Search Advertising vs Display Advertising

The Internet makes it possible to target potential customers more precisely. Where traditional ads (like those on the radio or TV) reach broad audiences who may or may not be interested in what your company has to offer, online channels help you reach people who have already demonstrated some level of interest.

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But if you’re familiar with online advertising, you know that there are many options to choose from. Two of the most popular are display ads and search ads.

There are several differences between the two, both in terms of benefit and potential reach. However, display and search ads have one thing in common: when implemented properly, they can yield great results for your marketing campaign, regardless of the campaign's goal.

Call 888-601-5359 to speak with a strategist about digital advertising services from WebFX, or keep reading to learn more about display ads, search ads, and how to determine which is the right choice for your marketing strategy.

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Comparing Search vs Display Ads - What are the differences?

The main difference between search and display ads is that search ads are "pull" advertising while display ads are "push" advertising. This means that search ads only appear to those who are already searching for your product or service, while display ads are paid placements that appear based on a number of targeting parameters.

It's also worth noting that search and display ads are set up and run through different ad networks - a search network vs a display network. Management of each will be slightly different, as we discuss later.

If your marketing budget is large enough, you may choose to use both display and search ads in your strategy. However, the two aren’t interchangeable, and some campaigns are more suited to one type of ad than the other.

Search Advertising Pros

  • Your business has a small marketing budget. Search ads allow more control over who you reach, meaning you won’t waste money on people who aren’t interested.
  • You cater to a local market. A site with a worldwide audience won’t be of much value to a potential customer searching for a nearby provider.
  • The product or service has a short sales cycle. You don’t need to continue advertising to people who’ve visited your site, so remarketing isn’t a necessary feature.
  • Potential customers are in urgent need of your services. Search ads allow you to reach people who are actively searching for service providers.

Display Advertising Pros

  • Offer products and services with lengthy sales cycles. Ads for cars, enterprise software and other large purchases are intended to generate leads, not make immediate sales.
  • Cater to niche or luxury buyers. These individuals may spend more time on a few select sites than on search engines.
  • Want to use photos and videos to promote their offers. Search ads can’t contain anything but text.
  • Are more focused on building brand awareness. PPC ads are usually designed to generate immediate conversions.

When it comes down to it, display and search ads both have their place in the marketing industry, and the option that is best suited for your company simply depends on your goals.

How do display ads work?

Display ads are the banners or text you see on websites that sell space to advertisers. These ads used to be the result of direct relationships between sites and advertisers, and in some cases, they still are.

As the number of businesses wanting to advertise online increased, though, choosing the right advertisers to work with became challenging for site owners.

Now, platforms like Google Display Network bundle sites, segment them by category, and offer them to advertisers as a package. These ad networks take bids from advertisers, and those with the highest bids will earn space on the sites they’ve chosen.

display ad example

In addition to simply targeting certain sites, some advertisers also use remarketing to reach Internet users who have visited their sites in the past.

One of the biggest advantages of display ads is their flexibility. You can create an ad in a variety of sizes and with different images. This allows for more creativity than a text ad can offer, which can help your business stand out.


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On the other hand, display ads are easy to ignore. Someone visiting a website isn’t looking for a sales pitch, and they may scroll right past your ad without a second thought.

How do search ads work?

While display ads can show up on sites across the Internet, search ads only appear in search engine results. Advertisers select a list of keywords that are relevant to their company or products, and can bid to have their ad show when someone searches for those words or phrases.

Of course, your business is not the only one trying to reach people searching for certain keywords. To decide which ads should appear on search results pages, each search engine advertising platform puts a bidding process in place.

The higher you bid on a search term, the more likely you are to show for it—and the higher your ad will place when someone searches on that term. However, with platforms like Google Ads, you don’t pay every time your ad shows up.

Instead, they use a pay-per-click model, meaning—as you may have guessed—you only pay when someone actually clicks the ad.

Search ads have a lot of benefits, including a more targeted audience and the ability to only pay when someone engages with your ad. However, choosing the right keywords and bids requires a strong understanding of your audience and chosen platform.

Of course, pay-per-click ads are only one way to increase traffic with search engines. The other is search engine optimization, or SEO.

In addition to advertising on search engines, you can optimize the content on your website to rank higher in organic search engine results. This can help bring in even more traffic without the added advertising costs.

WebFX is a leading digital advertising agency

At WebFX, we have years of experience managing effective online advertising campaigns for our clients, and we can do the same for you.

Ready to improve your online advertising strategy?

If you’d like to use search, display, or any other kind of online advertising, WebFX can help. Contact us today to speak with a strategist about which option is right for you!