The Difference Between Contextual Ads and Search Ads

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Contextual ads and search ads are displayed differently. Search ads appear after a user searches for a specific keyword. Contextual ads, on the other hand, are displayed on a Web page while the user is reading the content, and are relevant to the information on that page. Although contextual ads and search ads both represent a smart and effective way of advertising, it’s important to keep in mind that the people who see search ads are always looking for information related to the keyword on which the ad is based. Contextual ads are more reactive, and tend to be less urgent than search ads.

Big businesses with a large marketing budget use both contextual ads and search ads to get their message across and advertise their company and products. But smaller businesses often have to choose between the two. So, contextual ads or search ads? Which are better for your business? It depends of course on what you’re selling.

The Sales Cycle

People who buy things online always do some research before purchasing. Depending on the type and cost of the product in question, that research might take between a few minutes and a couple of months, even more sometimes. The sales cycle for an online music store can be as short as 15 minutes, while that for a b2b retailer, say an industrial equipment seller, can take months.

Knowing the average sales cycle for your business makes it easier for you to choose between contextual ads and search ads. Search ads are more immediate and directed, but contextual ads can increase familiarity, and when retargeting is used, they can slowly persuade customers to buy your product. But you must always keep in mind that the content of the page determines the relevancy of the contextual ads.

Specificity or Generality?

The more specific search ads are, the higher the conversion rates. But the contextual ads that generate the most clicks tend to be more general, addressing people who are interested in buying products or services related to the topic discussed on the page, but don’t have a specific problem that they are trying to solve. So for businesses that want as much traffic as possible, even if not all of it will be of quality, contextual ads might be the best choice.


In the end, search ads are the right choice if you want to advertise a specific product, service, or Web site and want immediate results. Contextual ads are excellent if you want to advertise your brand or company as a whole, increase brand awareness, and generate a steady stream of traffic by building familiarity over time. Good marketers find a balance between search ads and contextual ones and use them together, focusing on one or the other depending on their current goals.

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