Targeted Display vs Search Engine Marketing

Although not quite as contentious a rivalry as Android vs. iOS or as entertaining as Bear vs. Shark, there are many heated battles taking place in marketing forums and conference rooms all over the country regarding the statistics, user privacy and budgets for this latest rivalry: Search Engine Marketing vs. Targeted Display.

Since they often compete for marketing dollars and are both victims of subjective statistics that favor one or the other depending on the mindset of the analyst, SEM and targeted display efforts are commonly bantered as marketers continuously try and refine their campaigns for the golden goal of higher conversions.

Last Thursday, November 20, the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association (AZIMA) hosted the witty and sharp David McBee, director of training at, who presented his experiences, anecdotes and thoughts on the SEM vs. Targeted Display rivalry.

David started his presentation with statistical, sidebyside comparisons that highlighted these marketing tasks as separate, standalone campaigns. These comparisons solidified the notion of SEM and Targeted Display being competitors, but David’s presentation of a rivalry quickly rebranded itself as the stories and metrics illustrated that the two worked better in tandem.

Most of us have been involved in the bashing of display ads because CTRs are practically nonexistent as hardly anyone clicks on them. “Only 8 percent of internet users account for 85% of display ad clicks,” David pointed out. Most of those clicks are not from the targeted audience, but rather the very young and old. The 2065 age group simply doesn’t click on ads. Display ad CTRs average a dismal 0.08%. Furthermore, according to GoldSpot Media, 50% of those clicks are accidental.

On the other hand, SEM, specifically PPC, often have CTRs averaging 4%.

There are a few reasons for this difference. First, a display ad is a passive visual thrown out to a wide audience. Even though display has some great targeting abilities, for the most part it relies much more on volume visibility than PPC. The web surfer is usually doing something completely different than what the topic of the display ad represents. PPC ads are the result of a specific search and the likelihood of that ad engaging the user is obviously much higher. “SEM is actionbased. Display is visual,” David said.

Although it’s easy to see the differences and it’s mostly common knowledge that these two have different goals, it’s not common enough to combine the efforts. For truly better PPC, it’s critical to consider incorporating display. “Display impacts search. A good targeted display blends tactics and a display can increase brand searches by 38%,” David said. Since the best kind of search is a brand search, blending these tactics significantly improves the campaign.

On the surface, poor display ad metrics seems to be enough to deter the allocation of marketing dollars. However, David pointed out that the metrics are not representative of their effectiveness: “Compared to SEM, CTR can be a deceptive measure.”

According to ComScore, the average person only does 4 searches per day, spending about 10 seconds per search. “How much opportunity do you have when a person only spends 10 seconds?” David asked. This represents a limited window of opportunity and is clearly a better medium for a calltoaction campaign. Now consider that the average person spends 4 hours online. This chunk of time offers more opportunity for branding via display ads.

This greater awareness opportunity of display ads increases the effectiveness of PPC campaigns. Although David and represent team Display, he offers a compelling marriage of the two as a tandem effort that seems to appeal to team SEM.

Mindy Weinstein, SEO Manager at Bruce Clay, Inc. offered her thoughts on the event and the rivalry. “I am very focused on the SEO side of digital marketing, so I learned quite a bit of new information from David about targeted display. What stood out the most to me about David’s presentation is that doing targeted display doesn’t have to be in lieu of search engine marketing. You can and should still do SEO and PPC. Targeted display should be an addition—that’s how you maximize your results.”

While the Android vs iOS fans will never find peace and the Bear vs. Shark battles will forever live on, David’s concept of SEM and Targeted Display as “better together” clearly makes the most sense.

View entire presentation

One comment on “The Harmonious Collision of Search Engine Marketing and Targeted Display


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *