HomeBlogWhich Google Ads Network Is Right for Me? A Pocket Guide

Which Google Ads Network Is Right for Me? A Pocket Guide

Author: Gordon Donnelly
Last Updated: November 14, 2022 | Paid Search Marketing

Search. Display. Shopping. YouTube. Each Google Ads network represents unique value. You know your niche, the makeup of your business, and what you want out of your campaigns; but you’re working with a finite budget, and you want to maximize the return on every ad dollar you spend. So, the million-dollar question: On which network should your ads live? Or better yet, how do you allocate funds across these networks to maximize ROI? Is PPC just a giant game of Bingo?

Short answer: kind of. But it doesn’t have to be frustrating.

Especially if you’re on a budget—which, on some level, everyone is—choosing the right Google Ads network for you can feel a little like buying a car. You want to leave the lot with a vehicle that, over time, offers the most valuable return. Leave with the wrong vehicle—or, in the case of the advertiser, spend your budget in a network that doesn’t allow you to meet or exceed your campaign objectives—and you’re stuck with an asset you’ll want to lose as soon as possible. In either case, it can feel like there’s little room for error.

The purpose of this guide is to take a look at the four primary Google Ads networks at your disposal: the search network, the display network, Shopping, and YouTube. We’ll give a rundown on how to leverage each network to meet specific campaign objectives, and we’ll show you how, with a little knowledge and foresight, you can leave yourself room to experiment on different networks to find the budget allocation that works best for you.

This is your complete pocket guide to choosing the Google Ads network that works best for you. Each network has its own unique advantages and types of Google Ads. We’ll dig into each of these in depth, but here’s a quick look at how they shake out:


how to advertise on google - benefits of google ad types

Google Search Network: Find Prospects That Are Ready to Convert

Whether this is your first foray into search advertising or you’re a relative pro with a vested interest in the bottom line, the search network is going to be a great place to start. Search and Display make up two halves of Google’s traditional advertising offerings; when comparing the two, Search has some distinct advantages.

The biggest advantage? Higher conversion rates. Our Google Ads industry benchmarks, which we pulled from our vast store of client data, offer an interesting look at Search vs. Display metrics across industries. Average conversion rate tells a story that indubitably favors Search:

Google Ads Networks Conversion Rates

The average conversion rate in Google Ads across all industries is 3.75% on the search network, compared to just 0.77% on the display network. The biggest reason for the discrepancy? Users on the search network are active.

Whether or not they’re looking for a paid or an organic result, users go to Google’s search bar because they’re looking for an immediate, relevant answer to their query. That in mind, it helps if your business sells a product or service that represents an on-the-spot solution to a problem. Something that fills an immediate need. A pipe bursts in your prospect’s bathroom, so they search for a plumber. The SAT is coming up, so a mother searches for a tutor for her son.

Google Ads Networks SERP

But even if you’re not in Dating & Personals or Legal—niches with sky-high conversion rates on the search network—you can still position your product or service as something your prospects need sooner rather than later.

This is the greatest intrinsic advantage of the search network: the ability to bid on high-intent keywords that put your text ads in front of users who are ready to convert. If, when conducting keyword research, you find yourself coming across keywords related to your niche that have high commercial intent, and your product or service realistically matches those queries, then you can safely assume that the search network is a good place to start spending your budget.

Google Display Network: Capturing the Passive Searcher

The display network reaches nearly 90% of all consumers online, in more than 100 countries and 30 languages. This giant pool of potential prospects and the nature of search behavior on the display network—users are passive rather than active—means that the number one benefit of using the display network is the ability to build top-of-funnel brand awareness.

We’ve already seen, and accepted, that Search converts better than Display. What’s more, Search has a much higher click-through rate (3.17% compared to just 0.46%):

Google Ads Networks CTR

The reason—and this is the same thing we discussed when we looked at conversion rates—is the nature of search behavior on each network. Despite the ability to use eye-popping image and video creative, it is flat out more difficult to get users to click-through and convert on the display network, because they are not actively searching for a solution to a pain point. Again, though, this is no reason to write off Display when you’re trying to decide the network that’s right for you. It just means that, in order to get the most out it, you have to adjust your expectations and play to its strengths.

Because searchers on the display network are not actively looking for your product or service, Display gives you the opportunity to generate leads at the awareness stage of your sales funnel.

Google Ads Networks Sales Funnel

If you’re set on generating conversions in a particular campaign, by all means, eschew Display. BUT, be aware that while clicks are more difficult to come by on the display network, they come at a much lower cost compared to Search ($0.63 compared to $2.69).

Google Ads Networks CPC

Therefore, leveraging the display network allows you to significantly open up your prospect pool by increasing brand awareness on a much wider scale for comparatively less money. Building this kind of brand affinity en masse can also help you increase click-through rates and conversion rates in campaigns that exist on other networks.

Tactically, one of the most effective ways to do this is through remarketing. Remarketing allows you to serve ads to users who have visited your site on pages across the web, and thus stay top-of-mind with those users as they, ideally, near closer to the deliberation stage of your funnel. We’ve found that remarketing display ads fatigue users at a slower rate compared to standard display ads, and that their conversion rates also increase over time—so when you utilize remarketing in display, you have less of a chance of “offending” prospects by stalking them around the web.

If you’re looking to bolster your prospect pool and build brand affinity on a large scale, the display network is a great place to allocate some budget. And for advertisers with limited creative resources, the advent of responsive display ads this summer has made display ad creation and optimization easier than ever.

Google Shopping: Attract More Qualified Clicks

Shopping is huge right now, and it’s only getting bigger. Google released a suite of new Shopping functionality this summer, dropped Smart Shopping, and just recently introduced shoppable image ads. U.S. retailers leveraging Google Ads are currently spending 76.4% of their budgets in Shopping and receiving more than 85% of their clicks from Shopping:

Google Ads Networks Qualified Clicks

On mobile, those numbers are even more remarkable: 79% and 87.9 %, respectively. Now, 79% of your friends jumping off a cliff is not a good reason to also jump off said cliff. But it certainly makes you wonder what’s at the bottom.

In the case of Google Shopping, the proof is in the pudding. The average cost-per-action of a mobile shopping ad is $45.26—this compared to $97.71 for a standard text ad, $81.04 for an expanded text ad, and $98.29 for a standard display ad.

Google Ads Networks Shopping

Like any bull market, there reaches a point of saturation and declining returns. Until then, if you’re selling a tangible product, it’s time to see what the fuss is all about. The following attributes make Shopping a landscape well worth venturing into:

1. Reach. Shopping ads appear in Google Search, Google Shopping, and across Google Search Partner sites like YouTube and image search. And they don’t just appear in Google Search—they’re served at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page), above organic results and text ads. Your shopping ad can also appear in concert with your text ad or with another shopping ad, giving you multiple opportunities per single query to earn a click.

2. Format. Not only are shopping ads bigger than text ads…

Google Ads Networks VR Glasses

But they also allow you to leverage enticing image creative to draw in prospects. Which leads us to the next benefit of the Shopping network…

3. More qualified clicks. Because searchers have the ability to discern unique product information from your shopping ad just by looking at it—specifically, what it looks like and how much it costs—the searchers who click are inherently further down the sales funnel.

4. No keyword management. Shopping has a lot in common with SEO. Google Ads connects directly to your product listings in Google Merchant Center. Then, rather than leaning on keyword bids, your ad placement is determined by your ability to optimize your product listings for Search (as if you were writing meta titles and descriptions).

5. Better reporting. Shopping allows you to get as granular as you want in your reporting efforts. The Bid Simulator is also a great tool if you’re unsure of whether or not to raise or lower your bid.

There’s a lot to like about the shopping network. If you have a product that could feasibly exist in a shopping ad, you should strongly consider getting in the game.

YouTube: Maximizing Meaningful Impressions with TrueView

Over the last two years, the number of small and medium-sized businesses advertising on YouTube has doubled. Part of the reason behind that trend is that businesses are starting to understand just how much video people are consuming on a daily basis and how much internet traffic is predicted to come from video in the very near future (80% by 2019). The other factor involved is that video and other visual assets are getting easier to create for advertisers with minimal resources, training, and time. With WordStream Advisor, for instance, you can now create compelling, ready-to-publish Facebook video ads in a matter of minutes.

Anytime you put effort into creating something, the fear is that it’s not going to be seen. TrueView, YouTube’s default ad format, puts that fear to bed. With TrueView, you only pay when viewers actually watch (for 30 seconds) or interact with your video. That means no wasted spend on impressions that fail to garner real, meaningful interactions.

TrueView comes in two flavors:

  1. TrueView in-stream. These play before or during your run-of-the-mill YouTube videos. Users are given the choice to skip the ad after five seconds of air time; you still only pay if they click an element in your ad or watch for 30 seconds (or until the end, whichever comes first).
Google Ads Networks TrueView In Stream
  1. TrueView video discovery. These appear alongside other YouTube videos, in YouTube search pages, or on the various websites on the display network.
Google Ads Networks TrueView Discovery

You can also leverage product listings in your existing Merchant Center data to create a TrueView for shopping campaign, with which you can actually showcase a shopping listing for your product next to your TrueView video ad content.

One other YouTube ad format of note is bumper ads. Bumper ads are six seconds or shorter, and they play before, during, or after YouTube videos. The unique appeal here is that, first, users can’t skip bumper ads and, second, they operate on CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions) bidding, meaning you pay each time your ad is shown 1,000. Bumper ads are tailor made for reach campaigns, and 70% of brands that use them report an increase in brand awareness.

51% of marketers are currently in the YouTube video ad game, and more plan on getting involved in the near future. If you have the capability to produce video and are in the business of maximizing meaningful ad impressions, YouTube represents a very advantageous channel for your ad spend.

Finding the Google Ads Channel That’s Right for You

Each of these channels, as we’ve seen, has unique strengths. And most businesses can get value out of using all of them in concert. The question is: what’s your objective? If your brand is completely awesome, but you’re having trouble getting the word out, you might benefit from the leveraging the display network or the reach-boosting power of YouTube bumper ads. If you’re looking for quality over quantity of clicks, you might experiment with Shopping. If you’re in Dating & Personals, or another niche that allows you to leverage provocative creative, you might note that conversion rates are actually higher than industry average on Display and use that channel to move the needle.

There’s no right answer, and the fact is, each of these ad channels is worth at least trying if you want to find the budget allocation that’s right for you. The options are plentiful—take the time to diversify and use them to your advantage!

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Meet The Author

Gordon Donnelly

Gordon Donnelly is an SEO jedi who proudly honed his chops at WordStream for 5+ years. Today, you’ll find him at home in Boston, building Triple Whale’s world-class e-commerce analytics platform, or helping businesses of all sizes grow through SEO, advertising, and content marketing.


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