Google’s latest announcement made waves in the world of advertising. As the world’s leading ad platform, Google has a reputation for its constant efforts in innovation. The search behemoth’s latest announcement is another stride in that direction.
To kick off this fall, Google announced they will be dropping the use of expanded text ads in favor of responsive search ads (RSA). Here’s what you need to know.
- The change will not take effect until June 30, 2022.
- All text ads created before that date will continue to exist until the advertiser removes or deletes them.
- Responsive search ads will be the only ad type available for standard search campaigns.
As mold-breaking as this announcement may seem, it doesn’t mean you need to start retooling your 2022 marketing goals. Google’s shift makes sense, and this post will explain why. But beyond the surface-level logic, this announcement signifies a more profound revelation. It’s one with a far-reaching impact that affects the advertising world from both consumers’ and marketers’ perspectives.
In this case, it might be better to hear directly from the ad giant:
“The ways people search are constantly changing. In fact, 15% of search queries every day are new searches we’ve never seen before. As consumer trends shift and evolve, it’s more important than ever to make it easier for people to connect with your business through relevant and helpful ads.”
So what does any of this mean for your ad campaigns?
To answer that, we first need to get some essential information out of the way.
What are responsive search ads?
Responsive search ads use machine learning to optimize ad spend. They pull from a list of headlines and descriptions to match content to users’ search queries.
Say you’re running a responsive search ad for your pet store. One RSA may have headlines about dog food, leashes, or grooming. If someone searches for pet stores in your area that offer dog grooming, not only will your ad trigger, but it will also pull together content specific to your grooming services.
Seems simple enough, but how does any of this work? Let’s examine the structure of an RSA.
To set up an RSA, you will submit:
- 15 headlines with a 30-character limit
- 4 descriptions with a 90-character limit
- 1 landing page
The steps for setting up RSAs are similar to text ad creation:
- Build your ad groups.
- Click the “Ads & Extensions” button.
- Select responsive search ads.
- Input your headlines, descriptions, and URL.
Text ads vs. RSA
Fundamentally, responsive search ads are text ads enabled by machine learning. The results of both ads are similar. They each can display a maximum of three headlines at a time, with two descriptions max, and hold the same opportunities to display extensions.
The primary difference between the two is automation. Text ads require a manual approach but give marketers complete control over the content. When you write a text ad, you only get three headlines and two descriptions to fill out.
While there’s no guarantee all three headlines and both descriptions will display every time, you can rest assured that the content will only display in the order you wrote them. In other words, if you wrote an ad that contains a location in headline 1, and a CTA to visit that location in headline 2, customers will always see these two headlines in unison when they trigger the ad.
In contrast, RSAs dynamically organize the text ad based on the search query. AI pulls two to three headlines from your content to best match user-submitted search terms. The same is true for your descriptions. While this has its value, it detracts from the ability some marketers enjoy about controlling the content experience.
For example, you can never plan for the way your headlines and descriptions will match up. Imagine you’re advertising a special deal that’s going to end soon. It’ll generally take more than 30 characters to describe the deal and the urgency to get in on it. Most marketers would split this information up between their headlines or descriptions in a text ad, ensuring one section always clarifies the deal and the other clarifies the end date.
With RSAs, this becomes a much trickier task. You can’t guarantee every ad will include the right combination of deal name and end date. You’d have to either cram all that information into your four descriptions to guarantee it always shows up or limit your headline variation.
There are strategies to negate these kinds of issues—and we’ll speak to them later—but this lack of visibility has made marketers hesitant to run entirely RSA-focused ad campaigns. Google doesn’t tell you what combinations of headlines and descriptions are achieving results. Instead, it displays all metrics for your entire selection of content, never allowing you to zero in on what is fueling success. That may leave you wondering why Google is so adamant about the future of responsive advertising that they’re willing to force marketers’ hands.
Why is Google making this shift, and what does it mean for the future of advertising?
Google introduced a beta version of responsive search ads in 2018. At first, they were essentially a side feature that most marketers didn’t understand how to use without best practice guides. Eventually, as feature knowledge grew more widespread, the ad type shifted into the default option when starting a new campaign, making standard text ads a more tedious task to craft. This process became official in February 2021, when Google announced RSAs would be the primary ad type moving forward.
Google clearly believes responsive ads are the future of advertising. The question is why?
Google provides a specific answer in their announcement:
“It’s more important than ever to make it easier for people to connect with your business through relevant and helpful ads.”
Google has always focused on relevance in advertising. Users worldwide trust Google with their inquiries because they know they’ll find relevant and reliable answers. One of the most significant factors in any Google ad’s success is Quality Score, which ranks your ad’s quality based on its relevance to a search query. Unlike some other platforms, Google isn’t shy about telling you how this affects your success with their algorithm. You can use tools like Google Analytics and Audience Targeting to fine-tune your Quality Score for your potential customers.
So how do responsive ads fit into this? Responsive search ads dynamically pull from your wealth of content to pick the most relevant content available when users search. Instead of needing numerous text ad variations to speak to your audience’s different values, RSAs will automate that personalization process for you. Google’s faith in this ad type comes from the idea that automating relevancy is the future of digital marketing.
The impact of personalization isn’t a foreign thought to leaders in this industry. In our 2021 report, digital marketers who used advertising personalization experienced increases in marketing spend efficiency, purchase intent, sales and revenue, and brand loyalty. The results were astounding:
- 95% of marketers met or exceeded their revenue targets.
- 6 in 10 achieved a 10% or greater lift in sales.
- More than half increased their marketing-spend efficiency by 20% or greater.
The potential is clear, but relevancy at scale still remains an uphill climb for most teams. Responsive search ads are a step in the right direction of mitigating that challenge. Just like with Quality Score, Google is again pushing marketers down the path of personalization, making it harder to ignore.
How to maximize your ROAS during this shift
For some, this update may throw a wrench into your current advertising strategies. Others might be excited to start getting ahead of the competition. Regardless, don’t lose sight of your CRO goals, and more importantly, don’t neglect the value of a precise, user-focused strategy.
Before you find yourself on the deep end of the RSA hype train, reel things back and fine-tune your approach. This functionality’s potential is intriguing, but you need to avoid some pitfalls if you plan to succeed.
Here’s what you should remember.
Be precise with copy
Just because RSAs offer dynamically placed content doesn’t mean you should run the gamut of your brand messaging. Yes, responsive ads grab from your list of headlines and descriptions to match search queries, but that doesn’t guarantee relevance. Not every variation of your messaging will resonate with your different audiences.
Here are some crucial messaging elements that need to align within variations:
- Emotional connection
- Pain point solutions
- Value systems
Another aspect you need to keep in mind is your lack of control. There’s no guarantee your headline about visiting your store will match up with your headline containing your address. And, if you write too many variations of address headlines, your ad could get repetitive.
Let’s revisit our pet store example. You’ve narrowed down your campaign to focus on dog food. So you put together an RSA containing all the content you think you need to sell dog food. But did you consider the different purchase perspectives behind dog food?
Imagine someone is looking for healthy dog food for their puppy. Your ad may present content about puppy food in the first headline, but what if the second headline focuses on weight-management food? Now, the user is correlating your puppy food to weight loss and wondering when puppy fat-shaming became a hot topic.
Instead, let’s consider you split your content into two ads:
- One ad could focus on content hyper-relevant to new puppy owners looking to help their active companion grow and get strong with protein-rich kibble.
- The second could zone in on healthy lifestyle dog food, for owners looking to help their aging companions stay healthy and active.
Be relevant to your audience
Responsive search ads aren’t ushering in the end to segmentation as we know it. You’re still going to need to invest in audience targeting and psychographic segmentation. Don’t waste that investment by picking a one-size-fits-all RSA to target all your customers.
Here’s how to keep each RSA optimized for the right audience, at the right time:
- Limit keywords. RSAs’ expanded automation does not mean you can cut corners and stuff all your keywords in one ad group. Spread them out to optimize each ad for maximized relevancy. If that means expanding on your number of ad groups, so be it – you don’t want to waste keyword research on low-relevancy content.
- Keep messaging relevant. Now that you’ve fine-tuned your audiences and keywords, let’s hit them where it counts. Understand the value points that matter to that audience. Use psychographic data to speak to your audience as individuals with specific needs.
- Practice precision. In line with the earlier point, don’t spread your messaging too far. As tempting as it might be, this isn’t an opportunity to reach more searches with one ad. As a CRO-focused marketer, all this will do is hurt your long-term goals. Even if you achieve results with a broad variety of content, you won’t attain insights from those results.
Be mindful of the post-click experience
Finally, you need to remember the conversion journey. The goal at the end of any personalization effort is to form a meaningful relationship. That all gets squandered if you put everything into the pre-click phase, only to let up on the post-click side of things.
Remember, the variation of content you can create and the automation behind it is a considerable advantage, but your RSA only links to one landing page. That’s a possible 15 headlines and four descriptions that all need to maintain ad-to-page relevancy with one landing page.
It is impossible to optimize a landing page that has content targeting the whole family. Grandma isn’t going to be impressed by your loud colors and trendy text the way her Gen Z son might be. Instead, cater to grandma’s preferences with a user-friendly, easy-on-the-eyes post-click experience, linked to a responsive ad that speaks to her needs.
Google’s new shift to responsive search ads comes with abundant opportunities and a lot more responsibility. Marketers who cut corners will suffer the consequences. Those who prepare for the long run and look to evolve with this industry will take the lead.
As you prepare for the future, keep in mind:
- As of June 30, 2022, responsive search ads will be the standard ad type for all search campaigns.
- The expanded automation of the ad type comes with a new focus on personalization and relevancy.
- Prepare your strategies accordingly by keeping content hyper-focused on your segmented audiences.
- Start building for future success by narrowing down your content and limiting variation within your responsive ads.
- Don’t neglect the post-click experience. The future of conversion optimizations is shifting, too, and you don’t want to fall behind.
Gear up for success
Google’s update is just around the corner. If you’re only focused on this change’s functionality aspects, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Google’s focus on personalization and relevancy isn’t going to end with responsive content, and they surely won’t be the only platform to continue this trend.
Postclick has been at the forefront of pioneering personalization solutions in advertising for nearly a decade. Since then, we’ve developed the tech, the expertise, and the strategies proven to guarantee higher advertising conversions. We do this by powering personalization at scale and fine-tuning landing pages through constant experimentation.
If you’re looking to get ahead of Google’s latest update or seeking help with landing page optimization, please reach out. We offer a free conversion health analysis, including a live landing page review, an ad campaign audit, page performance, and a competitive benchmarking report. Request your free landing page analysis here.