Demystifying Dynamic Search Ads: The Pros & Cons

February 18, 2013

By now you’ve probably noticed a Google AdWords campaign type that goes by the name of Dynamic Search Ads, or simply DSA. The not-so cleverly titled campaign type that Google introduced a few months back does pretty much exactly as the name suggests. The system dynamically generates an ad headline and a destination URL which accompanies your user-defined description lines. Wow, that’s amazing!

Pros & Cons of Dynamic Search Ads

Before you get too excited at the prospect of “AdWords on autopilot” there are quite a few things to consider. Dynamic Search Ads aren’t for everyone. They can be a powerful weapon in your AdWords arsenal when used wisely. Used poorly, and may see your budgets take a turn for the worst.

Google AdWords without all those nagging keywords

That’s right. Imagine a SEM world without the hassle of conducting keyword research or managing lists of thousands upon thousands of keywords. Very hard to fathom, I know, but that’s exactly what DSA can do for you.

So, how does it work? Think of DSA as paid search in reverse or Bizarro-PPC, if you will. Rather than doing the traditional grunt work of researching and choosing keywords, you’ll instead select dynamic ad targets which are a user-defined set of pages located on your website.

The Google AdWords system does the rest by matching users’ search queries against the subset of landing pages you have defined in your dynamic ad target to find the most relevant destination. Google then considers the search query and landing page content to dynamically generate an ad headline. Bing, bang, boom. Dynamic Search Ad.

Keep in mind that only the headline and destination URL are dynamically generated. YOU will define the two description lines as well as the display URL. These user-defined elements will apply to all dynamic ad targets within the ad group. See examples below:

Ex 1: Advertiser defines Line 1, Line 2 & Display URL

Description Line 1, description line 2 & display URL are user-defined in DSA

Ex 2: Headline & destination URL are dynamically generated

Headlines & destination URLs are dynamically generated in DSA

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Paid search is far from a ghost town but someone needs to maintain order. That’s where Dynamic Search Ads come in. For the appropriate advertiser DSA can be an absolute blessing. Consider the pros and cons to determine if DSA can work for you:

The Good

• Automated Keyword Research

There are more than 1 billion searches conducted on Google per day. At least 20% of those daily search queries are unique, having never been seen on the search engine before. It is absolutely, 100% impossible for even the best paid search managers to keep up with those staggering numbers.

That being said, some of those queries are likely going to be relevant to your business or your website. Dynamic Search Ads are the solution to keeping up with the sheer volume of traffic that Google sees daily. So, no more digging through the long-tail of keyword research to find the latest keyword craze. Hand the reins over to Google (at least for a moment) to take advantage of the power of DSA.

Search query reporting is available so you can then find the exact queries that resulted in conversions and add them to new or existing keyword-targeted campaigns. You can also use search query reports to find negative keywords to include in the DSA campaign itself just as you would in an typical keyword-targeted campaign.

• Efficient time management

If you don’t have the luxury of employing a team of PPC analysts you can now take a hands-off approach to PPC since you’re giving control over to the Googles… well, sort of. Dynamic Search Ads allow you to spend more time on your other keyword-targeted campaigns, while still ensuring that you’re not missing relevant queries elsewhere. It’s a way to ensure that you’re ads are served for any and all relevant searches without doing all of the legwork.

Now, as best practices tell us, nothing in AdWords should be considered “set it and forget it,” so be sure to check your campaign performance as frequently as possible. At the very least…make sure your budget is in check!

• Works alongside keyword-targeted campaigns

DSA will NOT compete against your existing keyword-targeted campaigns for available ad slots in the AdWords auction. Any time a keyword you are bidding on exactly, and I repeat EXACTLY, matches a search query, your keyword-targeted ads will display. You may see conflict between your DSA campaign and your broad match keywords, but if you’ve done good research and you’re taking advantage of search query reports this should be a non-issue.

Remember: Dynamic Search Ads work to pick up the traffic that you are NOT directly targeting via keywords.

• Maximum Exposure

This one is simple. Let’s say, for example, that you’re running a huge sale and you want to maximize traffic to a specific page on your site. DSA is a perfect solution for this. You can essentially tell Google that any single page is absolutely vital to your goals and to serve ads directing traffic to that page in every instance that it is deemed relevant.

The Bad

• Marriage of PPC & SEO

If nothing else, take this point away from reading this post: YOU MUST HAVE GOOD SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION STRATEGY IN PLACE BEFORE EMBARKING ON THE DSA JOURNEY. If you do not already have SEO in place, I would very strongly suggest either (a) investing your money into keyword-targeted campaigns, or (b) investing your money into implementing good SEO on your website.

Because the AdWords system uses your page content to determine relevancy and to dynamically generate a headline for your ad, it is essential that your title tags, URLs, header tags, and any other SEO elements are all optimized for quality performance. DSA is quickly becoming a new SEO nightmare.

If your pages are not SEO optimized there is no telling what search queries Google might serve your ads for. I cannot stress this enough!

Get SEO tips from our experts if you need help with search engine optimization.

• Not everyone is a good fit

It is not recommended that advertisers operating very small websites, daily deal sites, sites with customizable products, or third-party comparison shopping sites use Dynamic Search Ads. Google itself makes this expressly clear in speaking about Dynamic Search Ads. If you are one of these types of advertisers you should shy away from incorporating DSA into your paid search strategy.

Generally speaking, DSA should be reserved for advertisers whose sites host a large number of pages. These are sites with a number of products or services with pages that are frequently updated – perhaps because of stock status.

The Ugly

• Limited control yields unpredictable results

Don’t get me wrong, dynamic Search Ads do offer a number of ways to actively control when your ads are served, such as negative keywords and targeted exclusions (aka specific pages you don’t want served). The only problem is that you really, really, REALLY need to consider the dynamic ad targets that you select and how they will help you achieve your goals. The better defined your ad targets, the better your results will likely be.

However, the bottom line is that you’re putting Google in the driver’s seat of your campaign. The system will try to serve your ads at any time. If the dynamic ad targets you’ve select are not fine-tuned and you don’t have a thorough list of negative keywords and exclusions in place, then there’s no telling what results you will yield. JUST BE CAREFUL AND REVIEW YOUR CAMPAIGN PERFORMANCE OFTEN!

Good, Bad & Ugly of Dynamic Search Ads

Now my intention here isn’t to turn anyone off from using Dynamic Search Ads. It’s just incredibly important to understand that they are not great fit for all advertisers. Don’t blindly opt into DSA simply because the option is there. All things considered, I would at the very least recommend giving DSA a test run if you’re comfortable in doing so. Just keep my advice in mind before you get started.

Questions or comments? Post in the comment section below. In Part 2 of the DSA series we’ll cover general campaign set-up, creating dynamic ad targets & exclusions, and offer a few commonly used examples of dynamic ad targets. Stay tuned!