Rise of Display Signals the Death of Search Marketing

This idea was posed as a question in a recent free training webinar we held, hosted by Jason, a Senior Planner from Essence Digital.

The Question

With the introduction of programmatic buying meaning it is possible to target users directly and work at a granular level does this mean the traditional methods of Search advertising, both PPC and SEO, are now old fashioned and ultimately doomed?

The Answer

In short, no.

The cold hard facts are that despite Display being on the rise, in the UK more than twice as much money was spent on Search than it was on Display in 2013.

You may be forgiven for asking why this is the case considering tools within Display (e.g. RTB) are able to accurately target chosen users and chase them all over the web. The reality is though, that Search and Display are very different things.

They operate at different stages of the buying process and perform separate functions. When a user encounters Search advertising they are generally already ‘searching with intent’ (to purchase) and because you are actively looking for a product, Search is the closest to the point of conversion than any other channel. If you need some illumination on this have a look at our conversion funnel. Search deals with users who could already be at the Evaluation stage of the process whereas Display advertising may be aimed at users who aren’t even at the Awareness stage yet.

Jason said that Search “is almost like a service as apposed to advertising.” It aggregates your options whereas Display has much more of a prospecting edge which you would associate with traditional advertising.


This is my ingenious way of differentiating between Search and Display using the mediums of metaphor and fizzy pop.

Display: You don’t want a coke, you see a poster of someone drinking a coke, you want a coke.

Search: You want a fizzy drink, you are presented with a menu.

Here are some reviews for this metaphor from a few experts.

“Not terrible”

“It works in a few ways”


With that rapturous reception I shall continue.

Jason pointed out that “Display has so many different arms, that’s why it’s growing so rapidly.” Whether it keeps growing so rapidly and overtakes Search in terms of spend remains to be seen but this won’t signal the demise of Search Engine Marketing.


An appendix to this argument would be on the subject of Attribution. Using Tracking and Attribution technology means you can see how different channels are responsible at different points in the purchase process. The majority of the industry however, use a “last click” model which means crediting a conversion to the last ad that was clicked on. As the digital market embraces Attribution and it becomes more accurate the answer to the question of how responsible certain types of advertising are for a conversion will become apparent, however it still won’t change the fact that Search and Display will always have fairly disparate functions.