Running ads on Google is one of the staples of modern marketing, and offers multiple ways to reach your audience through the Display and Search networks
But to advertise effectively, you have to know which network works best for your goals.
In this article, you’ll learn the differences between the two and gain a better understand when to use each.
What You’ll Learn:
- What is the display network?
- What is the search network?
- The average CPC and CTR of each
- How to choose a network based on your goals:
What is the Display Network?
First, let’s get the basics down. Both Google network has specific types of ads it can run.
Display ads appear on the Google Display Network.
The Google Display Network is the set of third-party websites that have agreed to show Google ads. But don’t think that limits your options; the network is made up of millions of websites.
We’re talking over 2 million, to be exact, reaching 90% of internet users. That’s good news for marketers. It means that every ad run has the potential to appear in front of that 90%.
Display ads aren’t just for websites, and can appear in the following formats:
- Text – these display a headline, two lines of text, and a URL; often appear in website sidebars
- Banner – these include images and rich media, so animations and custom layouts can be used
- Gmail – appears in Gmail inbox
- App – targets specific mobile app categories
- Pre-roll and interstitial ads – appear on YouTube videos before the videos begins and during ad breaks.
Display ads will show up for audiences based on the targeting options you select. For example, you can target ads by:
- Keywords and topics related to what you offer
- Choose specific websites or pages
- Choose specific audiences based on interests, demographics, location, or activity on your website
Generally speaking, Display ads are designed to target buyers early in the sales cycle. Because users aren’t actively searching for a product, the goal of these ads is to build awareness of a product and drive the user into the sales funnel.
What Is The Google Search Network?
When you think of Google Ads, you’re probably thinking of search ads on the Google search network.
These are the text-based ads that appear next to the search results as people search for related products or services. They’re distinguishable by the “Ad” tag next to the search result URL.
Search ads are triggered by keywords; if a user’s search query matches one of your keywords, your ad could appear above or alongside the organic search results.
They work on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis, meaning you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.
Google Ads By The Numbers
A word of warning: do not choose your network based on numbers alone.
These will give you an idea of what to expect for your industry, but shouldn’t be used as the sole basis for selecting a network.
When choosing an ad type and evaluating ad performance, two key metrics are click-through rate (CTR) and cost per click(CPC).
These, of course, will vary by industry, but a recent survey found that across all industries, on average for the search network:
- Avg. CTR for search ads is 1.91%
- Avg. CPR for search ads is $2.32
And the display network:
- Avg. CTR for display ads is 0.35%
- Avg. CPC for display ads $.58
When you think about it, these numbers make sense. Users on the Google search network have high buying intent, meaning their CTR would naturally be higher.
On the other hand, the Google Display Network will see less competition for keywords, etc., bringing down the costs per click.
Now, I get it. You might be tempted to immediately jump for the option that sees a higher CTR on average.
First, Understand Your Goals
Deciding which ad type to use will depend entirely on your goals.
Each network serves a different purpose, and it’s crucial you understand the differences before you settle on one.
Marketers waste thousands of dollars in Google Ads for that very reason. Either they choose the wrong channel or rush into using both networks too fast.
High Intent and Quick Conversions
Google Search Ads are best used for top-of-the-funnel sales activity. Users are actively searching for services and products related to what you sell, and they generally have active purchase intent.
The search network is also great at providing quick solutions to problems that need immediate action.
Let’s say you wake up with an excruciating toothache.
That’s not something you wait a few hours to address; no, you immediately hop on Google and type in “dentists near me.”
And what do you know, the first four listings in Google are ads for dentists in the area.
Since you need help, fast, you click on one and book an appointment.
And just like that, you have a solution to your toothache, and the dentist’s office you clicked on has a conversion on their search ad.
Similarly, if you’re booking a ski trip and looking for hotels in the Aspen area, you’ll likely be looking on Google with the intention of booking.
These are the kind of situations that a display ad can’t address. After all, no one’s casually browsing their favorite websites hoping an ad for a dentist pops up.
Instead, they’re actively searching for that service and looking to make a decision quickly
So, if you operate a service that people have an urgent need for and are seeking immediate results, the search network is your best bet.
Keep in mind, because buyer intent is so high, the way your ad is structured must meet the demand of the user. Simply put, it means structuring your content around the keywords users are searching for.
So if people are searching for dentists near them, your ad copy should directly state that you’re a local dentist and allude to the types of services you offer
To find the keywords most relevant to your business, use a research tool like SEMRush.
Simply launch the site, type your keyword into the search bar, and select Keyword Overview from the left-hand menu.
Pay special attention to the organic search results volume to see how many people are searching for that keyword.
In addition to the volume, you should also look at the related keywords section to see what else you can target in your ads and your content.
Going back to our dentist example, “best dentist san diego” is another high-volume keyword that our toothache sufferer is likely to search, and can help inform your target keywords for your copy.
The display network, on the other hand, is best used for bottom-of-the-funnel activity like brand awareness.
Users on the display network don’t have the urgency or intent that lower-funnel searches have. They’re not actively searching for a product or service with the intent to buy.
A such, a brand awareness strategy is best used for those new to the business or who have yet to make a name for themselves.
Display ads are served to internet users who have been casually researching their options or simply going about their day and browsing the web as usual.
While the display network doesn’t present a great opportunity for an immediate sale, it is a great opportunity to get your brand in front of your target audience.
Display ads give you the chance to prove the value of your brand. They need to be highly relevant to your audience and outline what’s unique about your product or service.
To do that, you have to pay special attention to your targeting methods. Remember, you can target on the display network by:
- Keywords and topics
- Specific websites or pages
- Specific audiences
- Geographic location
So, let’s say you’re targeting a very niche audience. You would want to put together an ad that is highly relevant to that audience.
Take a look at what coding community Stack Overflow did:
Clearly, they’re advertising specifically to those with programming experience. Those without it likely wouldn’t understand this ad or be drawn to it in the first place.
And that’s exactly what makes the ad great. It won’t resonate with everyone, but it certainly will with the audience that matters most to this particular brand.
Similarly, say you’re targeting by keywords. Like search ads, you’ll want to find keywords and topics that your audience is searching for with a tool like SEMRush.
But unlike search ads, your ads can’t simply state that you exist. Remember, brand awareness only works if your audience remembers you in the future.
So give them something to remember. One of the best ways to do that is by including your brand’s benefits in your ad copy, not just your features.
If you’re someone browsing for computer support or accessories, simple words like “cost-effective” will immediately jump out of you.
A few more things to keep in mind when running display ads:
- The display network is great for remarketing ads. These are keyword-targeted ads based on a user’s search history. Users will likely be more receptive to display ads from brands they’ve already interacted with or are advertising services they’ve searched for previously.
- Exclude unrelated websites in your targeting.
- Use the “similar audience” feature. These audiences are based on your remarketing lists and help find and target people with similar characteristics and interests to those who have visited your site before.
Lengthy Sales Process
If your product or service generally takes some time to convert, you may do better on the display network.
When I say it takes time, I mean that it doesn’t fulfill an immediate need (like, say, the dentist we spoke of) or require a large investment or longer decision-making process.
For example, someone shopping for an engagement ring isn’t likely to make a snap decision. They’ll probably visit your site, get a feel for your options, and then return to Google to scope out other options.
While a search ad can be effective here for initial discovery, because a user won’t be purchasing immediately you need a strategy to keep your brand at the forefront of the customer’s mind as they continue to browse the web.
This is where a display ad, and more specifically, a remarketing ad, will come in handy. Using remarketing, you can place a digital cookie on anyone who comes to your site and visits a specific page, and then show them display ads as they visit other sites on the web.
Remarketing on the display network is an extremely effective way to retain an audience, and remarketing ads typically have much higher CTRs than regular display ads.
In fact, previous visitors to your site will click your ad at 2-3x the rate of new visitors.
Not only that, but conversion rates also increase with the frequency that users see an ad in a remarketing campaign.
Another reason that remarketing ads are so great with earning sales over a long time period is that they’re excellent at building brand awareness. Coincidentally, that happens to be what display ads are best at.
With display ads, you’re not limited to small lines of text. Instead, you can include logos, animation, images, and interactive elements that make a brand more recognizable.
So, if the person searching for that engagement ring is constantly seeing your logo and a picture of that great ring he found on your site, chances are he’ll revisit it again later in the process. This time, he’s much more likely to make a purchase.
As much as we hate to admit it, your budget can have a big effect on advertising frequency and distribution channels. While it’s best to have a combination of search network and display network ads, sometimes cost can be a limiting factor.
If your budget is somewhat restricted, it’s best to start off with the search network.
This is because search ads tend to drive more conversions, so you’ll be getting more immediate results and return on investment.
Even if your goals are more in-line with what the display network has to offer, with some success on search you’ll soon be able to apply that knowledge to display ads and expand your search volume.
In fact, in almost all cases, I recommend starting with the search network and maxing out your budget there before moving on to the display network.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of which ad network best suits your business goals.
While ideally both could be used to cover all aspects of the campaign, you first have to know how to use each for optimal results and why each is important in its own right.