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Here Is The Difference Between Google Ad Search and Display Ads

To be blunt, it’s easy to waste a large percentage of your advertising budget in Google Ads (aka Google AdWords). Google has designed the Google Ads platform with advertising professionals and analysts in mind and therefore choosing the correct setup for your campaign’s goals is often tricky. That is to say, one seemingly innocuous setting can throw off an entire campaign.

Today we will explain how to avoid one of the most common and costly mistakes businesses make with Google Ads.

Targeting Both Search & Display Networks With the Same Ad Campaign

First, it’s important to point out why so many businesses make this mistake.

Google encourages advertisers to set up campaigns that target both the Search Network and the Display Network. The first option when creating a new campaign is to target both networks and Google provides “advice” that this is the “Best opportunity to reach the most customers.”

Sure, targeting both networks will give you more reach, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The key to advertising is getting your product or service in front of the right audience, not just the biggest. A car dealership wouldn’t be well served buying ads on a popular children’s show nor would a toy company do well advertising on late-night comedy shows. They’re both reaching a lot of people but not the right people.

Unfortunately, Google’s default advice to use both Search and Display networks in this example is self-serving. The reality is that Google makes money when businesses spend more in advertising so it’s in their best interest to encourage businesses to expand reach (aka, expand budgets) regardless of whether or not the ad spend is profitable or effective.

Smart ad strategy is about getting the most for your dollar, Google is in the business of making money not giving free strategy advice which undercuts their revenue. Remember this whenever reading Google’s advice or talking to one of their reps.

Alright, let’s get back to why targeting both the search and the display network is such a bad idea.

Search vs. Display 101

When you think of Google Ads, you probably think of the ads that show up when you search in

Those ads are on the Search Network. Makes sense, right? The Search Network gives advertisers the opportunity to display ads at the precise time when prospects are searching for their products or services.

You can think of the Search Network like the old Yellowpages. Prospects used to “search” in the Yellowpages when they were about to make a purchase and businesses could prominently advertise their products and services. Now, most prospects use to search and the Search Network is the new Yellowpages.

However, the Display Network has nothing to do with searching on!

Display Network ads are displayed on other websites across the internet that are trying to make money from Google AdSense. Any website can add AdSense ads to their website and then advertisers can use the Display Network to target those webpages. According to Google, almost 3 million websites use AdSense, which gives you an idea of the enormous size and reach of the Display Network.

Again, the key difference is that when you target the Display Network, you’re not targeting prospects searching for your products or services; You’re interrupting people as they visit one of the nearly 3 million websites in the Display Network. That’s why display advertising is sometimes referred to as “Interruption Marketing”.

That leads us to the first key takeaway in this article.

Takeaway #1: Each Network Requires Different Ads

When a prospect is searching in for a product or service, then there is an immediate need. For example, if someone searches for a “math tutor in NYC” it’s obvious that this person is seeking to hire a math tutor in NYC. Why else would anyone search that phrase in Google?

With that in mind, your ad copy for the Search Network should precisely match the keyword searched so that you’re presenting the best option. If the keyword searched was “math tutor in NYC,” then the ad should mention that you are a math tutor in NYC and encourage the prospect to contact you.

Pretty straightforward, right?

Now let’s switch gears and consider someone surfing around online and reading an article about how to study for the math section of the SAT.

This person is clearly interested in learning more about math, but it’s not 100% clear if she wants or needs a math tutor. There is no indication of an immediate need like there is in the Search Network.

See the difference? In this case, to be effective, your Display Network ads may need to make the case for why a tutor is the best option to ace the math section of the SAT.

As you can see from these two examples, your ad copy for the Search Network will almost always need to be different than your ad copy for the Display Network. If you try to use one campaign for both networks, then it’s impossible to match your ad copy to the network. That’s one reason why it’s never a good idea to target both networks in a single campaign.

Next, we can take this concept of matching ad copy a step further.

Takeaway #2: Each Network Requires Different Targeting

With a basic Search campaign, your primary targeting option is to use keywords. When you target a keyword, your ad will be displayed whenever a prospect customer searches for that particular keyword.

With a basic Display campaign, you have many more options.

First, you have contextual targeting. In the Display Network example above, I assumed the ads were targeting a contextually relevant article about how to study for the math section of the SAT. This is the most basic targeting option which relies on Google to match your keywords and ads to relevant webpages across the over 2 million websites.

Another option in Google Ads is behavioral targeting. Behavioral targeting is a method of displaying your ads to prospects who appear to be interested in your product or service based on their internet browsing history.

For example, if I visit a lot of test preparation and tutoring related websites, over time Google learns that I’m interested in this topic and will place me into the audience group called “Test Preparation & Tutoring.” That allows advertisers to then target prospects who based on their browsing history appear to be a good fit for their products or services.

And yet another option is demographic targeting. With demographic targeting, you can select male or female, parents, and different age ranges to laser target your ideal customers.

Once you understand contextual, behavioral, and demographic targeting, you need to match your ad copy to the targeting options you select. When you create separate Search and Display campaigns you then have the ability to perfectly match your ad copy to your target audience, ultimately leading to better ad performance.

Want Help with Google Ads? Contact us at Spin Markket + Digital today and we can discuss digital marketing strategies that work for your business (even if everyone is telling you something else..)

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