PPC Dynamic Search Ads: What You Need To Know


Dynamic Search Ads (also known as DSA) is an option that has been around for a while, but has gathered mixed reviews. However, in July 2015, Google gave DSA a facelift. If you’re unfamiliar with DSA, here’s a post that does a good job of giving a some background on what DSA was before and after the updates.

Today, my aim is to do two things depending on where you fall on the PPC experience spectrum: For those PPC-ers who had bad experiences with the older DSA, I have a few reasons why you should give it another shot. For PPC newbies, this post aims to give you some insight into what it can do for your accounts and how to get there.

“Broad Match for Your Landing Pages”

DSA works by matching content from your landing pages with queries.  When it finds a match, it dynamically generates a headline for your ad and matches it to a landing page. A good way to look at it is “broad match for your landing pages”. Since it is a “broad match” type of advertising, it has the potential to fill in the holes that you may not be able to fill with traditional Search or Display campaigns. The ability to fill voids where your ads may not be served is an advantage of DSA, but when managed incorrectly, it has the potential to fall short.

With the May 2015 facelift to DSA campaigns, advertisers got a bit more transparency. The new product offers users more insight into what Google will show to customers with samples of queries, ads, and pages during the DSA setup process. The idea of serving an ad that advertisers couldn’t preview ahead of serving to customers was a common complaint of the old DSA model.

Types of Businesses DSAs Benefits

According to Google, businesses with content rich websites are a good fit for DSA. Think of e-commerce, since there’s a lot of items and descriptions for AdWords to match with the queries. Companies that have seasonal products can also benefit from DSA, as well as those that are expanding into other markets and sectors.

Getting Started

When beginning a DSA campaign, you’ll begin by setting up a Search Network only campaign, but then choose Dynamic Search Ads as the specific campaign type rather than Standard or All features.


When you set up your ad group, Google will make some suggestions on categories that it thinks your site falls into, the amount of coverage that category would cover, and a recommended bid. Similar to other Google traffic prediction products, there will likely be some good suggestions and some that totally miss the mark in this section.


This is also the stage when it’s important to determine your ending campaign structure. Depending on what you’re marketing and the way your account is structured, you’ll have to decide if you want to break individual categories or pages out into separate campaigns or just separate ad groups. Typically, when beginning a DSA campaign, I like to keep everything under the same campaign until I can gauge performance. Once I have a handle on traffic, I’ll break out the top performers into their own campaigns if necessary so I can handle specific targeting and budgets more closely.

Types of Targeting

Basic Targeting:

In the image above, you can see there are three basic types of targeting when it comes to DSA campaigns:

  • Use all webpages: Your entire site, literally every page, can be used as a landing page for your ads.
  • Use categories that Google recommends: Google reviews your site, puts groups of pages into categories, then allows you to use those as landing page targets.
  • Use specific pages on your site: You decide which specific pages are used based on your choice of the four criteria below.

Advanced Targeting Options:

    • Page Content: Pages on your site that contain certain words.
    • URL Matching: Pages with URLs that contain certain portions of text.
    • Page Titles: Page titles with certain words.
    • Exclusions for pages, URLs, titles and content (I’ll get into this more in the Best Practices section).

Best Practices

Although DSA campaigns can vary widely depending on the type of business or manager style, below are some common best practices I’ve found that can help in most situations.

  1. First and foremost, when trying to get a handle on performance and capabilities of a new campaign-type like this, I think it’s important to set aside a little bit of budget to just let it run. While this is hard and might seem like a waste of marketing dollars for smaller clients, I think it’s important to see what the product is capable of before you place too many restrictions on it. It could turn out like this “slow and painful journey” but don’t discount it before you give it a chance.
  2. If you opt to have your entire site used for your DSA campaign, it’s important to note that Thank You pages, About Us and Terms of Service would be up for grabs as landing pages. Since that could get a bit awkward when trying to sell to someone, it’s a common best practice to exclude those types of pages in your DSA campaigns.
  3. Although Google claim DSA campaigns are smart enough to not steal traffic from current search campaigns, it’s highly recommended that you add current keywords from Search campaigns as negative keywords. This could be a tedious process, but it’s important to make sure you’re evaluating DSA for what it is, not for how it can perform on your current search terms. If you’re on the fence about adding negatives, check out this post – it will reiterate the importance of this task.
  4. Creating exclusions for words like “out of stock” or “sold out” for e-commerce accounts can also be very powerful. This will rule out any of your pages that have products that aren’t currently available, preventing a disappointing experience on the website. For more on how to do this, AdWords does a great job explaining how to implement these exclusions.
  5. If you’re new to DSA campaigns, consider setting up the campaign and a small number of ad groups in the AdWords interface first. This allows you to easily read the Google help windows if you don’t understand something. Once you have a handle on what information you’ll be inputting for each ad group, you can download the account in Google AdWords Editor and power through the setup process. I find it to be time-consuming to set campaigns up completely in the AdWords interface, but I also find it to be confusing to begin setting up a new campaign type that I’m unfamiliar with in Editor. Save yourself some time and start in the interface and then move to the Editor once you’re comfortable.

There’s been a lot written on the pros and cons of DSA over the years, but if you haven’t given Dynamic Search a try since the July 2015 update, it might be worth your time and efforts!