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Responsive Search Ads – The Complete Guide

Responsive Search Ads – The Complete Guide

Google’s responsive search ads (RSAs) were introduced in 2018, and it was one of the biggest changes to the platform since they brought out expanded search ads back in 2016.

With responsive search ads, rather than testing different expanded ads you can use Google’s algorithms to do the legwork for you.

We recently blogged about Responsive Display Ads with a complete guide on how to use those effectively, so here’s the companion piece for responsive search ads.

This guide will help you understand and effectively use them.

What are responsive search ads?

Traditionally, text ads in Google were made up from headlines and body copy. The advertiser would write them in the intended order.

Multiple, stand-alone versions would be created, with Google rotating the versions against each other based on a series of criteria outlined by the advertiser in their campaign settings rather than based on Google’s machine learning and AI data.

With responsive search ads, instead of each ad being viewed as its own version, each piece of the ad is considered an “asset” and they can be mixed and matched by Google to find the best combination of headlines and body copy for a campaign goal.

Responsive search ads are noted as that type in the Ads section, and also have a link to “view asset details” for advertisers to see all the assets running as part of it.

Because the campaign isn’t being given set criteria from the advertising campaign manager, each individual headline and body copy asset has to make sense on its own, irrespective of what combination it’s used in.

Expanded text ads are still supported, and advertisers can still create them. The difference is the platform won’t default to expanded text ads when an advertiser creates a new ad.

What are the benefits?

They can help you create flexible ads that adapt to device widths, giving more room to share your message with potential customers.

Using RSAs also:

  • Saves you time by providing multiple headlines and description options, which lets Google Ads show the most relevant combinations to your customers.
  • Allow you to tailor your headlines and descriptions to your customers’ locations, regular locations or locations of interest.
  • Potentially reach more  customers with multiple headlines and descriptions options that give your ads the opportunity to compete in more auctions and match more queries.

Creating a responsive search ad

From the page menu on the left, click Ads & Extensions, click on the plus button and select responsive search ad.

Google image of where to create responsive search ads

Enter the final URL and display path text. As you type, a preview of your ad will appear to the right.

Note: The preview shows potential ads built using your assets. Not all combinations are shown, and some shortening may occur in some formats.

Enter your headlines. You’ll need to enter a minimum of three headlines, but you can enter up to 15.  Then enter your descriptions. You’ll need to enter a minimum of two descriptions, but you can enter up to four.

Click Save.


Collectively, those headlines and descriptions can be arranged in thousands of combinations, which means the ad testing possibilities are almost limitless.

How do they work?

The more headlines and descriptions you enter, the more opportunities Google Ads has to serve ads that more closely match your potential customers’ search queries, which can improve your ad performance.

After you enter headlines and descriptions, Google Ads assembles the text into multiple ad combinations in a way that avoids redundancy.  

image shows two examples of responsive search ads in a Google SERPs list
IMAGE: Hubspot

In any given ad, a maximum of three headlines and two descriptions will be selected to show in different combinations and orders. Over time, Google Ads will test the most promising ad combinations, and learn which combinations are the most relevant for different queries.

There are some important factors to consider though:

  1. Assets can be shown in any order, so make sure they make sense individually or in combinations, and don’t violate Google policies or break any laws.
  2. It’s recommended to have one responsive search ad per ad group with at least ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ ad strength. There’s a limit of three enabled responsive search ads per ad group.
  3. If you have text that should appear in every ad, you must add the text to either Headline position 1, Headline position 2, or Description position 1.
  4. To increase the likelihood that your ad shows, provide at least five unique headlines that don’t repeat the same or similar phrases, and leverage the feedback from Ad strength to improve the effectiveness of the ad. Using redundant headlines will restrict the system’s ability to generate ad combinations. 

Best Practices for responsive search ads

Reuse existing headlines and text from your high-performing Text Ads. The same content which works in your existing adverts will also work for your responsive search ads and will help improve performance.

Make sure to include text from the keywords which serve most often in your ad group as part of your headlines. This increases the relevance of your ad combinations for search users and will improve the effectiveness of your responsive search ads.
For example, if one of your keywords is picture frames, your ad headline could be “Buy Picture Frames”. If you have five keywords in your ad group and three of them are the best performing for traffic, then try adding those keywords to your headlines as well. This will get your ad strength to the best level and should improve the performance of your responsive search ads.

IMAGE: Google’s example of a good RSA

You should also:

  • Use Ad strength when writing your headlines and descriptions to understand the effectiveness of your ads. Advertisers who improve Ad strength for their responsive search ads from ‘Poor’ to ‘Excellent’ see 9% more clicks and conversions on average.4
  • Take advantage of location insertion and countdown customisers to show ads that are relevant and meaningful to your customers.
  • Use Smart Bidding and broad match keywords with responsive search ads to help optimise the performance of your ads while maximizing your reach.
  • Review cross-campaign asset reporting to understand which creative assets resonate most with your customers.

To Conclude

Familiarising the way Google’s responsive search ads work will save time, aid efficiency, and bring dynamic reactiveness to your campaign strategies.

Using informed strategies, AI and machine learning, as well as data driven decisions on where to target your PPC budget, responsive search ads will help you create a more dynamic, engaging and optimised ad campaign.

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