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If there’s one constant that we can always trust, it’s the fact that Google Ads is always keeping us on our toes. This rings true as of February 18, 2021 when Google announced that Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) will now be the default ad type when you’re looking to create ads for a Search campaign.
What does this mean for advertisers and Google Ads moving forward? In this post, we’re going to:
Our hope is to help you to better understand and adapt to this change so your ads can keep performing their best.
The change in default ad type from Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) to Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) means that when you click to make a new ad, there are now only two options: Responsive Search Ads or Call Ads.
This doesn’t mean that Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) are completely going away (at least not yet—more on that later) or that your ETAs are all of a sudden going to stop performing. On the contrary, having two ETAs and one RSAs per ad group still remains the recommended best practice by Google.
ETAs will still be an option to create as well, though it is a bit hidden. You’ll have to click to create an RSA, and then click the blue text at the top to “Switch back to text ads” in order to continue creating ETAs. So, this change does indicate to us that RSAs have now taken the seat on Google’s throne of the default Search ad type.
Google provides a few reasons for the change in the default ad type from ETAs to RSAs:
Machine learning allows for improved performance
We’ve seen a pattern emerge with Google’s recent updates in favor of a shift toward automation. While many advertisers feel this gives them less control over their campaigns, Google takes the stance that machine learning can improve campaign performance in terms of flexibility, clicks, and conversions.
Better adaptability with changing consumer behavior
It’s a known fact that consumer needs and priorities are in a state of constant change, and more so than ever before as the pandemic progresses. Google’s reasoning for the push toward RSAs is that it gives advertisers a better way to adapt to shifting market trends without having to create individual static ads and test them out manually.
Streamlined account management and optimization
Google essentially wants more advertisers to use RSAs (particularly novice advertisers) because it gives their machine learning mechanisms more to work with. This allows Google to make more recommendations related to account performance and helps streamline the account management experience.
Okay, so now that there will be a greater push toward Responsive Search Ads, let’s go over the basics to make sure you’re up to speed. The main benefit of this ad type, which was introduced back in 2018, is that of allowing more variety in ad copy by giving you room for up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions. Google then takes those assets and dynamically combines them live during each search auction.
Think of the spread of all the different headlines and descriptions within an RSA similar to how songs might shuffle through on a playlist. Essentially, the RSAs dynamically rotate through various headlines and descriptions to show a combination to best fit the individual searcher’s query each time.
Smell that? It’s the stench of jealousy emitting off the good ol’ tried and true (and former default ad type) Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). Just kidding. But let’s take a look at how the two compare. ETAs only allow for up to three headlines and two descriptions, and those never change position. With the components in your ETA anchored in place, you have slightly more control over your ad copy.
Meanwhile, RSAs give you lots more to play with by allowing you to create up to fifteen different headlines and four descriptions. This sounds great because you’re able to fit various headlines and descriptions to match up better to queries, but the tradeoff is that you’ll slightly lack control on RSAs as you’ll never know exactly which combination of headlines and descriptions Google will choose to serve at any given time.
While RSAs give you more headlines/descriptions to play with, the character count for these fields remain the same as ETAs (up to 30 characters for headlines and up to 90 characters for descriptions).
All in all, both RSAs and ETAs have their advantages and drawbacks, so it’s best to test out both.
By dynamically cycling through headlines and descriptions, RSAs clearly have different features and capabilities that set them apart from ETAs. However, like we just mentioned, all that glitters is not gold when it comes to RSAs, as their variety also causes a lack of control in ad copy and their expansive nature may cause you to carve out a little extra time to create these.
While you may be able to whip up an ETA in no time with just a couple of descriptions and few headlines (while avoiding these mistakes), we’ve noticed that RSAs take a bit more time to complete since you have to come up with many more lines of copy. Luckily, Google helps us out by providing suggestions when we’re creating these ads.
You do have a pin option for RSAs for up to three headlines and two descriptions. Here, you can choose a specific headline or description to be guaranteed to show when space on the SERP allows. However, pinning isn’t recommended unless absolutely necessary, as it will restrict the automatic variant testing Google runs through on your Responsive Search Ads.
Here’s a quick pros and cons list to sum up what we’ve learned about RSAs so far:
Okay, so you’ve read through everything and now you’re ready to set these ads up. Here’s the step-by-step on how to create a Responsive Search Ad:
Seems easy peasy, right? Well, we’d like to think so, but there are also a few dos and don’ts of RSAs that you’ll want to keep top-of-mind while creating them.
RSA do’s (best practices)
RSA don’ts (what to avoid)
We talked to additional PPC experts in the community to gather some perspectives and action steps to help you respond to this change. These include Mark Irvine, Director of Paid Media at Search Labs Digital, and Brett McHale, founder of Empiric, LLC.
Irvine points out that “the fundamental problem that Google is trying to solve here is not a new challenge to the industry—advertisers should be constantly updating and testing multiple versions of their ads. Although this is an age-old best practice, a lot of advertisers don’t commit to it regularly and their accounts suffer for it.
Ad copy testing not only helps advertisers improve their ads overall, but it also allows Google (and Bing and Facebook) to better match a message to a particular search or user. Constantly creating three plus ads in each ad group just isn’t a habit for some advertisers, and Google’s Responsive Search Ad type picks up the slack there. In lieu of asking advertisers to write multiple variants of their ads, RSAs automatically take their headlines and descriptions and test out a more diverse mix of messages for the advertiser.”
While the emphasis on RSAs can encourage more testing and better ads overall, Irvine advises advertisers to continue creating ETAs while using RSAs as a supplement:
“RSAs are a better testing mechanism than not testing at all, but it shouldn’t surprise people to hear that a “handwritten” ad can often outperform Google’s machine-written variants. Google’s change to default ad creation to RSAs is a bold one to encourage their adoption, especially among novice advertisers who might not understand the difference. Overall, I’d encourage advertisers to supplement their ad groups with Responsive Search Ads but to continue to test two to three ETAs in each ad group. This will both allow you to continue to practice and optimize your ad copy while benefiting from Google’s machine learning-driven ad copy testing at scale.
A Standard Text Ad vs an Expanded Text Ad (Image source)
While it was stated earlier in this post that pinning isn’t recommended unless absolutely necessary, McHale mentions that the shift toward RSAs as the default ad type may change this up:
“A lot of advertisers want specific headlines in certain positions, and they can essentially make text ads out of RSAs by pinning headlines in the first, second, and third position. This practice is often advised against because it limits the variations that can be served but I’ve seen ads with pinned headlines (not all headlines, however) perform very well.
Google also provides some tips for creating strong RSAs:
WordStream Senior Account Manager Holly Niemec offers an optimistic view of RSAs—as something to lean into as we navigate the changes Google seems to be heaping onto us lately:
“RSAs have evolved into a more prominent fixture in ad performance across many different verticals, as a key conversion driver and also by generating the greatest percentage of impressions. When RSAs were first introduced, they were more so a way of generating traffic and testing headlines and descriptions for Expanded Text Ad iterations. Now, especially with match types getting more broad and a greater shift toward AI and Smart Bidding strategies across the board, RSAs are crucial to make sure you are leveraging the right messaging to the right audience. Since RSAs can take search history & intent into account when showing different headlines and descriptions, they have a big advantage over Standard Text Ads.”
The experts we talked to have mixed opinions as to the fate of Expanded Text Ads. Irvine believes they’re not going anywhere anytime soon:
“The good news for advertisers who might be turned off by this change is that Google’s shared no plans to end the Expanded Text Ad. Even if it’s now a little hidden in the Google Ads interface, it’s still supported and easy to create in Google Ads, Editor, and other common tools.
It’s also not in Google’s interests to stop supporting these ETAs anytime soon. If you look back to 2016 when Google first introduced ETAs, many assumed the 90-character Standard Text Ad would stop serving shortly after. Although Google eventually stopped allowing new Standard Text Ads to be created nine months later, the format never officially stopped serving. If Google hasn’t ended an old text ad format after five years, I wouldn’t say that ETAs run the risk of going extinct this year either.”
Brett McHale, founder of Empiric Marketing, LLC, has a different outlook:
“While advertisers will still be able to create and run Expanded Text Ads, it’s more difficult to do so. My opinion is that regular Expanded Text Ads will be phased out of the platform in favor of RSA’s as it is clear Google wants advertisers to rely more on its algorithm to make decisions. They’ve already had auto-generated RSA’s as an option in the recommendation section for some time.”
Just as is the case with any change made within the Google Ads platform, the ultimate impact will become more clear as time goes on, but with the knowledge and tips we have available to us, we can work to mitigate any negative impact on our performance. Let’s finish off with the key takeaways from this post:
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