last Updated 15 April 2023

How to Avoid the Dangers of Responsive Search Ads

Responsive search ads (RSAs) will soon be the only type of ads you can use in Google Ads. So in this article I’m going to explain what RSAs are and discuss whether these new ads are good or bad news for advertisers - especially mortgage brokers, IFAs and other financial services advertisers.

What are Responsive Search Ads?

Until 2018, the only type of ads you could create in a Google Ads search campaign were Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). These ads had three headlines and two lines of description.

Google wouldn’t always display the third headline or the second description line but, apart from that, you always knew what your ad was going to say.

RSAs changed all that. 

With RSAs you put Google in control of what your ad says each time it is shown. 

That’s because, as the advertiser, you now get to give Google a selection of different headlines (up to 15) and a selection of up to four different descriptions.

Each time your ad is shown, Google will pick three headlines and two descriptions from this selection. And by testing out different combinations, it aims to find the one(s) that work best and use those more often.

On the face of it, this sounds like a good way of automating your ad testing and letting Google do the hard work of trying out different ad variations and finding the ones which give you the best clickthrough rate (CTR).

But it does present a couple of problems.

Firstly, if Google is going to mix and match your headlines and descriptions, you need to make sure that all your different headlines and descriptions will work well together and that they’ll make sense regardless of what order Google chooses to show them in.

And you need to check that you don’t have any potential combinations which will make your ad sound repetitive.

Responsive Search Ads in Financial Services

The second problem is specific to financial services advertisers like IFAs and mortgage brokers.

If you are a mortgage broker or a financial adviser, then the ads you run on Google count as a financial promotion as per the Financial Services and Markets Act. And from a compliance point of view, you are meant to maintain a register of all the promotions you run.

If all your ads are the old-style ETAs then it’s fairly easy to take screenshots of all the ads in your Google Ads account and add them to your advertising register.

But with RSAs, you’re not writing the ads - Google is. And so making sure you have captured a record of every different permutation of your ad copy is a much bigger job. Plus it becomes very easy to inadvertently miss some of the possible ad variations when you’re collating this information.

We’ve previously seen the trouble that regulated firms can run into when they use other forms of automated ad generation, such as dynamic search ads or dynamic keyword insertion. Using RSAs without thinking very carefully about all the different ways your ad could be displayed opens up similar opportunities for running non-compliant ads without meaning to.

So what’s the solution?

Well, at the moment, it is still possible to create ETAs by clicking a not-very-prominent link on the page where you create RSAs. I’ve previously shown how to do this in this video.

However, that’s only a short-term fix because, in June 2022, Google will retire ETAs and it won’t be possible to create new ones anymore (although existing ETAs will continue to run).

So, my suggestion is that you create your ads as RSAs but that you:

  • Only input 3 headlines and 2 descriptions per advert

  • You use the “pinning” feature to fix each headline and description into position

By doing this you are effectively turning the RSAs into ETAs.

If you’re not sure how to pin the headlines and descriptions, watch this short extract from my free webinar on how to set up a Google Ads campaign for generating mortgage leads.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about RSAs? Have you found them better or worse than the old-style ads? Let me know in the comments.

About the author 

David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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