Essential Digital Advertising Terminology and Jargon

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Pretty much every industry has standard jargon that people in other industries might not be familiar with. Digital advertising—that is, advertising in mediums such as websites, social media, and mobile apps—is no exception. If you want to begin a career in that field, you will need to learn a few basic terms.


Think of impressions the way you think of a typical TV or radio media buy. You are guaranteed to get the ad played a set number of times, but you have no guarantee that a specific number of people will see or interact with it. Two million impressions sound great until you find out that 99 percent of them have gone unnoticed.


Reach is a much better determination of the efficacy of your digital buy. Unlike impressions, reach tells you how many different people visit a website and see your ad. Those people are usually counted to determine something called unique visitors per month; those who visit multiple times in a month are counted only once. Similarly, 50 impressions seen by the same person would have a reach of just one.

Contextual Targeting

You experience this daily. Utilizing user information, browsing habits, and shopping patterns, ads are served to people in a targeted way. For instance, if you’ve been looking around for a flight, you may start seeing ads for luggage and beachwear over the next few weeks. Contextual targeting is the modern equivalent of pulling lists for direct mail campaigns, only this targeting is more accurate and immediate.

Native Advertising

Native advertising attempts to mimic the content of the site on which it is seen. It will have to announce, in some way, that it is a paid advertisement. Such alerts are usually hidden away in small print. For example, you may create an advertisement that looks and reads like an article about men’s health, fishing, or grocery shopping. The content all leads to your product or service. The traditional, nondigital form of native advertising is known as an advertorial.


Keywords are a vital part of online advertising. An advertiser selects specific words or phrases, and someone searching for them will trigger the advertiser's ad. Keywords do not have to directly name the product. For instance, if you're trying to sell roses, you could select “Mother’s Day gifts,” “my wife is mad at me,” and even “box of chocolates” as key phrases.

Interstitial Ads

These are full-screen ads that appear during the content you want to access, so they are the digital equivalent of commercial breaks on television. They interrupt the natural flow of the viewer and can often take longer to watch than the content the user was looking for.

Be careful with your use of an interstitial ad; it’s a digital mistake that can do a lot of damage to your brand, and keep in mind that Google does not allow interstitial ads to be used in certain ways.


You will come across these acronyms daily if you’re doing online media buys. The CP in each one stands for cost per, and the third letter indicates the basis for how you’re paying for the online campaign.

CPC: This abbreviation stands for cost per click. That means you will pay every time someone clicks on your ad.

CPM: This one is a cost to serve ads and is the amount you will pay to serve 1,000 ad impressions to the audience. The M stands for mille, or thousand, and CPM is sometimes referred to as CPT instead.

CPL: This abbreviation stands for cost per lead and is how much you pay for each click that turns into a qualified lead—a lead that is more likely to convert into a sale than an unqualified lead.

CPA: The most expensive of all the CPs will most likely be the cost per acquisition. The CPA is determined by dividing the number of new customers you get into the cost of your digital campaign. If you spend $10,000 on the digital buy and get 100 new customers, then your CPA is $100.

You may also see these abbreviations beginning with PP, which stands for pay per.