What Are Responsive Search Ads and How Do They Work?

If you run Google ads, you may have noticed that expanded text ads are no longer the default and are being replaced by a new ad type called “responsive search ads.”

So, what are responsive search ads, how do they work, and how can you leverage them to get the best results for your company?

What Are Responsive Search Ads?

Responsive search ads are ads that change their content over time depending on what combinations perform best and what people are searching for. Essentially, they do a kind of automatic A/B testing and in theory, will land on an ad that will work. This can save a lot of time for smaller companies who might have more important things to do than a bunch of testing to establish which description has the best result.

What is the Difference Between Responsive Search Ads and Dynamic Search Ads?

With dynamic search ads, Google issues a headline to the ad that is determined by the content and the search query, automatically generating a landing page using content from your website. Dynamic search ads are for steering people to your product or service by making it look relevant and getting them to what you want. The downside is that you need a good amount of website content to get good landing pages. Dynamic search ads work well in certain circumstances. For example, if you have outlets in Arlington, VA and Alexandria, VA, then dynamic ads will send customers to the right location depending on the search terms they used.

Responsive search ads are more about saving time creating ads and making sure that you show tested, proven ads to your users.

How Do Responsive Search Ads Work?

To create a responsive search ad you enter multiple headlines and descriptions. Google allows up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions. When the ad runs, it will choose which headlines and descriptions to use (they can go in any order), and learn which ones get the most clicks from specific queries. This does mean that different ads may be shown depending on what you click on.

You can have something shown in every ad by pinning it to a certain position, and you can also pin more than one thing to a location, which will ensure that one of those shows in every ad.

You can edit these ads, but they are designed to run for an extended period with minimal supervision.

Finally, responsive search ads also take into account the size of the user’s screen. They will show a smaller ad on mobiles or busy pages. Each ad will always show at least two headlines and one description.

What Are the Benefits of Responsive Search Ads?

Responsive search ads come with a number of benefits, which include:


Automatic A/B testing. You can set up your A/B as elements of a responsive search ad and let it run.


Reduced advertising fatigue. If somebody sees the same ad too many times they actually become less likely to buy, a phenomenon called advertising fatigue or audience fatigue. When an ad starts to get stale, the algorithm should change it up so as to avoid this.


Personalized ad experience. Responsive search ads take into account the user’s search history and query and show them the most relevant information.


Increased mobile click through because these ads are well optimized for smaller screens.


Matching more queries. As you have a lot of headlines and descriptions, your ads will compete better and reach more customers.


Promoting pages with light content, such as product pages.

The biggest benefit is, of course, being able to optimize your ad with less work. True, you have to do more writing off the bat, but you don’t have to go through the entire process of setting up two different ads, comparing, set up another pair, etc.

What Are the Issues With Responsive Search Ads?

The biggest issue is that they do require more setup. The minimum is four headlines and two descriptions, but you want to do more than that. Thinking of headlines is not necessarily easy. It can be easy to end up with headlines that are simply boring variants of the same thing, and Google will actually flag ads where they are too similar. You need to make sure to highlight different things in each element. One way to save setup time is to take elements from your current top-performing ads.

Another issue is that the system may change the order of assets in the ad, so you need to make sure all combinations make sense. So if you are doing things like multi-part headlines you will need to use pinning to keep them in the right order. However, using too much spinning restricts the automatic variant testing can can potentially negatively impact performance.

If you are used to testing ads against each other you may be tempted to test more than one ad per Ad Group. This will actually slow down the optimization process.

What Else Should You Know About Responsive Search Ads?

A few other things to bear in mind are that you need to include good keywords in your headlines, and ideally product features or benefits to your descriptions. All of this can help you match more queries and get more results.

Also, make sure that you have a very concise and straightforward CTA such as “Save now” or “Find out more.” Responsive search ads are best suited to brand awareness, so use them to get traffic to your landing page and then make sure that your landing page pulls them further.

As of right now, expanded text ads are sticking around, but they are no longer the default. Responsive search ads are becoming more important and popular. Use them for brand awareness and as a way to automate your A/B testing and get the most out of them with short CTAs, good keywords, and elements that highlight different parts of what you have to offer.


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