Leverage AdWords Impression Share Data to Improve Your PPC Performance

Many folks who manage PPC campaigns live in the microcosm of their own keywords, tactics and reporting data. Living with blinders on is a very dangerous thing. While you can (and should) effect a great deal of change based on your own PPC performance data, understanding how that data relates to the actual market place is infinitely helpful. This is where the venerable Impression Share report from Google AdWords comes into play. Based on “share of voice” metrics used in traditional advertising, Impression Share provides us pay-per-click advertisers with a tool to gauge how effectively we are targeting our potential market.

“Impression Share…represents the percentage of times your ads were actually shown in relation to the total number of chances your ads could have been shown, based on your keyword and campaign settings.”

What is Impression Share?

In a nutshell: reality / opportunity = impression share. OK, so maybe that’s not terribly helpful. Let me try that again. Impression Share, or IS for short, is a comparison of the chances your ad had to be shown (opportunity) to the actual number of times your ad was shown (reality). Assuming you live in a perfect world, the ideal IS is 100% – meaning your ad displayed 100% of the time it could be shown. Impression Share is calculated at the Account and Campaign levels. What factors play into your IS? Campaign budgets. Bids. Ad Rank. Geo-targeting. Day parting. All things that you can control.

You may be asking yourself, why am I losing Impression Share because of Ad Rank or Geo-targeting? Let’s start by discussing Ad Rank. This is Google’s formula that ultimately determines your ad position (calculated as Maximum CPC X Quality Score = Ad Rank). Two very important pieces here – BIDS and QUALITY SCORE. If either of these are lower than Google thinks they should be, it results in poor Ad Rank and poor ad positions in the search results. You could come back to me and say, “I’m losing IS due to Rank, but my ad positions are in the top 3!” OK, that may be. But… Impression Share stats are reported at either the account or campaign level and are an aggregate total of all keywords, ad groups, etc. You could very well have irrelevant keywords in your ad groups that are in essence pulling down Impression Share stats for your entire campaign or ad group. Another frequently asked question with Impression Share is whether or not geo-targeting plays a role in your IS percentage. The short answer is no. Google calculates your Impression Share within the scope of your account and/or campaign’s settings – geo-targeting included.

Beyond the big rocks affecting Impression Share like budgets, bids and Ad Rank, there are plenty of other conditions that can result in poor IS. Take for instance your use of negative keywords. Negative keywords in practice are used to weed out “bad” search traffic by blocking those search queries you find to be irrelevant. So, in the discussion of Impression Share, negative keyword usage can throw your IS reporting up or down. A lack of negatives will leave you open to irrelevant searches and can lower your IS (matching to irrelevant searches without Quality Score friendly ad texts, etc.). Making frequent use of your Search Query reporting and adding negatives will not only limit irrelevant clicks, but also “improves the value of the IS measurement and hopefully the number as well.”   But before you try your hand at controlling IS, learn how to pull the reports!

How to Create IS Reports

Obvious steps first – head on over to your friendly, neighborhood AdWords Report Center and choose to create a new report. Next up, choose either ‘Account performance’ or ‘Campaign performance’ under “Report Type.” If it’s your first time running the report, I would suggest running the account level first just to get some practice before honing in on the more granular campaign data. The real meat and potatoes is located under “Advanced Settings (Optional).”

For an account level report, choose to Add or Remove Columns and look under “Performance Statistics.” At the account level, you can add Impression Share (IS) and/or Exact Match IS.


For a campaign level report, once again choose to Add or Remove Columns and look under “Performance Statistics.” Here you can drill down and add Impression Share (IS), Exact Match IS, Lost IS (Budget) and/or Lost IS (Rank).


Interpret Your IS Data

Running the reports will only get you so far. You need to understand the Impression Share data and know how to take meaningful action. Here’s a breakdown of what each IS report segment is telling you about your PPC performance:

  • Impression Share (IS): Depending on whether you pull this report at the account or campaign level, this will tell you the core IS statistic – the percentage of times your ad was shown out of the total of times it was eligible to be shown.
  • Exact Match IS: The core IS percentage is a summation of all of your keywords, regardless of match type. However, Exact Match IS will show you your Impression Share assuming all of your keywords were Exact Match. In other words, the number of times Google matched a user’s search query exactly with one of the keywords you are actively bidding on.
  • Lost IS (Budget): If your core IS percentage is low, there’s a reason. Lost IS (Budget) will tell you how what percentage of impressions were lost due to budget restrictions. This is only available at the campaign level, therefore it is based on your campaigns’ daily budgets.
  • Lost IS (Rank): Another possible reason for a loss of Impression Share is Lost IS (Rank) – or the percentage of impressions lost due to low Ad Rank. Ad Rank is the formula that ultimately determines your ad position in search results and is calculated as cost-per-click X Quality Score.
  • What IS is Good IS?: When looking at the core Impression Share percentage, ideally an IS of 70 or more is what you are aiming for. Anything less than 70 should raise a red flag for you. When dealing with Exact Match IS, that number increases to 80-85.

Take Meaningful Action and Improve Your PPC Performance

How can you improve your Impression Share percentages and ultimately improve your PPC performance? There are many variables at play, but I’ll break down the high level tactics you can utilize to improve your Impression Share.

  • If your account-wide IS or Exact Match IS is low, your first action should be to segment the data by campaign so that you can make more targeted, accurate changes. Looking at account-wide data will give you the big picture view of your overall Impression Share performance, but it won’t provide you with a road-map to begin making campaign-specific changes.
  • At the campaign level, determine if you are losing IS because of your budgets. Depending on the situation, this could be remedied by simply increasing your daily budget. What if you are already hitting your daily campaign budgets and don’t have the additional money to put towards pay-per-click? Try lowering your bids incrementally to drive more clicks through your budget (think of your budget as a bottleneck).
  • What if you’re losing Impression Share because of Ad Rank? In other words, what if despite your best intentions – your ads are consistently ranked poorly and/or displaying on page two of the search results? As with most things related to Quality Score, this is slightly more complicated. One tactic that could give you a boost would be to increase bids, though this might get you back into trouble with budget concerns! The more intelligent tactic would be to focus on improving your Quality Score through improved campaign optimization and writing highly relevant ad texts.
  • Exact Match IS is possibly the trickiest of all to improve. If this percentage is low, this means that Google has identified a problem somewhere in your PPC process. When your ad is not shown when a user’s search query exactly matches a keyword you are bidding on – something’s definitely up! It is difficult to pinpoint one specific area to focus on in this area – but you should perform a careful review of bids, ads and keyword Quality Score. Keep testing until you find the changes that equate to an improvement in Impression Share.