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What the Colliding Worlds of Search & Display Mean for Marketers

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Back in the early days of search engine marketing, creating an ad was simple. There was a headline, two description lines and a display URL, as shown in this sample search ad from 2007.

Search ads have since grown in complexity, as site links, location extensions, social extensions and more have made their way into paid search real estate. Despite these changes, search ads have historically been limited in their ability to incorporate images and other assets that are typically associated with display media.

However, as Google continues to roll out Enhanced Campaigns and Yahoo! aggressively introduces new paid search products, the worlds of search and display are beginning to collide. This post explores the blurred lines between search and display – how elements of display are finding their way into search and vice-versa – and what the changing landscape means for advertisers.

The Display-ification of Search

Google Image Extensions: As Google continues to phase-out legacy AdWords campaigns for Enhanced Campaigns, the company has introduced several new extensions to entice advertisers to make the switch prior to a mandatory migration coming later this month. One of these offerings is Image Extensions. This open-invitation beta allows advertisers to display three images above their search ad, allowing the brand to prominently stand out from the competition.

While paid ad images could be displayed within SERPs in the past, the process of implementation was limited and complex. For example, retailers have previously been able to combine product images with their search ad, and with the adjustments to Product Listing Ads, product images could then serve as the complete ad. However, these image ads required the advertiser’s AdWords account to be connected to their Merchant Center account, and their feed had to be constantly monitored and optimized to reflect inventory and pricing.

Google’s Image Extensions greatly simplifies the pairing of an image asset with a text ad, and it gives advertisers, beyond those in the retail space, the opportunity to capture a searcher’s attention and drive qualified traffic.  However, some limitations do exist. During this beta window, the images can only be applied to 30 ad groups and must be done so by an engine rep. In addition, only ads in first position will show Image Extensions, and advertisers must be the owners of the high-resolution images in addition to having them hosted on their sites.

Yahoo! Brand Image with SEM Ads:  In June, Yahoo! launched a beta program that paired a company’s 50-by-50 pixel logo with its SEM ad. The program launched automatically across 500 advertisers, and the ads with images are currently being served on 95 percent of desktop searches relevant to the advertiser.

Yahoo! has been open to pairing images with ads in the past. For years its Rich Ads In Search (RAIS) program has allowed advertisers to pair images, videos and site links to ads within Yahoo! SERPs, and following the Yahoo!-Microsoft search alliance, RAIS ads were rolled out to Bing SERPs as well. Yet marketers face some challenges with RAIS ads, such as higher CPCs, limited use cases (they only appear on select brand queries) and the need for more maintenance as changes to these ads require help from engine reps.

The RAIS limitations cited above do not apply to the new company images feature: CPCs do not increase, the images display across both brand and non-brand queries and engine rep implementation assistance is not required. These attributes will make the images attractive to advertisers, and as Yahoo! opens this feature to more marketers, searchers will encounter more and more display assets within Yahoo!’s paid search results.

The Search-ification of Display

Yahoo! In-Stream Ads: While new Google and Yahoo! search ad capabilities have incorporated assets commonly associated with display, Yahoo!’s new In-Stream ads incorporate qualities typically associated with search. Introduced this spring, Yahoo!’s In-Stream ads insert native ads – targeted and matched to a user’s recent behavior – within the homepage’s news feed. For example, if a user recently searched for shoes, a shoe ad may appear in the feed.

The ad units themselves contain elements of both display and search: a vibrant image accompanies the unit while the headline and description line across the center are reminiscent of a typical search ad. From an implementation standpoint, the ads are placed within a non-SERP unit, but in order for the ad to show, advertisers must bid on ad rank just like they would in search. If the advertiser has a strong bid (up to $5) and has historically generated a strong CTR (indicating that the ad is quality), then the ad may appear towards the top of the feed.

Implications for Marketers

Change is the only constant within online advertising. As more and more ad products that combine elements of search and display enter the scene, marketers will need to evolve their strategies to align with new offerings put forth by the engines.  Here are two ways to get started:

  1. Clearly define roles across search and display teams:  Advertisers working with separate teams for search and display will want to establish parameters that clearly articulate which teams are responsible for managing those units that straddle both practice areas. For example, a marketer may opt to have their search team manage placements like Yahoo!’s In-Stream ads, given their expertise in bid strategy.
  2. Cross-pollinate learnings to get the most out of ‘hybrid’ opportunities:  Search teams should familiarize themselves with fundamental display management practices so they can incorporate that knowledge into managing their search ads. Display teams should do the same for search marketing. As the gap closes between search and display, close coordination between specialized teams will ensure that marketers are implementing best practices when utilizing hybrid units that borrow characteristics of both arenas.

Cover photo via Flickr