Google RSAs: The New Default Ad Type


Google RSAs: The New Default Ad Type

Tate Boucher, Karen Cinpinski, & Justin Colbert

What’s new? 

Recently, Google announced that Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) will be the default ad type for ad creation within the Google Ads interface, favoring more automated ad copy creation over the traditional Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). According to Google, this change is in response to the rapid changes in consumer behavior, and in response to RSAs’ ability to leverage machine learning to predict the ad that will resonate best with users in real time. This update is not a surprise, as it signifies Google’s commitment to increasing the adoption of their machine learning and automation capabilities.

RSAs were initially rolled out in 2018 as one of the most revolutionary changes to the platform since Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) in 2016, and have grown in acceptance and implementation. With RSAs, advertisers provide multiple headlines and description options that Google automatically mixes and matches based on search queries and a variety of inputs and data points in an effort to serve the most relevant and effective ads to users. Over time, RSAs will eventually serve the best message combination to different users depending on data signals and overall performance.

Key Details:

  • This change officially went into effect on 2/18/2021. Advertisers should already see this change within the Google Ads UI. No immediate action is needed, as ETAs will still continue to serve without any changes and can still be created, but RSAs will be the preferred option moving forward, so advertisers should act accordingly.
  • Google also plans to focus primarily on expanding RSA features throughout the year, rolling out changes that will improve their dynamic capabilities, simplify optimization and ultimately make ETAs less relevant.

What does it mean?

RSAs are Google's most flexible search ad format. Unlike ETAs, where advertisers write headlines and descriptions together to create one static text ad, RSAs allow advertisers to write up to 15 different headlines and as many as four different descriptions. Collectively, those headlines and descriptions can be arranged in more than 40 thousand different permutations, which means the ad testing possibilities are seemingly endless.

Given the dynamic nature of this now-default ad format, advertisers will need to rethink best practices when it comes to the ratio of RSAs to ETAs within an ad group, and even how ad copy and the inputs that make up a text ad are written.

Best Practices:

  1. Leverage as many of the inputs as RSAs have to offer, including the numerous headline field inputs along with the four available descriptions lines. This will allow the individual RSAs to test and optimize at a larger scale to identify the optimial variations within the ad group.
  2. Provide at least 5 headlines that are distinct from each other and do not use the same or similar phrases. Providing overly redundant assets will restrict Google’s ability to generate ads. Start by adding existing text ads assets from ETAs as options for RSAs.
  3. Add one RSA per ad group to start. There is a limit of 3 RSAs per ad group. While advertisers do not have to pause existing and relevant ETAs, and advertisers still have the ability to create ETAs within the UI (image below), it is important to focus resources and copy on RSA creation, given these ad units are not only the preferred format, but it is assumed that ETAs will ultimiately be sunsetted.
  4. Test RSAs in top high-traffic campaigns.

Paid Search Impact

The intention behind making RSAs the default ad type is to more overtly push the adoption of RSAs, and enable advertisers to obtain the best performance within their accounts.

Initial Performance Observations:

RSAs appear to be serving on more impressions, which isn’t surprising given they’re now the default ad type. That said, we noticed campaign-level double digit impression increases and CPC improvements when comparing performance when only ETAs were running vs. after RSAs were put in market. Based on these initial performance observations, it appears that RSAs are largely responsible for the improvement. Beyond front-end metric improvements, Google notes that when advertisers adopt RSAs, they achieve up to 10% more clicks and conversions. This is likely the result of Google’s machine learning technology.

While performance seems promising, there is potential impact on ad copy reporting and testing, and the use of ad customizer features.

Ad copy reporting:

RSAs provide details as it pertains to the “Ad Strength” (depicted in the below image). Ad Strength provides insight into what field inputs are underperforming or overperforming to help advertisers easily determine the success of the ad variation. Ad Strength measures the relevance, quantity, and diversity of RSA content even before the ad is served. Performance asset labels give advertisers guidance on which assets are performing well and which assets should be replaced after an RSA is served. That said, advertisers lose some of the control that comes from traditional A/B ad copy testing with performance clearly tied to a predefined KPI. Ad Strength takes into consideration various signals (e.g. headline and description length, keyword relevance), but the combination of those signals and how they are weighed is not as clearly defined.

Ad copy testing:

A benefit of RSAs is that they allow for more variants and testing than traditional search ads, and Google does the heavy lifting by automatically mixing and matching headlines and descriptions to determine the optimal pairing. But similar to performance reporting, advertisers lose some control in the ability to create and execute a more structured ad copy test tied to clear KPIs.

Ad customizers:

Currently, ad customizers are more limited when it comes to the RSA unit. The only ad customizers that are available today within the RSA format are Location Insertion and Countdown Customizers. This may mean advertisers who are currently leveraging these particular customizers within ETAs may see lower than expected impression volume due to the shift in prioritization toward RSAs. This will also make adoption of RSAs limited in cases where these customizers are critical to the paid search program’s strategy. According to Google, they plan to roll out more availability on customizers with the goal to get all types available currently on ETAs to RSAs.

What should brands do about it?

Advertisers should make sure they have robust coverage on RSAs and ensure they are applied across all ad groups. Advertisers should also bolster their current RSAs by adding additional headlines and description lines to give Google more ability to optimize towards the best combinations. Lastly, advertisers should continue to monitor performance of RSAs vs. ETAs and adjust account setup and strategy to accommodate a more permanent shift to RSAs, assuming Google will expand this update and eventually deprecate ETAs altogether.

Our final take

The push towards RSAs follows the trend of increased automation that leverages machine learning technology to optimize toward performance. While this ad format is powerful, RSAs still require quite a bit of set-up time and human optimization to guide strategic decisioning. It’s important as advertisers to understand the important balance of man + machine campaign management as the inevitable push to automation continues.

Tate Boucher, Karen Cinpinski, & Justin Colbert

Tate Boucher is a Senior Analyst, Search Marketing; Karen Cinpinski is VP/Group Director, Search Marketing; Justin Colbert is a Manager, Search Marketing. 


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