Google AdWords Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs): What You Should Know


Google rolled out yet another new AdWords feature last week: dynamic search ads.

The same day they announced the introduction of dynamic search ads, they also announced that AdWords Express was rolling out to the UK and Germany. Back in August I wrote about Google’s focus on display and talked about how:

You can learn a lot about marketing from Google, and if you’re in search marketing paying close attention to what Google says and what types of things they place emphasis on are vital to your livelihood. This is why Matt Cutts gets 350 comments on a post announcing a change in the algorithm that affects around 2% of queries, and it’s why search marketers have a much keener interest in Google Plus and its integration in SERPs, Webmaster Tools, et al than your average social network.

Similarly, if you head over to Google’s official AdWords blog you’ll see a lot of focus on small businesses, and in both AdWords Express and dynamic search ads we see a product focus on helping advertisers target a greater number of searchers without having to build out extensive campaign structures. Being aware of these types of themes is important, because typically they will start to seep into basically every area of the AdWords product.


So What Are Dynamic Search Ads and How Can I Use Them?

Google paranoia aside, what are AdWords dynamic search ads? Dynamic search ads represent a new way to target prospects without using keywords. The process is as follows:

  • You indicate to Google that you want to add all Webpages (which means any pages Google has crawled) OR
  • You indicate to Google that you want to add any of four different types of targets:
    • Category – This is not your categorization, but rather Google’s categorization of pages on your site and their perceived themes.
    • URL – You can target specific URLs or URL structures (i.e., subfolders that represent your own categorization).
    • Page Title – This pulls from the titles of your pages.
    • Page Content – This references the on-page content.
  • You indicate what you’d like to exclude by the means above.
  • You create headlineless ad copy (Google will dynamically generate a headline for you).
  • Google looks at your content and determines both what keywords to show your ad in response to and which landing page to send traffic to (as well as what your headline should be).

When Would it Make Sense to Use Dynamic Search Ads?

There are really a couple of use cases for dynamic search ads:

  • Smaller Advertisers – As with AdWords Express (or any advertising option, really) creating a dynamic search ads campaign might make sense if your spend is small, the campaign you create leveraging this technology is ROI efficient, and the management cost of setting up your own campaign would be a net negative, even if it were more profitable. If you’re spending a couple hundred dollars a month on pay-per-click, this very well may be you: give the campaign a try and see if it’s positive ROI for you. If it is and you’ve struggled with AdWords in the past, it may be worth letting this methodology run and focusing more on other areas of your business.
  • Keyword Discovery – For mid-sized to large advertisers the best use case is likely as a new angle for keyword expansion. By leveraging dynamic search ads to find keywords you might not have in your campaign and then leveraging the top performers (a la good old-fashioned search query mining) you can generate more, relevant traffic you might not have otherwise been aware of.

Potential Pitfalls with Dynamic Search Ads

The things you need to be cognizant of with this new option are:

  • ROI – As with broad match, AdWords location targeting, and several other AdWords features, ceding full control to Google frequently means optimal ROI for Google, but not always for you, the advertiser.
  • The Pages You’re Including – Be leery of which pages or groups of pages you’re including for consideration, as making pages available that would offer a poor landing page experience or irrelevant targeting could be costly.
  • Budget Allocation – If you are leveraging dynamic search ads for keyword discovery, be careful not to assign too much of your budget to an underperforming campaign.

As with nearly every AdWords feature, there are spots where dynamic search ads can be helpful (particularly for e-commerce advertisers), but you have to be careful to measure its effectiveness and use it carefully.

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Gargoyle Consulting
Oct 28, 2011

This can also be useful for certain e-commerce businesses with hundreds of thousands or millions of products.You can use the dynamic ads for individual products/part numbers/skus - saving the advertiser quite a lot of time building & maintaining those particular campaigns.

Uri - Performance Marketing
Nov 03, 2011

Competition increases per Click costs.  This is just another way for Google to make more money..  hats off to them..they have some really smart people...  I mean, why hire anyone to manage when it is sooo damn easy to do it yourself...At the end of the day this will INCREASE competition, increase per click costs.. increase the amount of time needed to spend on management and will revert back to companies like us to help with the management.. :-) ROI plays a big part in adwords... and frankly speaking this will hurt allot of people, but will eventally put more money in googles pockets..Fantastic strategy on Googles part... :-)Just makes pay for performance internet marketing that much more viable...  I love it..  

Nov 03, 2011

In some ways, dynamic ads are a bit like broad match where google picks the keywords for you, but instead of using a keyword to seed other keyword ideas, it's using a webpage. There are a couple of obvious problems with this if it is meant to target small businesses - like take for example, that they have crappy websites, and no idea what keywords to include in their website pages (which google is using as a signal for keyword selection). I think this could benefit websites that do SEO, for example, because they already have lots of content siloe'd into narrow / specific pages.What i'm wondering about this is:1) Long term, will this be a replacement for the current keyword-based advertising paradigm? or will it just be one more targeting option in addition to all of the targeting options that they have (keywords, placements, audiences, and now dynamic ads, etc).  I hope it's not a replacement because there are some nice benefits of both approaches (keyword based advertising and content based advertising).2) What happens to quality score. Quality score is related to how well the keywords align with the ad and landing page, which in turn affects click-through-rate. if Google is picking the keywords, auto-writing the ads, and (in theory) the keywords should be very related to the landing page (since google picked them) - all of the factors that influence click-through-rate are in their control. So, i guess you don't need this metric anymore..Anyway i'm getting access to the beta soon. who-hoo!!   

Mark Martel
Nov 03, 2011

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary about Dynamic Search Ads.I thought it might be helpful to clarify a few things about the positioning of AdWords Express and Dynamic Search Ads. Each has a different means of operation and are intended for different users. AdWords Express is intended to be the easiest way for local businesses to benefit from advertising on Google. We believe Dynamic Search Ads will offer the greatest potential benefit for advertisers operating at mid-to-large scale who are using AdWords already, but find it challenging to keep their keywords, ads, and landing pages in sync with everything they're selling on their web site -- and they'd like to get more high quality search traffic to grow their business. DSA may be successfully used by smaller advertisers, as well, but that's something we hope to learn more about as it's used by more advertisers in the beta.To address a couple of Larry's questions: Dynamic Search Ads were designed from the beginning to be 100% complementary to keyword-based targeting. Keywords won't disappear, in my personal opinion, unless there are clear benefits to both end users (i.e., searchers) and advertisers to doing so. As far as Quality Score goes, it's worth mentioning that Quality Scores for Dynamic Search Ads are tracked independently from keyword-based campaigns, and they do not affect one another. As you point out, though, there's no immediate visibility into the QS for Dynamic Search Ads at this time. There are some self-tuning mechanisms built into DSA to help prevent low quality ads from serving for the benefit of both users and advertisers, and as we proceed with the beta, we may be able to share more details about this in the future.To learn more about DSA or sign up for the beta, please talk to your agency, your Google rep, or visit our Inside AdWords blog post announcing the feature. And if you try it, please share your feedback! We're listening.Mark MartelAdWords Product Marketing

Tom Demers
Nov 04, 2011

Hi Mark,Thanks for the clarifications and for reading! Tom

Daniel Benton
Nov 28, 2011

My take is that this product is Googles entry level alternative to using data feed driven tools from vendors like Kenshoo to semi automate targeting long tail / product SKU specific keywords. Given the global migration to e-commerce it could be a smart way of developing direct relationships with less savvy advertisers by making it easy to advertise all of their product content. If DSA's deliver an OK ROI I can see this prodct being a hit with less seasoned adwords advertisers. 

Dec 09, 2013

Can anyone tell me if they are seeing an avg pos. better than 6.3 for DSA's? I am finding that my position is low. Im also seeing that my QS is low comparitivly. Any suggestions on optimizing these ads to get a better QS and position?  I feel that becouse its so much is automated that i would be able to make enough adjustments to the ads to imporve my ROI? Any Suggestions?

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