Written by Vivek Patel

No digital marketer, at least the savvy one, must be unaware of the eMarketer study that show marketers will spend more moolah on display advertising, banner at all, than search advertising in 2016.

Here’s a screenshot of the study.

Image credit

This might a bitter pill to swallow for paid search advocates who have upheld search advertising. Would they be tweaking their marketing campaigns to accommodate display advertising or would they play safe by using both the platforms optimally?

If you talk to digital marketers, you will find most of them do a little bit of everything however a few have polarized views on the whole search v/s display debacle and generally prefer one over another or at least more of one than another.

So let’s find out a few key points that can help you decide who wins the war – search or display advertising.

  • Generate Demand

One of the ways advertising can be defined is that it helps create awareness and demand where there is no awareness and demand. Display advertising is a perfect example of this definition. When visitors see your display ad on some blog or website, they are not there to buy your product, chances are they are not even aware of your product. However, it helps you create demand by generating awareness over and over again.

Search ads, on the other hand, work on supply. Since people are already looking for your products, it helps them by fulfilling supply by showing your ads.

In my opinion, display advertising wins the round here because if you have a good Google ranking, your results might show organically too. So the supply can be fulfilled in other ways. However, when you have to generate demand, display advertising is amongst the topnotch methods to create awareness and demand online.


Display Advertising – 1

Search Advertising – 0

  • Branding

If you see ads for Coca Cola or Ford, you wonder why would such an old brand need to advertise. The reason is businesses place a very high value on brand recall. Older brands need it to retain their presence whereas newer ones need it to establish their presence.

Now keeping this important business branding need in mind, let’s compare the examples below. I searched for hotels in Anchorage and these ads showed up in the sponsored results. Marriott is at the third place. Now compare it with the display ad and see how visuals, logo and offers boost the appeal of the ad.

image 2

Again, display advertising wins this round hands down.


Display Advertising – 1

Search Advertising – 0

  • Conversions

An important part of understanding conversions is to see the conversion funnel. You have to find out at which stage of the process your customer is and then accordingly serve ads. For instance, a person unaware about your brand needs to first see your display ads over a period of time to become aware of it and recall it when he or she finally moves to the next stage of consideration.

Now at the stage of consideration, customers tend to Google so as to weigh all options. This is where search ads can turn events in your favor. A search ad at this stage can quickly lead your customer to the next stage i.e. conversion.

image 3

There’s a very small chance that people will buy or convert on their very first visit, hence display advertising don’t bring home conversions. But when people are actively seeking out services or product they need, there’s a great chance your visitors will click and convert.


Display Advertising: 0

Search Advertising: 1

  • ROI

Search ads are very competitive and some keywords can be especially expensive. The cost per click can range anywhere from 70 cents to around $270 but the average cost is around $5 for most keywords. The cost per click for display ads is 30% lesser than search ads, plus it offers CPM pricing which can be an ideal solution for low-budget brand awareness campaign.

Image credit

Now that’s about cost-effectiveness but let’s measure the effectiveness of each method to compare its return on investment.

A working paper published in HBR compared attribution and effectiveness of both search and display campaign for a bank and found that for every $1 invested for each brought a return of $1.24 and $1.75 for display and search respectively. So the ROI of search is at 75% much higher than the ROI of display at 24%.

So the Score is:

Display Advertising – 0

Search Advertising – 1

  • It’s a Tie

So if we calculate the overall score, it’s a tie!

Display Advertising – Generating Demand (1) + Branding (1) = 2

Search Advertising – Conversions (1) + ROI (1) = 2

  • Tie Breaker

Depending on how popular your brand, company, product or service is, what industry you are in, how far-reaching and wide your audience is, at what stage of funnel you are at, one of these two advertising networks win. So effectively there is no war if you know your online marketing strategy well.

Author Bio: 

Vivek Patel is a Local Search Specialist at E2M, one of the fastest growing digital marketing agencies based in India committed to meeting the highest ethical standards of digital marketing services to encourage and drive strategic and sustainable business growth. He covers local search optimization, ppc management services and Social Media Marketing Services. You can find him on twitter: @vivekrpatel

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