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The Optmyzr Study On Responsive Search Ad Performance: Statistics, Insights & Best Practices

Search Ads Google Ads PPC Strategy Dec 03, 2021

Gone are the days when you could ignore Responsive Search Ads (RSA) and instead build PPC ad copy that shows up exactly the way you wanted – or they will be, when Google Ads sunsets Expanded Text Ads (ETA) on June 30, 2022.

If you aren’t familiar with Responsive Search Ads, a good way to think of them is giving Google a bunch of different text components to mix and match while it finds the best combinations. There’s a learning period for any new RSA, which means performance may not be what you’re used to right away.

With this change comes a host of questions about the performance of Responsive Search Ads, the need to display key information in your ad text, and how to manage the transition to PPC campaigns composed solely of RSAs.

Of course, third-party tools like Optmyzr can help identify the best-performing components of your current ads and even help you build RSAs from scratch. But it never hurts to know where things stand as you plan your accounts’ transitions.

In this article you’ll find the results of our study on RSA performance, answers to some pressing questions about the transition, and advice on how to retain control of your search campaigns after June 2022.

How and what we analyzed

This year’s study of RSA performance covers 4,341 randomly chosen Optmyzr user accounts and answers questions like:

  • Is RSA usage as common among advertisers as you think?
  • How does RSA performance compare to that of ETAs?
  • What effect do pinned headlines/descriptions have on performance?

We’ve presented the results by category so you can quickly find what’s most relevant to your goals.

Key findings from our Responsive Search Ads data analysis

Here’s our CEO Frederick Vallaeys on what the study taught us about the relationship between PPC marketers and Responsive Search Ads.

“The biggest insight is that advertisers have focused on the wrong metric. Responsive Search Ads have a better click-through rate but a lower conversion rate. This upsets advertisers because when they A/B test, they assume that the ad group has a fixed number of impressions and that by showing lower-converting ads for these impressions, conversions will go down (and costs up). Google, meanwhile, is happy because there are more clicks.”

But this is an incomplete picture.

“What our study shows is that impressions for an ad group are highly dependent on the ad, and RSAs drive 4x the impressions of a typical ETA. Even with a slightly lower conversion rate, this 400% lift in impressions nets a lot of incremental conversions that should make advertisers very happy.”

Responsive Search Ads have a better auction-time Quality Score, so they help you qualify for more auctions. They also boost ad rank and give you access to entirely new search terms (and impressions). As a result, ad-level performance and metrics like click-through or conversion rate may not paint a full picture of your performance.

Evaluate the success of your ads based on the incremental impressions, clicks, and conversions your ad groups and campaigns receive.

Statistics on Responsive Search Ad usage

In 2019, Search Engine Journal reported that 84% of advertisers either used or had plans to use Responsive Search Ads. This year, out of the 4,341 accounts we analyzed:

  • 17.4% have never built a single RSA
  • 82.4% currently have at least one active RSA
  • 0.2% had RSAs but stopped using them

Optmyzr’s Interpretation: Most advertisers are already well on their way to transitioning to Responsive Search Ads, and those who have experimented with the new ad format tend to like the results enough to keep RSAs active.

Statistics on Responsive Search Ads vs. Expanded Text Ads vs. Hybrid Ad Groups

Out of 397,217 ad groups across 4,341 accounts:

  • 53.7% served only ETAs
  • 6.6% served only RSAs
  • 39.7% served both ad types

In terms of performance, there were some surprising revelations:

  • Despite representing just 39.7% of all ad groups analyzed, hybrid ad groups got an outsize share of traffic and served 72.2% of all impressions and 74.2% of all clicks).
  • CTR for hybrid ad groups (14%) was only marginally higher than ad groups with just ETAs (13%).
  • In hybrid ad groups, RSAs were responsible for 63.9% of impressions and 65.9% of clicks.

Optmyzr’s Interpretation: Advertisers tend to test RSAs against ETAs in their highest-volume ad groups. As a result of adding those RSAs, these ad groups start to gain even more volume.

Statistics on Responsive Search Ads and pinning

Pinning – fixing headlines or descriptions to specific positions – gives you more control over how your RSAs appear to users. But it also reduces your ad strength, according to Google.

In our analysis of over 210,000 Responsive Search Ads across 4,341 user accounts, we looked at the impact of three ways to pin: no pinning, pinning only one variation to a position, and pinning multiple variations to a single position.

We found that:

  • Pinning no elements leads to a less expensive campaign and better click-through rate, but these come at the cost of lower ROAS and conversion rate.
  • Pinning just one element is the most expensive approach, increasing the cost of clicks and conversions.
  • Pinning multiple elements does not offer significant improvements or reductions to cost, ROAS, and click-through and conversion rates.

Above, you can see key metrics for RSAs that use no pinning, that pin a single text to a particular position, or that pin multiple text variations to a position.

Optmyzr’s Interpretation: When advertisers let the machine handle all decisions about an RSA, metrics like CTR/CPC/CPA are at their best. However, many advertisers want control so they pin ad text elements, significantly reducing performance for these metrics. Thanks to the new ability to pin multiple texts to a single position, advertisers gain control over what the ad says while still giving the machine some flexibility to show different variations. This approach seems to produce a happy medium when it comes to key metrics as well.

Statistics on Responsive Search Ads and number of headlines

Responsive Search Ads can have up to 15 different headlines for Google to combine in different ways, but you only need to provide three – anything more is optional. We grouped each ad based on the number of headlines, further segmenting them by metric.

  • RSAs with a higher number of assets tend to get more impressions, clicks, and conversions. Conversion rate, however, tends to go down with more headline variations in your ads. This aligns with our discovery that a significant lift in impressions also means incremental conversion gains.
  • Advertisers tend to favor 13-15 headlines. The ads we analyzed with headlines in this range spent an average of $1.9 million. This average is propped up by a whopping spend of $4.3 million for ads with 15 headlines, indicating that most advertisers opt to fill out their RSAs completely.

Statistics on financial performance of Responsive Search Ads vs. Expanded Text Ads

Responsive Search Ads can have up to 15 different headlines for Google to combine in different ways, but you only need to provide three – anything more is optional. We grouped each ad based on the number of headlines, further segmenting them by metric.

  • When each ad type wins its ad group, RSAs average out at $1.48 higher cost per acquisition than ETAs. However, they also cost an average of $10.96 less when they lose.
  • This means that RSAs offer comparable winning performance to ETAs while saving significant costs when they lose. This trend extends to other financial metrics like ROAS and cost per click.

Responsive Search Ads Best Practices: Stay in control of PPC in the automation era

We don’t believe that either Responsive Search Ads or Expanded Text Ads are definitively better than the other. So much of success in PPC depends on individual account needs, client relationships, global and market volatility, supply chains, and the expertise of the marketing and business teams involved.

However, the fact remains that you won’t be able to create any new Expanded Text Ads (or edit existing ones) after June 30, 2022.

These next sections cover our recommendations to help you get started with managing this transition. As always, use them as thought-starters in the context of your client or brand’s specific goals.

1. Know the difference between ad strength and asset labels.

Ad strength is a best-practice score that measures the relevance, quantity, and diversity of your Responsive Search Ad content even before your RSAs serve. Every increase in ad strength provides approximately 3% click uplift e.g. poor to average, average to good. However, it has no relation to performance.

Asset labels, on the other hand, give you guidance on which assets are performing well and which ones you should replace after your RSAs serve. These suggestions from Google are based on performance data, so if one of your assets doesn’t get impressions in 2+ weeks, you might want to replace it.

2. Build evergreen Expanded Text Ads (if you can).

While you can’t create new ETAs after Google’s sunset date, any existing ones will continue to serve for as long as you like. While you can pause and resume these ETAs, you won’t be able to edit them in any way – that includes bids, keywords, ad text, targeting, and even budgets.

However, that won’t be an issue if you happen to have some evergreen campaigns or ad groups that you know can run without those modifications – possibly top-of-funnel brand campaigns or for a product line that you’re confident won’t go away.

Keep in mind that not every brand will have (or can afford) these opportunities, and even the ones that do may have to accept that those ads will need to be retired at some point – like if a key supplier goes out of business or the brand changes its name.

3. Start finding the pieces of your new Responsive Search Ads.

Ad Text Optimization lets you quickly find the best-performing text in your account

If your campaigns have been running for some time, there’s a good chance that you already have some quality RSAs floating around in different ad groups. It’s finding these individual components that can prove time-consuming and error-prone.

Fortunately, a tool like the Ad Text Optimization function in Optmyzr can make light work of that, allowing you to sort through single or multiple campaigns in minutes. Our tool allows you to sort by element type (headline, description, path), individual placement, or even full ads to find the best-performing elements for a desired metric.

Once you have your ad text ready, you can bring the process full circle:

  • Build a new ad with our Responsive Search Ad Utility
  • Use our Rule Engine strategy to Find and Fix Underperforming RSAs
  • Validate your findings in the AB Testing for Ads tool

4. Consider variety in your Responsive Search Ads.

Key metrics for RSAs varying by the number of ads in an ad group

While you can create up to three Responsive Search Ads in one ad group, it’s difficult to find a consensus on the optimal number.

On the one hand, too many RSAs can dilute your messaging variations – especially if each one carries the full 15 headlines and four descriptions. But limiting yourself may not always be the right move either, assuming each RSA is distinct in terms of what it addresses.

The findings from our study show that ad groups with more RSAs tend to get significantly more impressions, but ad groups with two RSAs experience a surge in conversion rate that single-RSA and three-RSA ad groups don’t.

As always, consider the merits of every situation and ad group individually.

5. Decide whether to pin elements in your Responsive Search Ads.

Our study showed that Responsive Search Ads without any pinned elements get over double the impressions that pinned RSAs receive – 742 impressions/ad compared to 346, a 214.5% increase.

Google identifies excessive pinning as one of the 8 causes of weakened RSA ad strength, and while it’s not clear at what threshold this changes, it’s safe to say that your results will get weaker the more elements you pin.

However, some advertisers will need to pin specific pieces of text, such as disclaimers and warnings for those in legal or pharmaceutical advertising. Google is yet to comment on whether these industries with obligations will be assessed differently, or whether a new element will be made available to cater to this need.

For now, advertisers will have to do what they must with what they have access to. Just reconsider if you’re thinking about gaming the system by pinning all your elements to create a pseudo-Expanded Text Ad.

6. Change how you think about A/B testing with RSAs.

The methodology of A/B ad testing has long been premised on the assumption that impression volume is determined primarily by keywords and is only minimally dependent on the ad. This assumption is false with Responsive Search Ads.

Old Way: Focused on conversion rates or conversions per impression

New Way: Focused on conversions within CPA or ROAS limits

7. Take out a PPC insurance policy with automation layering.

A list of active alerts at multiple levels in Optmyzr

Maybe you’ve had success with your search campaigns by determining large parts of their optimization strategies, or maybe you’ve been using automated bidding strategies in tandem with solidly built Expanded Text Ads that you control.

Performance Max in itself is not a direct threat to your account – you can always opt out of them unless you plan to use a Local or Smart Shopping campaign, both of which will be absorbed by Performance Max.

However, the double whammy of switching to Responsive Search Ads and running a Performance Max campaign together can be a risk for all but the most insulated PPC accounts. We suggest tackling one at a time.

Even then, the more Google automates their platform, the more vital it becomes for you to have a layer of automation working for the benefit of your account. A tool like Optmyzr makes that all the more possible – and effective.

Optmyzr users get access to all types of budget-related and metric-based alerts, giving them the ability to intervene as soon as signs of trouble begin to show. There’s also the Rule Engine, one of our most popular tools that lets you create rule-based automation for anything you can think of.

Best of all, you can switch it all off whenever you like.

But first, revisit your account structure.

Before doing anything, it’s important to understand how any brand’s individual transition to the Responsive Search Ad era will impact its account structure. Some of the questions you’ll need to answer include:

  • Which campaigns and ad groups will continue to serve Expanded Text Ads?
  • Which campaigns and ad groups need new ETAs before the sunset date?
  • Which ad groups need new Responsive Search Ads? How many in each?
  • Do I need to create new campaigns to avoid mixing RSAs and ETAs?
  • How will I monitor the performance of legacy and new ads/campaigns?

One of the best places you can start is with Aaron Levy’s session from our UnLevel virtual conference in May 2021. In 40 minutes, Aaron shares a framework for building an account structure that is adaptable to the rapid change and increased automation that have come to define modern-day PPC.

This article repurposes portions of Frederick Vallaeys’ presentation on Responsive Search Ad performance from SMX Next 2021.


Author

Ashwin Balakrishnan

Senior Marketing Manager

Optmyzr

Take control of PPC and save time with our PPC expert's toolkit.