The ultimate guide to responsive search ads

ultimate guide to responsive search ads

It’s been a while now since Google completely moved to responsive search ads or RSA. You can’t create old text ads anymore.

But people still are a bit confused and I get it. The search ads have been the same for decades and then suddenly everything changed. You can create a dozen of headlines and several descriptions. On top of that Google has an ad strength indication. How does all of this work? How many ads should I have? Is it worth having excellent ad strength? I decided to answer these and many other questions.


What are responsive search ads?

According to Google:

Responsive search ads let you create an ad that adapts to show more relevant messages to your customers. Enter multiple headlines and descriptions when creating a responsive search ad, and over time, Google Ads automatically tests different combinations and learns which combinations perform best. By adapting your ad’s content to more closely match potential customers’ search terms, responsive search ads may improve your campaign’s performance.

Sounds fancy. I like the last part “may improve your campaign’s performance”. I have my own opinion as to why Google went this way, but that’s for another time.


Even though Google asks you to add as many headlines and descriptions as you can so that their algorithm can do the heavy lifting matching user’s search terms and etc. You still can have only 3 headlines like before. The maximum is 15 headlines and 4 descriptions.


In the search results, your ad will contain 3 headlines and 2 descriptions. Just like before. But when you have more headlines in your ad Google will try to rotate them finding a perfect combination.


So what we have so far is that you can write more headlines or descriptions, but you don’t have to. And users see only 3 headlines and 2 descriptions, just like before. Is that it? Not really.


Responsive search ads best practices

In a way, responsive search ads are no different from older ads. Sure, they have more headlines and descriptions, but only 3 are shown. So you still have to think hard about what you need to write in those headlines to match users’ searches. It’s not like you can just write anything there.

Additional headlines give you more room to expand, but you can’t drift off too far from the keyword or keywords in your ad group.


Look at your keywords

You will have one or several keywords in your ad group. When creating RSA you should include that keyword or a close variation of it in the ads.

Why you?

When creating any ad, think about what makes your brand, product, or service different from your competitors. Include that in the headlines or descriptions.

Use synonyms

An easy hack is to use synonyms of your keywords in the headlines or descriptions. This way your ad will look attractive and relatable to a wider audience increasing the chance of a click.

Use Google suggestions

I know, they’re lame, generic, and simple. But they work. Look at the inventory phrases suggestions.
responsive search ads google suggestions

Sometimes saying straight and simple is enough. Saves your time which can be spent optimising your campaigns.


Different ad strength ads

This comes from my experience, but try having two different ad strength ads. You will be able to compare their performance and decide for yourself which one to leave.
Use these practices and your ads will definitely get impressions and clicks. Let me know if I missed anything.


How to create responsive search ads?

You can create ads when creating a campaign or ad the later, there is no difference. We talked a lot in this post about best practises and other tips so don’t forget to use them.

This is how the ad creation looks like:


creating responsive search ads


You have your headlines and description on the left and you have Google ad strength and suggestions on top.


You will notice the blue check marks appear once you have enough headlines or they are unique. This is a good guide on nailing the ad strength. But as we talked about you can reach “average” or “good” and move on. You can always improve your ads later.


You will also see how your ad looks on the right. This helps you understand how users will see your ad in the search results. You can switch between mobile and desktop previews.


If you run out of headlines, click More ideas, just above the first headline. Google might help you out here as well.

And don’t forget your final URL, this is were users will land after clicking your ad. Once you’re happy with the ad, click save and continue to the next ad group.

Responsive search ads quality [real-life experiment]

If you would create RSA with only 3 headlines and 2 descriptions you would get an ad with lower ad strength. Take a look here:


Ad strength can be “poor”, “average”, “good” and “excellent“. An ad with poor strength might get fewer impressions and therefore fewer clicks and conversions. We don’t want that, do we?

That’s why Google recommends adding more headlines. And you should. I know it’s sometimes harder to come up with these headlines, but Google gives you some help right here:



It’s generic stuff, but it helps to get the job done. But in some cases no matter what I wrote I got an average score. This got me thinking. What if I have many different strength-level ads and just see how it impacts my metrics?

This is what my ad performance looked like:



I did not have “poor” strength ads, and neither should you. Sometimes it is hard to avoid them, but make sure you have as few as possible ads with “poor” strength.

Back to the results. I also had very few “excellent” ads. We should ignore those as well because the clicks and impressions are too low to have any statistical significance.

What we should look at are the “average” and “good” ads.


First is CTR, or click-through rate. Basically means how often people clicked your ad after it has been shown. They are the same. But if you look at impressions I had 4 times more impressions with “good” ad strength compared to “average”. Which is great. As a result of that, I got more clicks as well. Even though CTR is the same. So my ads were shown more often. That is not only because of the ad strength alone, but it did have a factor.


Second, let’s look at avg. CPC, or cost per click. I also paid less for each click with “ good” ads. Around 12% less. Which is great if you spent 100k a month.


Third, the old ads, meaning not responsive search ads. I had them in the account as well. They had lower CTR than “average” and “good” ads. And since CTR impacts your cost per click, you want it to be higher. And you can see that I paid less for clicks, compared to “good” ads. Not a lot less, but still. Here every penny counts.


What surprised me is that old ads avg. CPC was lower than the “average” strength RSA.


Then I decided to increase the “excellent” and “good” ads in my account. Thinking that it will benefit me greatly.

So after spending a lot of time I got this.



The results surprised me. I mean “excellent” ad strength ads should have the best metrics. But they have the lowest CTR and the highest cost per click.

Just looking at this I would say it is not worth spending time to make your ads “excellent”. You are better off creating “good” ads as they show the best results.

I was a bit confused so I added additional metrics such as cost per conversion and conversion rate.



Sure, excellent ads have a higher conversion rate. But also higher cost per conversion, most likely due to higher CPC. Again, “good” ads seem to be the golden middle.

Just to reiterate, this wasn’t a test. These are two different months. The “before” numbers are from May and the “after” numbers are from August. And a lot of external reasons could have impacted the performance, such as seasonality.

But I’m not comparing these two months, I’m comparing the ad strength. And what I’m seeing is that “good” ads are the way to go.

Please share in the comments if you see something similar.


How to optimize responsive search ads?

Everything that you did before with old ads applies here as well. Your responsive search ads are the only thing that users see from your account. It is important you check on them frequently. How frequently depends on your budget and traffic. For high-volume campaigns check the performance weekly. Otherwise, it might be monthly.
What to look for when optimizing your responsive search ads?


Ad strength

We already talk about it and I provided proof that higher ad strength is better for your business. Check all your ads’ strength and make sure you have only “good” as in my opinion this is the golden middle. You can shoot for “excellent” strength as well, but come back and check how it performs over time.
It might be hard to avoid having “average” and that is fine. But don’t have “poor” ads.


Asset performance

Responsive search ads can have a lot of headlines, but only 3 are shown. How do you know which 3 are performing the best?
Well, you can view asset performance in your account. Go to your ad group and just below your ad click on view asset details.

Then click on Combinations.



Now you should see many ads and how many impressions each combination got. I wish Google would show more metrics here, like CTR, CPC, maybe conversions. But for now, we have impressions.



The more impression the combination got the more auctions it won. So you might consider it as a better combination than others.

Your job here is to understand why it performed better and then create a second ad in the ad group with a focus on winning combinations.


Make it unique

One of the main job your ad has is to attract a click. It’s hard to do, but not impossible.
Google your keywords, analyze what competitors are writing in their ads, and try to be different.
Add symbols, numbers, prices, and discounts – all of these make your ad stand out and have a better chance to catch users’ eye.

Emphasize your brand, product, or service. No one else knows about what you sell better than you. Use that.


How many responsive search ads should you have?

The maximum number per ad group is 3 responsive search ads. If you’re starting out, I would say go with one ad. I know that it is hard enough to come up with 6 headlines let alone 15. And then write a second ad.
Once you’re starting to get some traffic. Go and check what combinations work best, and then create a second ad with more focus on that variation.

When you’re working on your account it’s not about quantity it’s always about quality. This means the goal is not a lot of ads, the goal is conversions. And you have to divide your time to maximize your results.

If you spend too much time creating ads, you might spend less time working with negative keywords or adjusting bids. And that could hurt you more than having just one ad.

Always prioritize your time and focus on the main goal.


Responsive search ads benefits

Like any other new feature, ad type, or bidding strategy in Google Ads, responsive search ads are not the holy grail. Nonetheless, they do have some benefits. Of course, you don’t have much choice since you can’t create any other search ad. For now.

Increases CTR

Even from my own account, I see that usually, they increase click-through rates. This is most likely due to the fact that you add many headlines and Google can randomly rotate them to find the best combination that resonates better with users.

Lowers CPC

In my case, this is not entirely true. You saw that my “excellent” ads had higher CPC. Maybe this was because they were competing for higher positions, which is more expensive. But CP was lower for “good” ads. So you can win with responsive search. Just make sure your ad strength is at leas “good”.

Fewer ads to create

Before we had to create more ads since we wanted to test different variations. With responsive search ads, you need fewer ads, because they can have up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions. You can create a maximum of 3 RSAs per ad group if you have more options for your headlines, but in most cases, one is enough (especially when you’re starting out). That does not mean you can create and forget. You have to keep an eye on which combinations work better and optimize.

More impressions

According to Google, responsive search ads compete for more auctions. This means that the ad might be shown more which could result in more clicks and conversions.
I would say these are the main benefits of responsive search ads. If you noticed anything else, let me know in the comments. I will update this list.





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