Marketing & Advertising

For Ecommerce, Better to Use Search Ads or Display?

For online sellers, digital advertising is not a choice between search ads or display ads, but rather understanding how each of these tools can help generate sales.

The term “search advertising” describes placing ads on a search engine results page. Search ads target specific keywords and seek to capture potential customers intent on finding some piece of information or, perhaps, a product.

Both search advertising and display advertising can help an ecommerce business.

Both search advertising and display advertising can help an ecommerce business.

In this context, “display advertising” refers to visual ads placed on third-party websites. Display ads target either individuals or groups, based on factors such as behavior and demographics.

Both search and display ads can help an ecommerce business reach potential customers, boost site traffic, and earn more sales. But each method has its strengths.

Search Ads

When a shopper goes to Google or Bing and searches for “best running shoe for men over 40,” that shopper is intent to either research or purchase running shoes.

A search ad targeting this phrase and leading to a running-shoe landing page optimized for the ad may well result in an ecommerce sale.

In this scenario, the search ad “pulled” the shopper in. He was already intent on finding running shoes. The ad simply addressed that intent.

This ability to target customer intent means search ads may work better as an advertising foundation rather than as a way to promote sales or events.

Thus a good use of search advertising would be ad group targeting, for example, “running shoes for men over 40.” This ad group and its very specific landing page could run year around. The ad would attract shoppers will a very specific goal.

It would make less sense to use a search ad for something like “all shoes on sale” since this broad offer may not match customer intent. If a running shoe doesn’t provide the comfort a male over 40 needs, he is likely not that interested at any price.

For ecommerce marketers, consider:

  • Purchasing search advertising as part of a broader foundation.
  • Focusing on your highest converting products first.
  • Using single-word ad groups so that your ad copy is very focused on customer intent.
  • Creating an optimized landing page for each ad group.

This last point about landing page optimization is especially important. An optimized landing page may give your ad a better quality score, meaning you can win better ad positions with a relatively lower bid. A relevant landing page could also lead to a better conversion rate.

Display Ads

Display advertising pushes potential customers (who may be in the midst of some other task) toward an ecommerce site.

Imagine a potential customer who is reading an article about fitness for men in their forties. The article page includes a display ad promoting running and offering to help find the most comfortable running shoes.

The reader was, at first, focused on the article, but the ad pushed him toward an optimized landing page meant to convince him that running would improve his health and that a particular shoe would make running more comfortable.

Display ads try to show the proper message to the right person at the best time. A display ad is always an interruption, but if well-timed and relevant, it can be a positive interruption that will lead to a sale and a happy customer.

For ecommerce marketing, there are a couple of campaign types that make sense for display ads.

Retargeting. First, use display ads for retargeting. Retargeting, or remarketing as it is sometimes called, is the practice of reminding shoppers about a particular product or offer.

Imagine a shopper who visited on an online store and looked at a specific pair of running shoes. This shopper then left without completing the purchase. A retargeting campaign would show display ads to this shopper (featuring the running shoe he had considered, or similar) when he visits other websites.

Retargeting, like search advertising, is foundational, meaning an ecommerce business should probably have retargeting campaigns running all the time. Finally, retargeting will require the use of an advertising network capable of tracking site visitors.

Promotions and offers. Next, use display advertising to promote specific sales events or offers.

An online store that has all running shoes on sale might want to use display ads to promote the event. Or that same online shop might have just introduced a new line of running shoes, and it wants to promote the shoes to potential customers.

For this sort of campaign, an ecommerce marketer will have a few ways to target shoppers.

  • Site demographics. Place display ads on websites with favorable demographics.
  • Page topics. Place display ads based on the topic of a specific page.
  • Keywords. Place display ads based keyword phrases within a given web page.
  • Affinity audiences. Place display ads aimed at users who are similar to your customers.

Display ads promoting specific offers or events are probably not something an ecommerce business would run all the time. Rather, these sorts of ads are employed within a specific date range to accomplish a specific goal.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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