Display Advertising vs. Search Advertising: Which Method Delivers a Better ROI?

Paid online advertising is one of the best ways to achieve immediate results from your marketing efforts. By advertising to targeted web users, you can reach a large number of prospective customers or clients in a more cost-efficient manner than traditional marketing avenues such as television and newspapers.

While there is widespread agreement that paid digital advertising is effective, there is an ongoing debate about the best approach; e.g., should you go with search advertising, or is display advertising a better method?

The search advertising vs. display advertising debate has been raging for a while now. In the early days of the internet, a whole industry was built around search engine marketing, and much of that has been centered around paid ads. In recent years, however, companies have been shifting larger portions of their budgets toward display advertising.

So which paid online advertising method is right for your business? This depends on a number of factors; such as the industry you are in, your marketing goals, and many others.

To help determine whether to go with display advertising or search advertising, it is important to understand how each method works and what each is typically used to accomplish. Here is a closer look at the two major forms of online paid advertising and the advantages of each:

Search Engine Advertising

Paid search advertising, also known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, is a form of search engine marketing that targets prospects based on keywords they type into the search bar. When a user types in a keyword, your company can appear on page 1 of the search results in Google, Bing, or whatever other search engines you may be dealing with. You set your budget for the amount you are willing to pay each time a user clicks on your link, and if your bid is high enough you could* show up toward the top of the search results (* There are other factors besides the bid including AdRank that we won’t go into here).

Advantages of Search Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising offers several benefits:

  • Highly Targeted: If set up correctly, a pay-per-click campaign can bring in the visitors who are most likely to be interested in your product or service offering. A properly configured PPC campaign is one that includes the right keywords to target (based on extensive market research) and the best-written ads for each keyword sending visitors the right landing pages to drive maximum customer/client conversions. There is no other form of advertising (online or offline) that can bring in targeted prospects and convert them into buyers as efficiently and effectively as search advertising.
  • Data Can be Tracked: A pay-per-click campaign can be tracked in great detail to determine precisely which keywords are most profitable and which ones are duds. You can also test different keywords with different ads and different landing pages as well as other testing combinations, so you can continually tweak your PPC campaign (based on your test results) to produce maximum return on your marketing dollars.
  • Cost-Efficient: Search engines such as Google and Bing allow you to set a maximum cost per click you are willing to pay, as well as a daily budget. You only pay when a visitor clicks on the link to your website/landing page, giving you the most bang for your buck. In addition, the ability to set maximum per-click and daily spends allows you to employ a targeted marketing campaign without going over your budget.
  • Local-Friendly: Pay-per-click advertising can work very well for local services in which a targeted user is looking for an immediate solution. Examples include hotels, restaurants, plumbers, locksmiths, etc. For example, when a user enters a search term such as “locksmiths city”, they are usually looking for a locksmith right away or fairly soon. The ability to appear in the search results at the exact moment a prospect is ready to buy is a major benefit for local businesses.

Display Advertising

Display advertising, also commonly known as banner advertising, can be thought of as a billboard campaign on the information superhighway. The main difference is that, unlike billboards you see driving around town, a display ad appears on websites where a targeted prospect is likely to be. These days, many websites have display ads, and they are generally placed strategically to find their target market. A good example of a potentially effective display advertising campaign would be a banner ad for an eBook on how to lose weight on a health and fitness website.

The Advantages of Display Advertising

Display ads are targeted, but they are not as precise as a pay-per-click campaign. Still, there are several reasons to consider incorporating display ads into your marketing arsenal:

  • Branding: Like the billboards you see around town, display ads are a powerful branding tool. They can present an attractive company image/logo along with a catchy slogan to draw the visitor in. While a lead generation pay-per-click campaign can only show the text of an ad, a display ad brings in the visual element which, if attractive and memorable, tends to stick in the visitor’s mind and build a strong, positive association to the brand.
  • Retargeting / Remarketing / Reminder Ads: In recent years, display ads have been used increasingly to help recent shoppers remember the brand, stay loyal, and/or draw them back to complete a purchase. You have probably noticed that when you shop for a product somewhere, let’s say on Amazon, you see that same product pop up on display ads when you visit other websites. This is called retargeting or remarketing (Google also calls them Reminder Ads. Advertisers understand that consumers typically need to be reminded several times before they decide to make a purchase, and retargeting is a great tool to accomplish this objective.
  • Wider Reach: Display advertising casts a wider net and puts your brand in front of more potential prospects than a pay-per-click campaign. While people who come across PPC ads are already looking for the product/service, display ads can reach consumers whom, because of the site they are visiting might be interested in the product/service but may have never thought about purchasing it.


What Method is Best for Your Marketing Campaign?

Now that we have a better understanding of search advertising and display advertising and the reasons for using each, it should be easier to decide which is best for your company.

For example, if you are in an industry where your prospects are looking for products/services immediately, then a pay-per-click campaign may be a better approach than display ads.

On the other hand, if your target audience has a longer buying cycle in which a typical prospect needs to be reminded several times before becoming a client/customer, a display campaign may work well.

Another thing to consider is mobile. Nearly 60% of all web searches are now performed on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets; and in many industries, it is absolutely crucial to go after this market. For instance, if you are a restaurant or hotel, a large number of your customers are probably looking for you on a smartphone, and they are probably doing so by typing in a search term such as “hotels city” on their mobile web browser. Because of the way typically mobile consumers look for products and services, search advertising campaigns are usually more effective in reaching this market.

One last thing to mention is that for many companies, blending the two forms of online advertising can be a very powerful approach. You have probably heard it said, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This phrase definitely applies to digital marketing. Search advertising and display advertising can work very well together to effectively engage your target market during different phases of the buying cycle. Display ads can help you get discovered and keep you front and center in the minds of targeted prospects, and search advertising can help close the deal. Done properly, these two methods can be combined to drive maximum results from your online marketing efforts.