Search Network vs Display Network - How To Choose The Best

4 min

Let's compare search vs. display ads and determine which is the right advertising platform for you.

What are search and display ads?

We come across both search ads and display ads all the time when we browse the internet. Let's begin by explaining the two ad formats and how they're different.

Search Network Ads

Also known as paid search ads, search ads are the most popular types of PPC ads. Search ads show up on the organic search engine results page along with other organic results. For example, when you search for "stock trading course" in the search bar, you'll find a few results with an "Ad" tag. Those results are search campaign ads.

Search network advertisements consist of three components:

  • Headline

  • Display URL

  • Description text

These ads look similar to regular SERP listings, allowing advertisers to reach their target audience in a natural way. In addition, search network Google ads allow you to:

  • Gain a competitive advantage

  • Create ad groups to hyper-target audiences based on interests, locations, and intent

  • Seamlessly test and optimise your PPC advertising campaigns

  • Gain in-depth insights into your marketing strategy and improve advertising performance

Display Network Ads

Display network Google ads are the best paid search counterparts that appear across various websites. While search ads appear only on the search results page, display ads show up everywhere on the internet. You must've come across websites with ads on them, right? All those ads are display ads.

Consider search engine advertising as "pull advertising," where users see ads only if they are actively searching for a relevant keyword. For example, if you're targeting the keyword "digital marketing course," your ad will show up only if someone searches for that particular (or related) keyword.

Display advertising is more like "push advertising," where users see your ads even if they don't actively search for them.

A display network ad can be of two types.

  • Text ads

  • Image ads or GIF/video campaigns with text

Apart from websites, a display ad can appear on specific mobile app categories and Gmail inboxes.

Some benefits of using display ads are:

  • They are visually appealing

  • They are targeted

  • They boost brand awareness and visibility

  • They enable retargeting

Display ads appear on more than two million websites and mobile apps that are a part of the Google Display Network. These websites and apps make up more than 90% of the total internet traffic.

How Search Ads and Display Ads Work Together

Though search ads and display ads are distinct online advertising methods, you can use them together to make your advertising campaigns more effective. Of course, you can choose one over the other. But since both offer unique benefits, you might miss out on potential awareness and revenue generation possibilities by overlooking either of the two Google ads types.

However, companies should avoid targeting the search networks and display networks together in the same ad campaign. This might increase your reach, but it won't be as effective. It's always better to break the display and search ads into separate campaigns.

By doing so, you'll be able to:

  • Better organise your data and optimise your ads in each format

  • Determine specific budgets and bids for each network

  • Craft your message in the best possible way for the target audience across networks

Furthermore, analysing the performance of ads on the two networks is different. For example, display ads will almost always have a lower click-through rate (CTR) than search ads, but that doesn't mean they aren't performing well. Since display ads are shown without context, they tend to get lower clicks than search campaigns.

Average Metrics for the Search and Display Networks

Conversion rate (CVR) and cost per click (CPC) are the two major metrics to track for both the search ads and display ads. However, the industry benchmarks vary significantly for the two networks.

Let's discuss these metrics, along with the industry benchmarks for search ads and display ads.

Average CVR

The average conversion rate determines the total number of ad clicks resulting in a conversion. The conversion could be a purchase, sign-up, download, etc.

The average CVR on the search network is 4.40%, with the vehicles industry having the highest CVR (7.98%) and the electronics industry having the lowest CVR (3.16%).

On the other hand, the average CVR on the display network is 0.57%. The hobbies & leisure industry has the highest CVR (1.12%), whereas the business & industrial industry has the lowest CVR (0.29%).

Clearly, search ads have a better conversion rate. If you want to drive more conversions in less time, Google search ads will be a better choice.

Average CPC

The average cost per click refers to the money you need to spend to get one click on your ad.

The average CPC on the search network is GBP 1.74 (USD 2.41). The law & government industry has the highest CPC (GBP 4.5), and the apparel industry has the lowest CPC (GBP 1).

The average CPC on the display network is GBP 0.43 (USD 0.59). The finance and law & government industries have the highest CPC (GBP 0.59), and the apparel industry has the lowest CPC (GBP 0.32).

Since display ads allow you to get more clicks for a lower ad spend, they can be a cost-effective method for generating brand awareness and reaching a broader customer base.

Note: Brand awareness plays a vital role in driving sales. You can use display ads for building brand awareness and reaching more customers. Simultaneously, you can run search ads to target interested customers if they search for your product online.

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When to use search advertising and display advertising?

As discussed, the best approach to using Google Ads is to set up both display network and Google search campaigns. However, you don't necessarily need to use both. Here's when you can use search and display advertisements as standalone campaigns.

The Search Network

Search network connects advertisers who have a big advertising budget and customers actively searching for their products. In that case, your goal should be to reach already engaged audiences in less time, and search ads help you do that. Here's when to use search network campaigns:

1. To supplement organic traffic

SEO is rewarding, but it takes time to get the desired search volume. On average, companies must wait for at least three to six months to see results from their SEO campaigns. And let's face it; not many businesses are willing to spend so much time and resources on SEO.

The search network excels in acting as an effective paid alternative to SEO. You can rank on the top of search engines almost instantly and attract highly targeted organic traffic.

2. To capture high-quality leads

You can configure your ads on search networks to target relevant keywords that users search. You can also specify negative keywords that you don't want to target. Thus, search network advertising allows you to reach a specific audience and generate high-quality leads.

3. When catering to a local audience

Dynamic search ads provide targeting options to reach a local audience. Suppose you offer a local service, such as a haircut, makeup, spa & salon, etc. You can configure your search ads to appear to an audience in a specific area. Besides, you can use location-based target keywords (e.g., spa services in Manchester) to cater to users in a particular area or region.

The Google Display Network

1. If your product or service is more visual

Display ads allow you to leverage visuals, such as image ads, GIFs, or short video ads. If your product requires visual demonstration, display ads can be helpful. Some industries that rely heavily on visual advertising are fashion, lifestyle, real estate, home decor, etc.

2. If you have a longer sales cycle

When a consumer is already engaged, the sales cycle becomes shorter. Search engine ads can work well for shorter sales cycles. But for a lengthy sales process that requires multiple touchpoints, display ads can work really well.

With display ads, you can leverage advertising strategies like retargeting, cross-channel marketing, and omnichannel marketing to reach users on multiple channels. Hence, you can build your brand and turn regular internet users into interested customers.

3. To reach niche markets

Display ads help you reach a niche audience. GDN displays your ads on specific sites on which your potential customers are likely to spend most of their time. Suppose you're a training institute selling a digital marketing certification course. GDN might display your ads on digital marketing blogs or other websites that offer similar courses.


Both ad formats have their pros and cons. While search advertising allows you to reach your target audience instantaneously through the Google search network, display ads enable you to increase awareness and reach potential customers across the internet.

If you're looking to drive instant sales, search network advertising will be the best pick for you. If you want to increase awareness and bring your brand in front of more people, a display ad can do the trick. Or, you can implement both the shopping ads together to enhance your PPC efforts even further.

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Author of the article


Senior PPC Expert

Roland is the youngest on the team, but ... don't let his age fool anyone. He’s as tenacious as they come and would never turn down a PPC challenge. If there’s a fix he’ll find it. If there’s a better way, he’ll reveal it. But not just for PPC

A real ‘T-Shaped Marketer’ Roland’s skilled at digital dot-joining across PPC, SEO, CRO, WordPress, or Measurement.

  • 5 years of experience in Digital Marketing

  • Google Ads (Search, Shopping, Display, YouTube)

  • Facebook Ads

  • Google Tag Manager

  • Search Engine Optimization

  • CRO & Online Psychology (Hotjar, Google Optimize, OptiMonk)

Serious online marketing for serious online sales