Responsive Search Ads: Why Your Paid Media Needs A Content Strategy

At this year’s Google Marketing Live conference on July 10th, Google announced the availability of responsive search ads. Responsive search ads are Google’s latest attempt to move marketers from A/B testing towards automation. In practice, advertisers can submit up to 15 headlines and four 90 character descriptions per ad, with Google choosing the most relevant option based on the search intent. Google, then, will show up to three headlines and two 90 character descriptions in a single ad. Theoretically, additional opportunities for headlines, descriptions, and character counts will increase the likelihood an ad will appear for a broader range of searches.

Responsive Search Ads

Source: Google Marketing Live

However, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Google extend character counts. Back in December, Search Engine Land reported that Google had extended meta descriptions further than the supposed ideal 155 character count, up to 320 characters. Only two weeks later, the same publication received an official statement from Google about whether or not marketers should lengthen their meta descriptions with the new opportunity, only to essentially be told, not necessarily. Instead, the statement encouraged marketers to reference Google’s best practices for search result snippets, encouraging marketers to focus on page intent and urging more relevance than length.

So, why are search ads getting longer and longer? If Google’s best practices have always urged quality over quantity, why 90 characters, why three headlines, and why two descriptions? Other publications have speculated the additional keyword opportunity is an incentive for marketers to begin using the new technology. This raises an important question though, just because marketers have more space in their ad, does that mean they should necessarily use it?

Clear and concise messaging is essential for shoppers, especially in search ads, which, by nature, have a low viewing time. If we don’t expect searchers to scroll down and click to the second page of a SERP, it’s likely too optimistic to expect they’ll engage with three headlines and two descriptions, as well as other ad components like location, sitelink, price, and app extensions. If it’s a shameless grab for marketers to stuff their ads with keywords, quality score will likely take a hit, reducing ad exposure altogether.

However, this isn’t to say there aren’t clear benefits of responsive ads. For businesses who don’t have the resources or capabilities to consistently test their ads, Google is taking a huge weight off their shoulders. The ten additional characters and ability to submit more variations gives businesses opportunities to learn what content resonates with their audience. But, when playing around with up to 15 headlines and four descriptions, search strategy requires more content strategy than ever.

With additional headline and description options, it’s imperative that content strategy is aligned with paid media. In order for the ad to be effective, all headline and description options need to work together to ensure Google’s pairings will make sense. Focus on a singular message you want to convey and tell that story in a few different ways, based on the intent of your searchers. If you’re adding more headlines, characters, and descriptions just for the sake of having them, rethink your strategy. When ad copy is drawn out for the sake of length, you end up with irrelevancy and redundancy in replacement of quality.

In order for the ad to successfully convert, it’s important that landing page content is relevant to the ad. While we know this is a main factor of ad exposure, now that there are more content opportunities within the ad, it’s important to ensure the landing page serves relevant copy for each option. If your ad makes a promise that your landing page can’t deliver, there’s no responsive action Google can take to make your initiatives impactful.

Overall, Google’s responsive ads offer businesses the unique opportunity to consistently test new messaging. However, it’s important to consider content quality versus quantity. Longer messaging and additional keywords don’t convert, engaging content does. Focus on the message, how relevant it is to your landing page, and if you could use an additional ten characters or headline to tell that story – you’re in luck.