When diving into the world of SEO, one term that frequently pops up is “impressions.” At first glance, the term seems straightforward – an impression is when someone sees your website in the search results, right? Not quite. Let’s dig deeper into this commonly misunderstood metric, specifically in Google Search Console.
What’s Google Search Console? Watch this quick intro video from Google Search Central to get up to speed.
What's an Impression?
Logically, you would assume an impression is counted when your website’s listing appears on a user’s screen in the search results. However, that is not how it works.
In Google Search Console and most analytics tools, an “impression” is counted each time your site’s listing is rendered on the search engine results page (SERP). This includes both organic and paid results. They don’t tell you this.
Here’s the key distinction – the impression is counted whether or not the user actually sees your listing. It does not matter if your site appears above or below the fold, or if the user never scrolls down far enough to view your result. The mere fact that your listing was generated on the SERP causes an impression to be logged.
An impression simply means your website appeared in the search results. It does not necessarily mean a user laid eyes on your listing or that you received any visibility. This is an important detail for newcomers to grasp when evaluating SEO performance.
Now that we understand the technical definition, let’s explore further how impressions relate to real visibility and engagement…
Visibility vs. Mere Appearance: Factors that Impact Actual Views
As we learned, just because your site appears in the search results (impressions) doesn’t mean users actually saw it (visibility). There are several factors that impact whether searchers notice and engage with your listing:
- Ranking Position – Higher rankings near the top of the page lead to more visibility. Top 3 organic results receive about 40% of all clicks. Listings on page 1 get 90%+ of traffic, while pages 2 and 3 get only 4% combined.
- Page Layout – SERP features like People Also Ask boxes, knowledge panels, ads, and images can push organic results further down the page and reduce visibility. Sites with top rankings can still suffer.
- Snippets & Titles – Compelling snippets and title tags attract more attention than bare links. Include your focus keyword and emphasize benefits to improve CTR.
- Device Screen Size – On smaller screens like mobile, listings pushed “below the fold” get zero visibility. Use responsive design to optimize for key devices.
- Competing Listings – Sites clustering together around your niche can hide your listing from view even if ranked well. Include unique keywords to get isolated real estate.
- Ad Blindness – Many users overlook paid ads or are immune to clicking. Top ad positions don’t guarantee visibility. Relevant, intriguing text and assessing traffic quality is key.
- User Intent – Searchers looking for quick info like weather may ignore most listings. Understand user motivations and meet their needs.
The takeaway is that visibility hinges on both on-page and off-page factors. Tracking beyond just impressions reveals the full SEO visibility picture.
The Fallacy of Impressions Beyond Page One
It’s common for a significant portion of impressions to come from listings beyond page one in search results. However, various studies have shown over 90% of search users do not proceed past the first page of results.
This means the multitude of impressions accrued from pages two, three and beyond rarely lead to actual clicks. Even though these impressions increase your overall total, they do not contribute to visibility.
This disparity between a high impression volume and low click rate can cause the click-through rate (CTR) to seem deceptively low. The CTR only accounts for clicks divided by impressions without considering visibility bias towards page one.
For example, a site could have 100,000 impressions and 500 clicks for a 0.5% CTR. But if 90,000 of those impressions were from page two and beyond, the actual CTR based on true visibility on page one is more like 5%.
The takeaway is to analyze impression and click distribution by page position. This provides greater context around visibility and prevents misleading CTR figures. Targeting page one rankings is ideal for genuine visibility.
The Power of Heat Maps from Ahrefs and Moz
We have no stake in saying this, either company does not pay us. We are advocates for SEO, though. This is just an observation, not an endorsement. Other products are available, but we know about these two, so here goes.
Ahrefs and Moz offer insightful heat map tools that visualize typical click patterns on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Ahrefs is an SEO platform known for robust backlink data, site explorer tools, and recommendations to improve organic visibility. Moz focuses more on keyword research, rank tracking, and content optimization suggestions.
Both companies provide click heat maps within their suites. These colourful visualizations clearly demonstrate user engagement concentrated on the top few organic listings on page one. Lower-down results and subsequent pages show much lighter colours, indicating only a tiny fraction of clicks.
For example, Ahrefs’ heat maps invariably show a bright red top section, followed by orange, yellow, green, and very little blue (clicks) on lower results. This aligns with studies showing upwards of 90% of clicks happen in the top 5 listings.
These types of heat maps provide tangible insight into real searcher behaviour. Rather than relying on impressions, the maps demonstrate how visibility and CTR rapidly diminish down the pages. This underscores the importance of securing those coveted above-the-fold rankings.
Metrics to Supplement Impressions for a Clearer Picture
Rather than looking at impressions in isolation, it’s important to supplement with additional metrics to gain a more meaningful picture of your website’s search performance.
- Ranking Positions – Tracking your keyword rankings over time shows progress making it onto page one, as well as visibility trends based on ranking fluctuations.
- Click-Through Rate (CTR) – Comparing clicks to impressions reveals the visibility bias towards higher rankings. Aim for CTR above 2-3% in top positions.
- Average Position aggregates your rankings across keywords to benchmark your overall search visibility.
- Page Depth – Seeing impression and click distribution by page position highlights the value of page one visibility.
- Engagement Metrics – Bounce rate, time on page, and pages per session indicate if you’re satisfying searcher intent.
- Conversion Funnel – Tracking how many impressions become clicks, leads, and customers shows the business value derived.
- Competitor Data – Research competitor rankings, CTRs, and traffic sources to inform your targeting.
- Keyword Gap Analysis – Identify untapped ranking opportunities around valuable search queries.
Layering these supplemental metrics over your impression data will provide a clearer picture of your true search visibility and performance. Aim not just for maximum impressions, but meaningful visibility and conversions.
You can access core data like rankings, clicks, impressions, CTR, and average position through Google Search Console. This gives a starting point to understand your basic search presence.
However, paid tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, and SERanking are recommended for deeper insights into engagement, conversions, competitors, and opportunities. They provide a more holistic view to strengthen your SEO strategy.
The key is blending data from both free and paid sources. This enables informed decisions grounded in the full scope of your search analytics, taking you beyond superficial impressions to genuine performance. Carefully tracking this metric mix will reveal the areas to focus on for visibility, traffic, and revenues.
Key Takeaways on Impressions and Visibility
While impressions are a valuable metric, the numbers alone don’t tell the full story when evaluating SEO performance. There are important nuances around visibility and user behaviour that provide crucial context.
The key points to remember are:
- Impressions simply mean your listing appeared in search results, not that users saw or engaged with it. True visibility depends on ranking position, page layout, snippets, and other factors.
- The vast majority of impressions beyond page one do not contribute to visibility or clicks due to ingrained searcher habits. Focus on page one visibility for genuine impact.
- Supplement impressions with other metrics like rankings, CTR, engagement, conversions, and competitor data for a meaningful performance picture.
- Leverage both free (Search Console) and paid tools (Ahrefs, Moz, etc.) to blend comprehensive analytics to spot opportunities.
With these insights in mind, you’re equipped to make smarter decisions in your SEO approach. Rather than obsessing over maximizing impressions, focus on cultivating genuine visibility in those coveted above-the-fold spots where searchers naturally gravitate.
The ultimate goal is not appearances in the SERPs but visibility that converts – driving qualified traffic, customer engagement, and revenues. By mastering both impressions and visibility, you unlock SEO’s full potential to connect with audiences and grow your business.