Search vs. Display Advertising

Search vs. Display Advertising

Beginners and seasoned advertisers alike often struggle with the question of whether to use search ads, display ads, or both. There are several different factors to take into consideration when deciding which type of campaign is right for you. Whether you’re just starting your digital advertising efforts in 2017 or have years of experience but are still looking for the right direction when it comes to search vs. display ads – this article will help.

Here is a look at four different factors that can help you decide if search or display ads are better for your PPC goals. Plus, I’ll throw in a bonus with one way that you can combine both for optimal results.

1. Search Volume

The first big difference between the two types of ads is that display ads use a push approach, while search ads use a pull approach. In other words, people who come across your search ads are already looking for your product, while people usually see display ads because they were targeted after watching a video, reading emails, or browsing the web. Knowing the difference between these two approaches can help you quickly determine the right strategy based on your brand or product/service awareness.

To help determine just how familiar searchers are with your brand or products, you can use the AdWords Keyword Planner tool and Google Trends to determine search volume. If your brand or the products you sell have a good amount of search volume, then it’s a good idea to start out with a search advertising campaign. On the other hand, if there isn’t much volume, you might benefit more from creating display ads that will ultimately help build awareness of your brand and products. Below you can see keyword ideas based around “ppc services” along with search volume and keyword competition.

#PPC Tip: search ads use a pull approach while display ads use a push approach. Click To Tweet

Keyword Planner

2. Brand Awareness

If you are a new company or are selling a product or service that people are unaware of, you may want to start by focusing on branding with your display ads. The Google Display Network is a great way to get in front of potential customers who don’t know your brand yet.

To use a real life example, display campaigns are almost like advertising at a sports arena. There are sponsorships and banners all over the arena, yet everyone is focused on the game. This is still a good investment for advertisers, however, as they know their audience and can relate their brand or ads to their sporting experience, making those ads extremely relevant to the target audience.

This is a similar approach to display advertising – even though people who see display ads are usually doing something else online, you can target a specific audience so they’ll pay attention to your ads, making your investment worthwhile. Display ads allow you to target people based on demographic or what keywords are in the content they are reading.

In addition, if you know the specific sites your audience spends time on, you can target those as well by bidding on specific sites on the display network.  Keep in mind that just like someone at a sporting event may not buy a product right away, the audience you’re targeting might not make a purchase immediately. However, when they are in the market for your product or service, they’ll be more likely to remember your brand.

To help gauge the performance of your branding display campaigns, you can create a search campaign that only includes branded terms. At the very least, you should see an increased number of impressions on these terms as the display campaign goes on. This strategy uses the push approach to create the pull.

The #Google Display Network is like advertising at a sports arena. Great for brand awareness. Click To Tweet

3. Limited Budget

The next way to pick your strategy is by determining your budget. How big is it? Where is there room to grow based on data?

If your budget is limited, search ads are probably the best option to start with. Building your brand with display ads will usually take a much larger budget and will not likely have a positive ROI. This is because search ads typically have higher conversion rates, and will justify an increase in budget. Once you can rationalize spending a larger budget, you can then decide whether to put those extra funds into your successful search campaign or expand to the display network.

4. Urgent Services

If you consider your business an “urgent” service, it’s probably a good idea to start with search ads. An “urgent” service can include a wide array of companies, such as locksmiths, tow trucks, 24-hour veterinarian, and dentists. These are services that someone is not normally going to jump at and pay for if they are reading the news and happen to see your display ad. However, when someone gets locked out of their house or their car breaks down, they are likely to search for a service to help them immediately.

Use #Adwords call extensions for urgent services like plumbing, locksmiths, etc. to capitalize on mobile searches. Click To Tweet

Another consideration with “urgent” services – remember that these are most likely going to be searched for on a mobile device. Not only are mobile searches growing every year, hands-free devices are increasing the amount of voice searches in 2017. That means if you have a business with an “urgent” service, you should be advertising on mobile.


While the increase in mobile searches has been getting businesses to make their websites mobile responsive, the growing trend of voice searches could make responsiveness slightly less important. If these searches are hands-free, the searcher may not have the time or interest in going to a website, and want to make a quick call instead. To make it simple for the searcher, you can use call extensions. This helps the searcher convert quicker and give you their business. Below is an example of call extensions when searching for “tow truck” on a mobile device. The searcher can click the Call button in red and it directly calls the advertiser.

Call Extension Example

A Combination of Search AND Display PPC Strategies

The last way to pick between search vs. display advertising in 2017 is by doing both. While display ads are typically viewed as a branding play, a well mapped out attribution process and improvements in technology help show the ROI of display campaigns. For example, cross-device conversions help show the value that ads have from mobile by tracking when someone clicks on a mobile ad but converts later a different device and vice versa.

If you have the budget in 2017, both can work. I recommend doing this by running two separate campaigns, one on the search network, the other on the display network. Mixing the two campaigns can be a hassle to view metrics, and more importantly optimize. When you separate your campaigns, you can see metrics side by side. This will allow you to make a better decision on to which one to move forward on, and maybe that means moving forward with both. Below is an example of running a search and display campaign at the same time. As you can see, it is easy to see high-level metrics from the campaign view. You can then easily go deeper to ad groups and keywords to optimize without needing to differentiate which are from the search or display campaign.

Search vs. display campaigns

What should you choose?

In my expert opinion, I would answer the question “should I use search or display advertising in 2017?” with a simple answer: it depends. As I outlined above, there are several factors that should go into you making that decision so make sure you go through each consideration area before diving into a choice. If you have the budget, running both search and display campaigns will give you optimal results.

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Keegan Brown

Keegan joins the team as an Digital Advertising Analyst with a diverse background in business. While receiving his Bachelor of Science in Accountancy, Keegan spent one year in a tech incubator creating a mobile app. His entrepreneurial spirit has led him to learn web development, sales and internet marketing. In his free time Keegan enjoys music, exercising and weekend trips to Flagstaff.