost IS (budget).” Lastly, click apply to see your new column set.

Now that you can see your search impression share metrics, let’s talk about what each column means and how to improve it. Since we already talked about the definition of search impression share, let’s start with Search Lost IS (rank).

Search Lost IS (rank)

The percentage of times your ads could have shown up but didn’t due to a low ad ranking. According to Google, your ad ranking is determined by your bid amount and ad quality. Let’s take a look at each one individually:

1. Bid Amount: If you are using a manual cost-per-click bidding structure, you’ll be able to see your bid amount under the “Keywords” tab in AdWords, and it is categorized as the column “Max. CPC.” This number will be a dollar amount that shows the max dollar amount that you are willing to spend on each keyword.

You can also look at the average position for each keyword to determine if you need to spend more to rank higher. My sweet spot for average position is between the 1.5-2.5, give or take. This is because, generally, people won’t click past the first page on Google for their search.

So you want to make sure that you are ranking on that first page. Similarly, on Mobile, there are significantly less positions to show in on the first page, so you need to make sure you are spending the right amount to be relevant on mobile as well (Pro Tip: you can use bid adjustments to increase your bids on devices that your customers use more often).

In conjunction with your Max. CPC bids, Google will provide a “Status” for your keyword. This status could be a few different explanations

  • Eligible: your ads are showing, WOO!
  • Low search volume: not many people search for this keyword. You should analyze if you are using the right match type, or if the keyword is even relevant to your customers.
  • Below first page bid: If you see this message, Google is telling you that you need to up your bid to show on the first page of the search results. Before blindly upping your Max CPC, make sure you are willing to spend the amount to be on the first page for that keyword. I have seen these get to above $80 before. If you are not willing to spend that much, do some keyword research to see if there are other keywords to reach your desired customers.
  • Rarely shown due to low quality score: Let’s take a look at this next...

2. Ad Quality: Ad quality directly refers to your quality score. For those of you that need a refresher on quality score, you can watch my video, or read the description below:

Google defines Quality Score as “an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages.” This is on a 1-10 scale where 10 is the best and 1 is the worst. There are three components that go into calculating your quality score:

  • Ad Relevance: make sure that your ad text matches users search queries
  • Expected Click-through-rate (CTR): Very similar to Ad Relevance, make sure that your ad text matches users search queries, but it also takes into account the history of your keywords and ads. Results take time to happen, so make sure you build up some history on your keywords and ads to truly determine if they are quality.
  • Landing Page Experience: match search queries to what the customer is actually going to experience on your landing page.

Next up when analyzing search impression share is Search Lost IS (budget).

Search Lost IS (budget)

The percentage of times that your ad didn’t show because you ran out of budget. This is pretty much as simple as it sounds - Google is telling you that if you want to show up more often, you need to spend more money. There isn’t much else to it. However, there are ways to help improve your loss to budget without adding more money.

  • You can decrease your location targeting. Targeting a more specific area will allow you to use your budget towards a focus area and max out your impressions there.
  • You could create an ad schedule. Personally, I like to sleep between the hours of 11pm and 7am (even though I spend most of that time scrolling through Twitter…). Since I’m sleeping during those hours, I’m not actively searching for anything on Google, unless your my sister-in-law and you sleep-walk/sleep-search. So if your business was targeting a persona similar to me, you could create an ad schedule to not have your ads show between the hours of 11pm and 7am. Before creating an ad schedule, analyze the hour of day report under the dimensions tab to see when your potential customers are actually searching, not when you assume they are searching.

All in all, search impression share is where you succeed or fail with your digital advertising efforts, so make sure that you are optimizing for it and constantly have it top of mind when implementing changes throughout your account!

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Summer Noonan

Summer Noonan

I graduated college from Ohio State University but I am a die hard Michigan Wolverines fan - don’t ask. I love sports and will gladly argue with you for hours about them. In my free time, I love to play sand volleyball, golfing, playing board games and creating new adventures!