Search Ads vs. Display Ads: Which one is right for you?

Marketing Data
Google Sheets
March 29, 2024


Search Ads or Display Ads - for a modern-day marketer, this can be a bigger question than to be or not to be. Remember the last marketing meeting you had and they asked you to focus on the ROAS but well - how to choose between the two?

But the bigger question is of course - Where do you even start? You should first find what type of ads would be more suitable for your type of product, once that is done and we’ve identified what works we can work on deciding the other things - such as the target audience, the budget and KPI’s. If I were to promise you that it will all work out in the end - it would be over-aspirational, because marketing is all about being agile and making small changes in the strategy to attain the goal. Here in our case with the two types of Ads would be getting those ROAS that we dearly are looking for and getting a bigger budget for that next marketing campaign idea.

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What are search and display ads?

Search Ads

Search Ads are the ads that appear alongside search results when you type a query into a search engine like Google. These ads are shown to users who are actively searching for keywords related to your products or services, making them quite direct and specific. For instance, if you use Google AdWords to promote your coffee shop, your search ads might appear when someone in your area searches for “fresh coffee near me.”

Additionally, these ads are highly customizable and can be tailored to target particular demographics, times of day, and even device types. Bid strategies can be managed to control how much you're willing to spend on each click, allowing for optimizing expenditure based on the value each potential customer brings.

Display Ads

Display Ads, in contrast, are ads that are seen on websites across the internet, not just in search results. These ads often include images and can be placed on a wide range of websites that are part of the Google Display Network. These ads are not as focused as search ads because they don’t depend on specific searches but are designed to catch a user’s eye while they are browsing various websites. For example, a display ad for your coffee shop might pop up on a food blog that readers visit to look at recipes.

These ads are typically image-based and can include elements such as animations or videos, making them more visually appealing. They're particularly useful for building brand recognition over time, as they consistently expose users to your brand, even when they're engaged in different online activities. This type of advertising can be beneficial for reaching a wider audience and establishing a digital presence.

What’s the difference between the two

When you want to focus on a specific group of customers who are looking for a particular product or service, Search Ads, are a beneficial choice. These ads are an example of a strategy used when you want to target customers who have a clear goal in mind.

A great example of this of course is all those ads which pop up on your feed when you Google - Black Nike shoes, all the possible sellers making their way onto your feed with the amazing offers. Of course, these are an ideal way to drive more purchases and get those sales going up.

On the other hand, Google Display Ads are part of the Google Display Network and aim to connect with a broader audience. Even though these ads may not be as specific as Search Ads, they have far-reaching access across numerous websites that are part of the Google Ad Display Network. A Display Ads example could be an ad for your shoe store appearing on a fashion blog. Here, the person may not be actively looking for new shoes, but your ad might spark their interest.

The Google Display Network enables businesses to present their ads in a variety of formats across a wide range of websites, providing a significant benefit of Display Advertising. In this way, Display Ads work to increase your brand's visibility, which can be especially useful for users who might be in the initial stages of deciding on a purchase.

Key Metrics in Search and Display Advertising

Evaluating Conversions and CPC for Display and Search Ads

It is crucial to understand the differences and performance of Google Display Ads and Google AdWords Search Ads when considering which is most suitable for your specific marketing objectives. One key factor when analyzing these is the understanding of Cost Per Click (CPC) and Conversion Rate (CVR).

The term Cost Per Click refers to the price you pay each time someone clicks on your ads. On the other hand, if you hear Conversion Rate, it measures the percentage of people who not just clicked, but also performed a desired action after that, like purchasing, signing up, or filling out a form.

For instance, Search Ads often have a high CPC because many competitors might be bidding for the same keywords. However, they also usually have high conversions because they catch the customers right when they are looking for something specific.

On the contrary, even though Display Ads generally have a more accessible, or lower, CPC, their CVRs tend not to be as high. Their main aim however, is to raise brand awareness and connect with a wide audience that is not necessarily searching for your product. They are mostly suited for e-commerces and product-based brands.

Understanding the Strengths and Limitations of Both Ad Types

Search Ads: Designed for Focused Audience

Advantages of Search Ads:

  • They provide a personalized strategy that aligns with the users' search interests, making them directly fit into people's buying journey.
  • These ads appear quickly on search results, which can result in immediate engagement and potentially convert into sales.

Limitations of Search Ads:

  • They can increase costs due to the high request and competition over certain keywords.
  • To operate them effectively, one must have a deep understanding of how to best use AdWords and strategically select keywords.

Display Ads: Created for Broad Outreach

Advantages of Display Ads:

  • Display Ads enable businesses to reach a large audience by showing their ads across the Google Display Network.
  • Incorporation of striking visuals draws people's attention, enhancing brand exposure. A remarkable benefit of display advertising that businesses can leverage is its ability to re-engage users who have previously visited your site but didn't make a purchase or take any action.

Limitations of Display Ads:

  • They might not be the right tool for businesses targeting a specific, small group of people as they aim to reach as many people as possible.
  • Because they cover a broad audience, they can sometimes be less targeted than Search Ads.

In summary, both of these advertising types bring different advantages, and you should choose the one that fits best your specific goals, keeping in mind always to balance the potential cost and expected return.

Track The Right Metrics

If there is an investment made, the expectation is there would be returns. ROAS, or Return on Ad Spend, is the not-so-secret metrics that helps measure the % return of your advertising spend.

ROAS = (revenue attributable to ads / cost of ads) x 100

Keeping tabs on your ROAS across all campaigns and platforms don't just let you track your results.. Whether it's specific platforms, campaigns, or individual ads – breaking down ROAS helps identify where your money is bringing in the big bucks.

Of course, to paint the full picture, you gotta mix ROAS with other trackable metrics.  Think of CPA (Cost per Acquisition), CR (Conversion rate), and CPC (Cost per Click) as we discussed above. These combined give you a clear snapshot of your key performance targets and the stepping stones you need to hit those revenue dreams. Plus, gauging these PPC metrics all together can also give you secret insights into traffic and lead quality from each of your ad sources, like a secret decoder ring for your campaign data!

Deciding When to Use Each Ad Type

When planning your advertising approach, the type of ad you choose should directly align with what you hope to achieve through your campaign. The decision between opting for Google AdWords Search Ads or Google Display Ads hinges on the nature of your target audience's engagement and where they stand in the buying process.

Your ad preference largely depends on your campaign goals. Opt for Search Ads when you aim to connect with customers with a clear intent—ones actively searching for your product or service.

On the other hand, choose Display Ads when your goal is to increase visibility, raise brand awareness, or when you're targeting a broad audience across the Google Display Network.

The Buyer Journey and Ad Formats

The effectiveness of an ad not only depends on its content and design but also on how well it aligns with the stage of the buyer's journey your target audience is in.

For users in the decision-making phase, who are actively researching options or are ready to make a purchase, Google AdWords Search Ads offer a strategic fit. By presenting them with a solution precisely when they are seeking it, search ads help in gently nudging the potential customer towards making a purchase.

For potential customers who are at the awareness stage, perhaps still unaware of the solutions to their needs or the existence of your product, Google Display Ads play a crucial role. These ads aim to capture the attention of users, provide them with initial information, and make them aware of the products or services your brand offers. The benefit of display advertising here is its ability to introduce your brand to the customer early on, slowly guiding them down the funnel towards considering your solutions.

In practice, the most effective advertising strategies often involve a mix of both search and display ads, tailored to meet users at various points of their journey. By leveraging the targeted approach of Google AdWords Search Ads for high-intent users and the broad reach of the Google Display Network for raising brand awareness, businesses can create a comprehensive strategy that addresses multiple stages of the consumer journey.

What should you go for?

It’s all about you. Your choice must resonate with your type of product, marketing objectives, the nature of your target audience, and the stage of the buyer journey your campaign serves. For example if you are in SaaS, display may not make much sense, unless you have a very visual product to put forward. Search is way more suited. On the contrary if you have an online boutique with unique products, you may wanna use display. A delicate balancing act of carefully placed Search and Display Ads can get the best of both worlds: immediate conversions and widespread brand recognition.

In short, whether it's Display Ads or Search Ads, it's all about reaching the right people, at the right time, in the right place!

Keep in mind, there's no single way to win at digital advertising that works for everyone. It's about trying different things, looking at the results, and tweaking your approach to suit your brand best. Always be open to trying new ideas, and you'll keep moving forward with your marketing efforts.

We hope this has given you a clearer picture of how Search Ads and Display Ads can play into your marketing approach. But, there's a lot more to explore. Check our latest blog post on "Growth Marketing VS Performance Marketing," where we delve into these two critical strategies and guide you on picking the one that meshes seamlessly with your business goals.

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Jacopo Proietti

Co-founder @Dokin
Jacopo, a co-founder of Dokin, boasts 8 years in finance, having worked as a finance manager at Ogury and head of Financial Planning and Control at BlaBlaCar.
His passion for data integration led to the creation of Dokin, a game-changer for modern business teams. With customizable templates and built-in data connections, Dokin allows modern CMOs and CFOs to streamlines data reporting across Google Workspace applications.

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