The Yin and Yang of PPC – Search Network Campaigns vs. Display Network Campaigns

Ryan Moothart

The concept of yin yang is not one based in the morality of good versus evil; rather, it pertains to the diametric relationship between two parts of a single force. I have found that PPC advertising pertains directly to this concept. Those of you who have managed an account on Google AdWords will know that advertising on the search network and advertising on the display network seem like two whole different ball games (so to speak).

Display network campaigns and search network campaigns are inherently different and should not be treated the same way. Display network advertising works a lot more like “traditional” advertising, which requires you to pull the attention of a user away from whatever he or she is focusing on. Search network advertising is far more targeted and requires you to persuade users who are looking for your type of business.

Although they are very different in practice, they are the two components that work together to complete your efforts in paid search. To help you master both of them, I’ve come up with five diametric pairings as keys to each type of campaign:

The Five Keys to Display Network Campaigns

1. Brand Awareness

One of the most important things to recognize about display network campaigns is that they will have a dismal conversion rate compared to your search network campaigns. This does not mean they’re worthless; it just means you have to direct your focus somewhere else. Branding should be a big part of your efforts in this regard. The more you advertise your brand and the more people see your ads, your brand’s awareness level increases. Even if a user doesn’t click on your ad, going from “I’ve never heard of this company before” to “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of these guys before” is a big first step.

2. Quality Image Ads

How often do you see a random text ad on any site you’re on and bother to read it? I am going to go out on a limb and bet that frequency is “very rarely” or “never.” Making text ads effective on the display network is very hard to do. If your goal is to grab the user’s attention, you’re going to need something more: banner or video ads. If you have a solid banner ad (looks professional, descriptive copy, clean images that give the right connotation for your business, etc.), you are much more likely to get a click on the display network. Amateur, overly-crowded, and/or flashy banners will make you look like a fool though. Make the best impression possible on users and use high-quality banners or videos.

bad banner ads

For the love of everything good and decent, don't make these kinds of ads.

3. Specific Short-tail Keywords

You don’t want to blanket the entire internet with your ads; there’s too much potential for irrelevant impressions and clicks. Instead, you want to focus where your ads will be displaying. One way to do that is by using relevant keywords that will trigger an impression on a page that matches those keywords. You don’t want to limit yourself only with long-tail keywords that often have to be in phrase or exact match to stay relevant. Likewise, you don’t want broad, one-word or two-word keywords that could cause your ad to be shown everywhere. Use specific short-tail keywords that can create a ton of impressions on relative webpages along with specific long-tail ones.

4. Campaign/Ad Group Variance

Keywords are not the only tools you can use to focus targeting. Managed placements can limit which websites you want to display your ads on. On top of that, interest targeting can also be used to target a certain category of websites pre-defined by Google. These options can be used in combination with or instead of keywords. Use multiple display network campaigns with each of these options (or some combination thereof) and see what works best for you and your advertising goals.

5. Remarketing

This is the single biggest advantage you can utilize in the display network. When a user clicks on your ad, a cookie is used to track them. This gives you the option to advertise specifically to people who have clicked on your ad before (or exclude them if you’re trying to reach only those who have never visited your site). There are several different remarketing strategies that you can use and each allows you to speak directly to a certain set of users. This may seem a little bit like “big brother is watching you,” but remarketing can significantly help the return on your display network efforts.

The Five Keys to Search Network Campaigns

1. Brand Control

A big advantage the search network gives you is the ability to give users the ideal first impression of your brand after they search for it. If you bid the highest amount for your branded keywords (which hopefully have high quality scores), your ad will show at the top of the search results page. That means the first thing a user sees after searching for your brand is the ad copy you want him or her to see. If you’re in the midst of a PR snafu, the search network can help you manage “spin” efforts. If you have a relatively unknown brand, the search network will allow you to give the best initial impression possible. It’s your brand; help move the conversation surrounding it in the direction you want it to go.

2. Text Ads with the “Big Three”

The best and most effective text ads master three components: appeal, exclusivity, and action. You’re allowed just 130 characters total in an ad; that’s all the space you have to persuade a user to click through. You need to make your ad clean and coherent so that it’s visually and grammatically appealing to click on. You need to include some ad copy that informs the user why you’re better than all of your competitors. And, most importantly, you need to give the user a call to action no matter how self-explanatory you think it is.

3. Negative Keywords

Good search network campaigns utilize long and short keywords in varying match types to maximize their click-through and conversion potential. Great search network campaigns utilize negative keywords to maximize that potential even further. Negative keywords allow you to filter queries that will trigger an impression and prevent queries that are likely irrelevant to your business from doing so. Ignoring negative keywords is nothing short of foolish; using them well can boost your conversion rate and lower your cost per acquisition.

4. Tightly Organized Campaigns/Ad Groups

This is one of the most basic fundamentals of PPC. Campaigns should be neatly organized in a manner that reflects your website and makes sense. Ad groups should be just as organized and even more specific. This way, you can write ad copy that pertains directly to a tightly-knit group of keywords and, by that measure, directly to the search query of a particular user. Well-organized ad groups lead to more qualified clicks and more conversions. Poorly-organized ad groups will leave you with little more than money wasted.

5. Stellar Landing Pages

When it comes to the search network, your keyword organization and ad copy will only take you so far. As the old cliché goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink it.” You can persuade a user to click on your ad, but you can’t force him or her to buy from you. In order to assist the potential for conversions, your landing page needs to kick ass. It needs to master the big three (appeal, exclusivity, action) in its own way and persuade a user to make a conversion. Without a good landing page, your PPC efforts are nearly pointless.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink

Give him a reason to drink.

Five pairs of components – each work in a different way depending on the network. PPC advertising is an entangling web of cause and effect that needs to be managed at a swift pace. Some campaigns are easier to execute than others, but all of them have the potential to succeed. So long as search and display campaigns are separated out into individual entities, the rest can be sorted out and managed effectively.

Ryan Moothart
PPC Architect

Ryan is a PPC Architect and has been with Portent since 2010. He has over seven years of hands-on PPC experience including large-scale e-commerce, international B2B lead gen, and everything in between. Graduating from Willamette University with a BA in Rhetoric and Media Studies, he became a published author in 2016 with the release of his book, Towards Cascadia, which is a non-fiction exploration of Pacific Northwest identity, bioregionalism, and nationhood. He and his husband, Paul, enjoy traveling and are avid followers of Sounders FC, Seattle’s Major League Soccer club.

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