An Overview Of Google’s Responsive Search Ads

We’ve recently discussed the 2019 PPC trends making the biggest splash. AI and machine learning were the driving force behind the majority of these new and still-emerging strategies. This is true even outside the realm of paid search advertising.

AI and machine learning have been in the hot corner for years now, but they are really (finally) reaching that level of maturation where ‘trends’ graduate to bonafide, actionable tools. When it comes to AI-powered PPC tools, Google’s Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) are at the top of the list.

For this reason, I wanted to take the time to conduct a more thorough investigation of this exciting trend and see just what are responsive search ads, how do they tick and how can search advertisers use them effectively in their campaigns.

Before we crack open the egg, let’s first get an understanding of what this new format of ads does and how it works.

How Do Responsive Search Ads Work?

Responsive search ads are essentially “smart ads” that allow search advertisers to test multiple headlines and ad copies at the same time. After writing up to 15 different headlines and 4 unique descriptions, the responsive search ads start generating search ads using random combinations of these components. Then, using machine learning capabilities, it gathers and analyzes data on how effective each combination is and to what audience segment.

To simplify, traditional text ads are static — you write one headline, for one description and then it is set until you change either component. Responsive search ads, on the other hand, are dynamic. They’re almost living, in the sense that they change and adapt on their own based on  previous data they’ve gathered and the profile of the search user.

The Impact Of Responsive Search Ads

There’s a number of reasons that RSAs are promising to be a very impactful tool in the world of search advertising.

Ease Of Use

AI tools are complex and this sophistication can make them not-so-user-friendly. It’s not exactly a comfortable proposition to let machine and data take the helm of some of your tactics. Responsive search ads don’t have this complex element. Compared to other AI-driven tools, responsive search ads are easy to use. You can even save time by importing your existing expanded text ad details and use those components in the crafting of your RSAs.

Convenience

Instead of just automating existing processes, these search ads empowered with AI generate tons of value and convenience in our ability to test copy and make better overall ads. This means advertisers won’t have to rely so heavily on tedious A/B testing that can require lots of time and effort to achieve insights into writing better ad copy. This is especially impactful for smaller, lean companies that simply don’t have the resources to test a lot of ad copy.

Length

Writing search ads is never an easy task. It’s incredibly difficult to write powerful, persuasive ad copy that is compelling enough to entice a searcher to click. When you consider the very limited space that you have to achieve this mission, that difficulty grows greatly. If you’ve ever written a search ad, or any type of limited-character description, you know what I mean. RSAs help alleviate some of that struggle by allowing longer headlines, descriptions and URLs. 

In total, responsive search ads are 300 characters, which is twice the length of other ad formats. This means advertisers have more space to work with when creating their ads. Thus, more room for keywords and persuasive elements.

Controllable

The other reason that responsive search ads have me particularly giddy is there isn’t that looming fear that you’re automating too much, as is the case with other AI and machine learning tools. Google allows you to “pin” headlines and descriptions into positions, essentially setting rules for how the combinations will occur. This gives you good control over how your ad components will appear.

Effective

RSAs aren’t just about convenience and saving time when testing ads. With smarter, data-driven targeting, responsive search ads are seeing better results than other search ad formats. Some Google reports boast that advertisers see as high as 15% higher CTR when incorporating RSAs into their campaigns. It’s still too early to know how valid these figures are, but it’s a promising start.

How To Create Responsive Search Ads

Finding the option to create a responsive search ad is very easy. Simply access your Google Ads account, click the “Ads” tab, then the blue “+” icon to add a new ad. This displays a dropdown menu of the various ad formats that Google offers, including RSAs.

Once you’ve clicked on the ‘Responsive search ad’ option, Google will begin walking you through the steps to creating headlines and descriptions, pinning certain components, adding tracking options and so on.

Once you’ve added your desired number of ad parts, you can save your RSA. Once it is reviewed and approved, your AI-powered ad combinations will begin displaying in search results!

Seems easy enough, right? Well, there are some best practices for responsive search ads that you should consider, before you start writing your copy. 

The following responsive search ad tips should help you create more effective AI ad campaigns:

Don’t Skimp On Your Ad Components!

Google’s minimum requirement for responsive search ads is 3 headlines, with at least two descriptions. This gives Google’s AI technology just enough combinations to test and optimize targeting for. That said, if you only allow your RSAs this minimum requirement, then you’re really, really limiting their effectiveness.

Remember, responsive search ads can have a maximum of 15 headlines and 4 descriptions at once. The closer you can get to this ceiling, the more combinations and possible permutations there are, which means you can accomplish a lot more testing. This is the real power of RSAs — being able to test lots of different ad headlines and descriptions at the same time.

If you’re a little apprehensive or you simply don’t have enough ad copy ideas to fill all the available slots, then try and aim to use at least 8-10 of the headline slots and 3 descriptions.

Make Your Ad Components Unique

This is perhaps the hardest step in creating effective responsive search ads. As you create your different headlines and descriptions, there’s bound to be some overlap. Unfortunately, as your ad components are put together in different configurations, this overlap leads to repetitive sounding copy that does little towards enticing potential customers to click.

If your ad copy is too repetitive, Google won’t approve your RSA submission.

Headlines and descriptions Possible ad combinations
Headlines

  1. Fashionable Women’s Shoes
  2. Trendsetting Women’s Shoes
  3. Latest Women’s Shoes at STORE
  4. Purchase Women’s Shoes Online

Descriptions

  1. Find all your favorite brands and the latest styles in one place. Don’t wait, order today!
  2. Shop STORE’s wide variety of high quality women’s shoes at prices you’ll love. Buy now!
pastedGraphic.png No ad combinations assembled

Example combinations considered and rejected:

Latest Women’s Shoes at STORE | Purchase Women’s Shoes Online | Fashionable Women’s Shoes

https://example.com/

Find all your favorite brands and latest styles in one place. Don’t wait, order today!

Fashionable Women’s Shoes | Latest Women’s Shoes at STORE | Purchase Women’s Shoes Online

https://example.com/

Shop STORE’s wide variety of high quality women’s shoes at prices you’ll love. Buy now! Find all your favorite brands and the latest styles in one place. Don’t wait, order today!

To make your ad components unique and avoid this distracting repetition, you should aim to bring attention to different selling points in each unique headline or description, whether it’s a value proposition, a new offer, a call to action, etc. 

Here’s Google’s example of a good RSA using the same women’s shoe store case:

Headlines and descriptions Possible ad combinations
Headlines

  1. STORE
  2. Fashionable and Comfortable
  3. Trendsetting Women’s Shoes
  4. Buy Womens’ Shoes Online Today
  5. Free Shipping on All Orders
  6. Top Brands at Great Prices
  7. Official STORE Website
  8. {KeyWord:Awesome Women’s Shoes}
  9. A Style for Every Occasion
  10. Buy Cool Shoes With Confidence
  11. Starting from as Low as $39
  12. Save 15% on your First Order

Descriptions

  1. Find all your favorite brands and the latest styles in one place. Don’t wait, order today!
  2. Free shipping on orders over $50. Wide selection of stylish and comfortable shoes.
  3. Shop STORE’s wide variety of high quality women’s shoes at prices you’ll love. Buy now!
pastedGraphic_1.png Ad combinations assembled

Example combinations:

STORE | {KeyWord:Awesome Women’s Shoes} | Buy Womens’ Shoes Online Today

https://www.example.com/

Shop STORE’s wide variety of high quality women’s shoes at prices you’ll love. Buy now!

Official STORE Website | Trendsetting Women’s Shoes | Free Shipping on All Orders

https://www.example.com/

Free shipping on orders over $50. Wide selection of stylish and comfortable shoes. Find all your favorite brands and the latest styles in one place. Don’t wait, order today!

This tactic will keep your RSAs free from redundancy. Plus, you’ll be able to better identify the selling points and offers that resonate the most with customers, which gives valuable insight into creating more effective ad copy and other marketing/advertising materials in the future. 

A Quick Word On Keywords

With all of the available ad components available in RSAs, there’s a lot of room and potential for inserting your top keywords. However, redundancy is another concern when incorporating these popular search terms. If you include keywords in the majority of your headlines, there’s a high risk of repeating those terms twice or three times in a single ad.

Again, Google offers an example of what too many keywords looks like:

Headlines and descriptions Possible ad combinations
Headlines

  1. {KeyWord:Durable STORE Widgets}
  2. {KeyWord:Free Shipping}
  3. {Keyword:Lowest Prices, Huge Selection}
  4. {KeyWord:Widgets on Sale}
  5. {KeyWord:Quality and Affordable}
  6. {KeyWord:STORE Widgets}
  7. {KeyWord:Buy Widgets Today}
  8. Official STORE Website

Descriptions

  1. Order the latest widgets from STORE that are durable and built with high quality.
  2. Order the newest widgets from STORE that are durable and built with great quality.
pastedGraphic.png No ad combinations assembled

Example combinations considered and rejected:

Official STORE Website | {KeyWord:Widgets on Sale} | {KeyWord:STORE Widgets}

https://example.com/

Order the latest widgets from STORE that are durable and build with high quality.

{KeyWord:Durable STORE Widgets} | {KeyWord:Widgets on Sale} | {KeyWord:Buy Widgets Today}

https://example.com/

Order the newest widgets from STORE that are durable and built with great quality.

As enticing as loading your headlines and descriptions up with keywords is, you should limit yourself to only inserting your top terms into 2-4 RSA components. Because of this limitation, you’ll want to lean on Google’s Dynamic Keyword Insertion tool. This will better ensure that your ads hit on the widest range of queries.

Additionally, if you want to utilize this valuable testing ground to its fullest, you may decide to include a stagnant, low competition keyword whose performance you’re curious about.

Don’t Feel You Have To Utilize Every Character

As we mentioned earlier, RSAs are now the longest search ad format available. There’s a lot of character space to play with and room to include keywords and unique selling points. You’ll want to optimize how you use this space to the fullest in at least a couple of headlines and descriptions. 

However, don’t feel that you have to bring every ad component to its maximum allowable character limit. It’s actually a good idea to include some headlines and descriptions that are shorter than the rest. This creates the opportunity for your RSAs to include multiple headlines or description in a single ad, thereby generating even more possible variations.

Pinning Ad Content

When we were discussing the impacts and various benefits of responsive search ads, I mentioned the ability to pin certain ad elements into positions, which helps search advertiser retain control over their search ads. There’s a number of different reasons you may pin an ad component:

  • To ensure a disclaimer or warning that you need to include is present in all of your ad messages
  • You have a recognizable slogan that you want your ads to include
  • There’s a high-priority keyword that you want included in your ads but you’re trying to avoid being repetitive or penalized by Google
  • You have a unique selling point that is an important competitive differentiator for your brand/products (like offering free shipping or a no-risk, trial)
  • There’s a limited-time offer or discount that you want to draw attention to
  • Any other element that you’d like to always appear in your ads

If it’s a headline element, you can choose to pin it to a certain position (one, two or three), which dictates where in the ad’s title it will appear (beginning, middle or end). Otherwise, you can select to “show this headline in any unpinned position” and the element will appear in any of the three headline slots. 

Pinning is really valuable, particularly for the reasons listed above. But, you shouldn’t rely too heavily on it. Over-pinning headlines and descriptions can hurt how much variation and testing is possible.

Conclusions

Responsive search ads have a lot of promise to search advertisers. It is nice to see an effective AI tool that isn’t too demanding or complex. But, what else would you expect from Google but user-friendly tools?

It’s still a little early to hand RSAs the gold crown for best new PPC trend of 2019, but it is definitely one that a lot of us are extremely excited to see develop throughout the year.

How do you feel about responsive search ads? Excited? Apprehensive? Over-hyped?

About Ashley Ward

Ashley Ward is the Founder of Madhouse Marketing, a digital marketing agency in San Diego, specializing in content and social media marketing. Speaking both internationally and throughout the US, Ashley regularly teaches workshops and speaks at conferences like Pubcon, BrightonSEO, SearchLove, Digital Summits, Retail Global, and the prestigious SMS Sydney. Ashley has also co-authored the best-selling book “The Better Business Book V.2” and is a contributing writer to industry blogs such as Search Engine Journal and AuthorityLabs.

Filed under: Strategy

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