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Out with the ETAs and in with the RSAs

How to Develop, Test & Automate Responsive Search Ads

What is a Responsive Search Ad & Why does it matter?

Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) are a dynamic, automated type of text ad used in paid search platforms like Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising & Search Ads 360 (SA360). Previously to RSAs, the main text ad in Paid Search would be Expanded Text Ads (ETAs). This ad format allowed for up to 3 headlines and 2 descriptions, of which the third headline and second description were optional but recommended. In contrast for RSAs you can enter up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions and the machine learning will automatically test the assets in different combinations and positions, optimising for best performance. They’re becoming increasingly important to paid search advertisers as they are already the new default ad type in Google Ads (ETAs are now incredibly difficult to build in-platform, largely Editor only) and from 30th June 2022, advertisers will no longer be able to create or edit ETAs.

As a result, this should be a priority on everyone’s roadmaps to test and learn how to get the most from them on your account. While it might seem concerning and time-consuming to make the switch, think of it as a long-term investment with lots of benefits:

  1. You’ll get quicker and more diverse learnings - if you take the approach of running 1 RSA per ad group, this will result in more traffic going through each ad and therefore more headlines and descriptions will be available for testing
  2. You’ll save time testing ad copy - Google automates this process and optimises impressions towards the best performing assets, meaning there’s no longer a need to create multiple ETAs, use lots of labels and change ad rotation settings.
  3. You’ll see increased impressions, clicks and potentially conversions - as a result of RSAs being eligible for more auctions, offering incrementality

Finally, it’s worth noting that you can still make use of various features through RSAs e.g. countdown timers, location insertion & dynamic keyword insertion and we’d expect Google to release further improvements to the ad format as it becomes the dominant format e.g. ad customisers for device and audiences.

A man uses Google search on a laptop

Responsive Search Ad Best Practices

As we’re now reliant on RSAs for visibility, ensuring these have high quality can make a massive impact on your visibility in the auctions.

One of the most important rules when creating RSAs is to ensure you’re using all the headlines and descriptions available. This is because Google will optimise the combination of headlines and descriptions based on strongest performers. Hence the more data available, the more insight Google has to push strong performance. On top of the above, we also went to ensure that our headlines and descriptions are varied enough to avoid repetitions of the same messaging.

Although we want to use all the headlines and descriptions available, we also want to ensure that the messaging we are adding is personalised to the theme of the keywords. Ergo, not one ad for all ad groups. This is because your ad quality score will be partially based on relevancy. As we all know, users are more likely to click on ads when they see messaging which resonates with their search intent.

Although there may be some brand requirements where it’s essential to have the brand name or specific messaging in the headlines, where possible we recommend limiting the number of pinned headlines. This is to allow Google full freedom on automation when optimising. However, if you do need to pin specific assets, you should definitely pin similar variations of that asset in the same position, so that you can test different versions of the message. This will help to improve your ad strength as pinning similar assets together will mean that your ad strength isn’t marked down for the assets not being unique and your ads won’t appear repetitive or disjointed to users.

Lastly, the golden rule when creating ad copy; always ensure you have a number of USPs and calls to action to differentiate yourselves from competitors and engage with your audience.

How to test Responsive Search Ads

RSAs, by nature, are already built with testing in mind - with the dynamic format optimised for performance. However, there are different ways to approach testing in your accounts, depending on whether you’ve already adopted them, how frequently you’ll need to update them and how much control you’d like over the combinations of headlines and descriptions.

  1. Use a single RSA in an ad group with pinned headlines - if you’ve not already tested RSAs in your accounts, you can pin relevant assets of the RSAs so that the messaging matches your ETAs. This will give you a basic indication of the performance you might expect to see for RSAs vs ETAs. However, it’s worth noting that the less you use pinning, the better the performance is likely to be as there are more possible combinations for Google to test and optimise.
  2. Use 1 RSA in each ad group, with a template messaging framework to allow for easier comparison - this is the best approach for brands that need to be able to quickly change messaging and frequently have promotions e.g. retail businesses. Create a template for the RSA without populating with specific text - an example is below. You can choose to pin specific assets for greater control over messaging. Then if you need to frequently update based on promotions, you can simply change that headline/description each time and leave the other assets so that they can accumulate more traffic and therefore insights into performance. This process can be further automated - see the later section of the blog on automating RSAs.

This approach would allow you the possibility to A/B test specific messages. For example, you might want to test a 50% off everything vs 30% off a specific range in headline 2. For this, you would pin both in headline 2 and later check back on the asset report – impressions and performance indicator (i.e. low, good, best), to see which variation is better. This isn’t the best way to test at scale, however it does allow for a quick and simple set-up.


  1. Use multiple RSAs in each ad group - this approach works best for brands who have less frequent messaging updates and who want to get more detailed insights into asset-level performance. You can pin specific assets in each ad to ensure that you’re showing a very specific message and by testing different pinned assets in each ad, you’re able to compare performance at ad level, instead of looking into the asset-level report for each ad. This also allows you to compare performance using your own metrics e.g. conversions, ROAS rather than just impressions and performance rating of best-low.
    We’d recommend using Labels for the ads so that it’s quick and easy to keep track of which ad is which and you can then use the labels to segment in a pivot table when downloading and analysing performance. We’d also recommend testing a third version of the ad with little or no pinning, to compare performance against the other ads to see if the unpinned performs better. This is a more time-consuming set-up and Google only allows you to have 3 enabled RSAs in each ad group, so does have some limitations.

There are many other ways that you could test RSAs and messaging in your accounts, however these should hopefully offer a good starting point. Reporting has been fairly limited for RSAs in the past, with advertisers needing to navigate to the specific ad and then ‘view asset details’ for every ad, however if you navigate to Search campaigns > Ads & Extensions > Assets, you can now see an overview of performance for text across multiple ads, ad groups and campaigns. This is updated once per day. Another option, for those who have SA360 is to navigate to ‘Ads’ and then add in the required date range and columns, download and then use a pivot table to view headlines/descriptions alongside metrics,

.A man views the performance of online advertising on a laptop

Automating the Creation of RSAs

Any fans of ad builder in SA360 will likely already be on the case of this but one way you can build out RSAs across the account whilst still delivering unique copy is through a combination of ad builder and business data. By creating these templates, not only do you speed up the creation of RSAs but also the process of updating ads. There is a plethora of options available on how you can use business data to show relevant messaging per ad group, it’s worth considering how you can use this in your business/clients.

There is also a script which Google Ads have created to speed up the creation of RSAs through using the headlines and descriptions in your ETAs. We would certainly recommend reviewing these before implementing the ads into the account to ensure they follow best practice recommendations.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how to develop your RSA strategy further or would like to chat about your paid search strategy more generally, please get in touch with us via our Contact page.