Summary of Changes
Starting on June 30th, 2022, Google will begin their sunset of Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) in favor of their dynamic offering, Responsive Search Ads (RSAs). Existing ETAs in advertiser’s accounts will continue to serve, but will no longer be editable and new ad units won’t be allowed to be created.
Google continues to roll out changes to their platform with a big focus on automation, and this update is no different. Google cites 15% of search queries every day are new searches never seen before. The response to this consumer behavior is to leverage machine learning; to reach searchers with the most relevant ad at the right moment.
Challenges Advertisers Will Face
As with any update Google makes, the biggest thing us as advertisers need to keep in mind is how it affects us and our clients. Listed below are a few things I believe need to be kept in mind as we approach June 30th:
Lack of Control:
As a standard with changes related to automation, the largest impact seen from the sunset of ETAs is the lack of control offered by their RSA counterparts. While advertisers still have control over the headline and description line inputs, the order in which these appear are left to Google to decide (there are options to pin headlines and description lines to certain slots, but this is recommended to be done in moderation). This can be detrimental to multiple advertisers, such as ones who have proven having a price point in their ads improves performance. With this change, the price point is harder to guarantee to show.
Lack of Transparent Reporting:
Reporting for RSAs still leaves a lot to be desired. Google does offer suggestions on how to improve your ad strength and even offers you ideas (although in my experience, the ideas offered are relatively weak). However, the big piece of the puzzle that’s missing is the lack of insight into what combinations of headlines and description lines perform the best. This can often make copywriting feel a bit like a shot in the dark, where we generate headlines and description lines we think work well but ultimately can’t prove out their efficiency.
Example of some of the ideas Google offers to improve ad strength
Difficulty With A/B Testing:
Finally, the ease of ad copy A/B tests will ultimately take a hit. With ETAs, ad copy tests were arguably the easiest and quickest tests to set up. We take two ads, tweak an input, and then compare the results after reaching statistical significance. With RSAs, this is still possible, but a bit more cumbersome. A/B testing RSAs will require all inputs to be pinned (more on this later), which can lead to poor ad strength labels from Google. We know ad strength is a factor in Quality Score, so testing like this could ultimately lead to detrimental performance.
Google leaving in the ability to pin headlines and description lines to certain slots is ultimately a lifeline to folks who still want control of placement in their ads. A few things that can be done to back some control with RSAs:
Pinning All Headlines and Description Lines:
Utilize all headlines and description lines, but pin each input to a specific slot. Imagine an ad with all 15 headlines and 4 description lines being utilized; we pin 5 to each headline slot and 2 to each description slot. What we’re left with is essentially a hybrid between an ETA and an RSA.
Pinning 3 Headlines and 2 Description Lines:
Create an RSA with exactly 3 headlines and 2 description lines, pinning each input to a unique slot. This is essentially an ETA with extra steps.
However, both workarounds have their drawbacks. Keep in mind that a few factors that go into ad strength are the number of headlines and description lines used, and the number of pinned headlines used. So while the above scenarios might be effective in keeping some element of control when generating ad copy, it might not be worth the hit to Quality Score potentially seen.
From Smart Shopping in 2018 to the phrase/BMM match type change in 2021 to the ETA sunset in 2022, Google has shown that they’re marching forward towards an advertising landscape that fully embraces automation. I don’t think this is an inherently bad thing; as Google mentions, we live in an ever-evolving digital landscape that’s very difficult to keep up with. Automation simply makes different facets of our industry easier to manage.
It’s difficult to speculate what the next big thing on the docket is for automation, but my gut feeling is telling me that extensions could be the next feature to be impacted. We already have automated extensions, which I almost universally disable, but I envision a world where manual inputs for extensions are sunset. The ETA sunset has shown that Google believes ad copy to be an area where automation is important, so why not embrace it with ad extensions?
Dynamic extensions settings are already hidden within the Google Ads UI; could they become mandatory to opt into in the future?
In the short term, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google completely does away with pins in RSAs, or at least limits the number of pins allowed per RSA. Ultimately, the ability to pin headlines and description lines makes the RSA change a sort of moot point, as us advertisers have the ability to make a static ad unit.
Automation isn’t an inherently bad thing. It may be frustrating as an advertiser to lose a grip over things we’re accustomed to having full control over, but ultimately these changes are made to make our jobs easier and to make our ads more relevant to our audience.