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Why SEO Trumps Display Ads Every Time

For most businesses with an online presence, the worlds of SEO, search marketing and internet display ads are increasingly blended together. That’s partly because the industry has matured and partly because so-called “searchification” affects virtually all aspects of the digital scene. That’s why Matt Ackley penned a how-to for making your internet display ads more effective, even if you’re approaching them from the perspective of search marketing.

For many business owners, however, the momentum is reversed: experienced leaders can easily see a web display campaign as a rough analogue to TV or newspaper ads but may have a tough time understanding how SEO works (or even why it matters). After all, paying for a one-off campaign and evaluating the results seems a lot easier than investing in SEO, which requires an ongoing commitment to be effective.

From our perspective, that makes the absence of search experts on company marketing teams a much bigger albatross than any difficulty search marketers face in integrating with display. That’s not only because most companies already have a strong display capability. It’s also because SEO’s return is on a continuous rise while display has declined.


Why would that be? To us, the answers are simple:

  • Trust. In an age when users have increasingly learned to ignore the display ads served up to them, they continue to trust and click through organic search results. Google just announced that more than half of its paid display ads don’t even get seen; the top positions on page one of the SERPs still deliver traffic.
  • Long-term impact. The turn it on/turn it off nature of display campaigns may have a certain allure, but the continued payoff of SEO speaks for itself. Content, social strategies and backlink strategies—which really is code for content, content, and content—don’t just pay off the week they’re launched. They continue to contribute to positive SEO indefinitely. That’s ROI.
  • One-way teamwork. Matt’s article makes a big point of how the “fuzzy” nature of display views has real value. After all, a view today may contribute to a sale two weeks from now. But what is the trigger that ends up netting that eventual sale? It seems likely that the answer is a simple search. Many of these eventual conversions happen when the consummr later sees a company in organic search results. In other words, search can finish the job for less definitive display ads, while display ads do not contribute to page rank.

We’re not suggesting that display is dead, or even that it isn’t effective. Quite the opposite: like Matt we see different online channels as increasingly mixed, and all of them have value. A well run display campaign can certainly generate sales, especially if it follows Matt’s rules. Display is very much alive.

But business owners shouldn’t be tempted to think that display is all they need or that display can substitute for good SEO. On the internet, just like in the real world, location trumps everything—even a really nice billboard.

Want to maximize your SEO and your ad impact? Try a free consultation with EverSpark today.