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Why ad impressions are a waste of your time, and the metrics that really count.

Your rep John from says, “You got 75,000 impressions last month. Your $5,000 per month ad/listing/banner is doing great!” But you didn’t get any phone calls. So what’s going on here?

Well, it turns out that impressions aren’t really that impressive after all, since they are not necessarily a measure of who has truly laid eyes on your ad. Here are a couple of tricks that advertisers pull to produce high impression counts, and then a couple of things you should be demanding in order to measure the true success of your marketing campaign.

Raw impressions don’t mean much because of a disconnect in these two areas:

  • Visibility. If I wear your firm’s name on a t-shirt under my winter coat, are people who see me going to register an impression of your firm? Don’t laugh, because this is how many advertising vendors view things. If your ad is at the bottom of a long website page, a visitor to that page may never actually see your ad unless he happens to scroll down. An impression is still registered, of course.
  • Relevance. Now people can actually see the t-shirt. I can probably get 75,000 impressions by walking around the Georgia Dome. Are any of those folks going to be interested in your services? The audience (viewers) already needs to be interested in or a least researching the services you have to offer.

Impressions are an indicator that your ad/listing actually has a chance of being seen, but being seen doesn’t pay the bills. Here are two metrics to measure in every campaign:

  • Cost Per Click. Regardless of how many people may or may not have seen your ad, your primary goal is to drive interest in your services. One of the ways you can measure this is how many unique individuals clicked on your ad. Even if your vendor reports this, make sure you have a tool like Google Analytics in place to verify the reporting, as there are ways the ad vendors can creatively enhance the reporting. The cost/click is the total campaign cost divided by clicks.
  • Cost Per Contact. How many of those interested people then contacting your firm by chat, email, form, or phone? Your rep may push back, saying that it’s difficult to link contact activity back to the campaign. Time to get creative and use separate landing pages, tracking phone numbers, and email addresses to help track contacts. While it may not give you the exact cost/contact, it’s a good metric that will help you see trends over time.

So here is a math example. A $5,000 monthly campaign that generates 1,000 clicks to your website has a cost/click of $5.00. That same campaign generates 200 calls/emails (leads!) to your firm. The cost/contact is $25.00. You can extend the $5,000 monthly campaign example even further. If you estimate that it takes 10 leads to land 1 new client, you new client acquisition cost is $250.00. Now you’re thinking about marketing as a business investment rather than a blown budget!

When you press for this information, the rep will either produce real statistics, make up fake statistics (don’t laugh, it’s true), or else start talking about the need for you to focus on the “branding” value of the campaign. With few exceptions, you can get that same branding value by sticking a sign in your basement. Time to move on.

If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

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