Google’s New Responsive Search Ads Pack More Automation into AdWords

By EXCLUSIVE Insights Team
TOPICSFeatured, Google, Insights

For years, Google has made it clear that having at least three Expanded Text Ads in each of your ad groups was an established best practice for AdWords. Multiple variations meant that shoppers looking for relevant products had a chance to cycle through alternate-but-relevant messaging versions, and campaign managers would get access to statistical data on which ad resonated most with shoppers.  Now, as Google gets serious about its increasingly intelligent automations, it has started rolling out a way to turn all three of those Expanded Text Ads into just a single listing: Responsive Search Ads (RSAs).

A (Brief) History of the RSA 

Currently in beta, RSAs rolled out alongside the latest overhaul of the AdWords interface. Once enabled, users add multiple variants of their headline copy (up to 15) and multiple variants of their description copy (up to four) into a single ad. Google then cycles through — and creates — the ad permutations.

Not only will these ads have more potential variations in terms of messaging, but Google has also incentivized usage of this new beta feature by giving campaigns that integrate it more total real estate in the SERP. RSAs can have three headlines (90 characters) and two 90-character descriptions (up from 80 characters in Expanded Text Ads) displaying at once.

Setting up an RSA in AdWords

Creating an RSA

If your account has been set up for RSAs, you’ll see the option to create Responsive Search Ads from the Ad Creation dropdown, alongside the standard formats. RSAs can only be created within the new AdWords interface, but advertisers who have been dragging their feet to adopt the new interface can also create these ads within the most recently updated versions of AdWords editor. During the beta, it appears that RSAs will only be available in Ad Groups that have another ad format already running — presumably to ensure that your ads won’t stop running in case of errors.

A potential variant of an RSA based on the parameters used in the screenshot above


When setting up RSAs, you may have some ads where you want to ensure that a certain headline displays only in a single position, like making sure that a headline displaying the product name is always appearing in the first position. You can accomplish this via Pinning: an option available on each individual headline or description to ensure that it only appears in one of the positions. Clicking on the Thumbtack icon on the headline will bring up the pinning menu:

Use the Pinning feature, shown here, to ensure that your ads only display in your preferred position(s)

Beyond these specific changes, ad creation for RSAs should still follow regular AdWords best practices. Keep messaging clear and concise, include the relevant keywords in the ad text, and make sure to feature clear calls-to-action.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Beyond the potential benefits of increased space for messaging, RSAs have a number of advantages over our previous generation of static ads (although, they also have a few disadvantages). Here’s our analysis of the pros and cons:



  • Automated testing: With constant cycling between headlines and descriptions, Google is going to generate a lot of data about which types of ad variants are the most profitable. It will then prioritize those high-performing variants automatically, giving your ads the best possible chance to lead to a sale.
  • Save time on creation: Instead of manually creating multiple ads, each of your ad groups will only need a single RSA cycling through ad copy, saving you time that would’ve been spent creating and optimizing variants.
  • Enhanced descriptions: Description copy real estate has more than doubled with RSAs, which means that the description area can contain even more info than in previous ad formats (i.e. promotional details and additional relevant keywords). It appears that Google is dropping a period character “.” between each headline, so grammar-sticklers will want to avoid ending their description lines with any punctuations to avoid errors.



  • Lack of in-depth visibility: While Google will be doing the testing for you on these campaigns, we have yet to see if they will be sharing the data that is generated. Unlike other ad formats, it may be hard to pick a clear winner between two specific ad copy lines, as there isn’t any visibility into how certain variants compare to others. We may see more functionality around testing coming down the line, or Google may treat RSAs as a black box of possible variants, which is one complaint that AdWords users have made about the current generation of responsive display ads.
  • Lack of cohesion: Certain advertisers may have developed strategies for optimizing specific headline copy based on placement. These RSAs are asking AdWords advertisers to release the reigns on some of those tightly calculated strategies in favor of automation. Instead of a specific story being told between two headlines, advertisers will need to assume that each headline in a given add will need to stand on its own to avoid unclear messaging. The Pinning feature provides a partial workaround on this issue, but it will probably still require a change of thinking during ad creation for many experienced ad copywriters.
  • Loss of Ad Customizers: As of now, the RSAs are not supporting the Ad Customizer feature, which let advertisers to develop backend databases for their ad text. This may be a detriment to advertisers who use customizers for complex campaigns strategies like rotating promotions, campaign-based disclaimer messages or product-specific copy pulled from product feed data. At this time, only the {Keyword} ad enhancer will work in an RSA, which means other advanced copy functions like {Countdowns} and {IF} functions will not work. It’s unclear if this functionality will be coming later, but in the meantime, you’ll need to keep your all headlines static in order to create these ads.

What to Make of it All

RSAs are a clear upgrade in terms of advertising real estate, and slot nicely with Google’s drive for increased automation on the platform over the last couple of months. Advertisers would be wise to start experimenting with the new format, not only to get a leg up on competition but also to learn what strategies will work best for your copy when Google has more control over how messaging is displayed.