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Remember that Google people are not from our world

Responsive search ads on Google, in the company’s words, “let you create an ad that adapts to show more text – and more relevant messages – to your customers. Enter multiple headlines and descriptions when creating a responsive search ad, and over time, Google Ads will automatically test different combinations and learn which combinations perform best.”

In other words, instead of testing out different combinations of headlines and advert text at your own pace, just give Google a selection of words and phrases, and it’ll run all the combinations for you, and then focus on the ones which gave the best results. It’ll also take the search query into context, so as an advertiser, you may not need to write as many search-and-ad-copy combinations.

In theory, that sounds great. In practice, it needs to be used with care, for two reasons. Firstly, most of our clients’ ad campaigns are small and specific. Getting data on the most effective messaging would take so long that it’s often better to go with (unproven) best copy ideas from the outset. Sure, occasionally we might have been surprised that some alternative copy worked better, but we’d have to test that for months to find out.

Secondly, the prospect of a machine randomly swapping around the components of a headline and text is not something that can be left to chance. To avoid the possibility of unwanted or even nonsensical combinations, every one needs to be considered in advance. It could severely restrict creativity. In a business context, it’s quite reasonable that more than one person might want sign-off on advert copy. If 27 different combinations need to be approved, the campaign may never get off the ground.

So although responsive search ads can be a legitimate approach, they need to be monitored with care, and you need time to do so (or an agency who you trust).

It’s been reported that Google has apparently been experimenting with making responsive search ads the default for new campaigns. Although there’s no suggestion that we’ll be stopped from choosing to write ads ourselves, it may indicate a direction of travel. Google is obsessed with data-driven technology, which is fine so long as it doesn’t ignore the needs of the little guy, who Big Data probably doesn’t consider to be significant. Some time ago, Google experimented (to our horror) with cutting up and reformatting our image (banner) adverts, without telling us. Many of us successfully took our objections to this right to the top. But we need to remain vigilant. The data nerds do not live in the real world.