display or search network

Trying to decide between the two if the budget can only afford one? In a perfect world, both would work well together but if a choice must be made, there are many things to consider.

A recent study before the pandemic by keyword management company WordStream revealed that of 23 industries analyzed, every one scored considerably higher in click through rates on search over display networks.

The average CTR for search networks was 4.62% compared to .53% for display. Arts and entertainment ranked the highest in search with 9.95%, followed by travel and tourism (9.87%) and food and groceries (9.07%).

The first two industries have likely dropped dramatically since the pandemic while food and groceries probably skyrocketed. Despite the future direction all are seeing, the facts are still clear and need to be kept in mind for future planning.

What’s the Difference?

The display network AKA Google Display Network permits brands to advertise on websites, mobile apps, Gmail, YouTube, etc. It’s the world’s largest digital ad network. The search network, on the other hand, comprises the largest audience of any online platforms.

As similar as they may appear to be, a successful strategy on one will not likely lead to similar results on the other.

In a display network, most consumers are researching and not yet in the shopping mode. They’re gathering information, watching YouTube videos, and reading blog posts, reviews and comments often against waves of ads urging them to buy.

Successful marketers focus on creating awareness that leads to interest and then consideration.

Visitors to search networks are usually closer to making a purchase, especially when marketers employ appropriate keywords aligned with shopper intent. As a result, conversions are generally higher on search networks than they are on display ones.

Cost Per Click

Like the CTR numbers, CPC figures between display and search networks also show big differences. $2.57 was the average for the search network while display reported an average of just $.36.

Law and government far exceeded other industries with $10.18 CPC followed by Internet and Telecom ($5.03) and Computers and Consumer Electronics ($4.05). Sports and Fitness reported the highest CPC in display networks at $.59 followed by health ($.53) and finance ($.52).

Cost Per Action

However, in analyzing the CPA, the comparison between display and search becomes somewhat blurred. Where search held an advantage over display in the first two categories, the numbers were all over the board in CPA.

For family and community, the CPA was $4.31 in display compared to $30.39 in search. Internet and Telecom in display averaged $91.81 compared to display’s $154.32. But the overall average of $59.99 for search still beat out the $72.85 for display.

Average Conversion Rate

Like the CPA, ACR between display and search was also interesting. As expected, the ACR of 3.79% in search beat out the 1.22% of display but there were also some anomalies. Dining and nightlife’s 3.36% in display beat out search’s 2.39%. The 2.59% ACR on display for arts and entertainment also edged out search’s 2.38%.


In most industries, the path to success will be in trying to find a balance using both display and search displays. It also means being aware of and adjusting to the differences between the two. Some of this will also require deeper digging depending upon the industry. However, if a choice between the two must be made, analyze the results for the relevant industry before deciding.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.