Responsive Search Ads 101

All you need to know about Google’s responsive search ads before expanded text ads become obselete this June.

You are reading: Responsive Search Ads 101

Later this year, in June to be precise, we will no longer be able to create or edit Google’s expanded text ads, and will only be able to add responsive search ads.

What are responsive search ads and what do they look like?

To the searcher, the ads don’t look any different really, so they won’t be able to tell if they are seeing an expanded text ad (ETA) or responsive search ad (RSA) (an RSA may show less than 3 headlines).

Way back in 2018, Vic wrote about how to create responsive search ads, when they were still in beta, and not a massive amount has changed since then.

If you are still not using the ads here is a Google video about them:

Google Ads Tutorials: About responsive search ads


The idea is to add as many headlines and descriptions as possible (3-15 headlines and 2-4 descriptions), in order for Google’s machine to amalgamate the lot into different combinations to create the optimum ad for each search. 

Each ad is given a score of ad strength (poor, average, good etc.) and Google obviously encourages advertisers to aim for excellence. The 4 things it is looking at, in order to give you a score are:

  • Number of headlines
  • Popular keywords in headlines
  • Unique headlines
  • Unique descriptions

Within the Ads section of Google Ads, you can see how ‘strong’ your ads are and also any suggested improvements (you can add these columns to your ad table to view them). The suggestions include things like:

  • Try including more keywords in your headlines
  • Try including more keywords in your descriptions
  • Add more headlines to increase your chances for better performance
  • Try adding a few more unique headlines or unpinning some assets

Also when editing an ad, Google provides ideas for headlines, so advertisers can simply click on the suggested ones and they are automatically populated into their ad. Please note that these should be considered very carefully as the majority of the suggestions will not be relevant to your ads.

How easy is it to get a good score?

In my experience this varies, for example for one client, even with 12/15 headlines and a lot of the suggested / popular keyword headlines ticked, some ads can still receive a poor score:

How important is it to get a good score?

Google says, “Implement at least one responsive search ad with ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’ Ad Strength per ad group. Advertisers who improve Ad Strength for their responsive search ads from ‘Poor’ to ‘Excellent’ see 9% more clicks and conversions on average.”

But does having a bad score affect your overall quality score?  In short, no – ad strength and quality score are completely separate:

So whilst having a poor strength rating won’t directly impact your campaigns quality score, Google says you can improve the performance of your campaigns by having ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ ads.

Are responsive search ads better than expanded ads?

In all honesty – the jury’s out on that one from my research.

I looked at 8 of the highest clicked ad groups across 4 of our clients’ accounts, that had responsive and expanded ads competing throughout 2021, and I found the following:

  1. More often than not the responsive search ad receives the majority of clicks (over 50% despite there only ever being one responsive ad and more than one expanded ad per ad group looked at). 
  2. When reviewing CTRs the results were very mixed. In 50% of the cases I looked at, the responsive ad had the highest CTR in the ad group, above the ad group average, and 50% the opposite.
  3. However when looking at conversion rates only one responsive ad had a higher conversion rate than the expanded ads in the ad group, above the ad group average.

So if clicks are your objective for a campaign, then yes, responsive search ads are the way forward. However, if you are chasing a decent ROI from your campaigns, in terms of sales and enquiries, then it’s best not to rely on them at the moment, in my experience.

Please note that this was a very small sample of data.

How do I find out which ad combination works best?

In terms of reporting on these ads, if you click “view asset details”, found under each responsive search ad, you can see the individual assets; their status, asset type, position pinning, performance and impressions.

There is also a tab for ‘Combinations’, which shows the most popular combinations of your assets, the number of impressions that combination has had in your selected time frame (a finite list of months or the last 90 days) and the percentage of the overall impressions that combination has had.

However, just showing the number of impressions isn’t good enough in my opinion. I want to know which of those combinations equates to the highest CTRs and conversion rates, the number of impressions is irrelevant in my book. This is something I hope Google will add in the future, so we can all have a little more transparency around the performance of these ads.

Should we be excited about this change in June 2022 or wary?

Like with all things we have no control over, we have to embrace it and make sure we are ready. Google will not be scrapping expanded ads completely, so any that are already running and working well can continue to do so (as long as you don’t edit them).

Also, if worst comes to worst, the RSAs can have a minimum of 3 headlines and 2 descriptions, the same as an expanded ad. These ads won’t receive a good ‘score’ from Google, but if you feel you have little to say in your ads, or want more control over how the ads read on the SERP there are controls available so you can ensure that, so it’s not the end of the world.

Or you can do this:

Also as long as you choose headlines and descriptions that are true to your business, that are unique and do not repeat, and that can work well together, then you can’t go wrong. Hopefully, Google will increase transparency on which elements and combinations work well, or more importantly don’t work well, so that we can remove those assets altogether.

This isn’t the only responsive ad type Google offers as there are also responsive display ads. I’ll cover those on the blog soon, so make sure you stay tuned.


Latest from the blog