Best Practices To Boost Responsive Search Ads

Responsive search ads have replaced expanded text ads as the new standard, which provides the opportunity for additional headline and description options while ceding some control to Google.

In practice, responsive search ads let you create an ad that adapts to show more relevant messages to your customers based on their queries. You’ll enter more headlines and descriptions than you did with expanded text ads and without pre-assigned positions, and then Google Ads will test your different headline and description combinations and determine which performs best.

Implementing responsive search ads and taking advantage of these features offer many keys to success. Here’s a quick look at the features and some of our performance best practices.

To Pin or Not To Pin Ad Headlines

When writing headlines for responsive search ads, you can include pins that affix the headline copy to the desired headline position when your ad is shown. But should you?

Google Ads penalizes the Quality Score of ads that use pins. Instead, it prefers a multitude of headline and description options that its algorithm can then use to test and optimize the creative shown based on the searcher’s query.

We compared the click-through rate (CTR) of pinned and unpinned ads from 143 different ad groups that had both types of ads and found that the unpinned ads outperformed those with pins by 26%.

Looking at each ad group individually, we saw that 58% of these ad groups had a better CTR with the unpinned ad than the pinned ad.

Our recommendation is to resist the urge to use pins in every responsive search ad and trust Google Ads’ algorithm to optimize your ad copy.

responsive search ads CTR bar chart

When responsive search ads are first set live, you may notice your unpinned ad performance is suboptimal despite strong headlines, descriptions and a good Quality Score. As it turns out, Google’s algorithm requires a short runway to test different headline and description combinations to find what works best.

We compared the performance of 34 unpinned ads over a 5-month period and found that 44% of ads had a significantly improved (more than 15%) CTR in the latest month when compared with the earliest month, and 56% had an improved CTR at any level.

What’s our advice based on all this information?

We’d recommend starting with both pinned and unpinned versions of your ads. Pinned headlines can be helpful to bridge the gap between expanded text ads and responsive search ads and buoy CTRs while Google Ads learns which combination of the unpinned ad’s headlines and descriptions works best. In time, you can plan on phasing out all pinned ads.

Quality Score and Responsive Search Ads

An important part of improving your responsive search ad performance is focusing on Quality Score optimization. Quality Score is Google’s diagnostic tool meant to give you an idea of how your ad measures up against competitors for the same search keywords. It’s calculated by determining the anticipated CTR, ad relevance (how closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search) and landing page experience (how relevant your landing page is to people who click your ad).

A higher Quality Score signifies your ad copy and landing page are more relevant to a searcher’s query than other advertisers and, in theory, should position your ad above competitors on the search results page.

Quality Score and Ad Position, CTR and CPC

When creating your ads, it’s easy to spend a lot of time trying to bolster your Quality Score, creating headlines and descriptions to satisfy Google Ads. But should you? To answer this question, we looked at how ad-quality score impacted ad position, CTR and cost per click (CPC) over five months across two separate ad groups that had an ad of each Quality Score.

responsive search ads ad group 1 chart
responsive search ads ad group 2 chart

To our surprise, the ads with an excellent Quality Score didn’t lead any category. In fact, fewer of the impressions it received were in the absolute top position than its average-score counterparts, and CPCs were higher than the poor ads for both ad groups.

That is to say, you don’t need to spend a tremendous amount of time populating your headlines and descriptions to satisfy Google. If you’re confident in your ad copy, the Quality Score will most likely not be detrimental to performance or cost.

As you go through the responsive search ads transition, keep these best practices in mind. Use the additional headline and description positions available to you and make at least one ad in every ad group with no pins. You don’t, however, need to spend too long adding descriptions and headlines that may only improve Quality Score, not performance. For more expert advice and little-known tips to make the most of your digital marketing efforts, check out our blog or reach out now for a free consultation.

Headshot and Byline Graphic

Carter Main is a media solutions manager in search at Goodway Group, specializing in the healthcare industry. He pairs his extensive paid search knowledge with his interest in data analytics and visualization to unlock insights and maximize campaign performance.

Mitchell Rowen is a media solutions manager in search at Goodway Group, specializing on the brand-direct side. His focus is helping with client service and driving campaign execution, performance and optimization to achieve excellent results.