Today’s post comes from PPC Hero Ally Hayley Coutinho. Hayley is a Paid Search Consultant at Receptional, one of the UK’s longest running digital marketing agencies. On a day to day basis, Hayley is the manager of various client accounts, both small and large scale, across several industries. 

Google’s Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) program was first launched in beta in late 2011 and went on to be fully released to Adwords users in October 2012. It’s been nearly a year now since advertisers could openly use this feature, yet I hear very little about it apart from when Google are trying to promote it in their blogs which makes me think the uptake has been poor. I think there is an air of skepticism from advertisers surrounding this feature, and rightly so, after all you are effectively handing over huge control to Google.

Like many others, I was wary of this feature at first and have only recently been trialling it with one of my e-commerce clients. As expected, results were hit and miss at the beginning but with some carefully optimized management we are now seeing positive results. This feature may not be suitable for all but I thought I would share my experiences and advice based on what I have learnt in my first few months managing a DSA campaign.

Dynamic search ads – what, why, how?

I will firstly cover the basics, what Dynamic Search ads are, why you could benefit from using them and how to set them up.

What are they?

As defined by Google, “Dynamic Search Ads target relevant searches with ads generated directly from your web site — dynamically.” So basically, when a user searches for a term that matches with your website inventory, Google will create an ad using that webpage’s content. Google will dynamically generate the ad’s headline and take the user to the related landing page. You do have some control though; the ad’s descriptive text and display URL remain in your hands!

Why use them?

If you’re running a large e-commerce site with constantly changing products and you’re aware that you don’t have keyword coverage for every single item, then Dynamic Search Ads can help to plug the gap. Google claim they will hold back displaying dynamic ads when you have an eligible keyword targeted ad within your account so the dynamic ads will only show when there is a relevant search for a product on your site that you do not have keyword coverage for. Sounds perfect in theory, but maybe there is a reason why you are not bidding on such keywords.

How do I set them up?

It is fairly easy to set up dynamic search ads. If you prefer, you can simply add them to any existing ad group by selecting ‘Dynamic Search Ad’ in the ‘New Ad’ drop down menu. However, I would recommend creating a new campaign in order to control budgets and monitor performance more effectively. Simply create a new campaign for the ‘search network only’ and then select ‘Dynamic Search Ads’:

How to set up dynamic search ads in Google AdWords

Complete the set up by adding the usual preferences like language, location, devices, budgets etc. I would then advise to set up ad groups for each of the product categories you would like to dynamically target. It may be beneficial to select areas where Adwords doesn’t usually provide a good ROI or where you need additional sales.

The next step is to tell Google which page(s) on your website you want to be available for each ad group. You do this within the ‘Auto targets’ tab in each ad group, I personally found the ‘URL filter’ option to be most appropriate but this will vary for each website. You can add more than one ad target if necessary and once you have done so you just need to create a few ads and it is ready to go!

Dynamic Targeting for Search Ads

Getting the most from Dynamic Search Ads

Although Google does have a lot of control over DSA campaigns, it doesn’t mean they can be neglected once they are set up, there is still a lot of on-going work to do in order to achieve the best results possible from them.  Over the past few months I have managed to make a success of DSA but it did require a lot of attention and on-going optimization.

Based upon my experiences I have listed some top tips for anybody new to DSA:

1) Do not set and forget

It’s vitally important that DSA campaigns are not set up and just left to run, if you have set budgets at 10% of your total ad spend as Google suggests, you may quickly find that you have wasted a large amount of budget with little reward. It is important to continually monitor, optimize and react to results and trends. As with traditional search campaigns, you should frequently review search query reports, add negative keywords, test new ads, alter bids and test new product areas.

2) Negative keywords

Finding success with DSA would be extremely difficult without negative keywords. After running my DSA campaign for a week, I ran a search query report and was shocked at how irrelevant some of the terms were. My client deals in fashion accessories, yet Google had served my ad 5170 times for the search term ‘steam engine’ and a further 3585 times for ‘London tube map’. Luckily, this had only wasted a few pounds because users were not clicking my ads as they were so irrelevant; however if left unmonitored it is clear how easily budgets could be drained on irrelevant terms. Therefore, it’s essential, especially in the first few weeks that search query reports are analyzed as regularly as possible and negative keywords added where necessary.

The image below illustrates the impact adding negatives had on the impression levels (in blue) my DSA campaign received. As you can see, although impressions fell dramatically due to negative keywords blocking irrelevant terms, the conversions (in orange) were positively affected:

Impact of Adding Negative Keywords to a DSA campaign in AdWords

3) Are Google telling the truth?

As I mentioned earlier, with regards to DSA Google claim:

‘The ad enters the auction and competes normally — but we’ll hold it back for any search where you also have an eligible keyword-targeted ad.’

Having read this, I was surprised to find phrases in my DSA campaign search query reports which matched keywords I had active in other campaigns. From what Google have said, this shouldn’t happen as the non DSA ad should always be given priority. To combat this problem, I added all of my active keywords, where necessary, as ‘negative exact match’ keywords to the DSA campaign. This resolved the problem and as a precaution I recommend doing this before any DSA campaign is launched.

4) ‘All products’ is too broad

When setting your ‘ad targets’ Google gives you the option to ‘add all webpages’. This will save you time as you won’t have to set up additional ad groups with tailored ads and ad targets. However I found this method drove a lot of irrelevant traffic and generated a very poor click-through rates (CTR) due to the one size fits all approach you have to use with your ad copy.

Unless you really have budget to burn and are desperate to drive more traffic I would advise starting with ad groups segmented by ‘ad targets’, this will allow you to create relevant ad copy and boost CTR. The CTR I achieved with product specific ad groups compared to the ad group targeting ‘all webpages’ was 223% higher!

5) Make use of Google Analytics

As many of you may know, you can now view your Google Analytics data within the Adwords interface at keyword, ad group and campaign level. This is particularly useful with DSA as you can quickly view at ad group level the bounce rate, pages/visit and average visit duration for the users Google is sending to your website. This is a good way to identify any early warning signs that the traffic is poor quality. For example in the first few weeks of running DSA I noticed that the ad group targeting ‘all webpages’ had an average visit duration of just 26 seconds, whereas the other product areas were averaging a healthier 76 seconds.

6) Test and act

As with any campaign, it is important to continually test in order to improve results. Whilst there is less control with DSA, you still have the ability to test new descriptive ad copy, display URLs and bid variations. Likewise, you can use historic data to aid your decisions regarding ad scheduling, search partner inclusion and bid adjustments. It is important that you act on any information or trends you identify in order to get the most out of DSA.

After a bit of a bumpy start with DSA, I have found that perseverance has paid off. By using some of the techniques I have discussed, I am now not only seeing sales from the campaign, but they are being generated at a cost per acquisition in line with the client’s targets. A lot of the phrases generating sales in the DSA campaign are either long-tail (featuring 4 or 5 words), or are very niche and product specific and therefore the campaign is doing a great job at catching relevant traffic that would have usually slipped through the net!