Frequency Cap: How Many Impressions are Enough?

I bet you’re familiar with those annoying ads that follow you around when you’re browsing or appear repeatedly when you are watching your favorite online TV show. It is annoying to be stalked by an advertisement. When you surf the internet and you end up seeing the same display ad on every website you visit. It feels annoying, right?

Because it happens to me all the time, I often wonder: how many impressions are enough? Do marketers know exactly how many times a user sees an advertisement within a day? Is there an unspoken rule that helps marketers know how many times to show a Google display ad to increase CTR without irritating the users? 

Is this a thing? I started to investigate and as usual, it turned out to be an interesting research project. And I found the solution to this problem-the frequency cap. So, what is frequency capping? Let us find out!

I searched the internet to find information about today’s subject, and this is what I found on Wikipedia:

“Frequency capping is a term in advertising that means restricting (capping) the number of times (frequency) a specific visitor is shown a particular advertisement. This restriction is applied to all websites that serve ads from the same advertising network.”

Here’s the short answer to my question above: YES, marketers do have a secret weapon that allows them to set the number of times a specific individual sees an advertisement per day.

It’s quite interesting and relieving at the same time. BUT, the question remains, how many impressions are enough? This is a little bit more complicated and takes time to analyze, so I continued my search.

Finally, I found something interesting, let’s call it the “Rule of Thumb” or “Rule of 3”. Here’s a short explanation, that I found on Exactdrive,

“In a digital advertising context, ‘frequency capping’ is the process of limiting the number of times an individual is exposed to a single ad or campaign. Traditionally, the digital marketing community has followed the “Rule of 3”. This rule suggests that it takes 3 exposures before a user takes action or remembers a brand, but more than 3 exposure a day can turn off potential customers quickly. A frequency cap will limit the number of times a user will see your ads and will prevent them from feeling bored, overwhelmed, or stalked.”

Now, I have only one question left. If advertisers follow this rule, then why are Google display ads chasing people around?

There has to be a good explanation for it, and I was right!

I found an interesting article about this subject on Instapage’s blog. Here the author says that Google’s search engine has two reasons for setting a frequency cap:

  • Reaching new users. 
  • Reinforcing a message.

Let’s look at the first reason: reaching new users. This is common when a brand is new, and its purpose is to reach new people with a lower advertisement budget. In this case, the frequency cap doesn’t need to be a high number, it’s enough to generate 2-3 impression a day. 

The second reason: reinforcing a message. This occurs when a user has already expressed interest in a brand or a product, so the frequency cap has to be bigger to reach its goal. 

So now you know why that E-commerce ad is appearing on every site you visit because you clicked on it before. But what if you didn’t, and it’s still stalking you? It might be your online history that made the advertiser of that particular ad think that it’s worth showing it to you more often… or it could just be a wrong setting of course… :

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