The Definitive Guide to Responsive Search Ads

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The Definitive Guide To Responsive Search Ads.

You can’t please everyone. No matter what ad campaign you launch, there’s bound to be someone in your audience who doesn’t like it, right? Actually – no. With Google’s responsive search ads (RSA), you can genuinely please everyone in your audience.

All it takes is the right combination.

No matter if you’re new to responsive search ads, an expert, or you came here because Google will stop supporting expanded text ads in June, I’m going to show you everything you need to know about responsive search ads.

Let’s dive in!

What Are Responsive Search Ads and How Do They Work?

One of your leads is looking for convenience. The second is looking for faster turnaround times. The third is looking for both, and competitive pricing.

Previously, you’d have to create different ads to stand a chance at covering all the bases. You’d still waste some of your budget displaying the wrong ad to the wrong people.

With responsive search ads, you can leverage different benefits within one ad campaign. Google’s newest default search ad type, RSA, displays the right combination of headlines and descriptions to tailor your ad to every searcher.

Unlike expanded text ads, responsive search ads give you more room and more options. And as Google’s AI learns what your audience wants to see, it’ll automatically optimise the copy assets it displays.

Your first lead will see ad copy emphasising convenience, the second will see your fast turnaround, and the third will see both, and an offer they won’t get from your competitors. If Google sees that no one is really looking for fast turnaround times, it’ll start displaying more copy highlighting convenience and competitive pricing.

Endless combinations offer endless opportunities to match the searcher’s intent and convert leads into paying customers.

Source: Google

Responsive Search Ads vs Extended Text Ads

Up until 2017, Google Ads was called AdWords, and there was only one type of search ad: standard text ads. Unlike responsive search ads or even expanded text ads, standard text ads offered only one headline and 2 description lines, with a total of 95 characters.

Once they were replaced with expanded text ads, advertisers could add more ad extensions, explain their offer in 140 characters, and include two headlines. If you’ve been advertising your business on your own, Extended Text Ads are likely the first thing you think of when someone mentions Google Ads.

They’ve been a great way to test the waters of paid advertising even if you’re a beginner, but truthfully, they did have some shortcomings. If you wanted to test different copy to see which one your audience responds to better, you would have to set up multiple ads, and if you couldn’t explain the benefits of your offer in less than 150 characters, well…

All of this is going away. Responsive search ads are replacing extended text ads as the default search ad type.

Starting June 30, you’ll no longer be able to create extended text ads. Of course, Google won’t stop supporting them. If you’ve been running them for a while, you can still edit, pause, and activate them. If you’re very keen on them, you can still keep experimenting until you find the best ad to keep running even after June.

However, keep in mind that your impressions and conversions from expanded text ads will likely decrease. Searchers love responsive search ads, and there are plenty of combinations that will be competing against your expanded ad.

While there’s been some speculation about the sudden sunsetting of extended text ads, Google’s explanation makes sense. Search is changing and evolving; Google Ads have to, too.

Responsive search ads are a solution for a new generation of searchers who all prioritise different things when choosing whether to buy a product or not. For example, 71% of customers prefer buying from companies that align with their values. This is just one of the reasons why our ads today need to be versatile. Google is simply adapting to it.

Key Differences Between Extended Text Ads and Responsive Search Ads

 Responsive Search AdsExtended Text Ads
HeadlinesUp to 15Up to 3
DescriptionsUp to 4Up to 2
Maximum ad length300 characters150 characters
ControlLowComplete

With extended text ads, you had complete control over your ads. But with responsive search ads, Google Ads drives the performance forward with its machine learning capabilities. This doesn’t mean your ad campaigns will run on autopilot, as there is still a lot of work to do with keyword research, ad creation, and optimisation.

However, responsive ads do make it easier to cover more ground within a single ad group.

How Do Responsive Search Ads Work?

The foundation of responsive search ads is variety. While they’re similar to expanded ads in appearance, they allow you to create multiple headlines and descriptions.

In every ad, Google will select up to 3 headlines and 2 descriptions to display to searchers, based on their behaviour and preferences. Over time, the AI will find the best performing ad combinations.

For example, with expanded text ads, you’d create an ad with specific copy:

Business coaching course

Learn everything you need to increase your sales! 20% discount available for startups.

Claim your offer today

This ad would isolate a lot of your audience members. What if someone isn’t looking to increase sales but improve their team productivity? What if they’re not a startup and can’t avail the discount?

With responsive search ads, your set-up would look like this:

Headline options:

  • Business coaching course for managers
  • Improve your team’s productivity with a coaching programme
  • Designed to drive results
  • Business course used by Fortune 500 companies

Description options:

  • Improve your results and improve your business with a super-powered course. Custom plans available for enterprises.
  • Better results, better business! Now offering 20% off to startups.

Depending on the searcher, Google’s AI would choose the best combination. For example, startups may see:

Improve your team’s productivity with a coaching programme | Designed to drive results

Better results, better business! Now offering 20% off to startups.

And enterprises might see:

Business course used by Fortune 500 companies | Business coaching course for managers

Improve your results and improve your business with a super-powered course. Custom plans available for enterprises!

Keep in mind that all the options have to make sense when combined.

You don’t want to have an option that only mentions a discount without explaining what it is that you do.

If there’s no way for you to create all the assets without repeating yourself, I’ll show you a way to make sure specific copy appears in your ad. Read on!

New Elements of Responsive Search Ads

The staples of search ads haven’t changed much; there’s still copy to write and keywords to target. However, Google’s added a few things to the toolbox:

Ad Strength

Whenever you create or analyse the performance of a Responsive Search Ad, you’ll see the Ad Strength indicator.

(Don’t confuse it with your ad Quality Score; it doesn’t directly affect your bidding and CPC. Of course, if the AI is right and your ad isn’t up to par, you’ll feel it eventually.)

Ad Strength shows potential ad effectiveness. You’ll also see improvement suggestions before launching your ad (or when editing it).

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You’ll see specific suggestions such as:

  • Headlines/Descriptions are too similar
  • Add popular keywords to your descriptions

You’ll also see suggestions for other assets like extensions, as well as specific ideas on how to improve.

Google may not be the authority on the copy that will make your leads become happy customers, but it certainly has access to data. Now, you can see what successful ads have in common.

Pinning

Your assets, namely headline and description options, can appear in any order to searchers.

So if you want to make sure some parts of your ad are always displayed (or displayed in a specific position), you can pin them to your ad. You can retain control which is especially helpful for elements such as CTAs.

You don’t want Google to show an ad without a call-to-action!

Advantages of Responsive Search Ads

Firstly, searchers see more responsive search ads than other search ad types. Why? They’re simply more relevant.

They allow you to actually personalise your ads to address different leads’ specific needs. Their CTR (Click-Through Rate) is higher, which also affects your Quality Score and reduces your CPC.

Secondly, you gain more flexibility. There are over 40,000 combinations Google’s AI can leverage when serving your ads (if you insert 15 headlines and 4 descriptions). You could hardly test all those combinations with manual A/B testing. But artificial intelligence can. Now, you’ll see which combinations searchers often see, giving you insight into what drives their journey.

The increased character count also lets you take up more search real estate. Your leads will be exposed to more of your ads, or they’ll be exposed to them longer. If you could draw in plenty of leads with 150 characters explaining the benefits, just imagine what you could do with 300!

Finally, optimisation is the key to Google Ads success. With RSA, you can benefit from AI’s seemingly endless ways to analyse your results. Of course, I always recommend taking AI with a grain of salt and doing the analysis yourself, but it doesn’t hurt to listen to suggestions.

Disadvantages of Responsive Search Ads

While I think responsive search ads are a fantastic tool to increase your conversion rate, there are some drawbacks. Namely, you have less control. As in the examples above, you can’t simply write copy, create multiple ads, and then put them to work and testing.

Instead, you only enter the options, and Google will generate combinations interesting to searchers. I think this isn’t necessarily negative as it opens up more room for optimisation and gathering audience insights, but if you struggle to relinquish and reallocate control to other aspects of your Google Ads account, beware.

Secondly, if you want to make sure certain elements appear in every combination, you can’t try and cheat your way to traditional ads by pinning everything. There is a firm limitation; you can only pin a few elements. Keep in mind that, by pinning, you are reducing the possible combinations Google can show to searchers. Use it sparingly.

Finally, avoid repetition and make your copy options unique. This can be challenging, but you don’t have to use all the available characters or asset slots. You can start your campaign with only a few options and then expand as you get more insights.

Ultimately, responsive search ads are a powerful tool. However, it’s essential to leverage them properly.

How to Create or Edit Responsive Search Ads

The process of creating RSA is straightforward:

  1. Log into your Google Ads dashboard
  2. Click ‘Ads & extensions’
  3. Select ‘Responsive search ad’
  4. Enter the landing page URL and display path text
  5. Enter the headlines
  6. Enter the descriptions
  7. Pin elements (if needed)
  8. Save and preview your ad

Similarly, if you want to edit a Responsive Search Ad, you’ll do it in your dashboard:

  1. Click ‘Ads & extensions’
  2. Add a filter
  3. Select ‘Attributes’ and ‘Ad type’
  4. Check ‘Responsive search ad’
  5. Hover over your ad and click the pencil icon
  6. Make the changes and save your progress

Google is definitely trying to make the process as simple as possible, especially since advertisers won’t be able to create new expanded text ads after June. 

Analysing Your Responsive Search Ads Performance

Unlike expanded text ads, where you can go granular, RSA performance is more obscured.

If you select ‘View Asset Details,’ you’ll see impressions – not the performance that contributed to conversions.

While this limitation can be detrimental when analysing specific combinations, the number of impressions will show you which headlines and descriptions resonate with your audience the most.

RSA Asset Report

Google will show you how it rates specific components, but it doesn’t go in-depth with metrics. Instead, you’ll see qualitative ratings such as “Poor” and “Best” based on Google’s findings as you launch and run your ad.

If you see components marked with “Poor”, it may be time for a change. You can also compare it with the Ad Strength information to get more ideas on what to optimise.

Google’s official explanation is that you should replace assets rated with ‘Low’ and learn from the ‘Best’ assets so you can add more of them. I’m inclined to agree. However, make sure that your assets and combinations still make sense as you replace elements.

Ad Combinations

You’ll see ad combinations Google has been showing your leads. Again, you won’t see the performance of each asset, but impressions go a long way towards understanding what your audience cares about.

Compare this with your Asset Report, and gain a better understanding of which assets you need to remove from (or add to) your campaign.

Best Practices for Responsive Search Ads: Ad Creation

No matter if you’re coming from expanded text ads or starting your first Google Ads campaign with the new responsive format, there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to increase your conversions:

Transitioning from Expanded Text Ads to Responsive Search Ads

If you’re transitioning from expanded text ads, I have some good news: you’re in luck!

You can analyse your previous ads and select the best copy and combinations to plug into the new responsive search ads. There’s nothing wrong with re-purposing copy that worked for your audience in the past.

Don’t resist change. Reports show that advertisers who switch from extended text to responsive search ads see 7% more conversions at a similar Cost per Conversion. In fact, businesses have been using RSA throughout the pandemic to make their ads more relevant. For example, Swoop (a Canadian airline) started incorporating keywords such as “safe to fly” into their new responsive search ads and saw significant increases in conversions.

The earlier you start preparing, the better – especially when it comes to your performance. There are bound to be some changes as Google Ads transitions to responsive search ads as the first stop for Search advertising, so pay attention to your metrics and establish RSA benchmarks.

Keyword Mix in the RSA Era

While it’s tempting to think you can now target every keyword under the sun, particularly if you’re using Dynamic Keyword Insertion, you still have to do your research.

Don’t focus solely on generic, broad keywords. Instead, use the fact you can create different ad groups to prepare mixes of relevant keywords for each audience segment. Address different pain points and specifics.

Keywords can also be a great starting point for your ad copy. They give unfettered access to your audience’s needs. From there, you simply have to connect them with specific benefits and solutions that your product or service provides.

If you’re not using relevant keywords or not using them enough, Ad Strength will remind you of it.

Clever Pins

As Google configures your ads for every single searcher, make sure nothing gets lost. Use pins to make sure your ads contain crucial elements, such as:

  • CTAs
  • Disclaimers
  • Discounts and special offers

You can pin each element (headlines and descriptions included) in specific positions.

However, don’t overdo it. The more you pin, the fewer combinations Google can test. This affects your results, so I recommend limiting it purely to elements you can’t do skip.

Source: Google

 One At a Time, Please!

Avoid the temptation to create multiple responsive search ads in every ad group.

Multiple responsive search ads in one ad group prevents Google from doing what it does best: experimenting and learning.

It’ll be much harder for the AI to optimise your ads. Stick to one responsive search ad per ad group and keep everything neat.

Remember that you can only add one link to your landing page. Don’t try to address multiple audience segments with fundamentally different needs and characteristics.

For example, if someone is searching for your business because they’re interested in booking a massage, you don’t want an option to pop up offering nail extensions.

Separate your responsive search ads according to target demographics and intents.

Ad Strength Tips & Tricks

As I’ve mentioned, responsive search ads come equipped with the Ad Strength helper.

Ad Strength indicates your ad assets’ effectiveness based on the information Google has gathered through running your ads or (if you’re launching a new ad) machine learning.

You can optimise prior to launching or edit your ad based on the suggestions. From the technical advice for keyword insertion and links to copy tips, it’s a clever tool.

For example, KFC Malaysia saw a 40% order increase from their Google Ads campaigns after integrating Ad Strength suggestions.

Source: Google

 Leverage Ad Extensions with RSA

The ad extensions you know and love are still there with responsive search ads. Try:

  • Countdowns
  • Dynamic Keyword Insertion
  • Call-out extensions (e.g. free delivery)
  • Call extensions
  • Location extension (very useful for local businesses – there’s nothing worse than having to click on an ad to see if someone is doing business in your area)

For local businesses and immediate needs (for example, searching for a locksmith), I’ve found call extensions to work particularly well.

However, if your customers still need to be educated before finally converting, use descriptive site link extensions to link to other valuable resources.

For price-savvy customers, you can even include price extensions. If the price is right, your ads will stand out with their transparency and propel your leads down your conversion funnel.

Best Practices for Responsive Search Ads: Ad Copy

Avoid Repetition

The point of responsive search ads is variety; every searcher should see something that resonates with them. If you’re tempted to repeat the same value proposition in multiple headlines or descriptions, stop.

How would you feel if someone kept repeating they were punctual across their ads? Personally, I’d feel as though they’re lacking credibility.

Try Different Headlines

When writing your Google Ads copy, try different headlines. Experiment with lengths, omitting keywords, using keyword variations, and leveraging Dynamic Keyword Insertion.

While keyword-stuffing your ads is never a good idea, you don’t want to send leads in a different direction because they can’t relate to how you phrased their need. Use queries your audience uses.

Test Different Descriptions

If all your descriptions sound the same, it’s time to experiment! Google may show 2 descriptions at the same time, so make sure they’re not repetitive and emphasise different value propositions.

Even though responsive search ads are a different search ad format, the golden rule of search copy still stands: it’s not about you. It’s about your audience.

Focus on Benefits

With so many options for headlines and descriptions, it’s easy to fall into a slump and start rewording your copy. Don’t do it.

If you enter too many similar suggestions, Google won’t be able to mix and match different elements, and you won’t be experiencing the real benefits of responsive search ads.

Keep your combinations unique.

Source: Google

CTAs

Another element that you can play with is your call-to-action copy. Again, make sure your CTAs are visible in every combination.

Then, try out different options and see which ones resonate with your audience:

  • Learn more
  • Book now
  • Get started
  • Claim your discount

Incentives

You can experiment with different types of incentives, as well.

Some searchers may respond best to urgency. Others may click because you’re offering them a discount. There are plenty of ways to capture that conversion if you’re using responsive search ads.

For example, a small business may create two CTAs: one with a limited offer and another with a discount. A tech company could reach out to both small businesses and enterprises by offering a discount for smaller businesses and custom plans for enterprises.

Reinforce or Remind

Responsive search ads are the perfect opportunity to experiment with different sentiments.

For example, one lead may respond well to hearing about their pain points (e.g. “Stop wasting time!”).

Others may prefer to step closer to achieving their goals (e.g. “Win back your time!”).

Of course, a neutral headline may work as well (e.g. “The easiest time management tool!”).

All the tricks in your ad creation book still work. It’s only the format that has changed.

What About Your Brand?

Finally, showcase your personality.

Often, with responsive search ads, your ads can start to sound and look a lot like your competitors due to all the possible combinations Google can display.

If you want to make sure your branding comes across in your ad campaigns, as well, make sure as many assets as possible highlight what makes you unique.

More of this, please:

Landing Page Optimisation

If your ads are now hyper-personalised, your landing pages have to be relevant to your lead’s intent and your ad, too.

In some cases, you may need different campaigns to keep everything clean and avoid directing bank managers to landing pages on personal finance. But in others, you simply need to make sure that the value propositions you’ve mentioned in your assets appear on your landing page.

I also recommend matching your CTAs to reinforce your offer.

Finally, as you learn from your responsive search ad campaigns, integrate the insights into your landing page.

No one responded well to a specific asset? If it’s on your landing page, remove it. Use the new space to emphasise a benefit far more important for your audience.

Endless Combinations, Endless Ways to Convert Your Leads

While I’ll miss expanded text ads, there’s no doubt that responsive search ads are a fantastic way to get even better results from Google Ads.

If you’ve been using traditional search ads, I recommend taking the time you need to get to know the RSA model and create enticing copy. By the time June rolls in, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running!

After all, with over 43,000 possible combinations, there are numerous ways to make responsive search ads the best tool in your advertising toolbox.

Want to make the most of responsive search ads? My team and I would love to help!  Book a call today!

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