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It's Time to Give Dynamic Search Ads Another Try

by Charles Moehnke   |   Jun 08, 2018

If you’ve been in paid search marketing for a while you’ve no doubt heard of Dynamic Search Ads, or DSAs. You may have even tried them years ago when Google was pushing them as a way to plug the holes in your keyword targeting when really all they seemed to do was flush your budget down said hole.

Jaded as you may be (and I clearly was), if you haven’t picked DSAs back up recently, it’s time to give them another chance.

For the uninitiated, Dynamic Search Ads are an ad format available in both Google and Bing that leverage content on your page to both target search queries relevant to your page content and to build headlines dynamically. All you need to write are the descriptions and Google takes care of the rest.

Sounds great, right? Well, it can be.

Dynamic search ads are easy to set up and meant for websites with a large number of pages. Have 1 million products and need to get ads up for them this week? DSAs are great way to go. Have new pages going live and don’t want to miss out on advertising them while you build out keyword targeting? DSAs are a great option.

They are not good, however, if the content on your pages is changing every day or your website is built with thin content. For a full rundown on how to set them up and the basics on their use, I recommend reading the Adwords FAQ on them.

But how do DSAs fit into a mature AdWords account?

In the early days of DSAs, performance of these campaigns often lagged behind that of traditional campaigns with keyword targeting. Over the last several years, however, Google’s machine learning abilities have vastly improved, allowing these ads to outperform even some of the most well-tested keyword campaigns. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help make DSAs work for you even if you have a well established AdWords or Bing account.

Have Solid SEO

The first and most crucial key to successful DSA campaigns is having a solid SEO foundation on the website you’re advertising. Page titles, H1s, page content and meta-information are what power both the dynamic ad creation and the query targeting, so it is critically important that your website have detailed and relevant information on each and every page. Google will also need to crawl your site to create these campaigns, so make sure your site is easily and efficiently crawled by search engines.

Use Your Targets

While set up for these campaigns is relatively simple, it’s important to leverage page targeting to maximize campaign performance. Google lets you target pages by a variety of criteria, including page URLs, page content, page titles, and Google-created categories. You can find the full list of targeting capabilities here.

Identify logical categories of pages, figure out how best to target them, and design your ad descriptions around these categories. Be very careful as you can often inadvertently target unintended pages, especially when looking at on-page content. Keep in mind that content in the header or footer is still part of the page, as are ‘recommended items’ or other cross-selling content.

When planning your structure, keep in mind that DSAs are designed to cover large numbers of individual pages. Targets need to meet a minimum number of pages in order to serve ads. This number varies between websites depending on the size of the website itself and Google does not reveal exactly how it is determined, so try not to be too granular.

As I mentioned earlier, Google needs to crawl the site to create these targets. This means there will be a delay before ads are eligible to serve or when pages are added to targets once the campaign targets are set up. This delay is usually just a day or two for Google, though we have seen the delay take more than a week for Bing. If you still do not see traffic coming into your campaigns after setting up your targets and waiting for the site to be crawled, check out this page for troubleshooting tips.

Negate

As with any paid search campaign, there will be pages and queries you don’t want to advertise on. Targets can be added as exclusions, so be sure to negate any pages that won’t convert. This can include careers pages, out of stock pages, high funnel blog posts, etc. Negations can also be used to direct traffic from one campaign or ad group to another for tighter control of messaging.

And don’t stop with page exclusions. Negative keywords work for DSA campaigns as well, so exclude any search queries you know are not relevant or converting for your business. This is even more important with DSAs than with standard keyword campaigns as you are basically giving Google free range to broadly target any content on your page.

One other thing to keep in mind: Google does state that they will try to serve exact match queries to any exact match keywords in your account, but DSA ads will compete for rank with any other keyword match type within your account. We do suggest taking a look at what queries are coming in and adding negatives for search queries you want served by your other campaigns. For more information on how DSA ads are ranked, go here.

Supercharging Your Results

Still having trouble finding success with Dynamic Search Ads? Already using them successfully but want to get more out of them? Try these techniques to get the most out of you DSAs.

Test layering them with enhanced bidding options

Don’t be afraid to add some machine learning to that machine learning. Whether it be CPA Bidding, Maximize Conversions or Maximize Clicks, these enhanced bidding options can really take off when paired with Dynamic Search Ads.

As an example, we worked with a CPG account that saw great results when converting to DSAs from an already successful keyword targeting strategy. CPCs dropped dramatically just from the switch, allowing us to expand our reach significantly. Once we began incorporating automated bidding strategies, however, we saw another 40% drop in CPCs, really taking the campaign to the next level.

Limit DSA campaigns to remarketing lists

Finding that your conversion rates are too low on DSAs? Try targeting them only to RLSA audiences. While these long tail pages may not convert well with first time buyers, those already familiar with you are far more likely to convert, and by appearing in a wide variety of queries you keep your brand top-of-mind and prevent the competition from swooping in and stealing your valuable customers.

Upload custom URL lists and categories

Having trouble defining targets based on the standard page filters? Try setting up a custom page feed. This allows you to label your URLs with information that may not be readily targetable on the website, including sales rank, new release status, premium services, well-reviewed content, high margin products, etc. Setting up a recurring feed takes a little development, but you can upload manually for a one-time proof of concept to see if this strategy will work for you, then take it from there.

Dynamic Search Ads have come a long way and, when used wisely, can be a valuable asset to many accounts. I hope this article has given you some ideas on ways you can try them out yourself. If you’re currently using them in ways we haven’t mentioned, why not share in the comments below? We’re always searching for new ideas!

portrait of Charles Moehnke

Charles Moehnke

Charles joined the Workshop Digital team in 2017. He has over a decade of digital and traditional marketing experience across a wide variety of channels, including paid search, display, email marketing, SEO, affiliate marketing, direct marketing & print marketing. Having spent years as a member of the leadership team for a top 500 e-retailer, he is keenly focused on providing fantastic data-driven results tailored to his client’s business goals.

Charles received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and earned a master’s degree in music from the San Francisco Conservatory. He continues to pursue his love of music while also taking the time to hike, play tennis, and simply enjoy the beautiful state of Virginia.