Google advertising has a wide array of solutions for different business sizes, different industries and all the audiences you could ever want to reach.
Unfortunately for larger businesses, particularly big e-commerce companies, building and maintaining campaigns can be especially time-consuming. With all the bid strategies, targeting, remarketing, search, display and shopping methods, it can be challenging for any PPC manager to give campaigns the attention they deserve to really succeed. When it comes to companies with large stocks, even the basic building block tasks of creating the ads and keyword lists can add considerable time to account building and maintenance.
Fortunately, Google has advanced solutions for this precise predicament and one of them is dynamic search ads. Dynamic search ads offer increased automation for those looking to shave some time off ad building and keyword list development.
What are dynamic search ads?
For Google advertising on the search network you can use a number of targeting methods, including geographic and demographic targeting but primarily targeting is focused on user queries. That is the whole point of search marketing, it is related to users actively looking for products and/or services by searching certain words or phrases. This means building keyword lists is a major aspect of PPC on the search network.
Some businesses with a wide range of products to market have enormous keyword lists. Even when they have conducted thorough research there is plenty of room to miss crucial terms, thanks to the far-reaching ways people use language, combined with their large stock.
Dynamic search ads work to solve this problem. Instead of relying on your keyword lists, Google AdWords can crawl your site directly and link relevant user queries to the right content on your website.
When using dynamic search ads, advertisers input their website domain and Google AdWords will target your ads to search queries based on relevant terms discovered on your website. It chooses the landing page on your site most relevant to the queries and dynamically generates relevant ad copy headlines to make the ads as relevant as possible to the language of the user.
This process is very useful for advertisers, since a large proportion of the keyword list, landing page selection ad copy creation is automated. With keyword targeting matched to landing pages and ad copy headlines taken care of, this can significantly cut down on campaign build time.
Dynamic search ads give greater control to Google when it comes to targeting, however advertisers can add criteria to help retain control of their dynamic search campaigns.
While Google AdWords can use your entire website to tailor ads and keyword targeting, you also have the choice to specify particular pages as well. This is advantageous for businesses only looking to push certain site categories, products or services.
You can segregate content on your website for Google advertising with dynamic search ads by URL string, product/service category, page title or by words in your page content.
Dynamic search ads may introduce more automation into your core campaign structure but they do offer plenty of transparency as well. When monitoring your Google advertising campaigns, you can easily review the kind of search terms that are generating your ads in the search terms report and the dynamic headlines crafted by Google in your auto targeting tab.
Watch the video below to discover how dynamic search ads work in greater depth:
Should you use dynamic search ads?
Dynamic search ads can offer many advantages but there are weaknesses to this strategy as well. It is definitely not the right tactic for every business and only companies with the right structure should embark upon this type of ad targeting.
Many businesses mistakenly choose dynamic search ads because they want to save time on keyword lists and ad creation but for many businesses, the manual approach is best. Proper keyword research helps to make your targeting and ads as relevant as possible and we know that greater relevancy to users means a better chance of conversions.
Google advertising is constantly becoming smarter and more advanced. With progress, each strategy choice gains more benefits and fewer drawbacks but most techniques will suit certain industries, company sizes or business models over others. This is equally true of dynamic search ads. Dynamic search ads are highly suited to large e-commerce businesses or comparison sites or service companies that all contain enormous inventories.
Dynamic search ads are all about scale and efficiency. There is often a trade-off between greater automation and greater control. With greater control, you gain more details and granular understanding of your campaigns, allowing you to refine every aspect for most relevancy. Unfortunately, due to the limits of the human brain, you will always be limited when it comes to applying the approach at great scale. Automation provides greater scale and efficiency but some control is always lost.
Large inventory companies will need to choose scale and efficiency over granular control, otherwise they will never be able to effectively market all their products or services. Smaller businesses do not need to do this and will actually benefit from a more manual, controlled approach, which allows the design of every ad to be tested and tailored for your audience and keyword.
This means that only large inventory companies with several hundred or even thousands of products should really be using dynamic search ads. This is plain to see when we closely analyze the advantages and disadvantages of dynamic search ads.
The benefits of dynamic search ads
1) Dynamic search ads save time – Dynamic search ads are a big-time saver for some businesses who just cannot feasibly design keyword lists and ads to cover all their products.
2) They are perfect for sites with frequently changing content – If you have a website where prices change or products come in and out of stock regularly, it can be challenging to maintain consistency with your Google ads. With dynamic search ads, Google recrawls your website to gather the necessary information and so it can react to changes onsite. This makes maintaining consistency for customers much more practical.
3) They can help with experiments and keyword research – Not only are dynamic search ads efficient, they can also improve your keyword research to help with other standard search campaigns. Even if you have created an extensive keyword list, human error, our extensive use of language and large inventories mean there are likely to be missed opportunities. Dynamic search ad campaigns can use your site to reveal new potential target keywords. Therefore, even if you prefer to then go back to the granular control of a standard campaign, the dynamic search campaign will have been a worthwhile experiment for expanding your keyword list.
4) You can reach a bigger audience – Since the dynamic search ad method connects user queries directly with the relevant pages on your site and bypasses a human made keyword list, it can potentially reach a much larger audience. The dynamically generated, highly relevant headline can also attract users with keyword combinations you may not have considered.
5) It is helpful for customers too – In some ways dynamic search ads can improve the user experience. While a manual approach can bring greater tailoring to the ad copy, the automation aspect of dynamic search ads means your landing pages can more closely match their queries. If you use your whole website for dynamic search ads, Google is in a good position to provide the most relevant page for the consumer, helping them to find exactly what they are looking for faster.
6) You can specify all or some of your site to be used – Although dynamic search ads do mean allowing Google to take greater control of your campaign, it does offer some decent control methods by allowing advertisers to specify the relevant pages or content types for the campaign. This makes it easy to focus on only the products and services you wish to market while excluding irrelevant pages.
7) Dynamic search ads can deliver lower CPC – Dynamic search ads work very well for long-tail queries, which typically have a lower CPC, due to less competition. Owing to the nature of dynamic search ads matching real user queries to your site, they adapt to long-tail terms well. The variation of long-tail terms in human language is harder to predict with a pre-created list.
8) For the right businesses type, dynamic search ads can be very effective – Theoretical benefits are all well and good but they mean little to advertisers if they go unproven. Fortunately for Google, dynamic search ads have shown evidence of being successful. Back when dynamic search ads were first launched, Google claimed the initial pilot tests showed 5 – 10% more clicks and conversions for the ads compared to standard search ads. They also pointed out the big advantage dynamic search campaigns would have in a market where 16% of searches have never been conducted before.
Following this, Search Engine Land found some fascinating positive correlations in their own dynamic search ad tests. While the initial conversion results were low, the campaigns produced a much lower CPC and a greater ROI over the long term:
The results of these tests can, therefore, be disheartening at first but as the campaigns run and are cultivated they can be highly lucrative.
Take a look at the following video from Google for even more reasons why dynamic search ads are perfect for large inventory companies.
The disadvantages of dynamic search ads
By analysing the strengths of dynamic search ads, we can also immediately see how some of the campaign features are weaknesses for other business models.
1) Loss of controlled targeting for keywords –The highly automated approach removes a degree of control when it comes to keyword targeting. There are many reasons why even a large company would want to run a more specific campaign with highly focused keywords, rather than just any vaguely relevant terms to their landing pages. Smaller businesses can afford the time to build out keyword lists and AdGroups in more detail. They do not require the same scale and so should avoid dynamic search ads. Search Engine Land has wittily referred to dynamic search ads as “broad match for your landing pages” and akin to a text version of shopping ads. This is quite an appropriate description, since shopping ads also do not use targeted keywords and rely on attribution labels, like dynamic search ads rely on website content. Broad match for landing pages is also cleverly apt thanks to the loss of control over the keyword relationship to the landing page.
2) Loss of bid control – AdWords suggests bid amounts for each category pulled from your site. You can quickly increase or decrease the bid percentage for a category. This is handy for efficiency but it makes it harder to have manual bid control over your most valuable keywords.
3) Greater potential for irrelevant traffic – Thanks to the loss of keyword and bid control, dynamic search ads open your campaign up to the potential for higher levels of irrelevant traffic. This could be one of the reasons Search Engine Land found initial conversion levels far lower than the standard search campaigns. If dynamic search ads do open your campaign up to irrelevant searches this will quickly waste your budget.
4) Initially high maintenance – One of the biggest weaknesses of dynamic search ads are the areas of increased maintenance for PPC managers. The main purpose of dynamic search ads is to make things easier and faster for advertisers. However, due to the loss of control and increased risk of irrelevant traffic, PPC managers have to initially spend more time monitoring the campaign to guard against irrelevant search terms generating ads, as well as inappropriate headlines.
5) General descriptions – The ad copy headlines are automatically generated for dynamic search ads but the descriptions are not. The descriptions for these ads still need to be manual created. While at first glance this may appear to add back a modicum of control, it means that chosen the descriptions can easily be unsuitable or irrelevant to the dynamically generated headline or campaigns end up with highly generic descriptions.
6) Strange headlines – The method of dynamically creating ad headlines from queries and landing pages can be very effective and make ads seem more relevant to queries but algorithms often fail to appreciate the nuance in language and meaning that humans do. The result is that occasionally some very strangely worded headlines can be generated.
7) Dynamic search ads don’t perform as well as they should for rapidly changing sites – On first appearances, dynamic search ads seem perfect for big companies that have rapidly changing stock and content that needs its messages in ads to be consistent with its onsite content. However, despite the ability to change ads to match site content, Google also explicitly states that they are not suitable for sites with very rapidly changing content e.g. sites with daily deals, because of the time it takes to crawl the site. This seem a strange and counter intuitive problem that goes against the very point of these dynamic ads.
As we can see, if you are a small business, lead generation business or any company with a small selection of products, dynamic search ads are best avoided. If you have a massive inventory, then dynamic search ads could be a life saver when it comes to your campaign building. Google claims that it isn’t just standard retails store that are benefiting, big tourism comparison sites like Booking.com are also among those who have improved their Google advertising with dynamic search ads.
Dynamic search ads could be well worth a try if:
- You have a large inventory
- A deep site (a site with many pages)
- Are looking to greatly expand your keyword list
- Your site content is mainly inventory
- You have shifting product offerings across the seasons
If your website does not meet these criteria then dynamic search ads are likely not right for you.
Dynamic search ad campaigns are also only suited to very well optimized and carefully structured websites. If your site structure, content, SEO or site architecture has room for improvement, it is best to address this first, since Google uses your site to guide the whole campaign targeting and ads.
From our analysis, we can now see which business structures and websites will be most suited to dynamic search ads and which companies should choose other strategies.
Dynamic search ads vs Google Shopping?
It is clear that big retailers are one of the main business types intended for dynamic search ads but would they not be better off using Google Shopping? In some ways, dynamic search ads and Google Shopping are similar because they allow large retailers to add efficiency and scale to Google advertising, without getting stuck in the creation of enormous keyword lists. Since they both offer this advantage but Google Shopping also leverages the power of visuals, is it not clearly the stronger candidate?
For some advertisers Google Shopping should be the way to go but for others not necessarily. If you have an inventory structure that lends itself well to creating a product data sheet easily, then Google Shopping is a good option but at times this can also be tricky and time-consuming. Advertisers have to think carefully about the additional product attributes they must add to get the best optimization for Google Shopping. Dynamic search ads can further cut down on admin time by just taking the information directly from the website.
However, if you have highly visual products, Google Shopping clearly should be on your radar but not all retailers have beautiful products. There are many practical items that are not attractive but necessary and in this case imagery doesn’t hold as much weight.
Google Shopping and dynamic search ads both have their merits for big inventory retailers and many will incorporate both into their PPC strategies. By leveraging both Google Shopping and dynamic search ads, advertisers can reach a much wider range of users. Some users will give preference to Google Shopping, while others will be more familiar with standard search results.
Thanks to recent legal mishaps for Google with the EU, we could potentially see an increase in big retailers using dynamic search ads over Google Shopping. The recent lawsuit and potential changes coming to Google Shopping could leave some advertisers cautious and uncertain, which could, in turn, boost dynamic search ad use as an alternative, at least for any large companies who had been using Google Shopping targeted at EU countries.
How to implement a dynamic search campaign
If you have decided a dynamic search ad campaign is the right approach for your business head to your AdWords dashboard and select the red + campaign button:
Choose a search network only campaign:
Pick dynamic search ads for your features:
Add your domain name. You will automatically be setup for targeting all your web pages but this can be altered when it comes to your AdGroup creation later. It is important to bear in mind that using all web pages means less control but more opportunities to reach a new audience.
Now fill out your campaign settings just as you would for a standard search campaign. In AdGroup creation you will find that Google AdWords is already suggesting categories for you to target based on the content sections on your website. You can choose to accept or ignore any of these and they will help target your campaign to the right users.
Now you can either leave the settings as targeting all web pages or select certain web pages to be used for the dynamic ads.
The pages can be chosen by URL string, page titles and more. Don’t forget to add your own descriptions when designing the ads.
When it comes to the ads, you don’t have to worry about the headlines but you should still create a variety of ads to test different descriptions. Google will helpfully suggest bid amounts but you should give highest bid priorities to your most valuable categories and adjust to best performers as campaign data starts to roll in.
Improvements to dynamic search ads
Dynamic search ads have their weaknesses but like every other Google AdWords product they are constantly being improved to become more useful to advertisers. Dynamic search ads first appeared on the scene all the way back in 2011. They aren’t a new feature but recently they have become more useful. Since their launch, AdWords added the automated category targeting for transparency and ease of control for advertisers. More recently in March 2017, dynamic search ads welcomed quality engagements, page feeds and expanded ads. Page feeds are probably the biggest improvement as they offer advertisers more control and combat some of the criticisms that dynamic search ads are too broad in their targeting.
Page feeds make dynamic search ads even more like shopping ads but these feeds work by telling Google exactly which pages to use. If you wanted to target one category but exclude several pages and only use several product pages from another category that is now not a problem. You can simply upload a page feed in the shared library:
Just click Business Data:
Then click the red + data button:
Choose page feeds and then upload your documents. Your spreadsheet must contain a page URL and a custom label.
Now head back to your campaign and go to the settings tab:
Scroll down to dynamic search ads and expand, then click edit:
Select to use one of your page feeds and then save:
The new page feeds feature is already a big hit and Google has cited Hot Pepper Beauty, as one of the first major companies to benefit from them, by reducing their campaign management time by 90%.
You can now target site content by page feeds, by URL strings, titles and even by how many reviews a product has or by availability etc. This makes dynamic search ads far more flexible and more controllable.
How to get the most out of dynamic search campaigns
If you are new to dynamic search ads and worried about the increased automation for your keyword targeting, there are a few tactics which can help you launch an effective campaign.
1) Use exclusions – Since you are relinquishing control, you will need to curb that potential irrelevant traffic with exclusions. You already know how to review your search terms report from your experience with standard search campaigns. Initially you will need to keep a firm eye on your search terms report and add any strange queries to your negative keyword list.
Although Google recommends targeting all web pages for greatest reach this is usually a bad idea. By targeting specific pages by title, URL string or by page feed you can exclude any web pages that are going to attract unnecessary but related search queries. Carefully review your website and select only the most relevant pages to your campaign goals to target for the best results. If you would like to use Google advertising on all your products it is still a good to use these selection methods to exclude blogs, about sections, career pages and other non-transactional web pages from the campaign.
Head to your auto targets tab:
Scroll down to exclusions and expand:
Choose a method of exclusion e.g. page content, category or URL:
Specify your exclusion criteria:
If you have found any keywords in standard search campaigns to be ineffective and paused them, then you should add these terms to your dynamic search campaign negative keyword list. Google will still be crawling your site thinking the terms are relevant and attempting to fill in the gaps. By adding it to the negative keyword list you will reduce budget waste.
To find out more about the value and importance of exclusions in dynamic search ads campaigns watch the following video guide from Google:
2) Ensure a well optimised site – Since Google will be crawling your site to find relevant terms and landing pages, the site needs to be in tip top shape and not just on one landing page. Make sure your content and SEO is up to scratch and in line with your PPC objectives.
3) Write great descriptions – Remember ad copy descriptions are not dynamically generated. These come from you but could be paired with a wide array of headlines, so you need to think carefully about them and plan them well. Be sure to choose language highly relevant to the category that will make sense in various scenarios without sounding too vague.
4) Make sure you use the right website format – Google will be crawling your site to create keyword targeting and ads, so make the process as easy as possible. If you have a lot of dynamically generated content onsite this could be an issue when Google crawls it.
5) Dynamic search ads work well with automated bidding strategies – With the enhanced targeting automisation, you will want to make sure the campaign is always in keeping with your business goals. Large inventories make manual bidding challenging, so opting for an automated bidding strategy like CPA, ROAS or eCPC can keep your budget under control while pushing for conversions.
6) Build plenty of AdGroups for different targets – Just like a regular search campaign the more you specify your targeting the more relevancy you will achieve, thereby driving conversions. Separating out AdGroups by the most valuable product categories will help you bid more aggressively on them. You should also make sure you have separate groups for every category type. More AdGroups also allow you to more easily craft relevant and varied ad descriptions. Defining more AdGroups is the best way to organise and increase the accuracy of your campaign to correlate with user query behaviour. To understand the importance of defining separate AdGroups by category in greater detail take a quick look at the following tutorial video:
7) Don’t neglect ad extensions – Just because your ad headline is automated doesn’t mean you can’t improve ads by making them even more helpful to users. Embrace all the extensions you would normally use in your search campaigns like location extensions, call extensions, callouts and more, just make sure they are relevant to your category.
8) Don’t neglect other targeting – Don’t forget this is still a search campaign. You still have all the powerful extra targeting capabilities you had in a regular search campaign. You can make your targeting even more relevant to user behaviour by including geographic targeting, demographic targeting, day parting, device bid adjustment, auto bid strategies and remarketing.
9) Don’t make targeting too narrow – If you are using page feeds, don’t go too narrow and limit your reach by only specifying a couple of pages with low content amounts. One of the main benefits of dynamic search ads is to open the campaign to new potential keywords.
10) Use the right ads – If your campaign isn’t working properly make sure you entered your domain correctly and that when you build an ad make sure to select dynamic search ad not text ad:
11) Try combining dynamic search ads with RLSA – If you are concerned about initially low conversion volume with dynamic search ads, as Search Engine Land’s tests found, you could try adding remarketing lists for search ads. This combination proves particularly effective as you can show dynamic ads that our highly relevant to the queries of those who have already shown an interest in your site. These users are more likely to convert and this adds an extra edge to your ads:
The following chart from Wordstream shows how it rapidly improved conversion rates:
This strategic combo will also help to mitigate the problem of irrelevant traffic and industry leaders Wordstream have tested it to great effect. They believe that dynamic search ad campaigns used in conjunction with RLSA can provide a 109% higher CTR, 75% lower CPC and 159% higher conversion rate.
The following chart shows some of their impressive results for CTR with a dynamic search ads and RLSA combo campaign, compared to a regular dynamic search ad campaign:
In the following chart, you can see the results also beat a standard RLSA campaign:
The combo also beat standard RLSA and standard dynamic search ad campaigns for ROI:
The following video explains a little more about how extra targeting like RLSA can be a big boost for the potential of dynamic search ad campaigns:
If you have the right business model for dynamic search ads, you will now be ready to test and run a highly optimized campaign and save yourself valuable time on campaign building, leaving you more time to focus on new strategies.