Display vs Search Advertising: Which works best for your business?

- May 15, 2018 3 MIN READ

If you are new to digital marketing, chances are you will have seen the terms search advertising and display advertising used a lot. You might be unsure about the differences between them and which would be the best choice for your own campaigns. Let’s have a brief look at the differences between them and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Display Advertising

Display advertising has been around since the infancy of digital marketing. Originally, many of these ads were placed at the top of pages so the term “banner ads” is still widely used today. Many were distracting, and it was common for them to feature inappropriate content. Thankfully, as digital marketing has evolved so too has their usage and placement. These days they are well-designed, attractive and appealing, and above all, relevant! They tend to be more visual in nature and usually come in the form of a clickable image with text.

Search Advertising

Search advertising really took off with the rise of Google. Because Google Search is now the dominant search engine on the internet most businesses will start with Google Adwords. These are ads that are triggered by keywords in search queries. They’re often referred to as Pay Per Click (PPC) ads because you only pay when someone actually clicks the ad.  These ads tend to be text-based and often include an “Ad” tag to distinguish them from the rest of the search results.

So, which is best?

The best choice will depend on what your campaign objectives are. In some cases, you might actually need to employ both as part of your strategy. Perhaps the best way to see the advantages and disadvantages of each approach is to consider how they perform under specific roles.

Brand Recognition

If you are just starting out in business and your brand is relatively unknown display advertising is your best strategy. Because these ads have broad coverage you will get your name out there among a large audience quickly. In this sense it is often referred to as push marketing because your ads are directed to everyone. This type of advertising will help you get established so it can be a valuable tool for penetrating new markets where it often takes a long time to build presence. The same can be true if you are adding a new product or service to an existing inventory.

Return on Investment

Advertising costs money and every campaign needs to stay within its budget, particularly when you are starting out. In this situation, search advertising is usually considered the best value for money. You are essentially bidding on keywords that will be triggered by search results—in other words highly targeted placement. This generally means a significant boost in web traffic to your site and ultimately more conversions. Search advertising is sometimes referred to as pull marketing because it only brings highly relevant customers.

Products and Services for this Moment

If your business specialises in products and services that are based on a sense of urgency, then search advertising is your best option. This will include businesses such as taxis, fast food outlets, as well as emergency care and after-hours pharmacies. That’s because people needing these services will be using search engines to find answers in real-time. Search advertising ensures that you are included amongst their results.

Real-Time Analytics

If you are interested in assessing the effectiveness of your campaign, then search advertising is the way to go. For example, Google’s Adwords collects a lot of very useful data so it is possible to monitor your campaign in real-time. Their system allows you to make changes to your campaign on the fly. This means you can continually assess the effectiveness of your keyword choices and the way you pay for your clicks.


It might seem like search advertising gives all of the advantages but that is not always the case. If your campaign is focused on the long-term then display advertising has some distinct advantages. One of them is re-engaging with potential customers. Display ads will often be shown repeatedly. This is because the algorithms that determine their placement learn visitor behaviour. In this sense, they can give regular exposure to visitors. As mentioned above, this helps boost brand recognition, but it also ensures that your ads are accessible when someone is starting to get close to making a purchase.


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