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.

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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 and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.