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Responsive search ads (RSA’s) launched in 2018 as a new ad format for advertisers to automatically test thousands of different headline and description combinations. The pitch from Google was simple ⎼ you provide the combinations, we’ll use machine learning to adapt them to a searcher’s query.

Since then, excitement over this new format (beyond the carrot of more real estate) has definitely been muted. One of the early hangups for advertisers was the lack of compelling data on what combinations were working. Despite Google launching features like their Ad-Strength Indicator (to help advertisers create more compelling ads) and the ad combinations report (to show how Google combines and optimizes advertiser submitted copy), there’s a strong feeling among advertisers that this format still has a lot to prove before it comes out of BETA.

My goal with this piece isn’t to dispel the mixed results advertisers have had with the format, but to encourage you to experiment with RSAs, as I have, and learn if it can work for you in ways that extend beyond ad combination testing.

Why do I think you should be testing RSAs in 2019?

#1 – More Space, Greater Flexibility, and Higher Ad Relevance

Responsive search ads can show up to three headlines instead of two and up to two 90-character description fields (instead of one 80-character field). You can provide up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions each ad. That’s a whole lot of extra real estate! But with more power comes responsibility, as you really need to see this as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of different ad messages from alternative themes.

One of the mistakes that I made early on with RSAs was repeating variants of the same headline. Google will not show these, so you’re wasting your time not thinking creatively about different value propositions, offers and calls to action for each element of the ad.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: Always ensure that you have at least 3-5 headlines that do not include your target keywords. Do not commit the cardinal sin of repetition.

#2 – Automatic Adjustments for Optimal Ad Performance

Google will automatically show different combinations of your ads depending on the search query. This presents lots of new opportunity to match for endless broad match queries (if you so desire).

Marrying searcher intent to your proposition is the goal and Google is trying to help you do that with RSAs. Naturally, this means you need to carefully consider how all the various sequences read and ensure you have a cohesive message. Google will try to do this for you, but in my experience, you’ll still end up with some weird combinations. Don’t stress about those from the very beginning, but definitely be prepared to optimize once you can review the combinations report.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: Understand that Google is definitely better than you at testing different variations of ad copy. RSAs fundamentally changes the mentality of the prodical ad, there is no one ad version that wins. Success is determined by the number of different personas you can relate to.

#3 – Device Adaptability Built-in

The majority of your searchers will likely see your ads for the first time on a mobile device. RSAs will offer you more room when you have it available and make better use of limited space when you don’t. The theory of RSAs is to put your best foot forward but the reality is most of the time, searchers will only see two headlines.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: Be sure to have headlines and descriptions in your arsenal that are different lengths. There’s a tendency as marketers to use all the available space we can for our message (which is why everyone goes crazy when Google gives us more real estate), but try to resist tapping out the character limit of each element.

#4 – Isolated and Efficient Creative Time

Creating ad copy is one of my least favorite tasks. It’s a time and creative suck. I avoid it if at all possible. You too?? At least with RSAs you can bottle up all that time and knock out all your combinations in one go, then tweak after Google has done all the combination reporting for you.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: “The bad news is only bad news for those who do not use that extra time for focusing on the creative part of developing the copy.” true story, bro. Thanks, Supermetrics. Be mindful to heed this!

#5 – Sensitivity and Branding Harmonious

Those of us that are in sensitive categories that require legal mumbo are afforded the ability to pin headlines and descriptions to specific positions. Brands that are absolutely desperate for messaging consistency can also use this feature (although I personally prefer to control the message in my branded campaigns).

Obviously, doing this stifles machine learning and Google’s true vision for RSAs, so generally, this should be avoided if at all possible. Use sparingly.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: The truth is and Cara deBeer recently discussed this better than anyone I’ve read. My take on her comments was that RSAs are not for everyone, especially if you’re in a regulated area and need to tightly control ad copy, but embrace the machine learning and test before being discouraged. Perhaps there are creative ways you can think of placing disclaimers than in ad copy? (Figured one out? Leave a comment)

#6 – Multi-language Compatibility

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of writing ad copy is catering to our French-speaking leads. If you don’t have a foreign language to deal with in your PPC management, consider yourself fortunate. A great benefit with RSAs is the ability to load up ad copy in one swoop and letting Google experiment with it rather than avoiding  putting off split-testing.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: I typically use a site like Fiverr to have someone local translate ad copy, it’s an inexpensive way to not let foreign language limit the success of your campaign. Don’t rely on Google translate, you can imagine some of the horror stories!

#7 – Automation Only Computers Can Do Efficiently

“Automation is going to replace the majority of the work humans currently do in PPC”, Dan Gilbert who you’ll know as one of the most influential people in PPC said that back in 2017.

Honestly, this doesn’t keep me up at night because I know I am giving in to automation. If you’re part of a group that thinks Google invents features just to skim money from advertisers, you’re misguided and definitely going to lose long term.

PPC hubbub - LightbulbTop tip: I’m riding this tidal wave all the way into the bay. Automation is here to stay; preserve life, then win. Run your ETAs alongside RSAs for a while to see how they compare.


Rounding Out

I’m bullish on RSAs. I can see this format being standard in the next 12-18 months. Dynamic search ads and automated ad suggestions came before this and are other examples of Google’s massive investment in machine learning. Google wants advertisers to give up manual A/B testing just like Tesla wants to drive your car for you. We live in a world increasingly where machine learning is oftentimes just, better.


What are your experiences with Responsive Search Ads? How have they been performing for you? What other tips and tricks do you have to share with others? I’d relish the opportunity to discuss them in the comments! Thanks for reading.

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Anthony Trollope

Director of Digital Marketing at AMID, Inc.
Anthony has been involved in online marketing for over 12 years. He currently leads the digital marketing team at AMID, Inc. and oversees operations across e-commerce, search, social and content. Aged 17 he founded what became Europe’s largest online community for wholesalers reaching a quarter of a million businesses a month. Originally from London but now living in Houston, US, he enjoys fishing, running and consults in his spare time.
Anthony Trollope
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