Everything You Need to Know About Responsive Search Ads

As part of Google’s initiative to satisfy users’ search intent with the right information, the search engine has created a way of dynamically building search ads that respond to specific queries. Per a recent announcement, Google will phase out traditional expanded text ads, pushing Google Ads users into developing responsive search ads (RSAs). Starting July 1, 2022, marketers will not be able to create new or edit existing expanded text ads, but Google will continue to serve existing expanded text ads to searchers while marketers still have the ability to pause, enable and report on their performance.

As this update lessens marketers’ ability to control what copy is served in an ad, our experts at Blue Compass remain adaptable to the ever-changing industry and have compiled everything you need to know about Google responsive search ads.

What is a responsive search ad?

A responsive search ad is compiled of up to three headlines and two descriptions, although only two headlines and one description are often displayed. Depending on the query, Google generates a responsive search ad best suited for the search. Marketers are allowed to enter up to 15 headlines and four descriptions for Google to mix and match.

Expanded Text Ads vs. Responsive Search Ads

Expanded text ads are Google's previously preferred format when creating a search ad. Giving businesses more real estate within Google’s results pages, this format includes up to three headlines and two descriptions, making it more expansive compared to the past format which was only two headlines and one description. Expanded text ads gave marketers more opportunities for keyword inclusion and a better quality score with the additional fields provided.

From the user perspective, responsive search ads are exactly the same as expanded text ads — an ad with headlines and descriptions in response to a specific query. Where responsive search ads differ is on the marketer’s side. Instead of writing and organizing each optimized headline as one, two and three in an order the marketer desires, users give Google 15 different headlines and four descriptions to choose from to assemble an ad in response to queries, hence the name responsive search ads.

Google Favors Responsive Search Ads

Our digital marketing experts at Blue Compass are already seeing Google place a high priority on responsive search ads from an impression standpoint. Within current client campaigns, our team is running both expanded text ads and Google responsive search ads, and the RSAs are taking a majority of the impressions, even when using similar content from the expanded text ads. Within weeks of introducing a responsive search ad to any campaign, it overtakes approximately 90 percent of the impression share.

How does Google Ads generate responsive search ads?

From the 15 headlines and four descriptions you’ve given Google Ads, it uses machine learning to serve a responsive search ad depending on the ad quality and relevancy to the user’s query. Testing different variations over time, Google will take what it deems the best assets you’ve provided, create a responsive search ad that best satisfies the user’s intent and serve the ad to searchers who are more likely to click. Because marketers have up to 15 headlines within Google responsive search ads to include keywords, calls to action and branding, responsive search ads have a high potential to satisfy a broader range of queries.

For situations where you are legally required to show a specific headline like a disclaimer, Google responsive search ads have a feature that allows you to “pin” specific headlines and descriptions to the desired position. For example, if you need to include your brand name in every ad, you can write the brand name as a responsive search ad headline and pin it to headline position 2. This ensures all of the responsive search ads within the ad group will include your brand name in the second headline of the ad when Google generates and shows your ads to users. This feature should only be used when legally required because it will hurt ad performance.

Responsive Search Ads Best Practices

At the very core of search engine marketing, we want our ads to reach the right people with the right content. To ensure your ads will drive results, we’ve identified a few responsive search ads best practices to follow for maximum success:

  • Use your best performing expanded text ads as guidance - Give yourself a head start when developing RSA content and refer to your high-performing expanded text ads. Google is already serving those headlines and descriptions and satisfying search queries, so continue to use that content to your advantage.
  • Watch your character count - For best results, keep your responsive search ad headline character count below 30 characters and your description character count under 90 characters.
  • Start with 9-12 headlines - Starting with a smaller number of headlines for Google to play with leaves you room to optimize additional headlines once you have more data about what keywords and language are performing well. Once you have the data, you can confidently add in more headlines to reach the 15 headline capacity.
  • Do write four descriptions - We do suggest writing four descriptions to give Google more variety to choose from and more data for you to learn from.
  • Create one ad to start - With expanded text ads, our best practice was to create three ads for one ad group. However, because the variations are plentiful with responsive search ads, we recommend starting with one or two ads per ad group.
  • Wait Three Weeks Before Editing RSAs - Give your ads three weeks to collect data before you start optimizing headlines. In our experience, the three-week window allows Google to gain the knowledge it needs to confidently make a decision on which order the headlines should be in for a given set of queries. When using Google responsive search ads, making changes too fast can negatively impact your campaign. Still watch keywords and match types and optimize the negative keyword lists, but do resist editing the ads before a three week time period has passed.

Make the Switch to Google Responsive Search Ads

If you haven’t transitioned into using responsive search ads, you're not alone. As of a recent study, 17 percent of Google Ads accounts had no responsive search ads implemented at the time. Our experts at Blue Compass want to encourage anybody who has not started creating or implementing this new format to get started sooner rather than later. As of July 1, marketers will no longer be able to edit existing or create new expanded text ads. In order to make strong optimizations to Google responsive search ads, you want to have as much data as possible before that date.

Blue Compass is Here to Help You

As responsive search ads become the new normal, our experts at Blue Compass are excited to see the insights and growth they’ll provide. Contact our digital marketing team with any questions regarding Google responsive search ads and check out our SEM services to learn more about how we can help you succeed with search engine marketing.


Digital Marketing, SEM

Thumbnail image of Grace Horak.
Grace Chrisman

Grace, a Digital Marketing Specialist at Blue Compass, graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Apparel Merchandising and a minor in Entrepreneurship. She is steadfast in implementing social media and digital strategies that help clients interact with their target market.