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Comparative Analysis: Shopping Ads vs Display Ads

You might be wondering which is right for you in the dilemma of shopping ads vs display ads.

Well, Shopping Ads are best suited for driving immediate sales and directly influencing purchase decisions, making them ideal for e-commerce platforms looking to boost transactional activity.

On the other hand, Display Ads are effective for creating awareness and maintaining brand presence across a wide range of internet environments.

In this guide, we’ll dive into specifics and help you get the most out of both ad types.

Let’s get right into it!

Shopping Ads Basics


Shopping Ads, also known as Product Listing Ads (PLAs), are a type of advertisement specifically designed to promote the sale of products through Google Ads. These ads appear prominently when a user performs a product-related search on Google or browses the Google Shopping platform.

Unlike traditional text ads, Shopping Ads display a photo of the product, along with its price, store name, and sometimes additional elements like ratings and promotions, directly within the ad.

Key Features of Shopping Ads

Shopping Ads are distinguished by their visual and information-rich format.

They are dynamically created from a product feed that merchants submit to Google Merchant Center, which includes detailed product information such as images, prices, product descriptions, and merchant details.

This setup allows for automatic updating of ads when changes occur in the product database, such as price adjustments or stock availability.

Strategic Use of Shopping Ads

Shopping Ads are designed to capture the attention of users who have high purchase intent.

By providing users with critical product information before they even click through to a website, these ads facilitate a quick and informed purchasing decision right from the search results.

This capability makes Shopping Ads highly effective for e-commerce retailers looking to drive sales and improve their conversion rates.

They are particularly beneficial for businesses with visually appealing products or competitive pricing that can stand out in the visually rich format of Shopping Ads.

Display Ads Basics

Display ad examples

Display Ads are a versatile advertising format used within the Google Display Network to reach audiences across millions of websites, news pages, blogs, and Google sites like Gmail and YouTube. These ads can consist of text, images, rich media, and video, offering considerable flexibility in how brands can convey their messages.

Key Features of Display Ads

One of the defining features of Display Ads is their ability to reach a broad audience across different online environments.

They can be targeted based on a variety of criteria, including demographics, interests, behaviors, and remarketing lists, making them highly customizable to different audience segments.

Display Ads also support a wide range of creative formats, from simple banners to interactive multimedia ads, allowing marketers to craft compelling visuals and messages designed to engage different audiences.

Strategic Use of Display Ads

Display Ads are primarily used for building brand awareness and re-engaging visitors who have previously interacted with a brand.

Their broad reach and diverse formatting options make them an excellent tool for maintaining brand visibility across the internet.

Moreover, Display Ads can be strategically employed to target users at various stages of the customer journey, from initial brand introduction to the engagement of existing customers with offers and content relevant to their interests and past behaviors.

This flexibility makes Display Ads a fundamental tool for advertisers looking to enhance brand recall and establish a strong online presence.

Shopping Ads vs Display Ads Comparison

Audience Targeting

Shopping Ads are tailored to reach users actively searching for specific products. They capture shoppers who have expressed a clear intent to purchase by querying product-related searches on Google. This high-intent targeting is possible because Shopping Ads are triggered by the user’s specific search terms, which are matched with the product data provided by advertisers through the Google Merchant Center. This direct approach tends to reach users at the decision-making stage of the buying process, making these ads highly effective for conversions.

Display Ads, on the other hand, offer broader targeting options that include demographics, interests, behaviors, and remarketing. These ads are ideal for reaching a wider audience across the internet to build brand awareness or re-engage previous visitors. Display Ads are not limited to users actively searching for specific products but can capture the attention of potential customers based on varied criteria, including their browsing behavior or content relevance. This type of targeting is more about casting a wide net to build interest and brand recall over time.

Engagement and Conversion Potential

Shopping Ads excel in driving immediate sales. They provide users with a quick snapshot of the product, including its image, price, and key attributes, right on the search result page. This setup enables shoppers to make quick decisions, increasing the likelihood of conversion directly from the ad click. The straightforward nature of these ads, focusing on product and price, simplifies the consumer’s decision-making process, making them particularly effective for e-commerce retailers looking to boost sales volumes.

Display Ads are designed more for engagement rather than direct conversion. They are used to create an initial interest or rekindle a previous interest among potential customers. The success of Display Ads is often measured by the increase in interactions such as ad clicks, time spent on a website, or the completion of a video ad. While they may not directly lead to immediate sales, Display Ads are crucial for influencing user perception and assisting in the customer journey from awareness to consideration.

Cost Considerations

The cost structures of Shopping Ads and Display Ads also differ significantly. Shopping Ads typically work on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, where advertisers pay each time a user clicks on one of their ads. This can be cost-effective for advertisers because they pay only when users take direct action to engage with their product listings. However, the cost can vary greatly depending on the competition for specific products or search terms.

Display Ads often use both CPC and cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) pricing models. This flexibility allows advertisers to focus on either engagement or impressions, depending on their campaign goals. Display Ads can be less expensive on a per-impression basis, making them a suitable option for extensive brand campaigns aiming to maximize exposure across many sites and touchpoints.

Strategic Use in Marketing Campaigns

Choosing between Shopping Ads and Display Ads should be guided by the marketer’s specific objectives and the customer’s position in the sales funnel. Shopping Ads are best used when targeting users who are ready to buy, offering them a fast lane from search to purchase. Display Ads are more suitable for creating a compelling presence, engaging users who may not be actively looking to purchase but could be influenced through continuous brand exposure and relevance.

Choosing Between Shopping Ads and Display Ads

Deciding whether to use Shopping Ads or Display Ads involves evaluating several factors based on your specific marketing goals, the nature of your products, and the characteristics of your target audience.

This section provides a framework to help you make an informed decision that aligns with your business objectives.

Assessing Your Marketing Goals

Immediate Sales vs. Long-Term Brand-Building:

  • Shopping Ads are optimal if your immediate goal is to increase sales. They are effective for direct response campaigns where the primary objective is conversion, such as promoting specific products to users who are already in the decision-making stage of their purchase journey.
  • Display Ads are suited for long-term brand-building and awareness campaigns. They work well to engage users who may not be in the immediate buying mode but can be influenced through repeated exposure to your brand or product.

Target Audience Considerations:

  • Shopping Ads should be used when your target audience is known to perform searches for specific products that you offer. This audience is likely to convert as they already have a high intent to purchase.
  • Display Ads are effective for targeting broader audience segments based on demographic and psychographic characteristics, as well as online behaviors that indicate interest or affinity towards your category or brand.

Analyzing Product Suitability

Product Complexity and Educational Need:

  • Products that require a higher degree of education or a longer consideration phase may benefit more from Display Ads, which can deliver richer, more informative content over time, nurturing leads before they make a purchase decision.
  • Straightforward, low-consideration products are ideal candidates for Shopping Ads, as they allow the consumer to quickly assess key information such as price, appearance, and other purchase-critical data.

Budget Allocation and ROI Considerations

Cost Efficiency and ROI:

  • Shopping Ads often yield a high return on investment for e-commerce businesses due to their lower funnel placement and direct call to action. They are particularly cost-effective when you can directly track sales and revenue from these ads.
  • Display Ads might require a larger or more sustained budget allocation to build brand awareness and engagement over time, with ROI potentially being slower to realize but beneficial for long-term brand equity.

Strategic Testing and Decision Making


  • Consider testing both types of ads in small campaigns to gather data about their performance relative to your specific goals and audience. This empirical approach can provide insights beyond theoretical assumptions, allowing you to fine-tune your strategy based on actual results.

Data-Driven Decisions:

  • Use analytics to assess which type of ad delivers the best performance in terms of key metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and overall return on ad spend. Adjust your strategy based on which ad type most effectively meets your marketing objectives.

Best Practices for Using Shopping Ads and Display Ads

Best Practices for Using Shopping Ads

Optimize Product Data Feeds: Ensure your product feeds are comprehensive, accurate, and regularly updated. This includes high-quality images, precise product descriptions, and competitive pricing. The richness and accuracy of your data feed directly influence the performance of your Shopping Ads.

Utilize Advanced Targeting Options: Leverage Google Ads’ capabilities to target users based on their search history, previous interactions, and other relevant data. This helps in positioning your ads in front of users who are most likely to convert.

Employ Strategic Bidding: Use a smart bidding strategy like Enhanced Cost Per Click (ECPC) or Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS). These strategies help in optimizing your bids based on conversion data and can significantly improve the efficiency of your ad spend.

Regularly Review Performance Metrics: Monitor your campaigns closely to understand what works and what doesn’t. Pay special attention to metrics like click-through rate (CTR), conversion rate, and cost per conversion. Use this data to continually refine your ad strategies.

Best Practices for Using Display Ads

Focus on Creative Elements: Since Display Ads are highly visual, ensure that your ads are visually appealing and attention-grabbing. Use high-quality graphics and engaging copy that resonate with your target audience.

Segment Your Audience: Define and segment your audience to deliver more personalized ad experiences. Tailor your messages based on user behavior, demographics, and interests to increase relevance and engagement.

Implement Frequency Capping: Set limits on how often your ads are shown to the same user to avoid ad fatigue. This practice helps maintain a balance between visibility and user experience.

Leverage Retargeting: Use retargeting techniques to re-engage users who have visited your site but did not convert. Display Ads are particularly effective for retargeting, as they keep your brand visible and engaged with potential customers.


By now you’ve learned where each ad type excels and got the idea of which ad type is a better choice for your use case.

Another cool comparison worth taking a peek: discovery ads vs shopping ads.

Want a change of pace? Learn about the benefits of generative AI for Google Ads.

Michael Schroder

Michael Schroder

Michael Schroder is a Google Ads and SaaS marketing consultant. He has been managing $200k-$300k monthly ad spend and has worked with 200+ SaaS companies. The thing that makes him unique is his data-led approach and his focus on SaaS businesses.