Marketing for Beginners: Search Network Vs Display Network


People often get confused when planning a campaign. Figuring out the difference between search network and display network because they are both generally referred to as “Google ads”. For a PPC novice, its gets more confusing when he is setting up a campaign and he sees the Search Network with Display Select (SNDS). Before I go into details of the differences between search and display let me run you through what SNDS is about briefly.

SNDS allows advertisers to opt their search campaigns into the GDN in a limited fashion. Although, AdWords claims that it will use “improved signals and methods of predicting where your ads are likely to perform best” to ensure that display ads are only shown in locations that are highly relevant to the advertisers’ “ideal” user. For example, a search ad might show on

Here’s a video to explain this a bit more

This ad option pushes advertisers to expand their reach and appeal to a broader range of customers. For less savvy PPCers who have limited time to dedicate to account management or optimization, this option is good because it passes all the bulk of the work to auto pilot. That been said it comes with a price. So, if you an avid advertiser, I strongly recommend sticking with the traditional practice of managing search and display networks as separate campaigns.

When To Use Search Network

Advertising on Search Network is the most common and well-known form of PPC advertising. With this network selection, your ads will be eligible to appear on the first page of Google’s search engine result page otherwise known SERP. You have an option to choose Google search only or Google search partners which include AOL and That means when someone searches for one of your keywords AOL or Ask then your ad might pop up.

Typically before getting to this phase you must have done your keyword research, fix your landing page (responsive) and also must have a budget in mind. When you set your ad and it’s been approved (usually less than 24hrs), your ad is good to go.

Then comes the question of ad ranking. Ad rank determines where on the Search Results Page your ad shows up. Competitors are also using the same keywords as you because you sell the same product or offer the same services, so how does Google get to decide to show your ad over theirs or vice versa? Google uses an algorithm called Ad Rank. A value that is used to determine your ad position and whether your ads will show at all. Ad rank is calculated using your bid amount, the components of quality score (expected CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experience), expected impact of ad extensions and other ad formats.

Here’s a video explaining Google’s Ad Rank

KPI’s for search Network includes

  • Clicks
  • Conversion Rate
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Impression
  • Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Ad Rank
  • Calls
  • ROI

You should be running a Search Network campaign if:

  • You’re working with a limited budget: In general, when clients are restricted to a small budget, I recommend starting with the Search Network. This format is more likely to drive direct conversions, making it easier to measure and justify your PPC efforts. Once you’ve mastered Search, it may be advisable to expand to the Display Network, which can boost visibility, leading to an uptick in search volume for your business.
  • You sell an “emergency” product: If your product or service offering is something that users look for on a when-needed basis (party planners, saloon, restaurants), you should be advertising on the Search Network. For these industries, it is imperative that your ad appears when the searcher is in need of your services.

When To Use Display Network

In addition to search advertising, Google also gives advertisers the opportunity to place their ads on a variety of sites across the internet. This collection of websites, which ranges from blogs to online newspapers, emails, in apps, YouTube and other Google ads enabled website known as partners, is referred to as the Google Display Network (GDN). According to Google, the GDN includes over 2 million sites that reach over 90% of global internet users. Given the expansive audience of this network, it is incredibly appealing to advertisers who are looking to widen their visibility online.

When users are on the GDN, they may not necessarily be in “shopping mode.” Instead, they are going about their daily internet activities. Catching up on news, reading blog posts, watching video clips, etc. In order to gain traction on the GDN, your ads must attract the users’ attention and entice them enough to click through to your site, leaving the content that they were originally engaged with. Accomplishing this is no easy feat—even with top-notch ad creative, it’s tough to draw users to click on ads while they are surfing the net.

But don’t write the GDN off yet—while clicks may be scarce, ad space on the network is plentiful. It is the ideal space to promote brand awareness and its vast reach is appealing to advertisers who are looking to broaden their fan bases. By increasing your brand’s visibility, you may reap more clicks on organic listings or see an uptick in brand-specific searches. The clicks on GDN are also sometimes cheaper than clicks on the search network.

KPI’s for Display Network include

  • Impression/reach
  • Click Through Rate (CTR)
  • Impact on brand search
  • Top of mind awareness (although this can’t be measured directly on long term basis this as variation sticks to our subconscious)

You should be running a Display Network campaign if:

  • You want to familiarize people with your brand: Many advertisers leverage the Display Network to promote brand awareness. Since the GDN is so expansive, it offers many opportunities for advertisers to connect with their audiences. AdWords provides a variety of targeting options, ranging from managed placements (specific sites selected by the advertiser) to website groupings based on audience characteristics and more. By appearing on reputable sites that are popular amongst your target audience, you can quickly familiarize these people with your brand.
  • You have a lengthy sales process: If you sell a product or service that consumers are not likely to purchase immediately, you need to ensure that your brand stays top-of-mind for prospects as they consider making a purchase. To do this, we recommend utilizing remarketing, through the GDN. This strategy allows you to show ads to anyone who has visited your site in the past, encouraging them to return and convert. For example, when you check a red skirt on Jumia or Konga and you leave without buying it. You start seeing the skirt on other websites you visit and a top that will fit nicely with the skirt or shoes to match even if you buy they show you other things you might like.
  • You have an attractive product: Since the GDN allows advertisers to display image ads, it is ideal for advertisers who sell luxury products whose ads are enticing to the eye. Since display advertising relies largely on distraction, it’s helpful to have an appealing product to promote.

In Conclusion

To truly reap the benefits of each network, break them into separate, network-specific campaigns. From a strategic standpoint, this will allow you to craft your messaging based on the scenario in which your consumers are viewing your ad. This segmentation is critical, not only does it allow you to set specific budgets and bids per network, but it will keep your data “clean” and make it easier when optimizing.

Let’s take CTR for example, ads on the Display Network typically get lower CTRs than Search Network (which comes as no surprise, given the context in which they are shown). If the campaigns are not segmented, the CTR data can be too much, making it really difficult to analyze performance.

What’s your experience with using Google Search and Display ads so far?