How and Why Optimize for Search Impression Share

March 27, 2019

This post is the second part of the Impressions Share series. Keenan Townsend covered part one in his blog: Understanding Impression Share. I will offer an opinion on how search marketers and advertisers can optimize for a higher Search Impression Share of their campaigns.

Google Ads Search Impression Share is one of the most useful gauges Google has put in your advertising account.

Impression Share may indicate an untapped market potential, or it may confirm your market domination. It is as useful as a car gauge indicating that you’re low on gas or need an engine service. Advertisers can use this metric pretty much at any level in their account – by campaign, by ad group, and by keyword. But how to optimize for it? Why would you optimize to a certain Search impression Share number? What ranges need to be optimized?

Here is how seasoned PPC professionals usually interpret the “Search impr. share” numbers:

If you see a 80-100% Search impr. share in your campaigns, your ads are entering 80-100% of the ad auctions that your ads are eligible to appear in. You are covering optimal amount of ground at each and every important moment when your prospects are searching for you. Your ads make it through the Google decision process, outcompete other advertisers, and end up on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Pat yourself on the back. You don’t need to do much except preserving this share.


The 80-100% Search impr. share is an indication that you are targeting relevant search traffic and maintaining a strong presence in your chosen targeting. You chose your keywords right and Google agrees. Competitors can’t really compete with that kind of presence in my experience, not well anyway. This usually also means that your expected Click-through-Rate and landing page experience are well above average according to Google’s behind-the-scenes comparison it runs between the advertisers entering the same auction. In summary, consumers love to see and click your ads, because your ads are assisting them with their search for a product, or service, or information. And Google attests to it.

If you’re looking at a 60-80% Search impr. share range of your campaigns, you are doing relatively okay. But at that performance level it is a good idea to re-evaluate which of the consumer searches you want to answer with your ads and understand why you are lacking the impression share a bit. Are you reaching too far? Trying to answer irrelevant search queries? Can’t afford the immense search traffic of your chosen keywords? All of the above?

There are two Search impr. share components that can help you answer those questions. They are: Search impr. share lost (budget), and Search impr. share lost (rank). Together those two metrics make up the rest of the 100% of the search impression universe.

In other words: Your Impr. share + Your Impr. share lost to budget + Your Impr. share lost to rank = 100% of your enabled keywords’ available impressions.

The Search universe you serve is finite. You received a share. The rest was lost. Want to know why? – Easy. Let’s introduce the two factors above into our example. Imagine we are looking at the following scenario:

60% +       20% +      20% =       100%
Your Impr. share Impr. share lost to budget Impr. share lost to rank impression universe of your active keywords

The 20% Search Impressions share lost to budget metric is the simplest one to interpret. Your gas was low 20% of the time.


You ran out of funding and then 20% more of relevant keyword searches happened. What can you do about that? First check if you’re running on the “accelerated” delivery setting. If that’s the case, you can try switching to a more even “standard” delivery method. You can pick up a few impression share percentage points that way. If that is not enough, keep going down the list of potential solutions. For example:

If you really value your traffic, the most impactful solution is to spend more.

Every additional dollar you put in to recover the 20% of Impressions share lost to budget will generate the same average performance that you’ve generated so far with the 60% share. This is the easiest way to invest more with predictable outcome.

If spending more isn’t an option, you might want to pull back on your weaker performing targeting so that you can achieve a meaningful Impr. share in the keywords you do well in. Basically what I mean is you’d pause the least performing targeting until you reach the 80% or higher Search impression share level.

Now let’s look at the other metric. The 20% Impr. share you lost to rank.

This one is tricky. Many scenarios are possible here. You may be targeting keywords too far out of your reach – either in terms of relevance or in terms of scale. For example, you are a makeup and cosmetics company targeting home food recipe keywords by mistake. There is a relevance mismatch between your ads and the keywords you are targeting. Search Impr. lost to rank will inform you of that!

Or, you may be targeting keywords that are seemingly relevant, but are in fact a bit too broad with large search traffic volume. Say our example makeup and cosmetics company checked their keywords and didn’t find any food recipe or any other irrelevant keyword targeting. In fact, they noticed that they are targeting a very relevant keyword “makeup.” On average, there are 301,000 searches per month (!) in the U.S. for that specific exact term. What’s not to love?

Image credit: Google Ads Keyword Planner

keyword planner

This is not what it seems. The rank problem here is stemming from the fact that consumers searching for “makeup” click on makeup ads a lot less frequently than you’d expect. They might be looking up correct spelling or its definition, we don’t really know. But the fact and the matter is that only a small percentage of them are actually intent on navigating to buy or research makeup. Now the makeup and cosmetics advertiser knows that their targeting this specific keyword is not very relevant. Because their Search impression share lost to rank for that specific keyword is high, probably 20% high or even more.

This term is too broad for a makeup and cosmetics company to target. Google communicates that idea through the Impr. share lost to rank metric.

At this point I’d recommend opting out of targeting the larger search traffic keywords and perhaps the ones that are only seem applicable on the surface. Pause the keywords that have a noticeable below average click-through rate and watch your impression share lost to rank dwindle!

But what if you haven’t found any irrelevant keywords in the account, nor did you find any terms that are too broad? Other rank issues may include that the landing page that you chose to land the clicks on is a bit off. You keyword targeting and ad relevance are great, but when it comes to the landing page experience, a higher than average bounce rate or lower than average time on page tells Google that consumer experience breaks here.

And Google is telling you that through the Search impr. Lost to rank.

In this scenario it is a good idea to check your landing pages and how Google ranks them in your quality score. Start on the ad group level. See if every landing page within an ad group is relevant. Then look at the ad level and keyword level. The same cosmetic company in our example might find that some pages are entirely relevant to the keywords and are offering a seamless experience from searching to seeing a relevant ad, to landing on a page that continues that experience without a hitch, while offering additional information and useful navigational options.

At the same time, they might notice that some landing pages aren’t so connected to the keyword that was searched for or aren’t offering an optimal user experience. Or they might notice that mobile and desktop Impr. lost to rank is different. Which may be due to the mobile landing page speed of all things.

There are many scenarios possible here. I covered some basic approaches to Search impr. Share optimization to give you an idea of how to start optimizing to your benefit.

There are many more advanced levels of analysing your Search Impression share, and it’s two sisters: Impression share lost to budget and to rank. To give a recent example, one can look at the Impression share lost to budget or to rank by match types. There are many more. The rule of thumb to use when deciding how to optimize for those metrics is to keep segmenting the data until you can find a material difference between segmentation. That is how you discover the point of most impact.

In the scenario when your Search Impression Share is <60%, that is the indicator that your marketing engine needs service. You need to do all on the things discussed above and then some.


Questions? Ask below!