Responsive Search Ads

Responsive search ads (RSAs) are those that can be customized based on the end user’s search query with multiple headlines and descriptions.

Understanding responsive search ads

Individuals and businesses can use responsive search ads to promote their products and services on the Google Network.

Introduced in 2018, some of the primary features of responsive search ads include:

  • The ability to define two or more descriptions and three or more headlines that are automatically tested to determine which combination works best. 
  • Customized URLs which can be appended to the end of a landing page address, and
  • The ability to pin desirable headlines or descriptions such that they always appear in the advertisement.

Starting June 30, 2022, responsive search ads became the only search ad type that could be created or edited in a search campaign. Although this move was announced with plenty of warning, it nonetheless marked a significant shift in the way PPC marketers needed to approach their advertising efforts.

Indeed, while the prior system of expanded text ads had its shortfalls, it was also reliable, comfortable, and offered businesses more control over what ads were shown and at what time.

How do responsive search ads work?

Advertisers can select up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions for a single search ad which translates to a maximum of 43,680 ad permutations. These are then processed by Google’s machine learning algorithm to increase engagement and click-through rate.

Ad performance may be sub-optimal to start with as the algorithm learns the most effective headline-description combinations. Over time, however, it serves optimized ads based on a user’s search behavior, device preferences, and various other signals. 

As a result, businesses must resist the urge to pull under-performing ads before the algorithm has had a chance to determine what works best. It’s also worth noting that the technology is not a panacea that will deliver guaranteed results. These algorithms can only use the information a business has provided them with so it’s important that the best converting words and phrases are identified ahead of time.

Responsive search ad best practices

Google notes that responsive search ads have a CTR that exceeds those seen in standard search ads by 5-15%. Here are some of the ways a business can maximize its ROI from the new system:

  • Don’t settle for the bare minimum – while ads must have a minimum of three headlines and two descriptions, it would be foolish not to utilize the system to its maximum capacity and test thousands of ad permutations.
  • Use the pin functionality wisely – if there is information that absolutely must be shown in an ad like a brand message or disclaimer, it can be pinned to the headline or description. However, excessive pinning can limit the effectiveness of the machine learning algorithm. When two headlines are pinned, for example, the number of possible permutations is reduced by 99.5%.
  • Consider ad groups – since Google already tests various versions of the responsive search ad, there is no need for the business to include multiple ads in the same ad group. Multiple ads has the reverse effect of slowing down the optimization process.

Key takeaways:

  • Responsive search ads (RSAs) are those that can be customized based on the end user’s search query with multiple headlines and descriptions.
  • Google’s machine learning algorithm can analyze a maximum of 43,680 ad variations to increase engagement and click-through rate. This process can take time, so it’s important for businesses not to pull their ads early if the results are sub-optimal.
  • To maximize the benefits of responsive search ads over standard search ads, businesses should use their full allocation of permutations, use the pin functionality wisely, and use one ad per ad group.

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