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Changing the Game: Google and the Switch to Responsive Search Ads

Business Intelligence / 8.24.22 / By David York

Google wants to make their customer experience as simple and easy as possible. Why is easy enough to understand: so people will continue to use their search engine and other products daily. As for how, they’ll do it through machine learning. Not only will machine learning allow Google to utilize data to teach their systems how to solve problems, it also creates algorithms that allow it to improve over time.

In the case of Google, machine learning enables businesses and advertisers to identify new customers and to offer the right products or services to the right target market at the right time. As a result, customers expect the results on their Google searches to be helpful and personalized. But with the recent responsive search ad (RSA) update this past July, expanded text ads (ETA) are gone, meaning advertisers can no longer edit or create new versions of these ads.

The biggest difference between the two ad types was how they were created on the back end. ETAs consisted of only three headlines, two descriptions and a display URL, while RSAs can include up to fifteen headlines and four descriptions. RSAs are adaptable, and over time Google Ads will test ad combinations in order to find what will perform best for a user and their search intent. For businesses and advertisers, it means an overall improvement on campaign performance.

We tested out the new format when RSAs were first being introduced to Google Ads, and we immediately saw performance shifts. RSAs generate a greater percentage of impressions and clicks thanks to the number of ad combinations that can be shown to a user. Since keyword match types are getting broader, and an emphasis is placed on automation and Smart Bidding strategies, RSAs are crucial in ensuring our clients are leveraging the right messaging for the right audience. Since RSAs can account for search history and intent when showing different ad combinations, they have a big advantage over standard text ads.

With multiple headlines and descriptions appearing in any order, there’s a real possibility of repeated messages. Fortunately, you can avoid redundant combinations by pinning headlines and descriptions to specific positions. For instance, you can pin headlines with your business name to position two, meaning those headlines only show in that specific position. Avoiding redundancies can lead to higher click-through rates, allowing you to capture more users in your market.

Pinning may be convenient, but for regulated industries like financial services or healthcare, it’s essential. After all, compliance requires each ad to feature specific language. The best approach is to work closely with your compliance team to understand where required language needs to be shown.

Since pinning headlines to specific positions limits the number of ad variations that can be served, creating multiple RSAs and changing the pinned positions for each headline or description can give advertisers more ad combinations to use. This will still give Google the opportunity to utilize machine learning by showing the best performing ad combinations over time. And for advertisers, this opens the door to learning what ad copy resonates best with an audience.

Including popular keywords, your business name and calls to action in your ad copy is best practice, but another way RSAs makes things easier for advertisers is their Ad Strength tool. For those unfamiliar, this is a feature in Google Ads that takes relevance, quantity and diversity of ad copy into account to provide a score (ranging from “poor” to “excellent”) for your RSAs. The tool then provides recommendations and ideas to make improvements to your score.

What does this mean for you going forward? It means you’ll want to evaluate the success of RSAs through incremental improvement of your KPIs and secondary metrics like impressions, clicks, conversions and CTR. Based on that, you’ll be able to see which combination of headlines and descriptions performs best over time and will have the ability to test different messaging.

But before you start reworking your ads, conduct a comprehensive audit of where your brand currently stands. To prepare your Google efforts and evaluate your existing campaigns, contact DS+CO to find out how to start your audit today.


David York