If I were to ask, “Which is more important: quantity or quality?”, most of you would probably respond with a resounding “Quality!”

But then, I’m the CEO of a PPC marketing agency—a field that is intimately tied to quantity. So I might follow up with, “Great! Can you tell me what a ‘high quality’ ad impression share is?”

Someone who is confused
**Cue the chirping crickets**

When it comes to marketing metrics like ad impression share, more is better, right? So…are quality and quantity the same thing?

Not quite. Getting many impressions isn’t enough. Campaigns, ads, and keywords with quality impression share have lots of the impressions that matter.

A Tale Of Two Fishermen

At first glance, optimizing impression share can feel pretty abstract, so let me start my explanation with a simple story.

Once, there were two fishermen who lived near a large Alaskan bay. When the salmon run began they each wanted to catch as many fish as possible to sell in the local market, so they purchased rope to make nets.

The first fisherman decided he would get the most bang for his buck by making many small, loosely woven nets and placing them all over the bay.The other fisherman knew the route that the salmon would take and used his rope to weave only three large, tight nets, placed in strategic bottleneck locations.

When both men hauled in their catch, the first found that most of the salmon had either avoided or swum through the holes in his small nets. Sure, he caught a few of the bigger, dumber salmon, but most of his catch was sharks, turtles, puffins, albatrosses, porpoises, and everything else in the water.

The three nets of the second man, however, were full of as many salmon as he could carry. With very little else to sort out, he went off to sell his catch while the first man was left trying to explain the dead porpoises to the coast guard!


This is actually a true story…sort of. Okay, so the fishermen never existed, but I’ve had dozens of clients experience basically the same thing.Every company wants to catch as many conversions and sales as possible, but they only have so much budget to do it with. Since they don’t know where to find the conversions, they try “casting a wide net” by spreading their money out over thousands of keywords with low bids.

Unfortunately, this all-too-common strategy is horribly inefficient.

After auditing over 2,000 AdWords accounts at Disruptive Advertising, we’ve found that the average company gets all of its conversions from only 6% of its keywords. The rest of the catch is worthless, but still eats up 76% of the PPC budget.

Meanwhile, the few keywords that are converting are getting so little of the impression share that most of their potential traffic slips by without so much as a click.

Does that sound like “quality” impression share to you?

Fortunately, there is a better way—the way of the second fisherman.

Tracking Your Traffic

If you’ve been following along with my analogy, then you might be thinking, “But the second fisherman just knew where the fish were going to be! I don’t know which keywords bring my customers in!”

Well, you could know!

Analytics is one of the most underappreciated aspects of online marketing, but it has the potential to revolutionize your business.

Hopefully, since you’re here on PPC Hero, this is old news to you, but if not, it’s time to start tracking everything. Conversion tracking is surprisingly easy to set up and can lead to huge payoffs almost overnight.

Once you’re tracking conversions, you’ll need to wait 3-6 months to collect data on which ads and keywords are doing the converting. Then comes the fun part!

Fixing Your Nets

To show you how to track down the keywords that matter (your fish, as it were), let me show you how I used conversion data to revolutionize one client’s marketing.

To begin, I opened their PPC account and set it to display data from the last 6 months. Next, I clicked on the “Keywords” tab, then “Filter” and finally “Create filter.” From there, I set up my filter for “Conv. rate < 2%”, like so:

AdWords conversion rate filter

A report was generated with all the account’s low-performing keywords, along with what they were costing my client.

Here’s a quick snapshot of my findings:

Wasted spend results

The five keywords in this screenshot had cost my client $265,633.01 (11% of their total budget) with hardly any conversions to show for it!

That’s not a very effective net, is it?

Clearly, this money could be better spent elsewhere, but to find out where I needed to set up another filter—this one for “Conv rate > 2%.”

This report showed me the account’s top converting keywords. Some were converting 8% or more of their clicks! That was great, but it begged the question: what sort of impression share were these top performers getting?

To figure this out, I clicked Columns > Modify columns > Competitive metrics and added “Search Impr. share,” “Search Exact match IS” and “Search Lost IS (rank)” to my report, as follows:

Impression share columns

This allowed me to see how much of an audience these killer keywords were getting. The results were a little disconcerting:

Impression share column results

For example, take a look at keyword #2. 8.28% of the people who type in this keyword convert, but the ad was only showing up for 36% of the exact match searches…what was going on?

Impression Share Killers

There were a couple of possible explanations for this phenomenon.

Ad Rank

If a keyword bid, quality score, etc. is too low, the associated ad can get booted to the end of a long line of ads vying for the same keyword and lose out on a ton of potential impressions. The “Search Lost IS (rank)” column in the above image displays how much of potential viewership was lost due to poor ad rank.


If the budget for a campaign is low, the ads won’t be able to “pay to play” on all of the available impressions. Unfortunately, you can’t see how much impression share (IS) lost to budget constraints by keyword, but you can get a sense for it by noting the campaign the keyword belongs to and then looking at the Search Lost IS (budget) for that campaign under the “Campaigns” tab.

Both of these IS killers really boil down to money. If this client had more money, they could increase their campaign budget (improving Search Lost IS (budget)) and up their ad rank (improving Search Lost IS (rank)) by placing higher bids on top performing keywords.

But, they didn’t have enough money because most of their ad spend was paying for loser keywords that didn’t produce conversions.

Putting Your Money Where It Counts

At this point, you might be wondering, “Why not just drop all those worthless keywords you mentioned and apply the extra cash to upping the impression share of the good ones?”

Excellent idea! That’s exactly what I did.

Search lost impression share vs. conversions

This graph highlights the point where I started “stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.”

The results were astounding:

  • Within days, IS doubled for the most productive ads
  • Within a month, sales increased 50%
  • After 9 months, sales increased over 200%
  • PPC advertising spend didn’t increase at all

Now that is what I call “quality” impression share.

What Does This Mean For You?

You might be wondering what this technique could do for your business. If you’ve already had conversion tracking in place for a while, then it’s pretty easy to calculate how many potential conversions you missed because of poor impression share.

For example, to find out how many impressions are lost to budget constraints, use the following formula:

Impression share conversions lost formula

If you have conversion tracking in place, then you should have all these numbers available on your AdWords account for each of your campaigns.

Just to show you how this works, let’s imagine you have a campaign with numbers like these:

  • Current impressions: 50,000
  • Current impression share (IS): 25% (0.25)
  • IS lost (budget): 50% (0.5)
  • Click-through rate (CTR): 5% (0.05)
  • Conversion rate (CR): 10% (0.1)

Just plug these numbers into the equation like so…

Impression share conversions lost estimate

…and you’ll discover that—by simply improving your impression share—you could be getting 500 more conversions!

Of course, most of us aren’t in the position to just ignore budget constraints. Do a little more math and you’ll find that to get those 500 conversions, you’ll have to pay for 5,000 clicks. At $2 a click that means you’d have to spend $10,000 more on the campaign.

And you don’t have $10,000 just lying around, do you?

Well, maybe not lying around exactly, but you’re probably wasting $10,000 on some other campaign that’s only converting 1% of its clicks.

So, steal from the poor and give to the rich…and you can get some or all of those conversions without increasing your advertising budget.

Make it rain money


Now, let’s circle back to my original question: “What is ‘high quality’ impression share?”

The answer, as it turns out, is fairly simple. Campaigns, ads and keywords with “high quality” impression share get 90+ percent of the impressions that matter: the ones that are going to convert.