Small accounts and Responsive Search Ads – Adopt or not?

With Microsoft Ads recently opening a responsive search ad (RSA) beta to their advertisers, it’s clear that the automated Text Ad format is here to stay. The push towards automation continues and with it comes the pressure from platform reps to adopt. While larger accounts have the luxury, in terms of additional budget, to take their time and test these additions, those running smaller budgets often have to make a decision outright: adopt or not? 

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I have historically been a fan of the “not.” There are a lot of arguments against RSAs and few in their favor. For example, you can’t use ad customizers in the text, which limits its abilities. There’s also anecdotal evidence from across the PPC community that, while RSAs are getting better click-through-rates and driving more traffic, they’re less effective than extended text ads (ETAs) in driving conversions. However, the biggest complaint, and perhaps widest-reaching one, is that there is no insight into the data regarding which combinations are being shown and in what ways they outperform one another. You can see how many impressions each combination receives, but that’s it. In essence, you’re setting a variety of ad headlines and descriptions and crossing your fingers. For smaller accounts with less budget per day, ‘crossing your fingers’ is a terrifying proposition. 

That being said, RSAs can be beneficial. Although we don’t get insight into the data, Google can quickly test tens of thousands of headline and ad description combinations, which is something that I am unable to do with ETAs. With small, low volume accounts, part of the appeal of RSAs is being able to test thousands of ad copy combinations in one go. While it would be nice to have more insight into performance, after some experimenting myself, I think it’s a mistake to write off RSAs completely – especially with the signals we’re getting from the platforms saying that they’re here to stay. 

I’m a big fan of testing against my assumptions, especially since I know my bias lends itself to having me reject automated ad formats and other automations. I don’t like change as a person, let alone as a PPC professional, and as such I try to lean into it when the opportunity presents itself. My team adopted RSAs across the board in February 2019; here’s what we’ve learned from 4,200 ads running since then: 

  • Responsive search ads, on average, receive more impressions than extended text ads;
  • Click-through-rate is relatively similar across our accounts; 
  • Responsive search ads, on average, have a 0.20c cheaper cost-per-click.

Looking at ads from the group that received more than one conversion: 

  • Responsive search ads continued to receive more impressions on average than extended text ads; 
  • Click-through rate was higher on expanded text ads; 
  • Conversion rate was equal across the board;
  • The overall total number of conversions was higher with responsive search ads; however, they also tend to be significantly more expensive.

Although this data has its limitations, it serves its purpose here as it gives an overall picture of the potential of RSAs. After crunching the numbers I was not surprised by the fact that RSAs are receiving more impressions or that expanded text ads are receiving higher click-through-rates, but I was surprised by the fact that of the ads that generated conversions, the RSAs were generating more.

Digging deeper, the biggest thing I noticed was that RSAs typically performed better when matched with a conversion-based automated bidding strategy. In my accounts, RSAs that were in a campaign with either Target CPA or Maximize Conversions as their bidding strategy outperformed ETAs across the board on both cost-per-acquisition and amount of conversions. 

Does this mean you should switch all your ads to RSAs and all your bidding strategies over today? No, not at all. There are still pros and cons to RSAs, and the successes I’ve indicated above may not translate over to your accounts. But it does give an idea of some of the benefits, and hopefully, encourage you to consider testing.   

Adopting RSAs in smaller accounts doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and it doesn’t have to be terrifying. When creating your RSAs, I recommend the following: 

  • Add your RSAs to existing ad groups with a minimum of two well-performing ETAs;
  • Have each piece of copy be distinctly different from one another. Ask yourself if the combinations would be redundant or if each adds value; 
  • Add headlines and descriptions you already have data behind and ones that you know are high performing;
  • Consider an automated bid strategy in tandem with your RSA (but don’t do both at once, or you won’t be able to tell what caused the consequent successes or failures across the account). 

Overall, I’ve seen enough positive results from RSAs that I am comfortable having one in each ad group. For newer accounts, I often run ad groups with only ETAs until I’m confident I can identify some high performing headlines and descriptions, and add RSAs at the end of month one or two, depending on volume. 

The bottom line is really that RSAs are here to stay, and that there can be a wide range of benefits to small accounts adopting them if done properly. So, in the case of whether or not small budget accounts should adopt RSAs, this skeptic encourages adopting and testing while we have both types of ads available to us.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Amalia Fowler is the director of marketing services at Snaptech Marketing. She manages a team of strategists who develop holistic digital marketing strategies for clients. Passionate about testing, marketing psychology and digital strategy, Amalia speaks frequently at industry conferences and events. Outside of marketing, she’s a coffee, paddleboarding and Vancouver enthusiast. You can follow her on Twitter @amaliaefowler for all things marketing related.

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