Google’s shaky pitch for why advertisers should let Dynamic Search Ads handle queries

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It’s well known that Google’s Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) have the potential to feature longer headlines in text ad copy, as these headlines are pulled from the advertiser’s web page and aren’t limited by the hard caps placed on text ads created by paid search managers.

While expanded text ads (ETAs) are now giving advertisers 60 characters to work with in crafting titles between the two headline fields available, DSAs continue to carry a slight advantage, as we’ve seen headlines that exceed even 60 characters rendered through DSA.

Indeed, Google is still advising in their documentation to avoid adding top-performing queries from DSAs as keywords specifically because they might receive longer headlines.

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Google also lists “specific landing pages” as a reason to allow DSAs to continue to serve ads for well-performing queries.

Google didn’t always advocate for continuing to allow well-performing queries to run through DSAs; for a while, it echoed the same mindset as many advertisers in recommending that top-performing queries with meaningful traffic through DSAs be added as their own keywords.

In assessing Google’s change of heart, it seems necessary to understand the advantages of having queries launched as keywords as opposed to garnering traffic through DSA campaigns.

Note: I’m going to gloss over some of the basics of how Dynamic Search Ads work in order to avoid getting bogged down in the details of explaining them as I go. Google’s help page is valuable for getting up to speed.

The value of queries as keywords

There are several ways in which keywords seem to have an edge on DSAs in terms of account management. Perhaps the best place to start in speaking to the value of targeting queries with keywords is bidding.

Keyword bidding is better than DSA bidding

While bids can be set at the ad group level in AdWords, we find that the most effective method of bidding relies on bids placed for each keyword in an account. This allows us to adjust the price paid for traffic through each keyword in order to meet return on ad spend goals, which is important because even queries that seem similar can perform very differently. Indeed, we find that query is the most important predictor of value.

Further, we’re able to limit the types of queries that our keywords match to with match types, leading to better bids. While close variants have opened more restrictive match types such as exact and phrase match up to more queries, advertisers are still able to use match types combined with negative keywords to pay the optimal price for clicks from each query.

When it comes to bidding through DSAs, advertisers are placing bids for specific pages or sections of a website, which Google crawls in order to identify relevant queries for which to serve ads. Advertisers can use negative keywords to restrict which queries trigger ads through a target, but they can only set one bid for each DSA target, effectively placing the same bid for all queries which trigger an ad through a particular DSA target.

As such, raising the bid for a DSA target not only increases the price you pay for the queries that were already getting traffic at the previous bid, but it also expands the reach of the DSA target to include queries which the target was not serving ads for with the previous bid.

These new queries likely perform differently from the queries which were already driving traffic at the previous bid and may require different bids from the one placed for the target to perform efficiently. However, because the bid is tied to the target page(s), there is no way to specify bids for these new queries, and advertisers can only attempt to corral queries to DSA targets with the correct bids using negative keywords.

Broad match, and to a much lesser extent, phrase match keywords can also see the types of queries that trigger ads expand as bids go up. However, advertisers can always launch keywords on exact match to prevent such query expansion.

Keyword landing pages are better than DSA landing pages

As mentioned earlier, Google also lists highly targeted landing page selection as a benefit of allowing queries to trigger ads through Dynamic Search Ads.

However, advertisers can download query reports for DSAs which include the final destination URL. As such, while Google might be great at picking the right URL for each query, advertisers can just as easily launch keywords which point to the exact same URLs that were used for those queries in DSAs.

Further, advertisers have the ability to quickly change URLs for keywords. There are many reasons why one might want to do this, and one example is in the case of a flash sale, where it may make sense to send all users to a page full of discounted items which might only exist for a short time.

As there’s no way to inform Google that it should direct particular queries to these sorts of pages through DSAs, advertisers have no such agility with these campaigns.

What aspect of DSAs is better than keywords?

The most widely accepted DSA use case across the paid search industry is to uncover queries which advertisers have failed to launch as keywords but which do drive value for the business. For many marketers, this remains the one and only selling point of DSAs compared to keywords, and any relevant queries that are exposed by DSAs are quickly added as keywords in day-to-day account upkeep.

However, Google’s literature on the subject sells advertisers on the idea that letting DSAs take care of some queries — as opposed to launching them as keywords — might provide superior performance as a result of longer headlines and targeted landing pages. This is a departure from Google’s earlier advice for DSAs, and it is a bit hard to justify when actually breaking down any possible advantages of DSAs.

While headlines have the potential to be slightly longer through DSAs than even Expanded Text Ads, any benefit is likely pretty slight. Further, headlines aren’t actually always longer with DSAs, making this selling point pretty murky.

And while Google touts highly targeted DSA landing pages, advertisers are able to set landing pages that are just as targeted using keywords.

One other possible advantage is that advertisers wouldn’t have to launch keywords, perhaps reducing management time. However, it’s not a challenge to launch or manage all necessary keywords for most large brands, and realistically, the amount of time needed to evaluate and add negative keywords to DSAs for proper management probably nullifies any time gained from reducing keyword creation and management.

Unless Google is giving some sort of advantage to DSAs in terms of Quality Score/CPC, there’s not much reason to buy into Google’s logic that DSA queries shouldn’t be added as keywords. Such an advantage would be pretty controversial, however, making its existence unlikely, though perhaps there is some unintentional preference at play.

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