Display Advertising Myth #1 – Never as good as search 1

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Custom training

Who doesn’t like debunking myths? Here’s one myth I like to debunk when I teach and I always get a bunch of Ahhhs and Ohhhs when I do so. I thought I’d share a common display advertising myth with you here and now.

Search is better than display

At what? Yes, sure, search is better than display if your objective is direct response, conversions or sales. However if your campaign objective is engagement or awareness, then search doesn’t quite cut it.

Look at the chart below which displays the different major digital ad vehicles’ strengths against the consumer’s path to purchase. Upper funnel is awareness, mid-funnel is engagement and lower funnel is direct response.

ad vehiciles per campaign objective

Display is often stated as no good when used in a direct response campaign. When done right, it can, but that’s not its major strength. Display performs best at awareness and engagement. It is the ad format that you will encounter the most online – it is available on multiple times more sites than search is.


What’s awareness? It is putting your brand and message in front of an audience that’s not necessarily seeking you out at the moment. It’s getting your name in their mind for that moment when they will need what you have to offer so that they remember you. Where awareness is concerned, bigger is better, and higher up on the page is better, so long as you’re not at the total top of the page. Sites with ads above their masthead get scrolled immediately which means the user doesn’t really see the top ad.


What’s engagement? It is soliciting enough interest or curiosity of your target to have them interact with your ad – not necessarily click through to your site. Having them engage with your ad requires your ad to be a microsite in a banner. That is that you ad can possibly expand and contain several different types of contents such as different videos, articles, photos, recipes, a store finder, a social feed, an entry form, you name it.

Why would you have engagement as a campaign objective? Engagement is when you need to convince consumers you are the right solution for them, I.E. change their intent to buy. It is also perfect when you want to change someone’s perception about you.

Display is better than search

If your objective is awareness or engagement, then display definitively is better than search. However it is not always better than search – it really depends on your campaign objective.

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