The Role of Search Advertising and Display Advertising in Ecommerce

The online retail landscape gets more cluttered and competitive by the day. Take Amazon, for example – over 700,000 brands use the marketplace to sell upwards of 360,000,000 products, and the numbers only continue to grow.  Brands need to invest in advertising in order to stand out on this crowded digital shelf.

Investing ad spend on Amazon and Google is critically important because it showcases your products to online shoppers at critical times in the shopping journey. Brands that don’t take digital advertising seriously, leave the door wide open for your competitors to capture market share.

Before panicking, let’s review the Amazon and Google advertising tools and tactics that will help maximize your investment, drive traffic, and increase sales.

Search Advertising in Ecommerce

Search advertising is used at the top of the sales funnel by brands to make products appear ahead of the competition on the search engine results pages (SERP). Advertisers bid on the keywords customers commonly use in search engines when looking for products. Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are common with search advertising and brands only pay when a customer engages with the ad.

Although many brands still use Google as their primary search advertising platform, Amazon had emerged as an important tool for brands looking to promote their products online. Amazon has surpassed Google as the go-to source for product search – 55% of all product searches start on Amazon compared to 17% on Google. It’s important to develop search advertising campaigns across both platforms to remain competitive in the crowded online marketplace.

Amazon’s search advertising platform launched in 2012 and enables vendors to increase their product visibility and sales in the competitive Amazon marketplace. With more than 290,000 product searches taking place on Amazon each minute, the marketplace is literally becoming more competitive by the minute.

Shoppers on Amazon are typically closer to making a purchasing decision than shoppers on Google. Amazon Advertising is a pivotal tool for campaign managers focused on influencing the shoppers at the beginning of their search.

Amazon Advertising offers three keyword-driven search ad types– Sponsored Brand ads, Sponsored Product ads, and Product Display ads. Sponsored Brand ads take up the prime real estate at the top of the Amazon SERP and can feature an entire product line. Sponsored Product ads have many placement opportunities on the SERP, product page, and non-Amazon sites, appear with organic search. Product Display ads are typically displayed under the buy button on the product page, a great upselling opportunity for brands.

Google’s search advertising platform is much older and more established than Amazon Advertising. Launched in 2000, Google AdWords helps brands target online shoppers based on search keywords on Google’s widely used search engine.

Google Adwords operates search advertising in a similar way to Amazon ads but shoppers on Google are more likely to be in the research phase of their product search and further away from making a purchasing decision. Google offers two search ad types, both of which appear at the top of SERPs – Product Listing Ads and Text-Based Ads.

Product Listing Ads (PLA) commonly feature a product image, product title, price, and retailer. Engagement with these ads takes a shopper to a product page on the advertiser’s native site. Text-Based Ads commonly feature a headline, descriptive text, and multiple clickable links. Engagement with these ads takes customers to a collection of products on the advertiser’s native site.

Display Advertising in Ecommerce

Display advertising is designed to target shoppers whenever they are online, regardless of where they are browsing. This helps brands target shoppers that are not necessarily actively searching for a product. Through display advertising, brands keep their products top-of-mind for shoppers, remind them they were interested before, and increase brand awareness compared to competitors.

Say a shopper visited a product page but didn’t hit the buy button. Display ads for the product they viewed will continue to display during their online journey, which keeps the product top of mind until they are ready to convert  Brands drive display ads to a customized product or informative experiences based on their target audience or customer behaviors.

Amazon’s display advertising platform is Amazon DSP (formerly known as Amazon Advertising Platform) which serves ads to shoppers who aren’t actively shopping online. Amazon display ads are shown across Amazon’s broad collection of owned online properties (Goodreads, IMDB and more).

Behavior tracking allows brands to target shoppers who have visited product pages on Amazon to build brand awareness and lead shoppers back to the product page. Amazon manages these display advertising campaigns for their clients, however, agencies can become certified in Amazon DSP and run Amazon display ad campaigns for their clients.

Since Google shopping doesn’t include a smooth buying experience like Amazon, display advertising on Google is typically used to drive brand awareness by applying customer behavior, customer behaviors, demographics, and previous search history data.

Display ads on Google also appeal to ad campaign managers because of their high visibility nature. While these types of ads promote your brands to the right people, they may also display the ads to an audience you aren’t targeting.

How do search and display ads work together?

Both search and display ads are designed to complement the other’s strengths and offset the other’s weaknesses, an important part of creating a comprehensive ecommerce strategy with the highest return on ad spend (ROAS). While Amazon search ads precisely target shoppers actively browsing on Amazon, display ads cast a wider net that spread brand awareness to those not ready to buy.

Editor’s Note: On September 5, 2018, Amazon rebranded its advertising platform. Amazon Marketing Services changed to Amazon Advertising and Amazon Advertising Platform changed to Amazon DSP, among other changes. This blog post was changed on October 5, 2018 to reflect those changes.