The Most Common Misconception Of 2012: Display Looks Like Search

The most common misconception over the past year has been the commonly heard statement, display looks like search. While we have all heard this a number of times (albeit it might be partially true) it’s largely based on one main factor: the rise of the auction-based marketplace in display.

However, there are a number of reasons why I see this reason as misleading… read on:

Display Is About Audiences & Reach

The growth of ad targeting has actually led to display becoming more audience-driven than ever before. Behavioral advertising and search retargeting both focus on mid to upper funnel activities where brands use display ads to move the customer into the purchase funnel, as well as help them through it.

In search, advertisers have better precision but limited reach. Another key difference is that bidding is based on keywords vs. audiences that are derived from search activity and online behaviors, psychographics, etc.

Real-Time Media Does Not Equate To Direct Response

The concept of delivering the right ad, to the right person at the right time exists in both search and display. However, it is the response of the real-time ad that differs.

Search represents a clearly defined direct response channel. A user searches, immediately receives an ad related to their search query and is expected to take action.

In display, and more specifically in data-driven display advertising, a user is targeted with a display ad based on audience information. They may not take action by visiting a website or inquiring for more information right away; but, days later, or even weeks later, they might do so.

Within that time, other display ads are shown. This type of real-time media is about sequencing, frequency caps and influencing the consumers during the consideration phase.

In display, reaching consumers at the optimal time is relies heavily on the combination of creative, media and even data optimization.

Display & Search Are Held To Different Metrics

Simply put, display is not search and shouldn’t be measured by the same click-based yardstick. Search marketing is a complex topic, and has developed into a rigorous discipline. Keyword search marketing is very similar to the yellow pages ads. In the ’70s, if you wanted to find a business, everyone searched in the Yellow Pages.

Display does not rely on metrics as simple and straightforward as a click. Display may actually be the most measurable channel today when you consider the various touch points available to marketers. First, there is reach. After all, display campaign are generally bought on impressions and focused on maximizing exposure (targeted or not).

Next, there is engagement. The creative opportunities in display lend itself to additional metrics. On the other hand, some display campaigns may look at site visits – what ads are contributing to site conversion and even conversions and ROI.

The point is, metrics for display differ from advertiser to advertiser and by campaign to campaign. It’s about aligning campaign goals with the actual metrics used.

Even if a retailer is looking to sell products, one display ad is most likely not going to be 100% responsible for the sale.

Buying Keywords In Search Differs From Keyword-Level Display Advertising

Search retargeting is not search. The concept of search retargeting is a display strategy. The usage of keywords even differs.

In display, you are buying inventory based on audiences that have been targeted based on search history. In search, you are bidding on keywords.

Let me explain the fundamental differences here. First, in search advertising you are using a keyword list and bidding on selected words. In display, you are paying by CPM and expanding your reach by targeting audiences that may have not only searched for that one word, but also other related words or categories.

Second, in display you are able to reach consumers much earlier in the funnel because you are utilizing search terms from across multiple types of search entities – not just search engines. Most often, search retargeting is used as a pure display strategy, but there are times when search teams leverage it for search extension.

Display might have more search-like characteristics than ever before, but display is a different breed entirely. Audience reach, awareness and different metrics are all proof points that these channels equate to different strategies.

Let’s put the idea of display looking like search to bed in 2012, and instead, open up to how various channels can work hand-in-hand in 2013.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display | Search & Display


About The Author: joined search retargeting leader, Magnetic, in October 2012 as Chief Technology Officer (CTO), responsible for spearheading the strategic development of Magnetic’s technology.

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  • David Amerland

    Brilliant post and one that clarifies an issue I have seen being muddled countless times this year!

  • Michelle Murphy

    Great article Gus, I was wondering however whether you could
    point in me the direction of a book or resource that would explain in detail how
    to implement behavioural targeting?

  • sharithurow

    Hi Gus-

    I must respectfully disagree with your direct response and search assessment. All too often, I do not observe immediate responses from organic and ad placement. I often see an accumulation of observing website listings and then a response.

    In other words, the transaction often does not occur immediately. It might occur days, weeks, or even months later.

    That’s my observation. You might have different results than I.


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