Learning to love dynamic search ads

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Here on the PPC team we are the first to admit that we can sometimes come across as control freaks. We love nothing more than getting stuck into an account – building out granular keyword lists, refining our ad copy and optimising our bids (well, maybe apart from tea). So, whilst we are always open to testing new features and improving our campaigns, at first we viewed dynamic search ads (DSAs) with a hint of skepticism. Hand over control to Google to pick our keywords and ads for us – surely not!

However, determined to remain open-minded, we gave them a go and we learnt that far from being a simple solution with no personal input they can, in fact, be part of a sophisticated strategy that leads to great results.

With Google announcing even more changes to this feature we thought we’d review some of our thoughts, experiences and recommendations for DSAs.

First of all though it’s important to understand what exactly are DSAs? and why would you use them?

What are dynamic search ads?

Unlike the standard search campaigns most advertisers use, DSAs don’t use keywords to target queries. Instead, Google determines which queries to show ads for based on the content of your website. It then generates a headline for the ad using the search query and selects the most relevant URL from your website. This is combined with your own description lines and display URLs to create the final ad.

Why use dynamic search ads?

You might wonder why though, after you’ve spent years refining your keyword research techniques and ad copy writing skills, you’d need Google to start doing it for you…

Well, of the billion searches made on Google every day, 15% of them have never been seen before (Internal Google Data). It’s unlikely that these are just keywords in your account waiting to be used. You might argue that this is what broad match and phrase match is for, but there are still relevant terms that even these won’t cover. So, why not give Google the chance to show a highly targeted ad for these terms. This shift away from focusing on keywords echo what we are seeing with Google Shopping, whereby what is shown on an ad is determined by a feed rather than keywords.

DSAs are particularly useful when you have a large number of products and services on offer eg. an e-commerce or travel site. It would take a long time to cover these products individually through traditional keyword campaigns. DSAs mean you can quickly cover a large number of product and not waste vital time you could be using elsewhere.

They might be less effective, however, if you have rapidly changing content on your site (eg. daily deals) or a poorly optimised website where it may be difficult for Google to determine the right page for each query.

How to set it up dynamic search ads

Google have built a very useful step-by step guide to make implementing DSAs as easy as possible, so I won’t go through all the details here but there are certainly some important points to consider:

  • Domain and language – For each campaign you need to select a website domain and language. If you want to target multiple domains or languages these will need to be separated into separate campaigns.
  • Segmentation – Rather than simply targeting your whole domain or just choosing certain webpages, Google now organises your website into categories and lets you bid individually on these. Google also show example search queries and recommended bids for each category alongside the text ads and landing pages. Segmentation is absolutely crucial to campaign performance. By pulling different categories into separate ad groups you can target them with the most relevant ad text, just as you would with your keywords.
  • Dynamic target exclusions – Don’t forget to add dynamic target exclusions, particularly if you’re targeting your whole website. These prevent the ad showing on pages containing certain words (eg. “Out of Stock”) or certain URLs.
  • Ad copy testing – Make sure to create multiple versions of your ads, just as you would with your standard search campaigns; this will ensure you are seeing the highest possible CTR. Another added bonus of DSAs is that the dynamically inserted headline can be longer than your standard headline.
  • Tracking – Make sure any relevant tracking is applied to your campaign through tracking templates so you know how your ads are performing.

What does this mean for the role of a PPC analyst?

So, if Google can choose the search terms and write the ads does this mean us PPC analysts are out of jobs? Well, luckily, no. It’s not a case of just setting it up and leaving it with DSAs. There is a lot you can do to both improve your DSA campaign and use them to help out your main campaigns. I have written a few helpful points below :

  • Negative keywords – This is a key part of DSA management. Make sure you have your existing keywords applied to your DSAs to start with. Once the campaign is live, regular mining of search query reports (SQRs) for irrelevant keywords is essential to ensure you’re getting the best quality traffic to your website.
  • Search query reports – In addition to highlighting negative keywords, SQRs can be used to gather ideas for keywords to add to your standard search campaigns. Make sure to pull any top performing keywords out into your standard campaigns to manage individually.
  • Bid adjustments and bid modifiers – In addition to optimising your ad group bids you can apply your usual bid modifiers to your DSA campaigns eg. day parting, device targeting.
  • Ad copy testing – This is an on-going part of any good campaign optimisation and DSAs are no different. You might not be able to change the headline, but there’s plenty of room to experiment with the description line and display URL or test mobile preferred ads.
  • Continued segmentation – Expand your targeting to other areas of the site, try more granular bidding by category; there are lots of ways to continuously experiment with the segmentation of your DSAs.
  • Ad extensions – Make sure to include all the ad extensions you would usually have on your search campaigns to your DSA campaigns; this will ensure the highest possible CTR.
  • RLSAs – One strategy we have found particularly rewarding is combining dynamic search ads with Re-marketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSAs). RLSAs on standard search allow you to target returning visitors with tailored bids, keywords and ad copy, and we’ve seen great results for them on their own but when combined with DSAs we’ve seen performance really take off.

Because RLSAs target users that have already visited your site, you know they are a relevant and qualified audience who are more likely to convert and see a higher average order value.

For one retail client we found that conversion rates on DSA combined with RLSA campaigns were five times that of the standard DSA campaigns, receiving an ROI that was 50% higher. For advertisers who are still a little nervous about DSAs and might worry that Google could show ads to users that aren’t relevant, RLSAs add a little safety net to test the waters – you know the users have already been to your site and so are already potential customers.

So, while we were initially a little worried about handing over control to Google with DSAs we actually found there was a lot of scope for input and testing, and we have seen some great results. With Google always making updates and improvements, DSAs should only become a more important part of a well-rounded search strategy going forward.

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