Search vs. Display Advertising: All You Need to Know

It can be challenging for PPC marketers to choose the most effective strategy for their online campaigns. In such a vast, competitive, and evolving sphere, the recommended PPC strategy seems to be changing from one month to the next. Not to mention the evolution of AI tools like ChatGPT making it all-the-more stressful for marketers.

PPC Advertising

The success of digital PPC campaigns is largely driven by effective planning, research and methodical execution. Marketers have to make crucial imperative decisions when deciding where their company’s valuable marketing budget goes. One of those decisions is whether to use search ads or display ads in their campaigns, or both.

This decision has proven an obstacle for many marketers, so it’s vital to understand the crucial differences and overlapping similarities between the two. Understanding this information can prove pivotal in maximising your ROI, because if you choose the wrong type for your business goals and audience, you may end up wasting budget unnecessarily. Conversely, if implemented properly, they both can yield tremendous results for your PPC marketing campaign. 

This short guide outlines all you need to know about whether to use PPC search ads or display ads.

What Are Search Ads?

Google search ads are paid advertisement placements that exclusively appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

As evidenced in the screenshot above, when searching the term “golf clubs” on a desktop computer, these are the first results generated on Page 1 of Google. You’ll see that the first results are ‘Sponsored’, meaning that these are paid ad placements. These will always appear ahead of any organically ranking URLs.

What Are Display Ads?

Google display ads are paid placements that appear on websites that you visit, based on your targeting parameters. 

These ads are pushed within the Google Display Network, a collection of over 2 million applications, videos and websites that publish Google ads

Google Ads

Display ads can take the form of text-only email ads, sidebar banners, sponsored social media posts, paid video ads, and so much more.

The main difference between Google display ads and search ads is their underlying methodology and output. 

Search ads are a form of ‘pull’ advertising, meaning they appear to those that are already searching for your product or service. Display ads are a form of ‘push’ advertising, which appear based on various targeting criteria, and appear across multiple platforms, not exclusively search engines.

Both search and display ads serve different purposes, so it’s difficult to ascertain whether one is better than the other. However, it may interest you to understand some of the main advantages of each one.

Benefits of Search Ads

  • Search ads allow you to capture high-quality traffic and qualified leads through specific keywords and search terms that are relevant to your industry.
  • These ads can help drive traffic to your website landing pages, which, if optimised correctly, can be a direct funnel towards conversions.
  • Search ads provide a clear and tangible solution to improving clicks, impressions and conversions, attracting the right kind of traffic to your site.
  • These ads can be locally targeted, which is handy for startups and businesses looking to expand to other nearby areas and regions first.
  • They can be an effective way of capturing instant sales, which is ideal for eCommerce businesses or those selling seasonal products with shorter cycles.
  • PPC search advertising is a quicker alternative to SEO, which takes time to execute and see results from, although both can work in harmony together.

PPC Advertising

Benefits of Display Ads

  • Display ads are inherently more visually appealing and eye-catching, which can improve clicks and CTR to your associated landing pages.
  • These ads allow you to provide a clearer and more defined demonstration of your products through imagery, graphics and professional videos.
  • Display advertising can significantly help users move from the top of the funnel to the middle and eventually the bottom, through repeated exposure and awareness of your brand and products.
  • There are millions of potential destinations that your ads can end up across the GDN, where traffic and customers could be waiting in the wings in spades.
  • Retargeting or remarketing display ads can capture users’ attention if they have already interacted with your brand, website or products in some way, but need a nudge towards converting.
  • PPC display advertising allows you to cast a wider net of potential customers across a range of industries and sectors, which is handy if you don’t operate in specific niches.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Search or Display Ads

While it’s clear to see the tangible benefits associated with both types of advertising, it’s important to remember that it’s not always a case of choosing one or the other.

For instance, display PPC ads can be excellent for brand awareness and passively capturing the attention of potential customers who aren’t actively looking. 

Meanwhile, search PPC ads allow you to be more granular with your targeting, appearing in front of an audience of which you know more about, such as their demographics, needs, location, and so on. 

The main point is that both display and search ads can work well as a collective. Both types of marketing can be a valuable asset to your digital marketing strategy.

Here are some important factors that can help you decide if display or search ads are better for your short- and long-term PPC goals:

  • Brand awareness – The Google Display Network is an excellent way to appear in front of customers that are unfamiliar with your brand, but similarly, a SERP can be a great way to address a specific pain point in keywords.
  • Budget – You need to be smart with your budget, particularly in financially testing times like these. If your budget is smaller, you may fare better with search ads due to having higher conversion rates.
  • Urgency – An ‘urgent’ or ‘emergency’ service can encompass a wide range of businesses, such as locksmiths, dentists, vets, car breakdown recovery companies, and so on. In high-stress situations like these, someone may be actively searching for a solution, and likely on mobile, so you should factor these into your search ads.
  • Search volume – Keyword volume, click potential, and difficulty are all metrics that you should measure to determine your PPC keyword bids. If you can find terms with a decent mixture of the above metrics, you may benefit by using a search campaign, whereas if there is not much competitiveness, a display campaign may be more suitable.

PPC advertising

  • Lead generation – You can use different keyword match types to trigger your ad, along with negative keywords so your ad isn’t shown when users search for irrelevant terms. Doing this allows you to optimise a search ad.
  • Location – Display ads cannot be locally distributed, so you run the risk of your ads appearing in front of the wrong target audience. If you run a local business, and try to reach more customers nearby, search ads allow you to be more secular.
  • Sales cycles – Consider whether the sales cycle of your products justifies whether you run PPC retargeting ads or not. If your cycles are shorter, you may not need to continue running ads to people who have previously engaged with your business.
  • Visual engagement – Display ads can include images, graphics and video, so if you have complicated products or services, visual demonstrations can work wonders at drawing interest from consumers, as well as highlighting offers or packages.
  • Intent – Remember that search ads are displayed in front of active users, while display ads will typically appear in front of those with a passive interest in your products. Consider what stages of the marketing funnel your audience is in your decision. 

Search or Display Ads – Which Should I Choose?

The short answer is it depends

Generally speaking, people are searching for solutions to problems or answers to questions. For some businesses, search ads allow them the chance to address those active queries via a search engine. However, other companies may be more inclined to spend time establishing their brand and display ads via the GDN can be a great way to do that. 

PPC Advertising

It’s worth remembering that consumer behaviour is always changing – email marketing and direct mail campaigns have their place, but the future is very much in the digital terrain, so budget needs to be spent wisely. Ads need to be targeted correctly so that your business is appearing in front of the right audience. 

Get Help From a Proactive, Transparent PPC Marketing Agency

If you need expert, impartial advice to help you in the right direction, why not consider a no-obligation PPC review call with Ginger Digital? 

We are a PPC agency that is experienced in handling a range of standalone search or display campaigns, or, in many cases, amalgamating the two strategies together for our clients. We are proud of the results we have delivered for our clients through targeted PPC campaigns across search engines, the GDN and social media

We can identify bottlenecks and gaps where your winning leads and acquisitions are lying, and which model may be best suited to your current advertising goals and requirements. 

We also have an in-house video production team at your beck and call for any visual needs, which we can advise you more about during our call.

Book a free call with us today to see how we can help you.

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