How to automate your ad copy without sacrificing control

“The more the platforms automate, the more we, as search marketers, lose control.” That has largely been the rhetoric over the years, and while there is certainly some truth to it, there are techniques that can help you reap the benefits of automation without sacrificing control.

Google has already announced plans to deprecate expanded text ads (ETAs), leaving advertisers with no choice but to embrace responsive search ads (RSAs). However, marketers can still use what they have learned from ETAs to improve their RSAs, increasing their chances of a successful transition. At SMX Next, Joe Martinez, co-founder at Paid Media Pros, shared how he benchmarks with ETAs to get the most out of the automated capabilities of RSAs.

Create ETAs to use later

“RSAs can really be hit or miss,” Martinez said, noting that “The reporting for this ad format is fairly poor.” “They [Google] give you a ‘good,’ ‘better,’ ‘best’-type aspect of how your ads are performing and we still see the overall metrics within the main columns, but we don’t get the right information on which combinations of the responsive search ads are performing best, because we can add in a variety of different headlines, different descriptions, but we don’t know what combinations are working.”

This lack of performance transparency is even more troubling for advertisers that currently rely on expanded text ads, since Google is sunsetting the format in June 2022.

“So, to prepare for this, you need to start making sure that you are focusing on adding as many expanded text ads in your account as possible,” Martinez said, “I’ve typically held around three to four expanded text ads — well, now we’re starting to add even more.”

Image: Joe Martinez and Michelle Morgan.

By doing so, “We’re saying, ‘Okay, if I am going to eventually have to enter in a variety of different headlines and descriptions into my RSAs, I want to make sure that I’m entering the right ones — the ones that are going to perform the best when I am forced to use the RSA format,” he explained.

In addition to establishing a performance benchmark, how these ETAs perform should inform the creation of your RSAs when you eventually have to move your ads over to that format. “We’re making sure that we’re doing a bunch of varieties [of ETAs] so we know specifically which combinations are working because we’re controlling that with ETAs,” Martinez said.

To get the best benchmarks using this method, advertisers should ensure that their ads are set to rotate evenly so that impression share is divided across both ETAs and RSAs.

RELATED: RSAs vs ETAs, how, when, and why PPC experts use them

Pin headlines and descriptions accordingly

The RSA format allows advertisers to add up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, which can be pinned to specific positions. By benchmarking with ETAs (as described above), advertisers can take those findings and use them to pin headlines and descriptions in RSAs to gain more ETA-like functionality from them: “We’re pretty much creating our own expanded text ad within the RSA format,” Martinez said.

A slide showing pinned ad components.
Image: Joe Martinez and Michelle Morgan.

“Now, Google will say it can potentially hurt your Ad Rank if you’re not giving it [Google Ads’ machine learning systems] the full amount of options and combinations that Google would like,” he said, noting that, for some advertisers, this is a worthwhile compromise: “Okay, you may hurt your Ad Rank, that’s fine. But, we do understand in certain industries, control and order of message is very necessary.”

Despite the potential decrease in Ad Rank, advertisers in highly regulated industries may have to rely on pinning because, in some organizations, legal departments might have to approve every piece of ad copy that is written.

“So sometimes you may have to sacrifice on the Ad Rank just to make sure that your ad copy is on brand, it’s correct and you’re not going to get in trouble within your specific industry,” Martinez said.

For advertisers that aren’t bound to such stringent policies, pinning can still help create the experience you want to deliver to users, which may also justify any potential hit to your Ad Rank score, he added.

Utilize ad customizers

Ad customizers can provide additional control without sacrificing the flexibility that RSAs have to offer. You can use them to automatically insert keywords, a countdown timer, location, price, inventory count, discount rates or product names, for example.

A slide showing ad customizers within RSAs.
Image: Joe Martinez and Michelle Morgan.

“As you’re grouping and testing out different types of headlines within your expanded text ads, keep note: If your ad customizer ads are performing better, you may want to add those into your new responsive search ads and possibly pin them in certain locations,” Martinez said.

However, advertisers using this technique should be aware that there are no IF functions for RSAs.

A slide describing the lack of IF functions in RSAs.
Image: Joe Martinez and Michelle Morgan.

“We’re losing that function and it makes sense because there are already so many different combinations that we really wouldn’t be able to see if an IF function customizer was working with RSAs,” he said, “So if you are using that one and you love it, test it out, understand which audience is seeing that one ad or that one variable, then you can start focusing on restructuring your campaign to a specific audience just to make sure that they’re seeing the proper headline that performed better for that particular audience.”

Unlock the potential of your RSAs before ETAs go away 

RSAs are already the default ad type for Search campaigns, but, on its way out, the ETA format still offers advertisers one of the most important tools for successful campaigns — data. Start adding more ETAs to your campaigns ahead of the June 2022 deprecation date to prepare your brand (or your client’s brand) for a smooth transition.

Watch the full SMX Next presentation here (free registration required).

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About The Author

George Nguyen is an editor for Search Engine Land, covering organic search, podcasting and e-commerce. His background is in journalism and content marketing. Prior to entering the industry, he worked as a radio personality, writer, podcast host and public school teacher.


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