Does Display help Search? Or does Search help Display?

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One of the topics that we didn’t get quite enough time to cover in detail in my face-off with Avinash Kaushik at last week’s eMetrics Summit (of which more in another post) was the thorny issue of conversion attribution. When I asked Avinash about it, he made the sensible point that trying to correctly “attribute” a conversion to a mix of the interactions that preceded it ends up being a very subjective process, and that adopting a more experimental approach – tweaking aspects of a campaign and seeing which tweaks result in higher conversion rates – is more sound.

I asked the question in part because conversion attribution is conspicuously absent from Google Analytics – a fact which raises an interesting question about whether it’s in Google’s interest to include a feature like this, since it may stand to lose more than it gains by doing so (since the effective ROI of search will almost certainly go down when other channels are mixed into an attribution model).

Our own Atlas Institute is quite vocal on this topic, and has published a number of white papers such as this one [PDF] about the consideration/conversion funnel, and this one [PDF], on which channels are winners and losers in the new world of Engagement Mapping (our term for multi-channel conversion attribution).

The Atlas Institute has also opined about how adding display to a search campaign can raise the effectiveness of that campaign by 22% compared to search alone – in other words, how display helps search to be better.

However, a recent study from iProspect throws some new light on this discussion. The study – a survey of 1,575 web consumers – attempted to discover how people respond to display advertising. And one of the most interesting findings from the study is that, whilst 31% of users claim to have clicked on a display ad in the last 6 months, almost as many – 27% – claimed that they responded to the ad by searching for that product or brand:


This raises the interesting idea that search can actually help display be better, by providing a response mechanism that differs from the traditional ad click behavior that we expect. Of course, this still doesn’t mean that search should get 100% of the credit for a conversion in this kind of scenario – in fact, it makes a stronger case for “view-through” attribution of display campaigns – something that ad networks (like, er, our own Microsoft Media Network) are keen to encourage people to do, to make performance-based campaigns look better.

All this really means that, of course, it’s not a case of display vs. search, but display and search (and a whole lot of other ways of reaching consumers). Whether you take the view that it’s your display campaign that helps your search to be more effective, or your search keywords that help your display campaign to drive more response, multi-channel online marketing – and the complexity that goes with measuring it – looks set for the big time. And by “big time”, I mean the army of small advertisers currently using systems like Google’s AdWords, or our own adCenter. So maybe we’ll see multi-channel conversion attribution in Google Analytics before long.

3 thoughts on “Does Display help Search? Or does Search help Display?”

  1. There was an advertising product (can’t remember the name of the company) that set a cookie on the visitor’s computer when they visit site “A” (ex. your site). Then, while visiting another site – say Yahoo to check their email – they’d get a display ad from the company of the website they just visited.
    A bit big brother? Yes, but I’m dying to see a white paper or case study showing the CTR and conversion rates from that type of display advertising.
    I have believe (from personal experience) that, as more people spend more time consuming their media online, display ads will play an increasing role in search conversions.
    I recently saw a Lexus IS convertible – I didn’t even know their was such a car. I didn’t click it, but a day or so later, I did search for Lexus IS convertible in google. Search certainly wouldn’t be the reason for my piqued interest in the product.
    Oh the joys of trying to accurately measure and track advertising performance!

  2. Hi Ian,
    Not too big of a surprise to anyone that is paying attention! I’ve wondered how the DFA Exposure to Conversion tool compares to Atlas…could never seem to get a demo of that tool.
    Clearly Google and the cottage industry of search firms stand to lose a lot…especially if email, affiliate marketing and social media/online PR become part of the conversion modeling.
    Domenico Tassone
    Seiche Analytics

  3. Hi Ian,
    interessting post. I’ve actualy the situation that I challenging against Display. We have a customer lifetime value as a KPI, we are not CPO driven. On many tests I see I can’t beat against Display with my Search campaigns.. because display has got a huge impact and my search-campaigns are to much expensive against display.
    I think thats two different views.. I can not use the same CPO and even not the same CLV.. because there is a pull vs. push principle. I hope i got in some weeks a conclusion to benchmark search vs. display.. because i think the payout is different on both channels..
    has you any experience in this regard? Or did you really think both channels are aid one another?
    thx for your opinion
    regards from germany

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