What does Frequency mean?

In online advertising, frequency refers to how often an ad appears to a single user in a certain time frame. It is most often measured and expressed as a per hours figure, even when talking about a day. For example if an ad appeared to a single user 6 times in one day, it would be said to have appeared 6/24 times (or 6 per 24 hours).

The reason why frequency is an important measure, is because the number of times a user sees an ad affects the likelihood of them clicking on it (or buying a product because of it). In traditional advertising, it is thought that someone needs to be exposed to an advertising message about 5 times for it to be effective – this is referred to as opportunities to see (or OTS).


Technical Information

For online advertising, it depends on the ad unit, but generally speaking the best performance comes from a 3/24 frequency cap. This means each user seeing an ad no more than three times in a day. If an ad is more invasive however (such as a pop-under, or overlay) then a 1/24 frequency cap is preferable. Both of these caps are likely the most amount of times a user can tolerate seeing a single ad campaign. Once they are annoyed by it, the effectiveness of a campaign tails off quickly.

If a single user sees an ad too often, they will likely tune it out. More than that, it is a waste of an advertisers money to show the same ad repeatedly to a single user. There is only so much any one user can click (or purchase from) one ad after all!


Frequency Formula

To work out the approximate frequency of an ad,  you can divide ad impressions by unique users. This will be a rough measure only, as users will have seen the add different amounts of times. However if you have a frequency cap in place, it will be quite accurate comparatively.

The frequency equation is:

Frequency Equation

Click to enlarge

Frequency = Impressions / Users (per timeframe measured)

Example: Thirty impressions served to three unique users in a 24 hour period would be expressed as 10/24 (as each user saw 10 impressions).


Other names for Frequency (synonyms)

Opportunities to see


Not to be confused with

Frequency Cap, Recency



Frequency Definition


Find out more

★ Ask for a Frequency Cap

Author: Justin Driskill

Justin is the founder of The Online Advertising Guide and a freelance Digital Projects Manager.

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