The demise of Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) has left many Google Ads advertisers confused and perplexed. You can go in several directions with Responsive Search Ads (RSAs).
First, if you haven’t yet set up RSAs you should get that done ASAP. Here’s a free RSA migration script from Optmyzr that generates a new ad for every ad group by importing ad copies from your existing ETAs. You should, of course, add more headlines and descriptions but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Now, how are folks dealing with the big June 30th change?
One group of advertisers have refused to change. As a workaround, they are replicating their ETAs by creating RSAs with exactly 2 headlines and 3 descriptions, all pinned in a specific order. The big problem here is missing out on many of the benefits afforded by RSAs. Also, RSA ad scores are going to be horrible. Whether or not you believe that’s an actual issue, your boss or your client may believe it is, and that will spell trouble.
The second group of advertisers have chosen to follow a hybrid model, duplicating ETAs with RSAs as above, but also implementing an RSA with multiple unpinned headlines and descriptions. The problem here is that unless your “true” RSA contains radically different ad copy than your pseudo-ETAs, there’s really little point in including the pseudo-ETAs in the first place. A well-designed RSA will automatically figure out the best ad copy combinations based on the search query, user intent, historical performance, and other factors.
The last group of advertisers are drinking the Kool-Aid and forging ahead with a single RSA per ad group. This is what we’re doing at my agency and what I’ll be focusing on in discussing RSA optimization.
Building a Starter RSA
Ad group configuration has changed a lot with the advent of RSAs, changes to match types and automated bidding. As such, gone are the days of SKAGs (thank goodness) or even having super specific keyword themes with just a handful of keywords per ad group. Indeed advertisers should have far fewer ad groups per campaign than they did a few years ago.
That said, it’s still important to segment your keywords into logical themes, particularly if you’re targeting different landing pages.
Before moving forward, this article I wrote about top Google Ads creative tips is worth a read. It can help tremendously with effective ad writing.
Adding an RSA to an existing ad group
If you’re still transitioning from ETAs to RSAs, you should start by including headlines and descriptions from all your ETAs in your first RSA version. If you end up with headlines or descriptions that are extremely similar you should remove them to avoid duplication.
If you’re writing from scratch, here are some major ad copy types and ideas to include:
- unique value proposition
- landing page offer
- call to action
- features & benefits
- trust factors such as social proof
- qualifying text
- scarcity tactics
Before saving your new ad go through it carefully and consider the following:
- Have you done a good job of including your best-performing keywords in ad copy?
- Does it make sense to include one or more display paths, if so have you included them?
- Have you included strong and accurate calls to action in at least one headline and one description?
- Do most of your headlines and descriptions make good use of the characters provided?
Should you use Google’s ad copy recommendations?
Google will recommend headlines and descriptions when you’re creating new RSAs. These “ideas” come from several different places.
- existing copy from other ads
- copy from your landing page
- copy from ad group keywords
- generic features and benefits
There is nothing wrong with integrating these ad copies as appropriate, just be careful about duplication, nonsensical ad copy, or non-compliant ad copy. For example, you might find that ad copy is formed as a question “how to sell my house quickly” instead of an answer “we’ll buy your house fast” when utilizing keywords. Or, you might see Google trying to insert phone numbers into your ads, which isn’t allowed… this usually happens because you have very old paused ads with phone numbers in ad copy from when it was allowed. Also, pay close attention to formatting. You should be using title case in headlines and I also recommend it for descriptions although there are times when sentence case makes more sense.
Should you use insertion tools?
RSAs support location, keyword, and countdown timer insertion tools. Used wisely, these can boost relevance, urgency and overall performance. But don’t use these tools willy-nilly. Location insertion is beneficial when being local is important to your audience. Keyword insertion can be powerful but often isn’t necessary or that helpful when you already have tightly themed ad groups. The countdown timer can create scarcity when used correctly. Please don’t set up a 3-day countdown timer that restarts every 3-days, you are only hurting your brand trust.
Using the Optmyzr RSA migration script
If you choose to use the RSA migration script, you will be starting with RSAs that are derived directly from your ETAs. In this case, you really just need to figure out what additional ad copies you would like to add before launching. Ideally, you should add novel copy, but worst case it’s okay to use variations of existing ad copy as a starting point.
Of course, you could start “as-is” but that will end up typically very low ad scores, and no way to split test different copy snippets.
Should you pin or not pin?
The answer to this, in my opinion, is it depends. If you end up using all 15 headline and 4 description positions (as Google would want), you are creating almost 44K unique combinations. Letting Google figure out the best combinations for maximum CTR will require at least several hundred thousand clicks. How many clicks did your ad group get last month? Getting the picture?
I believe what Google does to expedite “results” is cheat by having a bias towards copy that includes keywords. If you look at your ad combinations you may find that very similar headlines appear together. This meets Google’s criteria for “relevance” but often makes for a confusing and/or incomplete ad unit. Also, when you review your asset details report, you may find that perfectly-good features and benefits statements only get a few token impressions.
If you want to leave everything unpinned I suggest that you start with a handful (no more than 5) headlines and 3 descriptions. This will give the ad copy variations a much better shot at being served. Over time you can add more headlines and your 4th description. But don’t be surprised if the new ad copies don’t get a lot of love.
At my agency, we use the following pin strategy, which ensures ad units almost always make sense while still being highly relevant.
- Headline #1 – pin your unique value proposition, landing page offer, and brand here (usually your keywords appear in these copies)
- Headline #2 – pin your features & benefits and trust factors, qualifying copy, i.e. key selling points here
- Headline #3 – pin your calls to action here (this headline only serves sometimes so always include another call to action in a description)
For descriptions, I suggest that you pin the one with your call to action into any position so it’s shown in every ad impression.
The Many Ways to Optimize RSAs
With the lack of RSA ad copy variation KPIs (particularly conversion numbers), it seems like the only way to optimize RSAs is by replacing ad copy units that get few impressions and/or are marked as “poor” performing. That’s certainly one way to do it, but there are quite a few other tactics you can employ.
Replace low-performing ad copy per ad
As above, after you’ve been running an RSA for a while you can look at the asset details report and identify “poor” ad copies and/or those that only get a few impressions relative to other options. If it’s early days you might try making small adjustments to the copy rather than nixing it completely.
For example, if your poor-performing headline is currently “24/7 Support Options” you might want to test “Support on Demand” which has a similar meaning but might resonate better with your audience. If, however, you’ve already tried a few different approaches with that feature, you may want to try something completely different in that spot.
You can also use Google’s RSA editing tool to find additional ad copy ideas. Next to the “ad strength” indicator, you can click on “view ideas” to look through more ad copy suggestions.
Use Google Recommendations
As when creating an ad, Google will periodically make recommendations to “improve” your ads. Google’s aim is to improve your RSA ad strength. Ad strength is based on how many headline and description slots you use, how unique your ad copies are, and how many keywords you use. That’s it! I’ll repeat, that’s it! Ad strength has nothing to do with performance in terms of CTR or even your bidding method and goals, i.e. conversions.
Some recommendations may be perfectly sensible, but many are not. Use these recommendations with caution and NEVER APPLY THEM without careful review.
Use asset reports to find high-performing ad copy across your entire account
If you have enough volume Google will show you an account-wide cross-campaign asset report. This shows you the performance for each ad copy across all of your campaigns at once. Unlike optimizing per ad, which is a worm’s eye view, this is like a bird’s eye view that can help you improve overall copy strategy.
The report shows you the ad copy and type, the number of ads it’s running in (you can even click to view those specific ads), whether it’s pinned and in how many ads, performance rating and the number of impressions served.
This makes it super easy to see which headlines and descriptions are crushing it along with those that are total dogs. From this, you can refine your overall creative direction and then modify a bunch of ads at once.
Even so, you do have to be mindful that ads still need to be uniquely designed for their campaigns and ad groups based on product or service, specific offer and landing page, as well as keyword theme. To account for this it’s a good idea to use the filter to look at logical groups of ads rather than the entire account, particularly if you offer a range of different services.
Try ad variations
So many PPC pros completely ignore the amazing ad variations function.
Ad variations offer a way to change ad copy across a bunch of ads at once and split test the change against the baseline copy. You can set the scope to the entire account, specific campaigns, or customize it with filters to suit your needs. For example, you can choose all the ads in your account that point to a particular landing page.
Once you’ve selected your ads you can process your changes. The most common approach is to replace text such as swapping “Cheap Children’s Shoes” with “Low-Cost Kids Shoes.” You can also update text, which will drop in your replacement regardless of what exists there now. And, you can add, remove, or adjust pin settings. Since you can change URLs, you can also use this to split test different landing pages rather than running an experiment.
With your variations ready to go you just have to choose what % of traffic to test and then “create” the ad variation. You can easily view your ad variation’s progress. Once you have a statistically significant result you can stop and/or apply your variation.
Run multiple RSAs in a single ad group
I’m not a big fan of this because it’s a bit of a management nightmare but it can work. Rather than using ad variations, you can make multiple RSAs in the same ad group to test against each other. There are a bunch of different approaches here. One option is to run duplicate RSAs but only change one headline or description. Another option is to build RSAs as if they are ETAs with dedicated/pinned headlines and descriptions.
Both of these methods are lacklustre at best. In the first scenario, you have no way to know which combinations are being run in each RSA, so how do you know whether the new ad copy is outperforming the old ad copy? In the second scenario, you may see better conversion performance from your pseudo-ETA, but you aren’t accounting for the fact that the RSA is probably driving a lot more impressions and clicks, and therefore has more volume potential. This is simply because there is almost always going to be more relevance when you have 19 ad copies vs. 5.
We never use the first scenario at our agency, it makes no sense when you have ad variations available.
We do use the second scenario sometimes. It can be useful in an account with intentionally flat spending. In a situation like this, you probably don’t mind too much if you’re cutting impressions/clicks for the sake of driving a lower CPA. Just bear in mind that you may also be curtailing background search query discovery, particularly if you’re running automated bidding.
The first step to optimizing RSAs is writing an excellent ad to start with. Follow best practices here and you’ll start out with a higher-performing ad. Consider using strategic pinning to organize your RSAs into logical combinations for every impression.
Once you’ve started to collect some baseline data it’s time to start optimizing. You can revise ad copy based on the reports Google provides, split test using ad variations, or run multiple RSAs for advanced testing.
Soon you’ll feel confident working with RSAs and getting the best performance out of them.
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