Published June 18, 2018

What is an Impression?

In eCommerce, an impression is a metric used to quantify the display of an advertisement on a webpage or on an internet user's screen. Impressions are not defined by user action but merely the potential for an ad to be viewed. In this context, an impression is created by activity like visiting a website, viewing a video, or opening a mobile app.

Internet advertising is largely sold as impressions, where the price is calculated in terms of Cost Per Thousand (CPM, M being the Roman numeral for thousand). In other words, advertisers pay a certain amount for every thousand impressions of a given ad.

CPM is an effective way to gain large numbers of impressions cheaply. Because these impressions require no specific user interaction, like Pay Per Click (PPC) adverts do, they are usually inexpensive. However, finding an effective way to actually measure these impressions is vital to understanding their role in eCommerce advertising and maximizing their value.

Measuring Impressions

Measuring impressions is the subject of much debate in the legal and technology world.

The reason measuring impressions is so problematic is because it is relatively easy for fraudsters to create false views or clicks of an ad to steal advertising dollars. To do this, fraudsters use malware, bots, hidden ads, click farms, and other techniques to fool advertisers into paying for ads that will never be seen by their intended audience.

In response to the problems with internet advertising, self-regulating groups were created by the advertising industry. One of these groups is the Media Rating Council (MRC). They created a standard to define viewable impressions, believing that advertisers should only have to pay for ads that were viewable and not hidden.

The industry standard for a viewable ad was defined by the MRC in conjunction with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Under this standard, an ad is deemed as viewable if:

  • At least 50% of the ad’s pixels are rendered in a browser tab, and
  • It can be seen by a user for at least one second.

However, the problem is that a merchant can hardly expect to engage a customer with a half-rendered ad that exists for a very small window of time.

Other platforms and groups may have different standards for viewability, but those standards are still fairly low. For example, social media platforms may count an ad as viewable if it is loaded into a user’s feed or story, with no measurement of display time.

While CPM advertising provides low-cost impressions, the drawback is that many of these impressions can also be low quality or even entirely fraudulent. For instance:

  • Bots can easily open browser windows and programmatically create thousands of fake impressions in a short amount of time.
  • Click farms can also pay workers to view or click on ads for pennies on the dollar, or
  • Bad publishers can create websites with low- or no-value content, designed to steal CPM impressions.

Advertisers are not defenseless against fraudsters attempts to steal CPM impressions. NS8 has developed a suite of tools to help merchants evaluate their advertising campaign and fight advertising fraud.

NS8 Protect and NS8 TrueStats score all ongoing ad campaigns to assess impression viewability so businesses can ensure their advertising budget is being spent on reaching real end users. Using these tools, advertisers can analyze their traffic and discontinue campaigns that are riddled with bots and other low-quality ad impressions.

NS8 Protect

Protect your storefront from advertising fraud and the other revenue killers.

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