Internet advertising is often classified into two major categories. There are text-based advertisements that trigger based on a user’s search queries or the content on the webpage, and there are images that function like traditional billboards and banners. In both cases, performance is frequently measured using “Pay Per Click” (PPC) statistics, where the number of times users click on advertisements is compiled and advertisers are paid accordingly. While many analysts credit the text-based ads with a greater contribution to sales, both advertising styles may be useful in specific circumstances.

Google AdWords and the GDN

While all search engines are important for advertisers, the one with the most market share is currently Google. Google maintains two major advertising platforms for businesses seeking to improve their advertising performance: Google AdWords and the Google Display Network (GDN). When you search for a specific type of business and see text-based advertisements off to the side or above your search results, you are seeing AdWords advertisements.

The GDN is a network of over 2 million websites that have agreed to allow Google to place ads on their pages, and to place their own ads on other GDN websites, in exchange for a percentage of advertising revenue.

Text or Images?

The key distinction for businesses is that with search-based advertising like AdWords, advertisers know precisely what a consumer is interested in finding based on what they typed as a search query. When we search the Internet for a product name or a phrase that describes a service we wish to find, the search engine is able to instantly display relevant results and ads. The Google Search Network provides precision and reliability. Searching for a florist, for example, provides an ad for florists and nothing more. While this specific advertising can be expensive, its effectiveness can be clearly measured and shown using PPC data.

Image-based advertisements, however, are used somewhat differently to maximize effectiveness. While it is easy to see how searching for a specific business in Google can lead to sales for that business, image-based ads use a blanket approach where businesses try to show their ad to as many users as possible in the hope that one may click through to a sale. In this sense, image-based advertising is more traditional, relying on interesting visual design to grab the attention of consumers. Much like traditional advertising, however, it is harder to measure the impact of visual design than it is to measure success in text-based ads.

Running an Advertising Campaign

With these differences in mind, it is easy to feel a bit confused about how and why to choose one over the other. In most cases, text-based ads are more likely to generate clicks in the short term as they show a relevant advertisement precisely at the point where a consumer is interested in buying. While display ads may not generate as many clicks in the short term, they have the advantage of sticking in a consumer’s mind more than text, supporting branding efforts. As such, they may have more staying power in the long term and a greater influence in an eventual purchase.

It is also the case that the nature of your product or service plays an important role in deciding the most effective type of advertising. For a display network campaign, the key lies in the degree to which your product can be effectively shown in a visual ad. For example, if you have a product that looks great or can be described using large, catchy font (particularly using the word “free”), it may work well as an image. Note here that the ad is required to indicate a certain quality, because a cheap or poorly-designed ad will likely hurt your business more than help.

Search network campaigns are built around the idea of effective control and keyword use — that is, products or services that can be described rather than shown. As text-based ads are limited in space, you must be economical in your writing and try to describe your company as effectively as possible. Remember here you have the advantage that users will see your advertisement only if they have searched for related terms or phrases, so you do not have to draw them in as much as you do with image-based ads. You do, however, have to offer a succinct argument for why your business should be chosen and why your ad should be clicked above the other competing targeted ads.

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