Search Campaigns vs. Display Campaigns

Google AdWords accounts have many options for advertising your product and services. One of the first things you’ll need to consider is what type of campaign (or campaigns) you would like to run. It’s important to understand the differences between the various campaign types so you can get the most from your advertising budget.

Two of the most commonly used campaign types within the AdWords interface are Search campaigns and Display campaigns. These campaign types can be used to accomplish different goals, so it’s good to know when it’s best to use one over the other. Let’s take a quick look at some of the differences between the two campaign types.

Search Campaigns

This type of campaign allows your ads to appear along with the search results shown when a user enters a search query in Google’s search engine on both mobile and desktop devices.

How are Search campaign ads triggered?

You bid on keywords related to the products or services you want to advertise. When a searcher types those keywords within their search query, if your ad is eligible to enter the ad auction and wins a spot, your ad will be shown with the rest of the search results.

Where do your ads appear?

Your ads could appear above, to the right of and sometimes even below the organic (non-paid) search results.

Google search results with search ads.

Example of search results with Search ads above and to the right of organic results.

Why Use a Search campaign?

If you want to appeal to people who are specifically searching for something using your keywords, Search campaigns are the best option. Using this type of campaign, you know the searcher is looking for something related to the keywords you are bidding on.

What should you be cautious about?

Ambiguous keywords can cause your ad to appear for searches that have nothing to do with your product or service. Consider the keyword “trailer.” This keyword could have many different meanings including “movie trailer,” “tractor trailer,” “travel trailer,” and many others. When bidding on keywords, be sure to be as specific as you can to ensure you attract a relevant audience. If you have no choice but to use an ambiguous term, add negative keywords to your campaign to help cut down on irrelevant traffic seeing your ad.

What can you hope to accomplish with a Search campaign?

Since Search campaigns use keywords that are closely related to your products and services, you should have good click-through rates (number of clicks divided by the number of views) on your ads because the searcher is actively looking for what you have to offer. This relevance can lead to more targeted traffic to your website and more conversions (sales, leads, downloads, etc.).


Now let’s take a look at how Display campaigns differ from Search campaigns.

Display Campaigns

This type of campaign allows your ads to appear on websites that are part of the Google Display Network.

How are Display campaign ads triggered?

This will depend upon what you have set up as your targeting criteria. These criteria can include keywords, placements (specific websites that you choose), demographics (age, gender, etc.), website topics, user interest, and much more.

Where do your ads appear?

Your ads will appear within the pages of Google Display Network websites based on the targeting criterion that you have set up and rules that the developer has put in place for ads. Where exactly the ad appears on the website will depend upon where the developer of the website has designated as advertising space.

Why use a Display campaign?

If you want to build brand awareness and keep your products/services/website top-of-mind, a Display campaign is a good option. When your ads appear on high quality websites such as CNN or other well-known websites, you can build credibility for your business and give searchers more faith in your website.

What should you be cautious about?

Display campaigns can generate a LOT of volume and can quickly get out of control if not closely monitored. Your ad might start showing on websites that you don’t want to be associated with or become linked in with content that is not completely relevant to your product or service. Vigilance in viewing placements and other stats about your Display Campaign is necessary to combat this.

Also, consider some sort of frequency capping to ensure you don’t show your ads to the same visitors too many times in a small period of time. Being top-of-mind is usually a good thing, but too much exposure might get annoying to your audience.

What can you hope to accomplish with a Display campaign?

As mentioned, building brand awareness and increasing the amount of traffic to your website are a couple of things you can expect from a Display campaign. In most cases you will not see great click-through rates with this type of campaign, but keep in mind why the individual is seeing your ad. It’s not because they searched for something specific, but because they are at a website that is somehow linked to your ads, they may not even be in the market for what you are selling (yet), but are just looking for information. The key strategy here is “top of mind” placement.


In terms of marketing goals and outcomes, a Search campaign is to a Display campaign as a Yellow Pages ad is to a Magazine ad. Both Search campaigns and Yellow Pages ads get you in front of a customer when they are actively seeking a product or service.  A Display campaigns and magazine ads, get you in front a targeted group of potential buyers, with the hopes of building brand awareness and maybe catching someone who is ready to make a purchase.

Of course this just scratches the surface of the differences between Search and Display campaigns. It also gives you only a glimpse into the different campaign types available to you. If you have any specific questions about Google AdWords campaign types, leave them below or give us a call.