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How to Structure Your Responsive Search Ads for Maximum Performance

By: Abdi Morrison

In July of 2022, expanded text ads (ETAs) will be phased out of the Google Ads platform. When that happens, advertisers will no longer be able to create new ETAs or edit existing ones. As a result, responsive search ads (RSAs) will become the most used ad type for advertising on Google search. As advertisers adjust to RSAs becoming the predominately used ad, they must also adjust their approach to ad copy A/B testing for these ads.

The Previous Conventional Approach to Ad Copy Testing

ETA A/B split testing was based on finding the best combination of headlines and descriptions to use for your ad. If you wanted to find a winning ad combo, you would run two ETAs with different ad variations alongside your RSA.

Unfortunately, you cannot do a bootleg version of an ETA split test by pinning headlines 1-3 in an RSA. That would be a great way to simulate an ETA split test in theory, but RSAs with all pinned headlines don't perform well. According to Frederick Vallaeys, Google wants to have flexibility to rotate ads within RSAs so ones without pins are more favored by the algorithm.  

Example of an RSA with all pinned headlines

The key then is figuring out how you want the RSA format to be structured. How can you figure out the winning RSA ad copy formula that will maximize your traffic and conversion/lead generation? To figure that out, you will need to run an RSA version of the A/B split test.

The New Approach to Ad Copy Testing

There is a way to use headline pinning to get the most out of your RSA performance. This way allows Google to have control over headline rotation, while also giving you control over ad structure within the RSA. The best way to get the most out of your RSA’s performance is by pinning multiple headlines to each headline position in the ad.

With this approach, you take a handful of headlines that are all related to one another in some way, and you pin them to the headline 2 (H2) and headline 3 (H3) positions. The headlines that you pin to each position should have a common theme. Headlines that you pin to H2 can be features headlines that talk about the product, price, shipping costs, delivery method, etc. Headlines that you pin to H3 can be benefits headlines that explain how the product or service can address the problems that the customer has or improve their quality of life.

This approach creates a happy medium for you and for Google. You get the best of both worlds because you give Google the flexibility to rotate headlines around, so the ad is more favored by the algorithm. And you also have some control because you choose what headlines you want Google to rotate around in each position.

How to Set up the Pinned vs. Unpinned RSA A/B Split Test

Set up an A/B split test where you have an RSA with pinned headlines to the H1 position. The H1 can have 1 to 4 pinned headlines, but the remaining headlines should be left unpinned. You can call this RSA the champion ad. Then create a duplicate of that RSA with the same pinning to the H1 position, and pin several headlines to the H2 and H3 headline positions. That RSA will be the challenger ad. All the headlines in the challenger ad must be completely pinned. Choose a search campaign in your account to run this test on and have these ads both run in every ad group of that campaign. 

Example of an RSA with multiple pinned headlines for each ad position

  • The H2 ad copy are features headlines. The H3 ad copy are benefits headlines.
  • Create a second RSA with the exact same ad copy but unpin the headlines.

    Have the ad rotation settings for the campaign set to show the best performing ad. Let the experiment run for a minimum of two weeks so you have a large enough data sample.

    The Results that We’ve Seen From this Experiment

    Our agency has run this RSA pin vs. unpin experiment for multiple accounts across many different industries. We found that the pinned RSAs generally performed better than the unpinned RSAs in nearly every key performance metric. These ads brought in more clicks and impressions in almost every instance. The pinned RSAs also had much higher click through rates (CTR) than the unpinned ones. In some instances, the difference in CTRs were significantly higher for these pinned ads. This resulted in more conversions for these RSAs.

    Results of the experiment across multiple ad groups within the same campaign

    • This is 16 days of data. The champion label is for the unpinned RSA.
    • The challenger label is for the pinned RSA.


      If you set up this A/B split test, you can feel confident in knowing that pinning your RSA headlines will produce better results than leaving them unpinned. However, there’s no guarantee that the results shown in this blog are easily applicable across all industries. It could be that some industries produce different results for this test than others, so it’s wise to set up this A/B test for yourself to see how it goes. The most promising result that you’re likely to find is observing the increase in CTRs of the pinned RSA ads compared to the unpinned ones. That is an important metric because the more people who click on your ad after seeing it, the more likely you are to get a conversion from those visitors. That is what’s good for business. 

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