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What’s the Difference Between Dynamic Search Ads & Responsive Search Ads?

Belle Phanawat

Google continues to release new automation tools to simplify paid search advertising. Two of its biggest rollouts in recent years include Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) and Responsive Search Ads (RSAs), both of which automate ad creation on paid search. While these ad formats provide useful insights that can inform retailers’ paid search campaigns, there are inherent risks as well.

As with all automation, retailers sacrifice a certain level of control. In the case of DSAs and RSAs, retailers lose control over how their ads appear, what keywords the ads are targeting, and what audiences they reach. This lack of control can impede more sophisticated campaigns that have a goal of targeting and converting specific audiences. That means DSAs and RSAs should not replace retailer’s core campaigns, but rather supplement them with valuable insights.

In this article we’ll break down the difference between the two ad formats and explain when retailers should implement RSAs and DSAs in their paid search strategy.

Responsive Search Ads = Partial Automation

RSAs allow retail marketers to create multiple headlines and descriptions for their ads. Google then combines this ad copy and automatically tests for the best results. Google takes into account search queries, device use, and other demographic information to determine which combination of copy will drive the greatest clickthrough for a given search. The longer marketers run these ads, the more data Google accrues to further optimize RSAs.

Google recommends marketers add RSAs to ad groups that contain at least two expanded text ads (ETAs). This conservative approach ensures that retailers are not fully reliant on RSAs, and can drive engagement with the more controlled and high-performing ETAs.

To optimize RSA performance, retailers should provide 15 headlines and four descriptions, using original copy for each. Google recommends including unique value-adds and features in three of the headlines, while the other two headlines include important keywords. This improves Google’s ability to test different incentives and drive engagement.

RSAs allow retailers to test a variety of copy and determine which headlines and descriptions are most effective. Retailers can apply these insights to their ETAs as well, strengthening the overall ad campaign.

Three headlines and two descriptions will not always appear in the SERP due to truncation, but there are ways retailers can ensure that certain messaging remains in tact. Google allows retailers to pin headlines to the first or second headline position in the RSA. They can also pin a description to the first description position. Pinned headlines and descriptions will always appear in the ad, regardless of truncation or the combination of other ad copy.

Retailers who have more sophisticated targeting strategies that require distinct messaging for unique audiences will not want to use this approach. RSAs are not a replacement for retailers’ core paid search campaigns. However, they are a helpful tool if ad copy testing and optimization is the goal.

Dynamic Search Ads = Full Automation

DSAs differ from RSAs in that Google completely automates the creation and distribution of the paid search ad. With RSAs, retailers create the ad copy and the keyword list. That is not the case for DSAs. Google crafts the ad copy by scraping content from the retailer’s website, either from a specific landing page, category page, or the entire site. They also use this information to build out the keyword list.

Retailers should consider how robust the content is on their website before they begin testing DSAs.

While this can save retailers time, the ad format has significant limitations. If, for example, a retailer’s website has limited content, Google is not able to develop rich ad copy. Retailers should consider how robust the content is on their website before they begin testing DSAs. The less information a retailer’s site has, the less effective and relevant the DSAs.

On the other hand, DSAs can help retailers unearth valuable keywords that can strengthen a retailer’s paid search campaign. For example, if a retailer launched a new product line, and developed a content-rich landing page to support the line, it can leverage DSAs to build out ads using that landing page content.

After the DSA runs for two to three weeks, the retailer can review the search query report and identify the keywords that drove the greatest click-through and conversions. These initial learnings can then fuel a more sophisticated campaign as the new product line gains traction.

Tools for Incremental Gain

RSAs and DSAs play a supporting role in retailers’ paid search campaigns. Used correctly, they can achieve incremental gains in keyword strategy and ad copy optimization. Neither ad format will fully replace retailers’ existing sales and customer acquisition strategies. As Google’s machine learning algorithm evolves, these tools may become more robust, but retailers should not rely on them to drive campaign performance.