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A Guide to Dynamic Search Ads

Published: June 9, 2016

Author: Evan Routzong

One of the biggest challenges in search marketing is being able to scale efficiently. Of course everyone is happy when you hit your stride in optimizing the account and your search campaigns are bringing in highly relevant traffic at a favorable low cost – that’s a great first step! But we all know what the topic of the following week’s agenda will be: How to now scale up efficiently and maintain that favorable ROAS?
Easier said than done. There are a number of initiatives that work well for driving additional volume, and one initiative that I’ve found very valuable is using Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) in AdWords.

What are Dynamic Search Ads?

DSAs are dynamically-generated text ads that utilize Google’s organic web-crawling technology to automatically target relevant search queries based on your website content. When a user’s search is relevant, Google will dynamically generate an ad with a headline that includes words from the user’s search phrase and your landing page in the ad.
I like to think of DSAs as the text ad equivalent to Product Listing Ads (PLAs); while PLAs leverage the Google Merchant Center feed to determine whether certain products will show, DSAs are leveraging real-time details from your landing pages. In my experience, the algorithm works quite well, but there are a few things to consider before diving in.

Who should use DSAs?

DSAs work best with deeper websites (lots of unique landing pages). A company that has many product offerings would benefit from DSAs because Google is able to link user queries with specific product pages rather than a home page or general landing page. DSAs can be especially helpful for any site where inventory is changing (new products released, old products discontinued, etc.). Rather than having to manually update your ads to reflect these constant changes, you can leverage DSA to stay current.
Since DSAs rely heavily on your landing page content, sites that are well-optimized with title tags and H1’s will perform best, helping match queries with the relevant product/landing page.

Pros and Cons of DSAs


Keyword Coverage – One of the main advantages to using DSAs is the ability to capture traffic you don’t currently have keyword coverage for. Chances are you’ve got yourself covered on all the main volume-driving terms, but this curbs the risk of other highly-relevant traffic slipping through the cracks.
Extended Headlines – Another great advantage of DSAs is the looser character limitations. Headlines are dynamically generated based on a combination of the user’s search query and your most relevant landing page, although they are not restricted to 25 characters like normal text ads – you’ll get a little extra real estate there, which always helps!
Greater Time Efficiency – As we all know, managing extensive keyword lists can be a demanding task. DSA eases a bit of this demand, allowing you to focus on higher-maintenance campaigns while it captures valuable traffic and data.
Automatic Updates to Ads – Google’s web-crawling technology recognizes any time you make changes to your website and will update dynamic search ads accordingly.


Control – With DSA, you lose some of the control you’re used to having with other targeting methods, and you’re putting a little more faith in Google’s algorithms. The good news is that DSA has come a long way since its release back in 2011, and many in the paid search realm will attest to the value it can provide if properly managed.

Strategy & How to Set up

Setting up a DSA campaign is pretty straight-forward, and you’ll want to customize targeting based on your website’s structure.

  • Create ‘Search Network Only’ Campaign, and select Dynamic Search Adsimage002 
  • Create Your Ad Groups based on the website structure – smart segmentation here is important as it will allow you to tailor your ad copy appropriately. For example, a site selling apparel might consider creating separate ad groups for each category of clothing they offer (hats, shirts, pants, etc.), and even further segmenting to men’s & women’s.A fairly new feature you’ll find is Google’s recommended categories, which are created based on the structure of your site and the products/services you offer. Along with the recommended category, you’ll find a suggested bid, which is created based on the performance of existing keywords targeting similar queries. If you agree with the segmentation created by Google, these automated suggestions take a bit of the busy work out of this campaign setup. You can also preview a few versions of what your ad may look like in this section (notice the lengthy Headlines!).DSA is best paired with Conversion Optimizer or Target CPA bidding. By setting your ROI targets, you can ensure that you will continue to hit your CPA goals even as you expand your campaign reach and as the content on your site changes.


  • Create Ads. You still have full control over both description lines and the Display URL, so take advantage of your ad group segmentation and use ad copy that makes sense for each category. As mentioned above, the Headline text will be automatically generated by Google based on a combination of the user’s search query and the title of your landing page that was matched with the query.Note: Continue A/B testing ad copy here just as you would with other Search campaigns.image005
  • Increase control with Dynamic Ad Target Exclusions. The approach for adding exclusions can vary depending on the type of business you’re promoting and the structure of the site. You can add dynamic exclusions based on Category, Page Content, Page Title, or URL. A general rule would be to begin by excluding all URLs within your site that you don’t want to drive paid traffic to, or don’t drive conversions – for example: the company blog, contact page, or ‘about us’ page.Page Content exclusions are also useful tool if you run out of inventory on a certain item and don’t want to send users to that product page since they can’t purchase. You could simply add a page content exclusion “sold out” or “out of stock,” and if Google finds this content on any of your landing pages, they will be excluded from DSAs.image006
  • Add Negative Keywords. As with any other search campaign, adding negative keywords is an essential step toward setting up and optimizing DSAs – you’ll want to begin by adding your Irrelevant terms Neg list, which typically lives at the account level in the Shared Library and can be applied to any campaign.Note: while negative keyword mapping should be used in almost all other search campaigns in order to properly route traffic (e.g. Brand or Alpha campaigns), it is not necessary for DSA campaigns. If a search pings any of your keywords exactly, DSA will not compete in auction as long as it’s within the same AdWords account. However, DSA does have the ability to show instead of your keyword-targeted ads when the search is broad or phrase, and the DSA has a higher Ad Rank.

Continued Optimization

DSA has some great automation, but don’t set it and forget it! Since it captures a lot of longer-tail terms, there will inevitably be some mismatched queries. The most important tool for optimization of DSA campaigns will be the Search Terms Report. You should regularly check your search terms report to identify potential irrelevant keywords, raise bids on performing pages, and add poor performing pages and search queries as negative targets. You can also leverage the Category Report for a higher-level look at performance.
For more a few interesting case studies and more details and instructions on setting up Dynamic Search Ads, visit the AdWords Help Center. Google also has a recorded webinar available.

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