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The Complete Guide to Dynamic Search Ads

The Complete Guide to Dynamic Search Ads

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

In case you’re wondering, Dynamic Search Ads allows you to dynamically create and show ads for pages in your website without using keywords. This is made possible by Google’s organic web crawling technology which scrapes your website’s content to match it to user’s search queries and then deliver a dynamically generated ad with a headline based on the query and the text of the most relevant landing page. One could say that it’s almost as a SEO based PPC campaign.

DSAs received plenty of criticism in their inception, maybe because you have to relinquish some of the campaigns’ control to AdWords;  but they are still a powerful way to capture those illusive queries that fall between gaps of regular search campaigns – not to speak of those 15% of daily searches that have not been seen before.

DSAs can effectively help you scale your campaigns, assisting with your keyword mining, and when well-managed, deliver very good results (not to mention the low workload they impose if set up properly).

Before getting started

DSAs objective is to complement your keyword-based campaigns, not replace them. That being said, there are also other factors to consider before moving forward:

  • DSAs work best with websites with lots of unique landing pages (e.g. retail websites that feature a range of different products or services).
  • DSAs rely heavily on landing page content, therefore, it’s important that the website is well optimised with title tags and H1s, good content describing the product/service, and clear ‘Calls to Action’.
  • If your website domain contains pages in multiple languages, and if you want to target all of these pages, then you should create a new campaign for each language.

Getting started

You’ll start by creating a Search Network only campaign and then selecting Dynamic Search Ads, and entering your website, language and targeting source:


After setting the remaining options, like bid strategy, budget, schedule, and so on, you’re taken to the ad group set up, which is where you’ll decide on how you’ll target your ads to customers:


It’s at this stage that you’ll determine your campaign structure/segmentation:

  • Target categories (one category in each ad group): Google’s recommendation is based on your website, which basically groups different pages into categories to be used as landing page targets. Here’s an example of some suggestions for our own website, in which Google still has a say on which pages will be used as targets.3
  • Target all web pages (all pages in one ad group): every single web page will be used as a landing page.


  • Target specific web pages (one or more pages per ad group, in which you have control over the pages that are going to be used as landing pages and targeting options:


As you can see, you can better tailor which pages are going to be used as landing pages with the 3rd option. This also allows you to created more relevant ad copy, according to the content of the pages you’ve explicitly chosen to target. So, instead of creating a general ad, as you would have to for the “all pages” and “recommended” options, you can now create ad copy which is highly relevant to the targeted pages.

Note that if you choose just a few pages for each category, you can substantially narrow down the content that serves as the targeting basis for the ad group; this might render the DSA useless. You should also bear in mind that the only part of the ad that you have control over is the description and display URL, while the headline is generated automatically based on the landing page content and the search query. So, the rule of thumb regarding structure is going as broad as possible while making sure that you’re still able to write ads that are specific enough for the audience.


If you’re worried about the headlines that Google is writing for you, fret not, you can easily check them in the search terms report of the Auto targets tab. Obviously, you can’t do much about it besides editing page titles/H1s on your website.

Optimisation and best practices

Although one of the main benefits of a DSA is the automation aspect of it, you shouldn’t set it up and forget it. In fact, there are quite a few things that will largely improve its performance. Here’s some of the most important ones:

  • Target exclusions: invariably there are sections of your website that you don’t want to target, particularly if you set up the DSA to target all pages. Some examples could be the “about us”, or the company’s blog, or for that matter, any page for which you don’t want to pay for displaying ads. These can be added by URL, page content, page title or even category, in the Auto targets tab. An obvious exclusion, especially for e-commerce websites, is the “sold out / out of stock / unavailable” pages. Other pages might include “/login/”, “/member/”, etc.
  • Negative keywords: this is not different from any other search campaign, but considering that DSAs are basically a broad match type of campaign, reviewing the search terms report is essential. To save yourself some work, add your shared negative lists to it. Then routinely review the search terms report and build up your negatives.
  • Test bidding options: with no keywords to bid on, although you can set bids at target level, you can test the different auto bidding options provided by AdWords. If you’re not sure which option is the best, make use of the AdWords experiments and test the different bid strategies available.


Remarketing lists can improve your search campaigns’ results, and typically, RLSAs perform better in terms of ROI, albeit having a smaller reach.

You can leverage the power of remarketing and add your audiences in the “Audiences” tab. Just click the “+Remarketing” button and set your targeted audiences as you would do for any other RLSAs, bearing in mind not to overlook the target and bid options.

After all is set up (and as in for any new campaign), just follow its performance and optimise where necessary.

Final thoughts

Google has moved forward quite a lot with DSAs, particularly in its 2015 update. In my personal experience, these campaigns perform fairly well, and, in very specific cases, even outmatch regular search campaigns. I have no doubt that they’re here to stay as they fit the bill in a future leaning towards automation and AI. So, my recommendation is to use them, optimise them, and be ready, because Google is considering writing ads on your behalf anyway.

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