Google’s Responsive Search Ads: Everything You Need to Know

Tim Davidson
Jan 25, 2019

Responsive search ads are a new ad format that allows advertisers to create digital ads with multiple headlines and descriptions that respond to a user’s search in Google. In testing, Google says using machine learning to test multiple sets of ad creative can increase clicks by up to 15 percent.

Google uses machine learning to test different combinations and to understand which ad combination performs best. Its format allows up to 15 headlines and four descriptions to be added, so, while the testing possibilities aren’t endless, they are still vast! Collectively, these headlines and descriptions can be served to searchers in 43,680 different variations.

After testing them out, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about Google’s Responsive Search Ads based on what we’ve learned so far. But first, let’s outline some of the benefits these ads provide for marketers.

Benefits of Responsive Search

At their core, the overall benefit of responsive search ads is that they improve campaign performance through real-time, platform-driven enhancements (hence the “responsive”). The benefits can be broken down into four parts:

  1. Testing: With the ability to provide multiple headlines and descriptions, Google automates the testing process. This saves advertisers long hours spent on A/B testing and removes the emotional bias humans instill in the process.
  2. Potential Reach: With the additional headline flexibility, ads may show up in more auctions and match more search queries. This gives businesses a wider reach, which could drive new traffic and unveil new ways that people are searching for a product or service.
  3. Relevancy: Responsive ads automatically adapt to device widths and a searcher’s intent, allowing your message to get more share. As a result, this may increase Ad Relevance, Quality Score, and Ad Rank. This, in return, may allow for lower costs per click, ultimately generating more leads and sales.
  4. Google’s Push Toward Machine Learning: The not-so-obvious benefit of responsive search ads is that Google likes advertisers using its tools. In other words, if everything else is equal during the search auction, Google may choose the ad which takes advantage of its own tools.

What We’ve Learned About Responsive Search Ads… So Far

As soon as the team at Tipping Point had access to these ads, we jumped in to see what they’re all about. We started by testing them alongside our current expanded text ads, and the results were pretty interesting.

We tested one responsive ad alongside three of our expanded text ads. We utilized all 15 headlines and four descriptions, and made sure the “do not optimize, rotate ads indefinitely” ad rotation was set.

Below are three campaigns driving leads for the same service, but with a different targeted geographic market:

campaign 1

In campaign 1, the responsive search ad (RES) saw more than a 100 percent increase in click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CVR) than the non-responsive search ad (non-RES) saw. In this market, the best ad format was clear, showing how the responsive ads can have an impact on your campaign.

campaign 2

In campaign 2 we noticed the RES had a slower start to the month, not seeing as much traffic until the end. The RES did see a higher click-through rate, a similar conversion rate, and a higher cost-per-conversion rate than the non-RES. Due to the slow start, more time is needed to see how the RES performs in this market.

campaign 3

In campaign 3, although the RES produced a higher click-through rate, the non-RES actually outperformed the RES in almost every other metric, especially conversions (proving that, as with all new things, not every data point comes up roses). In short, we did not see the results we would have liked to see form this campaign. This is one example where we’ll have to tweak the messaging in the RES to see if we can raise the conversion rate.

all campaigns

In summary, the responsive search ads had a higher click-through rate than the expanded text ads. Although the responsive ads did not produce more conversions, their conversion rates and cost-per-conversion were similar or better than the expanded text ads. This sample, although it might be limited, provides excellent insight into this new ad format. We hope to see even better results as Google continues to learn about what combination is best for searchers.

Additional Insights: We also noticed during our research that, when using five or fewer headlines, the RES ads were served much less than the non-RES ads. When we had five or more headlines, the RES ads saw similar or more traffic than the non-RES ads. On the other hand, having two, three or four descriptions in the RES ads did not seem to affect traffic volume. So, for best results, be sure to add more than five headlines and at least two descriptions in your RES ads.

Additionally, thanks to machine learning, the RES ads—though starting off slow—picked up as time went on. So, if you don’t see results at first, be patient.

Best Practices for Using Responsive Ads

While plugging the copy from your current ad into your responsive ads may be easiest, it isn’t best for optimal performance; there are some best practices that should be considered. Based on our testing and research, three best practices became apparent:

  1. Testing: When testing your responsive ads, don’t kill off your current ads just yet. Instead, test your responsive search ads alongside them. After a few months, look at the metrics and see where you should go from there.
  2. Ad Combinations & Pinning: Keep in mind that headlines and descriptions can appear in any order, so you have to make sure that your combinations make sense no matter the order they are served in. If not, Google allows advertisers to pin headlines and descriptions to specific spots, so they only appear in a certain position. For example, if you have copy you want to appear in every ad, you’ll need to pin it to a specific spot.
  3. Headlines: With 15 headlines, we can use more, and different, variations of our top performing keywords, which allows Google to respond to a user’s search with a relevant ad. Be creative and test distinct headlines. The more distinct, the more effective Google will be at matching a searcher to your relevant, optimal ad.

Related Article: 8 Ways to Improve Your Responsive Ad Copy

Final Thoughts

Responsive ads are part of Google’s push toward machine learning, allowing advertisers to serve consumers even more relevant ads. Adding them to your overall PPC marketing strategy is best. These ads offer a great way for advertisers to show relevant ads, test copy and expand your reach. The Google Ads platform shows how they are performing, and what components are showing up most. Using responsive search ads truly benefit everyone, so at the very least, test them out!

Have you tried Responsive Search ads yet? What results have you seen? Let us know in the comments section!

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