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Google Responsive Search Ads 101: Best Practices You Need to Know

March 16, 2021

When it comes to identifying the best headlines and descriptions for your Google Ads campaigns, you have two options: You can create individual ads and test them, or you can try out Google’s Responsive Search Ads (RSAs). RSA's were rolled out in 2018, as one of the most revolutionary changes to the platform since Expanded Search Ads in 2016.  With RSA’s, you provide multiple headlines and description options that Google mixes and matches for you, based on search queries and other proprietary data, in an effort to serve the most effective ads to users. This ad type is now the default ad type when you go to create a new ad in Google Ads. In this post, we’re going to cover:

  • An in-depth look at what Responsive Search Ads are and how to create them.
  • FAQs about RSA performance and appearance
  • 7 tips and best practices to get the most out of your RSAs

Let's dive in.

What are Responsive Search Ads?

Responsive Search Ads are Google's largest,and most flexible search ad format. Unlike traditional search ads, where you write your headlines and descriptions together to create 1 static ad text, when writing a Responsive Search Ad you can write up to 15 different headlines and up to 4 different descriptions. Collectively, those headlines and descriptions can be arranged in 43,680 different permutations, which means the ad testing possibilities are nearly endless!

Google will then automatically test different combinations of headlines and descriptions and learn which combinations perform best. Over time, your Responsive Search Ads will serve the best message to different searchers depending on the keyword they search for, their device, their past browsing behavior, and other signals.

google-responsive-search-ad-in-action

How do Responsive Search Ads compare to Expanded Text Ads?

Google’s Responsive Search Ads can show up to three 30-character headlines, a display URL with two 15-character path fields, and up to two 90-character description fields.

Compared to Expanded Text Ads, that’s an extra headline, an extra description, and 10 more characters to play with in each description text. All said, that makes these Responsive Search Ads the largest ads to ever reach the SERP – with up to 300 characters of total text. That’s twice as long as an Expanded Search Ad!

Ad Component

NEW Responsive Search Ad

Expanded Text Ad

# Headlines Shown

Up to 3

2

Headline Length

30 Characters

30 Characters

Domain

Taken from your ad’s Final URL

Taken from your ad’s Final URL

# Display URL Path Fields Shown

2 (Optional)

2 (Optional)

Display URL Path Field Length

15 Characters

15 Characters

# Descriptions Shown

Up to 2

1

Description Length

90 Characters

80 Characters

Total Max Length

300

150

Google’s Responsive Search Ads are also eligible to serve alongside any of your ad extensions – which expand their presence on the SERP even more!

How do I create Responsive Search Ads in Google Ads?

As mentioned above, Responsive Search Ads are now the default ad type in Google Ads. This was announced on February 18, 2021 as an effort to help advertisers consolidate and more easily manage their accounts even as consumer behavior changes—which, as we all know, has been a constant with the pandemic. To create an RSA, click on the plus sign to create a new campaign and 

responsive search ad default

You’ll then be guided to create each different component of a Responsive Search Ad—the Ad’s Final URL, the display URL Path Fields, up to 15 different headlines and up to 4 different descriptions. You can also add a tracking template by expanding the Ad URL options.

create-google-responsive-search-ad-2

Hit “Save New Ad” and your new Responsive Search Ad will be reviewed and, if approved, go live!

Will Responsive Search Ads always show all 3 headlines and 2 descriptions?

No! Just like how Responsive Display Ads show in different shapes and sizes depending on a user’s screen size and the page’s content, Responsive Search Ads are similarly flexible. Smaller screens (like mobile) or busy SERPs may show fewer components of a Responsive Search Ad, so don’t expect to always see your 3rd headline or 2nd description.

However, your Responsive Search Ad will always at least show 2 headlines and a description, so it will never be smaller than an expanded search ad!

How do Google’s Responsive Search Ads perform?

Responsive Search Ads are bigger and at many times better than Expanded Text Ads. According to Google, Responsive Search Ads have a 5 – 15% higher CTR compared to standard search ads! But averages tend to lie – not all advertisers will see the same benefit, so be sure to follow the following best practices to get the most out of your new Responsive Search Ads.

Tips and best practices for Google Responsive Search Ads

Now that we have the basics laid out for RSAs, let's go over some tips and strategies to help you get the most out of this revolutionary ad type.

1. Responsive Search Ads perform best with more headlines & descriptions

Every Responsive Search Ad needs to have at least 3 headlines and 2 descriptions to show. However, the bare minimum is seldom best. The strength of Responsive Search Ads is that they allow for more variants and testing than traditional search ads. You can test up to 15 headlines and up to 4 descriptions at once – so use them! Aim to get at least 10 different headlines and 3 descriptions in your Responsive Search Ads.

2. For best performance, highlight something different in each headline & description

Avoid repetitive and boring variants of the same headline. Google actually won’t even show your Responsive Search Ad if your headlines or descriptions are too similar!

  • Use your creativity and highlight different value props, offers, and calls to action with each element of your Responsive Search Ad.
  • Be sure to include a top keyword in at least 2 of your headlines. Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion to insert your Keywords into Responsive Search Ads.
  • Be sure to have at least three headlines that do NOT include your keywords. This will prevent your ads from becoming overly repetitive and allow you to highlight more value to searchers.
  • Have headlines & descriptions of different lengths. This will increase the likelihood of you serving a third headline or second description. Don’t try to maximize the character count in each element every time.
  • A good Responsive Search Ad has a lot of unique messages that can be combined. Avoid repetitive language or the same call to action!
google-responsive-search-ads-headlines-descriptions

3. You can pin headlines & descriptions to specific positions in Responsive Search Ads

Google’s Responsive Search Ads will automatically test different headlines in different positions to see how they perform in headline 1, 2, and 3. And every headline won’t show every time. The same is true for your descriptions. This allows Google to find the very best message for each different user, keyword, and device they search on.

However, if you have a specific message that you always want to include in your ad (a brand message or a disclaimer, for instance) you can make sure it always shows in your ad by “pinning” that headline or description.

When writing your important headline that you always want shown, hover over to the right of that headline and a pin icon will appear. Clicking the icon will give you several different options to make sure your headline always shows. This also works with important description text.

write-headlines-google-responsive-search-ads

“Showing this headline in any unpinned position” will make sure that message always shows, but it may appear in headline 1, 2 or 3. If you want a message always appear in a particular headline or description spot you can specify that as well. Keep in mind though that headlines 3 and description 2 won’t always show, so pinned messages in those positions won’t always be part of the responsive search ad.

4. Pin very sparingly!

Pinning headlines or descriptions will make sure the essential parts of your ad always show. However, they also restrict the messages and automatic variant testing that Google performs for these Responsive Search Ads, which may negatively impact your ad’s performance. Pinning just one headline reduces amount of testing Google can perform on these Responsive Search Ads by over 75%! Pinning 2 headlines reduces the opportunities for testing down 99.5%!

5. You can keep your Expanded Text Ads

Google is not getting rid of Expanded Search Ads anytime soon. You can keep your best ads running and keep testing new ETAs! 

In fact, Google recommends that you keep running at least one ETA in each ad group alongside your new Responsive Search Ads. This will both help you as your test out your new Responsive Search Ads and make sure your ads appear as often as possible.

6. Test only one Responsive Search Ad per Ad Group

Google is automatically testing the different elements of your Responsive Search Ads against one another, so there’s no reason to include multiple Responsive Search Ads in the same ad group. Testing more than one responsive search ad can prevent your ads from testing different variants of your ads and will slow down the optimization of your Responsive Search ads.

7. Use your top-performing static ads to come up with RSA assets

Review your current ads and use the Google Ads Grader to quickly find your top performing ads, and then use those elements as seeds for alternative headlines and descriptions for your Responsive Search Ads. Comb through your account for all the different messages, value props, offers, and calls to action that currently perform well in your account.

Improve your Responsive Search Ads today

We've covered a lot in this post, so let's finish off with a recap that has the key takeaways:

  • Response Search Ads dynamically combine different ad headlines and descriptions to serve the best ads for users and queries.
  • Responsive Search Ads are now the default ad type in Google Ads, to help you continue growing in the midst of shifting consumer behavior.
  • There are some fundamental best practices to employ in order to get the most out of your RSA's, such as: use the maximum number of headlines and descriptions, highlight something different in each headline and description, pin headlines and descriptions but sparingly, test only one RSA per Ad Group, use your static ad data to inform your RSA copy, and keep running ETAs.
Mark Irvine

Mark Irvine

Mark is in charge of strategic partnerships at WordStream. He was named the #1 Most Influential PPC Expert of 2019 by PPC Hero.

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