Search vs. Display Advertising: Which One Is the Key to Unlocking Your Best ROI?

Amrita Hemdev
By Amrita Hemdev
June 20, 2018

Digital advertising is acutely diverse. You have multiple ad formats to choose from and myriad ways to reach new users.

When it comes to search ads vs. display ads, it’s essential to understand the difference between the two ad formats. Select the wrong type of ad, and you can quickly drain your budget and get undesired results. But get it right, and you can successfully build a brand and boost conversions with your target audience.

So, which digital advertising strategy or format is the best for driving sales?
Which platform is the best for creating brand awareness?
What about the middle of the funnel?

The truth is, display ads and search ads are both effective. However, they are vastly different. Let’s look at what makes search and display advertising unique.

Under the hood: Display advertising

Display advertising refers to online advertising that incorporates text, logos, and pictures or images positioned on a website with a distinct call to action to drive conversions. It is different from Google’s text, or classified advertising, in that it not only includes the brand’s message but the business’s overall brand.

According to eMarketer, U.S. advertisers will spend nearly $48 billion on digital display ads in 2018.




Every website you visit has ads that showcase products or services. But have you ever noticed you keep seeing the same ads on your social media feeds as well?

That’s because display advertising tracks a user’s behavior to put the right ads in front of the right customers. Display ads look like these:




Under the hood: Search advertising

When you type something into a search engine (e.g., Google), the search engine responds with a list of web pages, along with their title, links, and description, that are relevant to your query. This is your Search Engine Results Page, or SERP. The bulk of that list is comprised of organic results: web pages that the search engine algorithm determined were the best match for your search.

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are the results (web page names) that appear at the top and bottom of your SERP. While we often think of advertisements as visually distinct elements, SEM/PPC ads look similar to the organic listings between them but are labeled in some way to distinguish them as an ad. Here’s an example of a paid search ad:

Screen Shot 2018-06-20 at 11.14.01 AM

What sets them apart?

The primary difference between search ads and display ads is their location on the web.

Search ads only appear on search results pages. When someone searches for a keyword you have bid on, it triggers your ad to look in the “Ad” section of the results page (on Google, the very top and very bottom).

Display ads, however, are shown to your audience when they are on other websites but are not looking for your products or services. For example, the user could be reading a travel blog or searching food spots when your ad appears on the page. The content they’re consuming doesn’t have to relate to your brand for your ad to be shown. What’s great about display advertising is it helps introduce or remind your audience of your brand, even when they aren’t thinking about your brand.

Here are some advantages of paid display advertising over paid search advertising:

Brand awareness

To properly utilize display advertising, you need to understand its purpose. Simply put, display ads are great for driving brand awareness because, generally, these types of ads are found in a place a potential customer may be found.

For example, if a customer is on a website for makeup tutorials, a display ad that may show up would be an advertisement for a makeup store. The customer may not be aware of this type of store, but the ad would drive awareness. Advertisers generally gather this information by studying customer behaviors, demographics, and previous search histories


Let’s say a user has visited your website but has not converted. Display ads give you the opportunity to pull those users back in with retargeting as a digital strategy. Your display ad reminds the user of your brand, thus improving the possibility of conversion.

High volume

Display ads promote your brand to the right people via different targeting strategies and options, but they also have high visibility. When you use display ads, they are also being shown to potential customers who may not have thought to look for your products or services (even if they’re not part of your demographic).

Even if you’re not targeting a particular audience, they will still see your business or brand in front of them.


Which is the best route for you to take?

Display network and search network advertising work in vastly different ways. Knowing when to use the right digital advertising platform is key to unlocking your best return on investment.

It all depends on your goal. If your goal is to build awareness about a new product or service or create recognition for your new brand, digital display advertising would likely be the best online route for you. However, if you want to drive foot traffic and reach out to people who already know about your brand or are searching about it, paid search advertising would most likely be a good use of your digital advertising budget.

You could also integrate both advertising strategies into your campaign if you want to increase brand awareness and generate high-quality leads. Studies show that strategically designed and targeted display advertising can not only increase searches for a product or service but can also have a positive impact on click-through-rate. The brand awareness generated from display ads can create a conscious or thoughtful desire for a product or service. Because they make the brand more familiar to consumers, digital display ads also increase the credibility of the company in the search ad.

Need help navigating the tricky waters of digital advertising? Let us help you!

Our innovative, intelligent tools enable you to bridge the audience gap between traditional and digital worlds, expand your offerings to better reach your local audience, and significantly grow your revenue.

ZypMedia specializes in local digital advertising. We can help you place your digital ads in front of your target audience while helping you drive sales and generate a positive ROI. Learn more about our digital products.


Picture of Amrita Hemdev

Amrita Hemdev

Amrita is an inbound marketer. She studied marketing and project management at UC Berkeley and proceeded to work in a fast-paced, digital advertising tech startup, with a goal of increasing brand awareness. She is currently the Content Marketing Specialist at ZypMedia. Passionate about digital marketing and having six years of experience in this field, she also started her digital marketing and creative agency, Sociato, based in India.