Expanded Text Ads vs Responsive Search Ads – What’s the difference?

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Sophie Monks

Senior Social Specialist

We have a lot of experience running both Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) and Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) for our clients, but how do the two compare, and is one better than the other?

Before we can get to the subject of RSA vs ETA Google ads, we need a solid understanding of each. Here’s how they differ.

What Are Expanded Text Ads?

Expanded Text Ads – or ETAs – are a type of Google ad that appears in search results. With an ETA you can create three headlines (up to 30 characters each), two descriptions (up to 90 characters each), and a display URL.

Many businesses run a wide variety of ETA ads simultaneously. When used effectively, they can achieve great click-through and conversions.

What are Responsive Search Ads?

Responsive Search Ads were launched by Google in 2018. RSAs are designed to work in conjunction with Expanded Text Ads. They work by Google automatically serving the ad headline and description to users from a set of up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions supplied by the advertiser. Google dynamically changes the headline and description to find the winning combination – the one that results in the best click-through rate and highest conversion rate for the ad.

Clever, huh?

Advertisers maintain an element of control over the combinations by ‘pinning’ specific headlines and descriptions. In doing this, you ensure that the pinned element will always show in the specified position within the ad.

To get the most out of the RSA format, Google recommends making headlines explicitly distinct from one another. They say to highlight different features, benefits, unique selling points or call-to-actions, rather than using small variations of the same message. For example, this could mean using “buy today” and “free delivery”, rather than “buy today” and “buy now”. After all, the ad is essentially an A/B test, so you need distinct options.

When the RSA format first arrived, we were quick to utilise it. By competing in more auctions, there was potentially an opportunity to reach even more customers than using Expanded Text Ads alone. This is because RSAs are often served for long tail/broader search queries than ETAs. We also recognised the greater testing potential RSA ads offered.

So, What Are the Pros and Cons of ETA and RSA ads?

As you can see, there are pluses and minuses on either side. And, while it is true that RSA ads can perform better than ETA ads, they come at quite a hefty cost.

Because RSA ads compete in broader and longer-tail auctions than ETAs, they have to bid more to compete. The broader auctions often lead to the average CPC of an RSA being more expensive than the CPC for the same keyword using an expanded text ad – we have seen it 22% higher on average. The consequence of this is that the cost-per-lead with RSAs is more expensive than with ETAs.

The Golden Ticket…

In our experience, if everything else remained the same, RSAs would spend 17.71% more than ETAs to achieve the same number of conversions, and would have to spend a whopping 36.37% more to achieve the same number of impressions.

However, while RSAs are proportionally more expensive than ETAs, they certainly have their place in every Ads account.

As you can see above in the pros and cons, one of the major advantages of RSAs is their ability to quickly and intelligently test a wide variety of content. When used in the testing phase of a campaign, RSAs can therefore speed up the process and limit spend on poorly performing ads.

Ultimately, it’s less a case of RSA vs ETA Google ads, and more a question of how you can combine the two for the best effect.

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Sophie Monks

Senior Social Specialist

Sophie has over 6 years of experience in the social media and content space, working in both in-house organisations and agencies. She has worked with exciting established brands in her time such as Campari, Aperol Spritz, Oppo Ice Cream and PayPal Australia. She enjoys the content creation process – from mapping out the shot and…

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