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Search vs. Display Ads

When it comes to digital advertising, every social platform has its own way to spend dollars. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and even newer players like Tiktok offer their business users a chance to reach targeted audiences with creativity and a budget. Google, although not a social platform, provides these same opportunities, even if the delivery is a bit different. 

When considering search engine optimization (SEO), Google search results are top of mind. And while SEO comes at no cost to you, it can be a lengthy process to see results and drive traffic to your website. Google Ads help speed up the process by putting a budget behind generating website traffic and making sure relevant audiences click on your site, first. 

Although Google has multiple options for advertising, two of the most popular methods are Search ads and Display ads. Often used interchangeably, these similar, yet specific ad campaigns ultimately work toward a common goal: connect your content with audiences who will benefit from it most. 

In this article, we’ll cover what Google ads are and the differences between Search and Display Ads. 


What are Google Ads?

In order to fully understand Google Search and Google Display ads, you’ll have to have a good grasp on Google ads as a whole. According to Google, “Google ads is a digital advertising solution that helps you reach [your target] audience and transform them into valuable customers.

Google ads are another vehicle for you to make sure you’re getting attention from those most likely to convert to a customer. Some of the main benefits of Google ads are: 

  • Generate new leads
  • Increase website traffic and visits
  • Build brand awareness
  • Drive sales

Google Ad Principles

Google ads focus on three key principles to drive their ad campaigns: relevance, control, and results. 

A major pillar of inbound marketing is meeting the right customer, at the right time, with the right message. The platform focuses on different parameters (location, keywords, and relevance) to deliver your content when and where it makes the most sense. 

In terms of control, it’s up to you to decide how you’re spending your budget. You can narrow down ad spend per day, per month, or per ad. You can easily alter bidding if needed. Need to decrease your budget? Just log in to the platform and make the necessary changes and it will immediately update.

Last but certainly not least, Google focuses on getting the results you're looking for. The platform is free and you pay only when you achieve your goal, whether that be calls, clicks, app downloads, or video views. 

New Campaign on Google Screen


Types of Google Ads

Google generates literal billions of searches each day and thousands of those searches could be tied to your business or service. By creating ads on this platform, you have access to narrow your results to relevant keywords for your business, appear on sites with users who could connect to your content, and even promote your new app to clients. 

To do this, Google has created several different ads for your differing goals. The types of Google ads Include: 

  • Search Ads
  • Display Ads
  • Video Ads
  • Shopping Ads
  • App Ads

While all ads have different placements and goals, we’ll primarily focus on Search and Display ads in this article. 

How do Google Search Ads Work?

Google Seach Ads Screen

Let’s start with Google Search ads. As mentioned above, SEO focuses on generating website clicks by creating relevant content on your website, whether that be site pages or blog articles. This method is free, but can take some time to ramp up. Usually, SEO performance takes three to six months to change enough to see a tangible positive or negative growth. Google Search ads can put you at the top of the search engine results page almost instantaneously. 

Google search ads appear in the Google search results and Google partner sites, like YouTube, for customers searching topics relevant to the page you’re promoting. When you make a search, you might see the first one to three results tagged as “Ad” before the link you’ll be taken to. You can also see the last few results are marked as ads as well. 

When you pay to run a google search ad, your ad will appear during a query based on a few factors, including relevance, bidding, and location. If your ad is the best suited for this search, it will appear in one of the ad spots previously mentioned. 

When you create a campaign, you can decide on a marketing goal, which devices to appear on, what location, and other factors to determine if you’re the answer someone is looking for. Let’s discuss how you can set up a campaign.

Setting up a Google Search Campaign

There are a few important considerations to review when setting up a Google Search campaign. Making sure you understand what the point of your ad is, what keywords match your customer’s queries, and how much you’d like to budget is key to making sure you receive the end result you’re looking for. 

To set up a campaign, follow these steps:

  1. Determine your goal (Sales, leads, website traffic).
  2. Choose where you’d like your ad to appear.
  3. Choose devices you’d like to target.
  4. Choose location and targeted language.
  5. Determine the focus of your ad group (could be a specific theme like a summer sale or a certain product line).
  6. Create a list of keywords.
  7. Decide on bid amounts (the highest amount you’ll pay for your ad to show).
  8. Create text ads with a headline, URL, and description.

There are other nuances to these campaigns including ad extensions, responsive ads, automated bidding and more. For all of the details concerning search ads, visit Google’s free course to learn how to optimize your campaign.

How do Google Display Ads Work? 

Google Display ads, although they have a similar end goal to Search ads, are shared in a totally different way. These ads can reach 90% of people on the internet, if you play your cards right. 

After deciding on the creative for your ad, Google will share that ad across a network of over 2 million sites and applications. The sites you appear on are not random, however. You match your ad to content related to your business and customer interests, so your ad has the best chance of getting seen by people who need you. 

This tactic helps to increase exposure of your business in ways outside of Google. Instead of showing up after a customer performs a search, your ad can be seen directly on the site your potential customers are browsing on. It gives them a chance to see your brand when they weren’t looking directly for it, a seemingly serendipitous encounter that actually has strategy behind it. 

Setting up a Google Display Campaign

When setting up your Display ad, you first need to decide what type of ad you’re going for. You can choose from adaptive ads, responsive ads, and lightbox ads.

Adaptive ads adjust to work in any advertising space. Responsive ads are a bit more structured, as you’ll need to upload multiple versions of creative in different sizes to adjust to a space. Expand your creative with lightbox ads, the type of ads that can get a bit more interactive. Contrary to Search ads, you can include images, video, and text in Display ads.. 

When creating your Display campaign, think through these steps:

  1. Determine ad type and budget. 
  2. Determine target audience.
  3. Design ad creative. 
  4. Set ad frequency limit (how many times a customer will see your ad in a given timeframe; *once a week is the standard).
  5. Determine ad timeline. 

Similar to search ads, Google has created a guide for users interested in learning the ins and outs of display ads. Take a look at the full course to really get a good understanding of this advertising option.

Choosing Between Search and Display Ads

After reading through both options, you may be wondering, which is for me? Both tactics work to improve brand awareness and drive visitors to your website. But if you have a limited budget, as most of the marketing world does, where should you put your dollars for the best result? 

In terms of time commitment, Search ads may be a quicker execution. Although there is strategy, keyword lists, and content creation at play, the nature of the ad is just text. If you’re no designer, you don’t have to worry about the additional time to create or outsource appealing content. Even further, search ads do have automated solutions to create ads quicker and easier. 

Where do you want to meet your customers? You can dial in to the bottom of the funnel with search ads specifically. If you really understand your audience and what they’re searching for, you can hone in on their keywords, location, and up your bidding to beat out the competition for that coveted first spot. 

Display ads cast a wide net, meeting your customers before they may need your solution. That gives you a leg up on the competition, as they’re already familiar with your brand and can move along the buyer’s journey with you at the forefront. You can also, however, use display ads in your favor for remarketing, showing a customer a product they had in their cart but never actually purchased.

Neither option is better than the other. How you choose your path depends on several factors specific to your business: time, budget, and goal. No matter which you choose, both can yield some pretty impressive results with optimization and fine tuning.

Create a Strong Google Ad Strategy with Modern Driven Media

At the end of the day, advertising is complex. Google itself has multiple ad options. Add in other platforms to juggle, along with a limited budget, and you have yourself a recipe for stress. Knowing how to best execute ads takes time, practice, and expertise. And sometimes, it’s easier to leave it to the professionals. 

If you’re looking for assistance with your google ad strategy, contact us to see how we can help.

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