Well, a new era in search engine marketing has begun. On June 30, 2022, Google deprecated Expanded Text Ads (ETAs), the default paid search ad format for many years.
This wasn’t a quick decision. Google gave search marketers a year’s notice, and my colleague, Joe Bernal, wrote about this on our blog soon after the announcement. Now, marketers can only build new ads using the responsive search ad (RSAs) format.
The good news is that almost no one will miss ETAs because responsive search ads are simply…better. They are faster to build, easier to manage, and by all accounts are that they perform better than ETAs.
Remember, instead of writing text ads manually, with RSAs, search marketers supply Google with 3-15 headlines and 2-4 lines of description resulting in 42,680 ad combinations!
Most importantly, they take full advantage of Google’s impressive user-level data set and its recent shift over the last few years into AI-driven automation. In tandem with automated bidding strategies, RSAs enable marketers to spend more time in other key areas of paid search optimization to drive performance.
You probably have some experience with RSAs at this point. But, just to make sure you’re completely ready for this new era of SEM, here are five critical best practices when using Google Search’s default ad format:
Make sure all of your combinations work together
The legacy advice was to have at least 3-5 ETAs in each ad group to optimize performance, so having many, many, many times that amount of available ads with a single responsive search ad means that most search marketers will undoubtedly try to fill their RSAs with the max headline and description limit.
But, there’s a little complexity and nuance here that is required beyond just writing a bunch of assets. Remember, Google can use any or just one of your 4 headlines and any or just one of your 15 lines of description in any order. But, remember, consumers don’t see headlines and lines of description; they see search engine listings—and more than half of them probably don’t realize they are even ads.
Here’s a checklist for you:
- Try each headline with the same single line of description
- Take three headlines and switch around the order
- Randomly create three descriptions using combinations of two
Now, do all the headline combinations work with the different description combinations? Do they read well, or do they sound weird? Do they all make sense? Are any of them too repetitive?
The hallmark of an amazing RSA is that all 43,680 combinations look and feel hand-crafted.
This is a good lesson for marketers just starting to work with AI. And it’s not just for RSAs…think about anywhere Artificial Intelligence is beginning to permeate marketing. Our roles are changing. Marketers must understand the mechanics of what is happening in the background to feed intelligent machines the correct information. It doesn’t mean that you need a data science degree—it just means that extra care and attention are required when you hand off marketing tasks to automation.
This is a perfect segue to the next tip!
Stay in control with RSA pinning
Yes, fellow marketers, as more AI makes its way into our daily lives, the role of marketers will shift. One of our primary tasks will be to oversee our intelligent machine colleagues and take over control at critical points when it makes the most sense.
We all probably have an example in our professional or personal lives where automation went off the rails. So, the key to getting the most out of AI is to know when and where to step in.
For example…pinning. Google offers the ability to pin headlines and lines of description to specified positions. This level of control of your responsive search ads.
And Google provides a very concise set of pinning tips that you should heed:
Pinning one headline or description causes it to show only in that specific position, preventing other headlines or descriptions from showing in its place. Since pinning reduces the overall number of headlines or descriptions that can be matched to a potential customer’s search, pinning isn’t recommended for most advertisers.
Try pinning 2 or 3 headlines or descriptions to each position so that any of them can show in that position. This gives you more flexibility to find out which headlines or descriptions perform better.
Example: If you pin the headline “Official Website” to Headline position 1, all ads will have “Official Website” as the first headline. However, if you pin a second headline, such as, “The Official Site,” to Headline position 1, all ads will show either “Official Website” or “The Official Site” as the first headline.
If you have headlines and/or descriptions pinned to all available positions, unpinned headlines and/or descriptions won’t show.
That last line of Google’s advice is an excellent transition to our next tip.
Really love ETAs? Make “pseudo-ETAs” from RSAs with this hack.
Amodio has a great article about improving RSA conversion rates, but it was her tip about creating ETAs with RSAs that I thought might be interesting to other search marketers. Basically, by just providing Google with 3 headlines and 2 lines of description—and pinning them in place—you are, in essence, creating what she calls “pseudo-ETAs”.
Amodio’s use case was a performance optimization test. The unpinned version of this 3×2 pseudo-ETA “brought CPL down 45%” compared to the pinned version. That’s a good endorsement of the responsive nature of RSAs and why Google must have been pretty confident in this format when it made its change.
Her test aside, I could see some practical uses for pseudo-ETAs:
- If it ain’t broken… Remember, not only can you not create ETAs anymore, but you can’t edit them either. So if you have some great ETAs already, you might want to keep using them but be able to continue updating them.
- Ensure clarity. As you can see from the pinning examples above, some RSA combinations might be weird. It’s possible due to weird jargon or brand names that you might need to pin on some occasions to make sure the ad combinations don’t look weird.
- Test ideas. Search ads have been one of the ways to quickly and cheaply test messaging in a live environment. Winning messages may make it to social media, TV commercials, etc. RSAs make this a bit harder because you don’t get reporting down to the most granular level (i.e., 46,830 ways!). So, pseudo-ETAs offer a way to keep checking out ideas as straightforwardly as they were done previously.
Remember your fundamental ad best practices
Sure, the game has completely changed in an RSA-only world. But that doesn’t mean the knowledge and experience from more than two decades aren’t valuable anymore!
Don’t ignore the basics. Here’s a list of the ad tips that worked well with ETAs and are still worthwhile to consider today:
- Be compelling. Just because Google has 43,680 combinations to choose from doesn’t mean that your RSA ad copy doesn’t have to be great. Remember your basics about what garners consumer attention on the search engine results page.
- Ad extensions. Advertisers can see an average 20% increase in click-through rate when 4 sitelinks show with their search ads.
- CTAs. Use specific calls to action, not general ones. These are still ads; they still require work strong CTAs to illicit consumer action.
- DSAs are still viable. Dynamic Search Ads are still an option for you. They save time and can sometimes work better than RSA ads. Keep DSAs in the mix of your portfolio creative approach.
- Keyword Insertion. Still one of the all-time best SEM practices! Use keyword insertion to put the keyword into the ad copy automatically.
- Audiences. RSA + automated bidding is better with audiences. I don’t think RSAs can do all of the work alone. A focused set of RSA headlines and descriptions geared towards a particular audience can be a very effective combination.
Use the Ad Strength tool
The Ad Strength feature of RSA creation is an algorithmic-based watchdog that scores your ads based on Google’s recommended best practices.
The tool provides feedback on how well your ad rates for optimal performance using the scale of “Incomplete,” “Poor,” “Average”, “Good,” to “Excellent.” Google reports that a higher Ad Strength score will generally maximize the performance of your ad.
Ad Strength has 2 parts:
- The overall Ad Strength score, which rates the effectiveness of an ad
- The specific action you should take to improve the ad’s Ad Strength score
Common Ad Strength tool recommendations include:
- Add more. If you haven’t reached 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, Google may prompt you to add more. The system will even make suggestions that you can approve with a click—or maybe they’ll just jump-start your creative juices so you can generate more yourself.
- More unique. Google’s AI may feel that your headlines or descriptions are too similar. Maybe there are just too many repeated words/phrases, or semantically even different words are too conceptually alike. RSAs work so well because you give Google 43,680 combinations—if they’re all the same ideas, that limits their effectiveness.
- Stop pinning. Yes, while taking control is a vital part of working with AI, it’s also important not to restrict what Google can do with overpinning. If the Ad Strength tool determines that you’ve pinned too much, it will alert you and get you to revert them to unpinned.
- More relevance. Like with ETAs, if your ad group’s keywords aren’t represented enough within the RSA headlines and descriptions, then your ads could be limited in which auctions they participate, lose more auctions, and have lower positions/higher costs even when you do win. So even in an RSA-only world, relevance is still crucial with Google Search Ads.
Final tip: watch Google’s brief RSA best practices tutorials
Google offers many excellent recommendations that can provide meaningful improvement to your responsive search ads campaigns.
Here are two you should check out:
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