One of Google’s latest developments for its Google Ads platform is responsive search ads. Responsive ads represent a sizeable change in the existing text ad function. This article discusses our initial findings of this new ad format, what we are testing next as and agency and our thoughts on the future of the ad format.
Firstly, let’s define what responsive search ads are. Responsive search ads allow up to 15 headline variants and 4 description variants. Google then optimises and tests each variant, showing a variant most likely to get a user to click through. Advertisers can “pin” headlines and description lines in a particular order (useful for advertisers who have disclaimers they have to show for example) although this reduces Google’s ability to optimise and test. This is in contrast to the existing expanded text ads where you specify the headline and description order. The character limits are now the same for both responsive search ads and expanded text ads (more on this later).
We wanted to understand how the responsive search ads performed versus existing expanded text ads. We had a secondary objective of understanding whether pinning headlines and descriptions impacts our CTR and CVR metrics. To do this we tested 2 responsive ad and expanded text ad variants across non brand and brand campaigns over a 30 day period.
The data shows Google will almost always show ads which are not pinned (this was suggested in their beta preview) if given the option to do so.
Responsive ads were significantly outperformed by existing expanded ad text ad formats in terms of CTR and CVR. CTR and CVR were almost identical across exact match campaigns but there were significant differences between broad match performance. We expected the dynamic ads to have an improved performance on broad match keywords with the dynamic nature of the ad variations being more suited. This was not the case and there are no obvious reasons as to why this was. There were a small number of campaigns in which the responsive ads performed better than the expanded ads.
Aside from the technology being new, we suspect the main reason responsive ads have a much lower CTR is the need to always have headlines tailored to the user’s search term. In our next tests we will be testing headline 1 pinned versions only (so they get impressions). Ensuring all headlines feature the search terms may also be another test although Google recommend you create different headlines and including the keyword will reduce our ability to do this due to character limits.
With responsive ads accounting for 42% of our impressions and Google extending the number of description lines available on expanded text ads, the underpinning thinking and functionality behind Google’s responsive search ads beta is clearly here to stay. It’s important to acknowledge this is a beta and there will inevitably be refinements to the technology which should be reflected in improved performance. Several advertisers (including myself) saw initially lower CTRs when expanded ads were rolled out as standard 2 years ago. Google will only make changes to their platform if they can guarantee it grows their revenues, so I expect CTRs to increase over time and for this ad format to become the standard.
Hopefully this article has been of use to you and thanks for reading it! If you’d like to discuss anything to do with Google Ads and how to get the most out of it, then please feel free to get in touch.
Head of Biddable