Bridging the Gap Between Search and Display

As we continue to prepare ourselves for the inevitable conjuncture when search engine marketing becomes performance marketing, the question of where display fits into this equation lingers on, and it isn’t evident that search marketers have really had the opportunity to piece it all together yet.

I’ve been spending a lot of time getting acquainted with the universe of display advertising, as my company is stepping in that direction, along with The Trade Desk. Jeff Green, founder of The Trade Desk, has been helping me think through these issues and has provided great insights on some of the most important ways in which display differs from search.

These pivotal points should influence how you approach display in an integrated performance marketing offering. Here are the most important ones:

Push vs. Pull

Searchers know what they’re looking for — you pull them in with keywords, ads, and content matching their request.

In the world of display, you need to push your offer much more aggressively to distract the customer from what they’re actually doing (i.e., consuming content).

Top vs. Bottom of the Funnel

If we can picture the conversion funnel with conversions at the bottom and awareness at the top, it’s clear that search and display live at opposite ends of the funnel.

The role of display in performance marketing is in great part to widen the top of the funnel, in order to drive more conversions at the bottom.

Scarcity vs. Abundance of Supply

In the world of search, supply is scarce. There are only so many keywords describing your target, and they will only search for these things so many times.

However, supply in the world of display is much more abundant. It grows each time a new page of content is published. As display matures as a channel, all consumers will likely see more relevant ads, and less of them.

The Auction

Historically, display has been largely an “un-winnable” media for performance marketing, largely due to the lack of fair market pricing mechanisms, such as an auction.

It’s no surprise that the sudden rise of display advertising is directly linked to auction pricing, but auctions for impressions are different from those we have in search.

Search is a cached or hosted auction. Marketers specify in advance what they’re willing to pay for a given keyword and that bid sits on the search engine’s server. This means that Google (or other) controls the optimization via smart pricing and other means.

In display and the emerging real-time bidding auctions, the optimization is maintained by the buying technology. This gives buyers more control in display — although with more variables and more unknowns to manage, the channel needs it. The auction is better served as a market-clearing mechanism that lets buyers be in control; too many variables simply fall outside of the actual media being bought for a complex market to try to do everything.

The Role of Data

Much could be said about the role of data in both mediums. This is especially true in display.

Methodologies of retargeting and user-based targeting are staples in display. Display can’t be successful without user-based targeting. Outside of keywords, search doesn’t allow for much user targeting.

In the future, using data across search and display — especially using the data from search to target display — is critical to success.

In upcoming columns, I’ll dig much deeper into this new opportunity. Hopefully some of you will join in the comments below and provide some insight for other Search Engine Watch readers who are barely getting started with display.

Join us for SES San Francisco August 16-20, 2010 during ClickZ’s Connected Marketing Week. The festival is packed with sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, ad networks and exchanges, e-mail marketing, the real time web, local search, mobile, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization and usability, while offering high-level strategy, keynotes, an expo floor with 100+ companies, networking events, parties and more!

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