Using Google’s New Responsive Search Ads

Last year, Google launched their newest text ad format – the Responsive Search Ad. Here at Gravytrain we knew a possible game changer when we saw it! So, what are Responsive Search Ads and why are they useful in paid search?

Jennifer Al-Qazzaz

Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) are text ads that let advertisers input up to 15 headlines and 4 description lines which Google’s machine learning will test, learn, and optimise to find the best performing combination for each user. This means we can create ads that are more relevant to a customer’s search because each user is served an ad which is the most relevant fit for the terms they are searching for – as well as their device. There are tens of thousands of combinations that RSAs can generate using those 15 headlines and 4 description lines.

Why are we excited about RSAs?

One of the strengths of the RSAs is that there is so much opportunity; you can input a multitude of variations of headlines and descriptions, so take advantage of this! Aim to fill them up – use all your headlines and description lines and avoid repeating yourself. Google wants you to input unique variants, and to use your ad copy writing creativity to shine a light on different things in each element. A good RSA contains lots of unique messages that can be combined in any order and still make sense!

Google also advises you to use a variety of different length headlines to make it more likely to show a 2nd or 3rd description line. However, we have found that inputting shorter headlines makes Google rate your Ad Strength lower and advises you to use longer headlines – Google’s poker face when it comes to these things is infamous, so it’s often a case of trial and error.

RSAs do give you the option to ‘pin’ headline or description variations in certain positions, meaning it will always show in this position. This gives advertisers a little more control over the messaging, but Google advises not to go crazy with this and stick to pinning one headline or description to give their machine learning enough room to optimise.

What we’ve discovered from testing

Our initial testing for Responsive Search Ads has shown a marked improvement over Expanded Text Ads. As you can see every metric is better for the RSAs; we were surprised with how good the results were considering how much work we put into writing our custom expanded text ads. We imagined our carefully thought out text ads would be better than an ad put together by Google – how wrong we were!

RSA metrics table

As Responsive Search Ads are still in beta, we’re hoping that some of the niggles we have come across will be discovered and updated! Firstly, our headline length problem mentioned above: we have concluded that it’s the longer the better to increase your Ad Strength score. We are also curious as to whether Google will be providing a more in-depth reporting system for these new responsive ads. At the moment all you can report on is the number of impressions each element and combination has accrued.

Ad Strength Score and the Ad Strength Improvements

Something we have found helpful (if a little generic) is the Ad Strength Score and the Ad Strength Improvements. Each RSA is given a score from Poor to Excellent along with some advice on how to boost your score such as ‘Try adding a few more unique headlines’. The tool even gives you some ideas of headlines and descriptions you could try if you click on the view ideas button.

Ad strength score

When Responsive Search Ads were released it was assumed they would be a way of doing away with hours of manual A/B testing as Google’s Machine Learning will do it for you. However, our experience has shown us that the idea is more about Google serving the best combinations for each individual user, making the ads as relevant as possible for the customer rather than creating the ‘ultimate ad’ which you can then input back into expanded text ads!


Our experience of implementing Responsive Search Ads has been amazing with this client, the next steps will be implementing them with our other clients and seeing if we achieve the same great results!