Paid Media Specialist Sarah Wills shares her insights on what the shift to Responsive Text Ads means, how businesses can respond and what changes we can expect to see in the near future as a result.

Let’s start from the beginning…

There are currently two different types of paid search ads you can run: expanded text ads and responsive search ads. Expanded text ads (ETAs) are the most widely-used ads in paid search. They give you three headlines and two descriptions and are fairly easy to set up.  Responsive search ads (RSAs) on the other hand, allow you to create up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions - and Google, or Microsoft will optimise which version your user will see based on their algorithm and the user’s previous search history. RSAs tailor the ad to the person who is performing the search, which gives you the most flexibility within one ad to target multiple users.

So, what’s changed?

The majority of companies tend to run expanded text ads but now Google has made responsive search ads the default, which will allow for more optimisation from their end. That’s not to say that you can’t control it to an extent, for example, if you really want your brand to be in your headline, you can pin it to make sure that it’s always shown.  One of the main advantages of responsive search ads is that it lets you test lots of different headlines and descriptions to see what your target users respond best to. You can go into the platform and see over the past month which headline and description combinations have performed the best. Google defaulting to responsive search ads goes hand in hand with what we’re seeing in the industry of publishers automating their processes. I think we’ll see a push towards automating bidding and automated ad creation, which is working towards enhancing machine learning and removing a lot of the manual, human aspect.

What are the implications of RSAs becoming the default ad type?

The move to responsive search ads is definitely not a bad thing. At Semetrical we have both ETAs and RSAs running for our clients, so for us, if ETAs were to be fully phased out, it wouldn’t affect us too much.  It will likely have a bigger impact for smaller companies that have relied mainly on ETAs as their default. We would recommend that these businesses start to test using RSAs and swapping some of their ETAs over so they can get ahead of the curve on this and be prepared in case Google phases ETAs out completely.  If Google does get rid of ETAs completely, it will mean that unless you create an ad and pin your headline, you won’t be able to 100% control which headlines and descriptions are being shown to the users, which may compromise how far you’re able to tailor your messaging. Google’s optimisations should be good enough that this shouldn’t be an issue but at the same time, machine learning can make mistakes, so if you want to be super targeted, it could potentially take that power away from you.

What should businesses do in light of this change?

As a first step, we would definitely recommend reviewing all the ads you have running in your account. If you just have ETAs, now is the time to create some RSAs and begin testing them and neatening up your targeting. You can overlay things like location and interests in Google and Microsoft, so if you target niche individual segments with targeted ads, you’re more likely to get better results with RSAs. Being as targeted as possible will be important here.  For now, Google prioritising RSAs over ETAs won’t have any dramatic impact because you can still select ETAs as an option - however, it’s more of an indication of what’s to come. It could be seen as a warning sign that Google may potentially be thinking about phasing ETAs out in the near future, if this trial period goes well.

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