Will Display Overtake Search?

Last week eMarketer announced its forecast that total online display advertising spend will surpass total search spend by 2015.  Google is spending $390 million on an acquisition of display ad company Admeld.  MediaMind, a digital ad solutions provider, was acquired for $414 million by an offline advertising technology firm focusing on television.  If the 2000s was the decade of search, it certainly appears that the 2010s is heading toward the decade of display.  Is this true -- and if so, what does all this mean for search marketers?

It is helpful to understand why display advertising is growing so rapidly.

Rise of a biddable ecosystem for display. Yahoo's Right Media and Google's Ad Exchange have led the way in creating an environment where advertisers can bid in an open exchange environment for inventory based on its value to them.  The subsequent introduction of real-time bidding and DSPs has only accelerated the adoption of display advertising by performance marketers. 



Rise of online video advertising. Consumers are engaging with brands on the internet in ways that were traditionally reserved for offline media.  Online video and rich media are seeing huge growth due to the intersection of user adoption and technology growth trends.

 Adoption of attribution technologies that allow impact of display to be better represented. For performance-based marketers, the shift from display advertising to search advertising 10 years ago was precisely because the measurable return on investment of search was much higher.  That is not always the case anymore, for multiple reasons.  First, consumer behavior is changing in ways that allow for the entire purchase funnel to occur online, which naturally leads consumers to interact with more types of ads.  No less important, though, is the adoption of technologies that allow advertisers to measure and attribute the impact of all the media touch points that ultimately lead to a conversion.

Brand budgets. More brand ad budgets are shifting to online.  Display and video are more natural fits than search marketing for most brands.

Mobile. Mobile Internet access is undoubtedly an uber-trend.  Mobile devices are inherently better suited for passive viewing of ads (display) than proactive viewing of ads (search).

Opportunities/Threats for Search Marketers

 All of the trends listed above are only accelerating.  To be clear, none of these trends threaten search marketing as it exists today.  What it does threaten is the dominance of search marketing in the broader online marketing industry.  I have often said that search marketers have the best skillset for the convergence of digital marketing channels.  It's time to put that skillset to use and look over the horizon a bit.  Search marketers need to understand the trends that are happening around them in other online marketing channels so they can better manage the digital marketing opportunities holistically for their clients. 

4 comments about "Will Display Overtake Search? ".
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  1. Dan Darnell, June 17, 2011 at 2:50 p.m.

    No doubt that display appears to have more interesting prospects than search right now. I wrote about this recently in my blog ( ) on why people should invest more in search. Search is still the best channel for acquisition. Search is just ready for some serious innovation. Innovation that will allow advertisers to invest more in search rather than investing in experiments for display, social, and other channels.

  2. Elizabeth Kulin from ZEDO, June 17, 2011 at 2:53 p.m.

    Yes, search is critical, and not going anywhere. However, with so many new technologies to help publishers sell quicker and easier, and new tools for advertisers are being developed that investing in these new designs is critical for online advertisers. Such as ad exchanges - particularly ZINC Ad Exchange, which is a new tool for advertisers and helps them see available inventory, and book it, on newspaper sites.

  3. Mark Hughes from C3 Metrics, June 17, 2011 at 3:14 p.m.

    Search without Display is like fish without water today.

    When Google (Neal Mohan) indicates Display will be a $200 billion has reached a crucial inflection point.

    Nice article Roger.

    Mark Hughes
    CEO, C3 Metrics | Attribution Made Simple

  4. Josh Shatkin-margolis from Magnetic, June 17, 2011 at 4:28 p.m.

    With the recent acquisition activity, there's a clear future for display. However, there's still room for search marketing to play a vital role in media strategy. In fact, the rapid growth in display will benefit search and push the two channels to work more closely together. Search retargeting helps to bring these two channels together by leveraging search history to reach consumers with display advertising. We've also seen search activity spike after users are served with a display ad.

    Additionally, search retargeting represents the future of search in that it enables search marketers to go beyond the search engine and tap into inventory available across exchanges, ad networks, etc. Instead of leaving SEM in the dust, I think the growth of display will ignite cross channel marketing to really take charge.

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