5 Ways Display is Becoming More like Search

Display used to be treated like the online version of print advertising.  That meant, as an advertiser, I pick a publication, negotiate campaign details directly with the publisher and my ad gets placed on their site.  Well after you watch the video below, you’ll understand that display media buying has not only become more complex, but more efficient.

As advertisers, we treat search and display channels very differently.  They typically yield different results, we run campaigns through different providers, and we use different ad formats and targeting.  The evolution of display advertising is strikingly similar to the way search has evolved.  By having a solid understanding of search and search technology, we can transfer that knowledge to better understand the display landscape today.


1. Auction environment

As you saw in the video, the introduction of Real Time Bidding (RTB) is one of the fundamental shifts in the display industry.  It allows advertisers to bid on an impression for a particular user, in real time. The same is true for search, but the impression is tied to a keyword.  In both environments, we’re bidding against competitors and trying to find optimal bids to meet our campaign goals.  By understanding how to compete in the search auction, search marketers can now apply that to display campaigns.

RTB Spend Increase

2. Increased Control

If I know search marketers, and I think I do, we’re control freaks. It’s no wonder we are; we have access to sophisticated reporting, levers to adjust endless campaign settings, and we could change keyword level bids for hours.  Demand side platforms (DSPs) offer a console to run campaigns out of.  These typically offer setting adjustments similar to search (geo, language, day parting, etc.) in addition to levers that allow bid adjustments in real time.  As search marketers, we could get lost in the AdWords UI for hours making changes, well now we can do the same with display through DSP consoles.

3. Improved transparency

In search we’re used to seeing data down to the keyword level.  Not only that, but we can see the actual search queries that drove users to click on our ads.  It used to be common in display that reports included impressions, clicks and click through rate.  That was it!  Most publishers or networks wouldn’t provide URLs or domains that your ad showed on.  Display felt like a black box.  After the development of RTB and exchanges, it became even more important to understand where your campaign was running.  DSPs include domain level reporting, and if they don’t, I would certainly be concerned.  Most networks and publishers are following suit.

4. Programmatically managed

What is programmatic buying? It can be defined many ways.  But I like to think of it as a control panel.  A programmatic approach to buying media uses a centralized platform from which we run campaigns on multiple channels, using various targeting tactics, all while leveraging data and technology.  In search we might use bid management platforms that help communicate bid and campaign changes to multiple search engines.  In display we can use DSPs to streamline these campaigns.  Another benefit to aggregating control is the ability to report across channels from one platform.
Programmatic Control Panel


5. Data driven campaigns

Display and Search are fundamentally different because they are “push” and “pull” advertising, respectively.  Display was traditionally reserved for branding tactics, not direct response, like we use for search.  With advancements in tracking and sophisticated targeting, we’re now able to use display for direct response campaigns.  This makes display an excellent top of funnel addition to any search campaign.

What are other similarities you’ve found with search and display?

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