PPC marketing on Google is one of the staples of modern marketing.
But Google isn’t so straightforward, and to advertise effectively, you have to know which network works best for your goals.
In this article, I’ll go over the differences between Google’s Display and Search networks, and when you should use each.
What is the Display Network?
First, let’s get the basics down.
Display ads are ads that 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 Display Network is made up of millions of websites.
We’re talking over 2 million, representing 90% of internet users. That’s good news for marketers; it means that every ad you 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
Display ads will show up 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, or activity on your website
Generally speaking, they’re designed to target buyers early in the sales cycle. Because users aren’t actively searching for a product,
What Is The Search Network?
When you think of Google Ads, you’re probably thinking of search ads.
These are the ones that appear next to the search results as people search for related products or services.
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 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 a sole basis for selecting which network you choose.
Ok, now let’s look at some stats.
Two numbers that marketers are interested in when choosing and evaluating ad performance are click-through rate (CTR) and cost per click (CPC).
These, of course, will vary by industry, but on average for the search network:
- Avg. CTR across all industries is 1.91%
- Avg. CPR across all industries is: $2.32
And the display network:
- Avg. CTR across all industries: .53%
- Avg. CPC across all industries: $.58
These numbers make sense when you think about it. Users on the search network have high buying intent, meaning their CTR would naturally be higher.
On the other hand, the 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.
Not so fast.
When to Use Which: Google Search Network. Vs. Display Network
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 AdWords for that very reason – either they choose the wrong channel, or rush into using both networks too fast.
So let’s get a few things sorted to help you decide which ad network will deliver the best returns for your business.
High Intent and Quick Conversions
Google Search Ads are best used for the top of the funnel sales activity. Its users are actively searching for services and products related to what you sell, and have active purchase intent.
It’s 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’re immediately hopping on Google and typing 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 chose 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 navigating around their favorite websites hoping an ad for a dentist pops up.
Instead, they’re actively searching for that service.
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.
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.
To find the keywords most relevant to your business, use a research tool like SEMRush.
Just launch the site, type your keyword into the search bar and select Keyword Overview from the lefthand menu.
You want to pay special attention to the organic search results volume to see how many people are searching for that keyword.
You also want to look at the related keywords section to see what else you can target in your ads. For example, “best dentist san diego” is another high-volume keyword that can help inform your target keywords for your copy.
Knowing exactly what people are searching for when they make key sales decisions will help you catch customers in those crucial moments.
Display Network vs. Search Network: Brand Awareness
On the other hand, you have the display network, which is best used for bottom of the funnel activity like brand awareness.
A brand awareness strategy is best used for those new to the business or who have yet to make a name for themselves.
Remember all that intent we talked about in the last section? Users on the display network don’t have that.
They’re not actively searching for a product or service with the intent to buy. Instead, they’re either researching their options or simply going about their day and browsing the web as usual.
While it’s not a great opportunity for an immediate sale, it is a great opportunity to get your brand in front of your target audience.
That being the case, you need to focus on ads that prove the value of your brand. They need to be highly relevant to your audience and outline what’s unique about you.
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
So, let’s say you’re targeting a very niche audience and decide to go that route with your targeting. You would want to put together an ad that is highly relevant to that audience.
Take a look at what Stack Overflow did:
Clearly, they’re advertising specifically to those with programming experience (those without it likely wouldn’t even understand it).
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.
Or, 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 – users will likely be more receptive to display ads from brands they’ve already visited
- Exclude unrelated sites in your targeting
- Use the similar audience feature – these are based on your remarketing lists, and help find and target people with similar characteristics and interests to those who have visited your site
Display Network vs. Search Network: 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 requires a big investment.
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 in the forefront of the customer’s mind as they continue to browse.
This is where a display ad, and more specifically a remarketing ad, will come in handy. Using remarketing, you can cookie anyone who comes to your site and visits a specific page, and then show ads them to later 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 will click at 2-3x the rate of new visitors.
Not only that, but conversion rates increase the more users see an ad in a remarketing campaign.
Another reason that remarketing ads are so great with earning sales over a long period of time is that they’re excellent at building brand awareness – which, coincidentally, is what display ads are best ad.
With display ads, you’re not limited to small lines of text, and can include logos and other strong elements that make a brand most recognizable.
So if the guy searching for that engagement ring is constantly seeing your logo and that great ring he found pop out, chances are he’ll revisit it again later in the process – maybe even for the sale.
Display Network Vs. Search Network: Budget Concerns
As much as we hate to admit it, budget can have a big effect on how much – and where – we advertise.
If your budget is somewhat restricted, I’d recommend starting off with the search network.
The reasoning behind it is that search ads tend to drive more conversions, so you’ll be getting more bang for your buck initially.
Search will cost less initially, and give you more measurable results.
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 even further.
Wrapping Up Search Network Vs. 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.