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Google’s Responsive Search Ads Update Points to More Automation

Last week, Google announced that Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) are now the default ad type within Google Ads for Search campaigns. Users will still be able to create new Expanded Text Ads (ETAs), and existing ETAs will still serve as usual.

While this update is not quite as noteworthy as Google’s match type announcement earlier in the month, it still sets an important tone for advertisers to pay attention to: a continued shift toward automation and machine learning.

Google Continues to Push Automation and Machine Learning

Over the past several years, Google has encouraged advertisers to lean more into automation through the tools offered across Google Ads. It started as early as 2012, with Dynamic Search Ads (DSAs) introduced to improve automation at the keyword level. That product has been improved over its 8+ year lifespan, with features like category-level targeting, ad preview visibility, and more.

More recently, the push has focused on bidding automation, which has seen an enormous evolution since the introduction of enhanced CPCs. Advertisers in 2021 have a variety of automated bidding options to meet their specific needs. Smart Shopping campaigns combine shopping ads, local inventory ads, and display ads into one simplified structure that asks for a budget and a target, then optimizes away. Smart Bidding strategies, while offering a little more opportunity for hands-on management, leverage machine learning algorithms to make bidding decisions using myriad auction-level signals.

And finally, we have ad copy automation through RSAs. In their current iteration, RSAs are less automated than Smart Bidding and DSAs since account managers still need to provide copy to be optimized by Google’s algorithms. The only assistance Google gives in creating new variations is via the Recommendations tab, leaning on copy that’s already in use within your ETAs. However, within the next year or so, it’s not hard to imagine that Google might provide recommendations for RSA copy that go beyond what’s already in the account, leveraging insights it knows about what resonates with the users that search for your keywords.

A Shift in Perceptions

So advertisers now have the tools required to automate what have historically been three important elements of account management: keywords, ad copy, and bidding. While all of the options have evolved over time, none of them are brand new – so what’s changed? The perception of who these tools are right for is a big shift that’s occurred. In their infancy, most of these tools were often viewed as a great resource for smaller advertisers that could benefit from lower-maintenance campaigns by surrendering some control to Google. However, with the increased sophistication of these tools, some level of automation is a great fit for advertisers big and small. Larger advertisers can take advantage of the irreplicable benefits of some tools (like auction-time bidding), while layering innovation, business-specific knowledge, and robust first party data on top of automation to elevate search programs to new heights. With more and more big brands buying into and testing out Google’s various automated offerings, it makes natural sense that Google will continue to invest in and evolve these programs to meet their customers’ needs.

Preparing for the Potential of an RSA-Only Future

There are many considerations for advertisers when it comes to leveraging automation that would require another post (or two), so for now let’s jump back to RSAs, the format that kicked this topic off. Because ETAs are still serving as usual, no immediate actions are required for advertisers as a result of this announcement. However, given the current trajectory, there’s a chance that one day in the not-so-distant future, RSAs will be the only search ad option for advertisers. Even if that doesn’t happen, there are a few steps advertisers can take to fully capitalize on RSAs:

  • Expand RSA coverage to your entire account if it’s not there already. At this point, many advertisers already have strong coverage for RSAs across their accounts, but now’s a good time to ensure that all campaigns follow Google’s best practices regarding the number of unique headlines, unique descriptions, etc.
  • Increase testing efforts to optimize your RSA copy. Formalize plans to rotate new copy variations into your ads in order to maximize performance. If you’ve historically pinned certain headlines or descriptions for reasons other than brand compliance, consider unpinning them to give other headlines and descriptions a fair shot to prove their value. You may also consider testing features like location insertion and countdown customizers to add another dimension to your ads.
  • Start conversations if your brand is not using RSAs at all. Some advertisers have avoided using RSAs up to this point, especially in certain verticals, due to strict copy requirements from their internal teams. If you’re one of those brands, it’s important to start having conversations about how you can start to use RSAs if ETAs end up deprecated long term. Even if ETAs never go away entirely, it’s still important to think about wading into RSAs in order to stay competitive on the SERP against others that are using RSAs.

Advertisers should not view this update to RSAs as a cause for swift action, but instead as an opportunity to continue conversations about leveraging automation within Google Ads. We look forward to revisiting this post in a couple of years to see if any of our predictions about ad copy come true!

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