Steve is a talented SEM specialist with a passion for optimization. Steve is so into optimization that he even tries to make incremental improvements in his every day life. In fact, he's been timing how long it takes him to make a coffee and making slight tweaks the next day to try to improve his time. He's got it down to 47 seconds! Most of us can't even find the coffee in 47 seconds...

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Choosing Between Search Engine Marketing or Programmatic Display Advertising

Sibling Rivalry

I have been fortunate in my career to have had the opportunity to manage both paid search and programmatic display advertising programs for our clients. Through this experience, I have grown to learn the similarities and differences, the strengths and weaknesses, and the best uses of each medium, which I would like to share with you today in this post.

Search Engine Marketing and Programmatic Display Advertising

Programmatic Code

When executed through demand-side platforms (DSP), both paid search and display advertising are forms of programmatic advertising, at least to some extent. They are similar in this aspect as they both rely on varying levels of campaign automation and algorithmic optimization based on real-time data.

The most striking difference here is that there are a handful of demand-side platforms and various specialized real-time bidding or media-buying solutions that you can integrate when running a programmatic display advertising program. With paid search, the technologies are already consolidated more often than not, which makes it less time consuming for you to manage your campaigns.

Data-Driven Targeting

One of the things I love in online marketing is the high level of precision involved — showing the right message, to the right person, at the right time, and in the right format!

Of course, we can do very similar targeting on both media channels with tactics such as remarketing, contextual keywords, strategic placements, etc. However, our chosen DSP vendor provides us with even more targeting options based on 3rd party audience data that is otherwise unavailable on a typical search campaign.

Yes, it is true that Google is an online traffic behemoth, which also means you’re going to face some pretty serious competition to earn the highly coveted ‘top spot’ in the Google search results. It can be argued that keyword queries on the search box are a strong indication of user intent, but there is no guarantee that those intentions will actually translate into profit.

Audience Reach & Specificity

It is without a doubt that search engines drive a tonne of online traffic when leveraged properly, which is unsurprising because they are an integral part of everyday life. But as omnipresent as search engines are, ‘Googling’ information is not the only thing we do online. We might be online browsing our social media accounts, watching a video, or reading an article. This is where programmatic display advertising works best – finding and growing your audience on relevant sites as related to your business’ or products.

With DSP, I instantly recognized the value of being able to reach and tap into audience inventory that is not available from the search campaigns I was running. We were able to get our message across to our intended target audience who were outside the Google network. The DSP allowed us to extend our reach through various supply sources and exchanges and we were able to do so using user-intent based signals available within the platform.

Human Intervention

Despite all of the automation and sophisticated algorithms, I still find myself auditing each channel’s performance regularly. Let’s face it, there are facets of every business that just can’t be left to a machine-learning algorithm alone. Sure we want efficiency in our campaign management, but that last thing we want is for the machine to take our business to places we don’t want it to be. To me, relying exclusively on technology for advertising campaigns is equivalent to the “set it and forget it” mentality — not a desirable practice…

“The One”

Now for the moment of truth. By now you must be wondering which marketing channel I will recommend for you after seeing them perform side-by-side and I will say to you that

it really depends…

If you are looking for direct-response marketing, I would go with paid search based on the defined KPI we are measuring and the propensity for continuous improvement on the platform. Although, in my experience, DSP still did a decent job especially if you think about the mindset of the target audience when they were exposed to a display ad compared to a search ad.

Programmatic display advertising is definitely a good channel to use if you want to reach and discover audiences who’ll engage with your business outside of the search engine networks. It is also a good channel if you want greater data and transparency on your digital display advertising program and have better insights as to where you are investing your advertising dollars.

So, when you are faced with the challenge of deciding which marketing channel to go with for your business, let us know! We would be more than happy to help you make an informed and strategic decision that will support your business objectives.