Responsive Search Ads: What They Are, and How to Use Them

Max Trotter, SMB Client Partner

Google is always adding new options and beta features to Google Ads. From expanded text to custom intent audiences to the new lead form extensions, there are plenty of new things to try out and test in your account. One of the latest and most radical changes is the addition of responsive search ads.

Responsive search ads are one of the most significant additions to Google Ads to-date and have the potential to improve your cost per click, clickthrough rate, and conversions. In this blog post, I’ll outline what responsive search ads are, how to use them, and share some examples of best practices.

What Are Responsive Search Ads?

Responsive search ads (RSAs) are a new form of search ad that allows you to input as many as 15 headlines and four descriptions into the ad. Google then automatically tests different combinations of ad copy and slowly begins to favor the highest performing combinations. This is much more customizable than traditional expanded text ads, which limited headlines and descriptions to two and one, respectively.

Additionally, Google is even offering extra incentives for using them. By using RSAs, Google will show combinations of up to three headlines and two descriptions, compared to just two headlines and one description in traditional expanded text ads. That doesn’t mean it will always be showing all three headlines and both descriptions, because Google tests all different ad variations, including those with fewer headlines/descriptions.

How To Set Up Responsive Search Ads

Setting up RSAs is easy. To create RSAs in your account, navigate to the “Ads” tab. Click on the blue plus sign and find “Responsive Search Ads.”

Screenshot of the ads tab in Google Ads

You’ll be taken to the ad creation page, which looks like this:

Screenshot of ad creation page in Google Ads

In these fields, you can enter up to 15 headlines and four descriptions. If you already have expanded text ads created in the account, Google will auto-populate your existing headlines and descriptions into these fields.

As you’re creating the ads, you’ll see this preview field on the right side of the page:

Screenshot of the ad preview field in Google Ads

As you’re filling out the headlines and descriptions, the preview field will show you what you’re ad will look like in the SERP. It will also determine your ad strength and give you suggestions and best practices to improve your ads, which leads us to my next point.

Best Practices for Responsive Search Ads

Just like expanded text ads, RSAs perform the best when you follow certain best practices.

Fill Out All Fields

The main benefit of RSAs is the sheer amount of content you can have in one ad. That benefit is wasted if you’re not utilizing the full amount of headlines and descriptions that Google provides. Having at least ten headlines and three descriptions will allow the ads to work to their highest potential.

Use Unique Messaging in Each Field

Similarly, the potential of RSAs is wasted if you’re saying the same thing in slightly different ways. A rule of thumb is to have your messages be unique enough so that any of them can be displayed together, and the ad still makes sense. You wouldn’t want three headlines that are extremely similar used in the same ad, so be sure to differentiate between all of your headlines and descriptions.

Use CTAs (Calls to Action)

Now that you have more ad real estate to work with, it’s easier than ever to include a CTA in your ad without skimping on your brand messaging. Test out different CTAs (Subscribe, Call, Learn More, etc.) and see which ones perform the best.

Test One RSA in Every Ad Group

While RSAs seem like a groundbreaking addition to Google Ads that provide more variation and ease of testing than ever before, it’s not time to abandon traditional ads quite yet. Due to the nature of the machine-learning aspect of RSAs, their performance can be pretty variable compared to standard expanded text ads. Sometimes, non-optimal variations of ads will be initially created, leading to lower CTR and higher CPC. This will eventually correct itself, but it can lead to decreased performance early on. This is why we recommend testing one RSA in every ad group alongside your normal ads.

This gives you more variation in your campaigns and gives you a nice benchmark to compare your RSA performance against.

Responsive search ads are a potentially revolutionary addition to the world of pay-per-click advertising. The level of customization mixed with Google’s machine-learning gives this ad format the possibility of performing extremely well. By using the best practices mentioned above and not over-committing to the format (only one per ad group!), you can level up your Google Ads account with more targeted and customizable ads to help improve your KPIs.

Max Trotter, SMB Client Partner

Max Trotter

SMB Team Lead
SMB Team Lead

Max serves as the team lead for Portent's Small Business Solutions team. He carries certification in Google Adwords and HubSpot Inbound, and has experience planning, implementing, and managing social media accounts and email campaigns for small business clients.

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