Another blog about responsive search ads (RSAs)
Every now and again, we read something that gets our whole team talking. There are many articles about RSAs out there and we felt it was time to write a response to one. And, although we have decided to focus on responding to just one, for now, we hope that you will leave here with the reminder to remain critical of the advice given when faced with industry opinions that may not sit within your KPIs or best practice.
Google has long pushed the use of RSAs over Expanded Text Ads (ETA), with Google announcing that ETA will be defunct from Summer next year (2022). We appreciate this isn’t news as we all have, for a while now, been implementing RSAs for our clients. It does seem a good point to review performance and evaluate what best practices could start to look like.
One blog that recently came to our attention was this one from SEL. Some of the insights interested us and we felt it was time to apply some of that logic to our RSAs. If you haven’t read it yet, in summary, the main theme is that variation improves performance. In addition, it talks about how to optimise and review combinations, and then to start to think about handing over the performance of your campaigns to Google automation. Primarily by using broad match in conjunction with smart bidding & RSAs.
Today we are taking a look at the comment ‘variation improves performance’. There are three particular quotes that stuck out for us here:
- “If you give Google more variations then the CTR goes up because they’re able to show the right ad to the right user at the right time,” said Vallaeys.
- However, spikes in CTR don’t necessarily correlate with increased conversion rates. Data shows they actually decrease with more headlines.
- “Conversion rate seems to go down the more variety you introduce,” Vallaeys said, “But at the end of the day, the thing we care about is impressions and conversions per ad unit.
Isn’t conversion the most important?
Firstly, we explored the above statement. Basically, the suggestion here is that despite a decreased conversion rate; which was produced by increasing the variety of headlines in RSA’s; impressions were much higher. This they seemed most pleased about.
Initially, we were aghast at this statement. Surely conversion rate is the most meaningful KPI here? Surely a decreased conversion rate goes against what we hold dear in gaining efficiency for our clients?
When we look a little deeper, there are two streams to this statement (and accompanying graph) that we wanted to understand. Firstly, we don’t know what the data source of that graph was (how big was the sample, the date range, what testing occurred, the verticals involved etc.) Secondly, we wanted to understand if this is likely to be true for our clients at face value (without knowing any background to the data)?
With this in mind it got us wondering if the well-established theory of more people clicking on an advert leads to more conversions, still rings true. Is CTR actual proof of better-qualified traffic? All these questions really got our brains thinking.
Our next step after asking these questions was to replicate the data from the graph (image 1) into numbers. When inputting this with the replica data the statement does not hold true. Despite a decreased conversion rate and increased CTR, the volume of conversions is less than the higher conversion rate (& less variation, we assumed image 2):
Image 1 : Credit: Search Engine Land Link here
Image 2 : Credit: Search Engine Land data re-evaluated by Chris
Next, we wanted to explore our own data to discover if saw the same trends. For example, would more variation result in a reduced conversion rate and how might this affect conversion volumes (image 3)?
Image 3 – Credit: Our MCC data, 1st January to 25 November 2021, >35k RSAs reviewed. Google only.
Hands up – we acknowledge that we haven’t implemented RSAs in all campaigns across all accounts. Some are testing more headlines whilst others still use enhanced CPC as the bid strategy. In addition, some don’t have more than 3 headlines altogether. However, what all clients have in common are the same KPI which is either a sales or lead conversion.
In conclusion, we don’t see the data as being as conclusive as the blog leads us to believe. However, it is clear that the accounts with 3 headlines do have the highest number of conversions. We believe it is best to allow you to take that data with a pinch of salt as they equate to >50% of ads in RSAs. As expected, and elsewhere, clickthrough rate, conversion rate and conversion volume go hand in hand, and we don’t see this with more headlines.
So what does this mean?
So, what does this mean? This means don’t believe everything you read or are told by industry giants whose main KPI is to increase ad revenue (seems obvious really). Look at your own data, and if you don’t have that data – start testing and make your own assumptions. Alternatively, reach out to us and let us complete the evaluation for you.
Moving forward, the recently completed analysis of our own data does throw up a lot more questions. And; if like us, you love questions, here are a few more for you to think about in the meantime.
- Does the performance of RSAs & the number of headlines change when used in tandem with smart bidding? Does it change again when the broad match is involved?
- What about Microsoft RSAs?
- How do RSAs compare to ETAs (quick reveal, ETAs are doing better) but when comparing like for like in ad groups/campaigns that have both does that change?
- Does ad strength make a difference?
If, and when you take the time to think about these in more detail, feel free to reach out to us. If not, we look forward to answering more of these in future blogs.
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