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The Impact of Display on Search

  |  June 1, 2011   |  Comments   |  

Display advertising has a strong impact on driving both organic and paid search queries and conversions - so don't write it off yet.

By Julie Batten

Sometimes the performance of search marketing is so strong that it's easy to write off your other online tactics as too expensive or not as effective. That said, you may actually be doing your search campaign a disservice by eliminating these other channels.

When marketing dollars are scrutinized, display advertising is one of those tactics that often gets the boot based on poor conversion rates and high cost-per-acquisition.

But eliminating display advertising based on direct conversions alone may be shortsighted. It's only when you look at "same session" conversion rates that display advertising typically has poor performance. In fact, taking into account metrics such as view-through conversions, latent conversions, and "search lift" can help you gain a more holistic view of what your display advertising is contributing overall as well as to your search marketing efforts.

Don't Discount Display's Impact on Search

Display advertising does the "heavy lifting" early in the consumer decision-making process of driving awareness and consideration, and it's often only because they had this initial exposure that a user will come back later and convert. This return visit often gets credited to search marketing, as the user will often go and search for the brand or relevant category terms (and then click on a paid search link, for example). But the question is – if someone saw a display ad first, but then came back later through a paid search ad, which tactic should get "credit" for that conversion? It's an attribution problem that many marketers have struggled with.

Many studies have proven that display advertising has a strong impact on driving both organic and paid search queries and conversions. We'll review some of those today and then consider the implications for your marketing strategy.

Quantifying the Impact of Display on Search

Many media companies have undertaken studies attempting to prove the impact that display advertising has on search behavior and success.

Yahoo Advertising has conducted multiple studies and case studies around this and time and again has confirmed a strong correlation between display advertising and search lift.

Yahoo's Retail Reconnaissance study found that following exposure to a retailer's display ad, there was a 59 percent lift in conversions. In its research, Yahoo also references third-party studies that show how display drives search actions.

Specifically referencing a study by Forrester on behalf of search marketing firm iProspect, Yahoo relays the following: "Approximately 31% of users clicked on the ad itself, while 27% searched for the product, brand or company using a search engine. That means that when display ads drive an immediate response, it is as likely to take the form of a search as it is an ad click."

Yahoo also references a 2010 MediaMind study that found that, contrary to popular belief, more online conversions actually come from the display channel than the search channel (72 percent versus 23 percent). And in fact, 5 percent of those conversions first saw a display ad and then a search ad.

But clearly, media companies like Yahoo have a vested interest in proliferating this belief due to the fact that they offer both search marketing and display advertising products. But even when we look at unbiased third parties, we are seeing similar reports.

ComScore has reported an average lift of 49 percent in site visitation and 40 percent in brand name queries among those who were exposed to a display ad in the U.S. market. The European market boasts even bigger lifts: "Those exposed to online ad campaigns in Europe were 72 percent more likely to visit the advertiser's website and 94 percent more likely to conduct a trademark search query on the advertiser's brand... "

In a Stanford University field experiment called "Display Advertising Impact: Search Lift and Social Influence," the researchers found that those who were exposed to a display ad performed 5 to 25 percent more campaign-relevant search queries than those who were not exposed to the ad.

Key Considerations for Marketers

So knowing that display indeed has an impact on search, how does that change how we approach both of these tactics? At a very high level, I've identified a few things to consider:

  1. Role recognition: It's important to have appropriate expectations of how each tactic contributes differently to customer acquisition. As we've alluded to above, display is primarily for driving awareness and "filling the funnel" whereas search is better for driving immediate consideration and direct response. Understanding the role of each of these tactics will be important when looking at the next two considerations.
  2. Marketing mix: It is ideal to deploy an integrated online marketing strategy that includes both search and display in order to maximize reach and conversions. You may find that while search drives more direct conversions, the volume is not sufficient to generate the number of leads you're looking for. This is where you may look at scaling up your display advertising investment to drive search volume.
  3. Performance measurement: It is critical to avoid looking solely at immediate click-throughs and "same session" data when evaluating your display advertising performance. You probably cannot continue to pit your SEM efforts against your display efforts in an "apples to apples" comparison. You may need to develop additional key performance indicators for display advertising beyond the metrics you typically look at. You may want to consider developing a model for calculating conversion attribution among your online marketing tactics.

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