Google surprised us this month when they suddenly added “optional” extra headline and description fields to Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). While Google had been Beta testing this feature for over a year, we expected more fanfare and buildup.

This has obviously created a lot of unexpected work for advertisers, and more so for agencies. In addition, the simultaneous launch of the highly touted Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) further complicates the situation.

Today I’m going to break down the new ETA format, discuss some new features built into the online ads editor, and describe how we’re implementing these at our agency.

New Expanded Text Ad Format

Previously, ETAs allowed for 2 headlines of 30-characters each, 1 description of 80-characters, a target URL, and two display URL paths. There are some additional settings if you want to target a different mobile landing page and/or add a tracking template.

The new format includes everything we have now but expands the 1st description field from 80 to 90-characters and adds an optional 3rd headline and 2nd description.

Very importantly, you don’t HAVE to do anything at this point. All existing ETAs ads will continue to run perfectly fine as-is. But, standing pat likely means your competitors will be displaying more copy and probably getting more clicks – at your expense.

Why is Google doing this?

Google has apparently discovered that bulkier ads generate higher CTRs. This is great for them because it means they’ll generate more revenue per search. Theoretically, it should also mean that ads will be more relevant and deliver better results than before. The only losers here, are those folks focused only on SEO.

What do I mean by optional fields?

The 3rd headline and 2nd description fields aren’t “required” like the others, meaning you can leave them blank. Also, this ad copy won’t run in every ad impression. While Google hasn’t provided many details beyond that here’s what we expect:

  1. Extra headlines and descriptions are less likely to run on mobile phones (where real estate is at a premium)
  2. They are less likely to run if you utilize all of the characters available across the various headline & description fields (this is a guess based on how RSAs work but we’ve also seen examples of this in ad previews)
  3. They will run more frequently when content in those specific headlines and descriptions match the search query
  4. They will run more frequently if the ad sees higher CTRs when they do run, i.e. Artificial Intelligence at work
  5. This ad copy will take up space you might have otherwise used for ad extensions
  6. It’s very likely that you’ll see this ad copy more frequently in higher ad positions

I will discuss how this works into our own agency’s “best practices” a little later, but first, let’s review the latest ad editor.

New Online Ad Editor

First, you’ll notice that there’s no longer an expandable “mini” ad editor. This version fills the entire screen.

At the top, Google now provides campaign/ad group breadcrumbs and sample ad group keywords. Right below that, Google provides copies of existing ads, but only if you have 1 or 2 ads in the ad group. This little widget is great because you can create a copy from either ad or reference that ad copy while creating the new ad. As you create new ads you also save and create a new one without exiting the editor.

But why does Google remove this when we have 3 or more ads? We love this functionality, how about showing us the 3 most recently created ads? Google does provide a “sample ads” button that displays random ads. Wouldn’t this be the perfect spot to show all active ad group ads as we edit?

That complaint aside, right below this you have the same editing space as before. The editing space, of course, includes the new fields for the 3rd headline and 2nd description.

Rolling Out ETA Changes Best Practices

This is how we’re doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the best way. Use your own judgement.

Logistically, we’re adding a single ETA with the additional headline and description copy to every ad group. Where this creates more ads than we’d like to run, we’re pausing the lowest performing ad (statistical significance applies here). Mostly the new ads are based on the existing best-performing ads. When we’ve completed testing this new ad against the previous ones, we will replace the worst performing ad (whether it is in the old or new format) with a new ETA (including extra content).

This could mean that some ad groups don’t get complete replacements for some time, but that scenario is unlikely unless the new format tanks. At some point, we will likely do a wholesale update to all ad groups, replacing any remaining “shorter” ETAs.

Long Or Short Copy?

Best practice for search ads has always been to use all the space you’re given whenever possible. RSAs have introduced us to the idea that using short but powerful ad copies allow more of those copies to be displayed. While Google hasn’t said this is the case with the new ETAs, we expect this is probably true. What to do? We’re sticking with maximum characters for now, except where it doesn’t make sense to do so. For example, if you want to use the company brand in headline 3, don’t worry about “creatively” using up all 30 characters.

Organizing & Prioritizing Copy

With “optional” ad copy come some important decisions. Use the “always displayed” headlines 1 & 2 and description 1 fields to include your most important benefit(s), offer, and call to action. We definitely don’t want those elements left out of any ad variations.

Use the extra headline and description for secondary features and benefits. Review your landing page(s) and scan all of your ads to identify reusable copy that doesn’t already appear in all ads due to previous space restrictions.

Some of these elements may already be stated in your ad extensions (particularly Callouts). If you have a lot of Callouts, you could pull in some of that content and then turn off those respective extensions. If you then end up with less than 4 Callouts you should add some new ones.

Don’t forget that your 1st description now has 10 more characters available. If you have squished in a less than perfect call-to-action or used less than stellar punctuation/abbreviations here’s your chance to fix it.

Lastly, you might want to change the order of headlines. This is generally not necessary, but sometimes it just makes sense given the overall “flow” of the copy.

Dealing With RSAs

I wrote an article about RSAs last month. Unlike the changes to ETAs, Google has been very vocal about RSAs dropping in August, and how amazing they are. A big part of the appeal, of course, is the ability to show more ad copy in ad variations. With this sudden update to ETAs, RSAs have lost a bit of lustre.

At our agency, we do plan to thoroughly test RSAs but we’ve deferred that for another a month for most accounts.

Don’t get me wrong, these could still be amazing, but replacing a high percentage (or all) of ad inventory all at once is probably not the safest/smartest option.

Getting it Done

The new ETAs and RSAs are still rolling out as I write this, but most advertisers seem to have access now. Google has updated their “AdWords Editor” to support both new ad formats. This gives you 3 options for updating your ads:

  1. Use the new online editor
  2. Use Google’s “AdWords Editor” software
  3. Edit in a spreadsheet and import

If you just want to play around with the new format, we have updated our free ETA ad template tool.

Which method you use will depend on the volume of ads you’re dealing with and how much reusable copy you plan to use. Or you might just use whatever approach you’re most comfortable with.

We’re already through about half of our accounts, mostly hands-on using the online interface. If you use our approach, starting with one ad per group, you can simply count up your search ad groups to know exactly how many new ads you need to create. If you’re doing this online, consider firing up a spreadsheet and saving snippets of copy for quick copy/paste operations.

Oh, and by the way. While Google had seemingly depreciated text ads for display campaigns in the new experience, they are back. And, the new longer ETAs are supported.