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How to Get the Most out of Responsive Search Ads

By Alissa Stahl

It’s official, as of June 30th, 2022 Google Ads let the sun set on Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). Existing ETAs will still serve, just as Standard Text Ads are still serving, but all new ads are required to be in the new Responsive Search Ad (RSA) format.

RSAs aren’t exactly new, Google introduced them in 2018. Maybe you’ve been using them since their inception, or maybe you’re reluctantly making the switch because you have to. Either way, read this guide and start getting more out of the responsive search ad format. 

How to Get the Most out of Responsive Search Ads

While the construction and set up of ETAs and RSAs are vastly different, they still appear the same on the search engine results pages (SERPs). Ad results will continue to show up to three headlines and two descriptions.

Example of responsive search ad (RSA) for Digital Third Coast in SERPs

What is a Responsive Search Ad?

Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) use Google’s machine learning and the RSA algorithm to mix and match assets in order to provide the user with the most relevant result for users search queries. Google allows up to 15 headlines and four descriptions to create over 43,000 ad combinations. That’s a lot of ads.

Out of the box, not all of those combinations are going to be winners. Over time, the machine is designed to optimize the ad combinations in real-time to provide the user with the result that best matches their query and intent.

[Click here to learn more about paid search strategy]

Four Ways to Write Responsive Search Ads

If this is your first time staring down 15 blank headlines and wondering where to start, consider using the common elements that structure a text ad.

1. Keep Using ETA Elements

When creating your RSAs, think of them in the same context as creating an ETA. For example, your ad would contain the following “ABC” elements:

Screenshot of three cateogires of RSA.
  1. Ad group relevant title
  2. Benefit statement
  3. Call to action

Responsive search ads are no different from ETAs in this respect. The main difference is that you have to make sure each RSA headline permutation works. Do you trust Google to mix and match multiple headlines and descriptions perfectly every time? Me neither.

The last thing you want is an ad showing two CTAs together, for example,  “Request a Quote | Request a Custom Quote”, so creating a diverse group of titles can help mitigate title redundancies.

2. Create Pools of Ad Elements

Create “banks” or “pools” of titles using the ETA elements from above. For example, if you are creating an ad using all 15 headlines, you can break them into groups of five: 

  • 5 ad group relevant variations
  • 5 benefit statements
  • 5 strong CTAs
Screen shot of three categories of RSA filled out with description.

Remember, there’s no requirement to use all 15 headlines. Although Google might slap your ad with a “poor” ad strength label (more on that below), you may have compliance issues, brand guidelines, or other policy requirements you need to follow. 

Hence, you can play around with this format. For example, you could have two ad group relevant keywords, five benefit statements and only one CTA. 

Screen shot of three categories of RSA filled out with description.

As much as we’d like to hope the machine gets the ad combinations right, there’s still the risk that you can end up with an ad with only benefit statements or have three titles that are all CTAs. Making your title elements unique can mitigate some of that risk, but a safer strategy is to utilize pins. 

3. Pinning Technique

Pins are your secret weapon. Pinning is how you can take your old ETA and format it into an RSA. Pinning will be your foolproof method to prevent a wonky ad.

Screenshot of pinning headlines and positions in the responsive search ads (RSA).

Consider the example noted above in which you have 15 headlines bucketed into three groups. To prevent Google from potentially showing, say, one ad group relevant headline and two CTAs, you can pin your pools of keywords to positions one, two, or three:

  • Pin Headlines 1: Pin all five ad group relevant titles to position one
  • Pin Headlines 2: Pin all five benefit statements to position two
  • Pin Headlines 3: Pin all five CTAs to position three

Of course, there’s lots of variations on that theme: Pin only ad group relevant headlines and leave the rest up to Google, or test pinning one ad and not pinning the other. Other examples could include:

  • Pin brand name to headline one
  • Add 10 benefit statements – no pinning
  • Add one CTA – no pinning
Screenshot of pinning headlines and positions in the responsive search ads (RSA).

If you have compliance considerations or brand guidelines, you may need to be very strategic and specific about how you pin.If you have a winning ad ETA that you love, try pinning only three headlines and two descriptions.  

If you decide not to use pins, try using a small, equal number of assets:

  • 2 unique ad group or keyword relevant titles
  • 2 unique benefits or values
  • 2 calls to action
  • 2- 3 descriptions
Screenshot of pinning headlines and positions in the responsive search ads (RSA).

The more you pin, the worse your ad strength score will likely be. Don’t stress, simply read on.

A Note on Ad Strength:

After you have created your ad and uploaded it to Google Ads, the platform will provide you with an Ad Strength score of Poor, Average, Good, or Excellent. It may even give you suggestions on how to improve your ad. Ignore this.

screenshot of average ad strength for RSA.

That’s right. I said ignore it.

Ad Strength has zero effect on your ad’s metrics. It does not indicate whether your ad is performing poorly or excellently. Ad Strength corresponds to Google’s ability to test your assets. Unpinned ads simply give Google more asset combinations to test.

Fully pinned ads (like an ETA) provide exact messaging, so there is no room for Google to test asset combinations. 

Always keep your ads relevant rather than chasing “excellent” scores, especially if you have compliance concerns, are B2B, or require other specific ad messaging.

4. Do Not Use the Same Ad Across All Segments

To ensure your ads are relevant, customize ads by ad group rather than trying to use the same ad across multiple ad groups. With the option of 15 headlines, it can be tempting to apply the same ad across the board and hope Google figures it out. Not only will Google probably not figure it out, but it can also hurt your performance. 

Another note on Ad Strength: Google may give your ad a poor ad strength if it is unable to match your assets to the ad group. If you have a “Poor ” Ad Strength and the ad is not performing well, it’s a good time to review your ad group to ad relevancy.

Pro tip: If applicable to your account, ad customizers can help diversify your responsive search ads and increase ad group relevancy.

Unfortunately, at this time, Google has yet to release more RSA data beyond impressions, which makes it extremely difficult to determine which asset combinations are the best KPI drivers. In the meantime, stay tuned for part two: How to Test Responsive Search Ads.

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