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Search Vs. Display: Which Will Come Out On Top In 2012?

With two seemingly competitive ad executions constantly compared, it’s no wonder why search and display have a love/hate relationship. When combined, this duo knows how to drive performance.

On the other hand, they compete for digital advertising dollars. We see industry trends pointing toward search as Google’s paid click revenue continues to accelerate, having jumped from between 15 percent and 18 percent between Q2 2010 and Q2 2011 to 28 percent in Q3 2011.

But, there’s also evidence of a healthy growth pattern in digital display. Forrester Research points out that by 2016, display advertising will triple in spending (reaching $27B), compared to search, which will double.

So, how will marketers choose where to invest their online budgets? There are several thoughts to how this will pan out in our recent report, The Future is Now, which focuses on the driving forces behind the innovation of search and display. However, let’s begin by looking at several pieces of a digital campaign.

Search & Display Go Head To Head

First, there is the distribution of the average user’s time spent online. Display pulls ahead with users spending an average of 96 percent of their time on content related sites, compared to 4 percent, which is spent in search engines.

However, according to the Pew Internet Study, 92 percent of Americans use search engines to find information on the Web, while 76 percent use the Internet for news and 65 percent for social networking. Here, both search and display score a point.

Next, let’s look at context and creative. On search engines, users are met with small, text-based ads that lack the design appeal of the larger, interactive display advertisements. The ads are directly related to what they’re searching for, but lack the flash and zest of the display ads. Point two awarded to the display channel.

Then there’s performance. We can’t overlook the fact that search is one of the highest performing ads in the world. It’s the king of conversion. I’m not saying get rid of your display campaign or disregard the power of search – what I’m talking about here is leveraging the data within the search channel to drive performance beyond the search engine.

With search data becoming a larger part of targeted display advertising, I’d say search scores the big point here.

Speaking of data…There’s no arguing that fact that search data is the highest indicator of intent. Clearly, that’s a point for the search folks. But, let’s not move on too quickly. Data is on the cusp of a sea change in how marketers leverage their information to reach consumers across multiple display mediums. Points awarded to both teams.

Finally, let’s examine user experience. ComScore cites that Americans conducted 19.5 billion total core search queries in September 2011 (up 1 percent from the previous month).

Based on the above assessments, we know that the creative advertisements we see outside of the search engine are more appealing, but that consumers most likely prefer the ads that speak directly to our own personal interests, desires and behaviors. So who gets awarded the point?

What To Expect From Search & Display In 2012

In the report noted above, Rob Griffin, EVP, global director of product development at Havas Digital, makes a pointed argument for how search is perceived by marketers. Griffin said:

“Marketers have traditionally thought of search as a solution to their pain points. For the first time, you’re seeing customer-facing innovation on the back end. More specifically, search’s evolution is playing out very similarly to what we experienced with TV and online video as it’s driven by need and a desire from the consumer.”

So, is there really a victor to crown? Not, really. My scorecard would show it’s a tie.

As we enter into 2012, we’re poised in anticipation of how these two channels will come together. My prediction for 2012 is that display growth will outpace search growth as print dollars move online and targeting improves. This will drive search marketers to find ways to scale their SEM campaigns and push display advertisers adopt strategies for targeted awareness.

With the growth of data and innovation in targeting technology for display media, marketers can get the best of both worlds by mixing search data in their display advertising.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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