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Display Vs. Search Advertising: Which One Should I Invest In?

A lot of digital marketers were taken by surprise when eMarketer published a report that showed marketers were leaning towards display advertising and were going to set aside more budget for it in the coming few years. Considering the fact that search advertising has been long upheld as the best method of online advertising, this report was seen as a major disruption.

So far, search advertising has been winning all the matches against display ads, but this time, the tides seem to have changed. But is the change really worth it? Has display advertising come out as the winner in 2016?

Let’s find out for real who the winner is.

Display Advertising

Display advertising is one of the best ways to create awareness about a new company or product. It helps to create awareness that can fuel demand. In addition, display ads can be seen on any blogs and websites of a particular industry or niche you want. They’re a great way for old companies to generate brand recall.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of display advertising.

Drive Awareness

Display advertising is amongst one of the best methods to build awareness for new companies and brands because it doesn’t rely on the user to search for your business. Display ads are shown to users matched by demographics, user behavior, and previous search history. Therefore, ad visibility is not incumbent to site visits.

Take a look at this example below from, which brings all the real estate news from NY. The advertisement on the top right corner of the page is a display advertisement showcasing condos. One of the main reasons for this specific display advertisement is because of the content we’re looking at. Chances are, if someone is reading about rents and real estate, they may also be interested in condominium residences as well.

A Powerful Visual Form

Display advertisements are considered to be one of the most important visual form of advertising on the Internet. They’re packed with colour and are extremely different than a plain text ad. Display advertisements are more engaging. As the popular phrase says, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Brand Recall

Older and bigger brands need it to retain their presence and keep their recall value high. Ever wondered why Coca-Cola or Ford still need to advertise despite having excellent recall value?

Image Source

The answer lies in this conversion funnel. Long after search ads bring in conversions, display ads ensure customer loyalty and brand recall, which is extremely important to ensure that your customers are coming back to you.



With retargeting, behavioral targeting, customer personas and dynamic content optimization available to advertisers, display ads are becoming more important than ever.
There’s little chance that people will make a purchase or take action first time they visit your site. Retargeting will help you to remain in your visitors’ memory, which improves your chances of conversions.

Effective and Efficient

Display ads are more cost-effective than search ads.

The cost per click for display ads is generally 30% lesser than search ads.

Display advertising is ideal for a low-budget brand awareness campaigns for startups and new businesses because of CPM pricing model which charges per thousand views and is quite reasonably priced.

Search Advertising

Search advertising is ideal for almost all types of businesses that want to rank for a particular keyword. Since the ads are only displayed to searchers that are searching for terms related to those you are bidding for, there is a higher chance of conversion as you get only relevant traffic.

Now, let’s take a look at some benefits of search advertising:

Generate Leads

A search ad can quickly lead your customer to conversion.

As we saw in the conversion funnel above, it is search ad that usually leads customers to conversion whereas display works mainly for brand recall and brand loyalty.

Highers ROI

Search advertising has a greater ROI.

HBR published a working paper which outlined the ROI of search and display ads for a banking client. They found that the ROI of search advertising is over 300% of display ad ROI.

Great for Local

Search ads is a great way for local businesses to target specific areas and locations.

Local businesses like hotels, plumbers, dry cleaners, etc. benefit the best from search advertising. This is because when people are searching for these results in their search engines, they tend to be looking for an immediate result or response. Of course, you can also remarket using display advertisements, but they would work more for brand awareness.

Search ads, on the other hand, encourages users to click and complete an action. Chances are, anyone searching for a plumber would most likely be needing it right away.

High CTR

Finally, search ads have a high click-through-rate compared to display ads.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering a lot of marketers don’t use segmentation and analysis while creating display ad campaigns. It is easier for marketers to create highly segmented search engine campaigns based on keywords, location, demographics etc. as compared to display ads.

In addition, search ads appear above the fold in search results. When they show up as the first results for users, they are more likely to click on those.


Though marketers usually lean towards search ads because of its remarkable simplicity, I believe that using retargeting and other segmenting techniques can give far better results for display ads.

What are your thoughts on search advertising and display advertising? Let me know which one you would prefer in the comments below.

Post By Avinash Nair (1 Posts)

Avinash Nair is a Digital Marketer at E2M, one of India’s fastest growing Digital Agency committed to meeting the highest ethical standards of digital marketing strategies and drive sustainable business growth. He is responsible for SEO and Link Building tactics.

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