We have a love-hate relationship with acronyms. On one hand, they exist because they’re useful and we can appreciate that. But on the other hand, acronyms are often another person’s way of saying they’re better than you.

Marketers are not the very heaviest professional acronym users — that dubious honor goes to the military, where acronyms are a form of surrealist art — but marketers, especially the media-buying sorts, certainly love a machine-gun spray of important-sounding letters.

We’ll borrow a good idea from Search Engine Journal and quickly refresh you on some of the most frequently-used ad-spend acronyms:

CPM for Cost Per Mille. This one is fairly easy to get mixed up because of the inclusion of the French mille (for ‘thousand’) and because it’s easy to forget that the M stands for 1000 of something, not just 1 of a thing starting in M.

But cost per thousand what? It’s the cost to show your ad to people 1000 times. We write that out rather than use the word “impression” because that word is loaded and means different things depending on the context.

CPC for Cost Per Click. This term is the most straightforward of the bunch. It’s the average cost of each click you got on your ads, as measured the usual way (total ad spend divided by total number of clicks).

Just kidding; there’s still a curveball. The term PPC (for Pay Per Click) means pretty much the exact same thing. So try not to get confused.

CPA for Cost Per Acquisition. In this case, the natural ambiguity is: what exactly are you acquiring here?

In most cases, this will refer to new customers (i.e. people who were not customers before, but bought because of your ad) — though in some cases like B2B, it can refer to a lead, qualified lead, or other new brand asset.

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