Google’s New Default Ad Type: Responsive Search Ads

Lauren Beerling
February 25, 2021
RSAs, or "responsive search ads," are Google's latest attempt at implementing greater marketing automation. But what exactly does the shift to these ad types mean for marketers, their campaigns, and data collection? Our blog explains more.

Google’s New Default Ad Type: Responsive Search Ads

Google moves to default responsive search ad types

What is a Responsive Search Ad?

Responsive Search Ads, also known as RSAs, are an emerging type of paid search ad that adapts copy in real time to better match a user’s intent. Essentially, advertisers input multiple headlines and descriptions into Google, and the algorithm will mix and match those headlines/descriptions in real time to create the final ad. Google Ads then uses machine learning to determine which variations should be used based on what queries a given person searches for. The variations are tested against each other to determine which combinations perform best.

Why is this important? 

RSAs are yet another example of Google’s continued push toward automation. And it’s a move that we are particularly excited about. In practice, we typically see RSAs outperform legacy Expanded Text Ads, the current default in Google Ads (which features 3 headlines and 2 descriptions per ad). This is likely because, with RSAs, we are able to leverage algorithmic testing rather than A/B testing. In other words: RSAs make it possible to eliminate what doesn’t work and regularly add in new options in real time, as opposed to setting up a schedule of A/B split tests.

The central tenant to an A/B test? Manipulating one variable at a time to isolate impact on performance. And sometimes it can take weeks to understand what combination of ad performs best. While this approach works well for methodical testing to understand which element of an ad is performing, algorithmic testing is a better option when trying to learn that information quickly and with a minimal loss in performance. The algorithmic testing that’s inherent to RSAs not only ensures maximal ad copy relevancy, but also simultaneously maximizes performance and facilitates a constant stream of new insights.

What are the risks? 

As with most conversations regarding automation and machine learning, RSAs often trigger questions related to control and governance. This is especially true in highly regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare. Two of the most commonly asked questions and resolutions.

Will RSAs show unapproved or random copy?

Successful campaigns rely on smart inputs, and RSAs are no different. To power these campaigns, marketers must first provide a variety of approved headlines and descriptions to choose from. The algorithm will then work with the information provided to facilitate delivery. As with all automated campaigns, marketers create the guardrails and monitor continually to ensure accuracy.

What if specific messages must be present in every ad and/or certain headlines and descriptions must be paired together?

Within RSAs, it’s possible to ‘pin’ certain headlines and descriptions, providing marketers additional control over how messages populate within the campaign. And, for brands with regulations around claims that can or cannot be used in ad copy, RSAs can accommodate this as well.

What does this mean for marketers today?

Generally speaking, Google doesn’t backtrack. If anything, it’s the opposite — they double down on their new features. So, within the next few years, we predict that expanded text ads will be sunset and replaced by a version of today’s RSAs. And history is on our side here. When expanded text ads first rolled out, standard text ads were the default ad type and industry standard. With 3 headlines, 2 descriptions, and a higher character count, ETAs offered increased flexibility and new expansion opportunities. So, it’s easy to see why a few years after ETAs launched, Google sunset the ability to create standard text ads. We believe the rise of automation will bring about the same change: ETAs will eventually sunset in the interest of RSAs and other forms of automation.

In the short term, expanded text ads are still an available ad unit and will likely continue to be used by brands looking to have complete control over ad copy. However, it’s crucial marketers and brands alike start to embrace this change and begin preparing for the age of automation.

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