Google’s Responsive Search Ads—What Are They and How Do They Work in Higher Education Advertising?

Carnegie Higher Ed Nov 19, 2018 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

In early 2018, Google began to roll out responsive search ads in beta to advertisers. Though they are not available to all advertisers yet, the Digital team at Carnegie Dartlet was fortunate enough to test out these ads in the early stages. After a few months of monitoring the campaigns that were testing this new ad format, we’ve learned quite a bit and have some insights to share!

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If you don’t live, breathe, and sleep digital advertising, you might be thinking, what are responsive search ads and how do they differ from expanded text ads? Basically, these ads allow you to enter up to 15 headlines and four descriptions for one single ad. With a goal of being less redundant, Google Ads puts together various headlines (up to three) and descriptions (up to two) that closely match specific search queries.

Google states these ads will save time and reach more potential customers by showing the most relevant ad based on a user’s search query. With time, Google Ads will learn the combinations that are most applicable for different queries. All other fields, such as the display and destination URLS, stay the same as they would in expanded text ads.

Altogether, responsive search ads can be arranged into 43,680 versions of the same ad! With expanded text ads, you’re always going to see three headlines and two descriptions, but with responsive search ads, this isn’t always the case. These ads are going to fit to the ad space provided. For example, if you’re being served an ad on mobile, you might just see two headlines and one description—or whatever fits best.

What have we discovered in running responsive search ads?

We’ve been testing the new responsive ad format against standard expanded text ads in a variety of accounts. Across all test campaigns to date, responsive ads have seen lower click-through rates, a higher average cost per click, and fewer conversions than expanded text ads. This was somewhat surprising to us, as responsive ads are intended to optimize toward what’s most relevant to individual users based on machine learning, which theoretically would lead to better performance.

There are a few reasons we might be seeing poorer performance on these new ads to date. First, the ad format is still new and may just need more time and data to start optimizing delivery of these ad combinations. We’ve also seen all the different ad headline and description combinations lead to the possibility of ads being served without a call to action, which we know tends to lead to lower ad engagement. Google does offer the option to “pin” parts of the ad to certain positions, so we’ve adopted that as a testing best practice moving forward to ensure our ads always show a relevant call to action.

What’s next for responsive search ads?

Right now, Google Ads doesn’t provide a lot of insight regarding how these campaigns are performing because of all the possible ad variations, but they are working on it. Our team recently attended the SMX Conference in New York City and learned Google is planning on rolling out enhancements for the product in the coming weeks, including more detailed performance metrics, ad strength rankings, and a report to show performance in various combinations.

As the higher education marketing industry leader, Carnegie Dartlet will continue to test and is eager to see the evolution of responsive search ads. If you’re interested in learning more about our Digital Services and how Pay Per Click Google search ads can be implemented in your college or university’s advertising strategy, click here or contact us today. We are always ready to help!

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