Table of Contents


Creating Great Ads (RSAs)

Learn how to create effective responsive search ads that adapt to any device and drive conversions with our expert tips. Perfect for marketers of all levels.

Guide Summary

This guide covers our approach for RSAs (Responsive Search Ads) and outlines the strategies and tactics for doing so.

You will learn:

  • The minimum standards we hold to for RSAs
  • Guidance for achieving ‘Excellent’ ad strength
  • A rundown of the types of headlines marketers use, along with some examples
  • General advice for writing ad copy that sells
  • A guide for using ad customizers
  • Some tactical advice for writing ad copy
  • An outline of the three things a great ad does

See also:

🗒️ Note: All of the examples below are focused on headlines with their 30 maximum characters. However, everything taught here is wholly applicable to descriptions with their 90 maximum characters as well.

The Minimum Standards

In creating a great Responsive Search Ad (RSA), let’s first cover the minimum standards we hold to for each one we create.

  • All 15 headlines must be written.
  • All 4 descriptions must be written.
  • Each ad group should have at least one RSA (Responsive Search Ad) active.
  • The RSA should be specifically written for its ad group’s targets.
  • Each RSA must be at ‘Excellent’ ad strength.
  • Only 3 pinned headlines max, 1 pinned description (if pinning is deemed necessary). It’s best for all the pinned headlines to be pinned to one position, and avoid pinning just one headline to one position.
    • Note: Pinning a clear Call To Action headline to position 2 is considered a strong strategy by some experts.
  • Brand mentions should maintain the stylization of the client’s chosen branding. For example, if the client has stylized their brand name as ACME®, then that should be the way it’s written in all ad copy.

Achieving ‘Excellent’ Ad Strength

Achieving an ‘Excellent’ ad strength becomes much easier with practice.

The most important things to know are:

  • Ad strength increases by the ad copy having direct relevancy to the keywords in the ad group, repeating those terms.

  • Ad strength further increases with variety. Some typical variations outside of the specific product examples include:

  • Hints for achieving and ‘Excellent’:

    • Write the maximum 15 headlines, including all the keywords targeted in the ad group.
    • Write the maximum 4 descriptions, including at least some of the keywords targeted in the ad group.
    • Write a variety of headlines. Some typical variations outside of the specific product examples include:
      • 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed (buyer security)
      • In Business Since 1985 (establishes trust)
      • Free Shipping over $100 USD (save money)
      • Official Online Shop (establishes trust)
      • Backed by a 5-Year Warranty (establishes trust)
      • Proudly Made in the USA (nationalistic appeal)
      • Australian Owned & Operated (nationalistic appeal)
      • Same-Day Shipping (convenience)

    💡 More variations are included below. Remember: This is not about creating a word salad of keywords that’s as painful to read as it is to write, just to flesh out 15 headlines. There are a great number of ways to write strong and somewhat unique headlines for every conceivable ad group theme. Take the time to do this right.

Types of Headlines

There are several different ways to think of the headlines and the approaches you should take in writing them.

Descriptive Headlines

These headlines directly describe what the product is. These are often the most powerful headlines because they (hopefully) match what the shopper is looking for.

Specificity often improves these headlines. For example, if a shopper is looking for a “leather watch band for my Apple Watch 6”, which headline do you think appeals most?

  • “Best Watches & Accessories”
  • “Leather & Faux-Leather Bands”
  • “Apple Watch 6 Leather Bands”

Trust Headlines

Trust cannot be understated as a factor affecting every shopper’s buying decision. Fear of being scammed and feeling foolish will kill any consideration of purchase if it’s heightened by any red flags. Red flags (as they relate to copy) often include:

  • Typos, misspellings, poor grammar, lack of proper capitalization or punctuation in the copy
  • Poor or little information
  • Mismatching information
  • Unbelievable claims, exaggeration, excessive superlatives, and exclamation marks

Avoiding these red flags is just the start. Trust can also be boosted in several ways that establish the store as credible.

Trust: Leadership, Boasts, and Authority

Shoppers often see the bigger stores as the safer bets, so it’s usually best to impress upon them the seller’s leadership or authority in the space when possible.

  • “Leading Provider of X-Widgets”
  • “The Original (and Best) X-Widgets”
  • “#1 X-Widget Maker in the USA”

Trust: Business Longevity

Shoppers tend to trust more established businesses, assuming that long-lasting stores are still operating because they’re trustworthy.

  • “Serving Wisconsin Since 1974”
  • “Premium X-Widgets Since 1974”
  • “ACME Co. – Est. 1974”
  • “Happy Customers for 47 Years”

Trust: Reasons to Believe

“Reasons to believe” come in a great variety of statements. They’re simply “evidence” to a shopper’s mind that this is a legitimate business, and therefore product.

  • “100% Satisfaction Guaranteed”
  • “97.8% Satisfaction Rate”
  • “Rated 4.9/5 by Customers”
  • “Backed by a Lifetime Warranty”
  • “Served Over 20,000 Businesses”
  • “As Seen on CBS & Fox”
  • ““The best investment I’ve made””

Urgency Headlines

The oldest trick in the book…

  • “Limited Stock Available Now”
  • “While Supplies Last”
  • “Clearance Sale, Today Only”
  • “Offer Ends on June 30”

Note: Two common mistakes with urgency headlines are:

  1. Abusing them, which returning customers notice and trust less over time.
  2. Forgetting to revise or remove the dated headlines after the sale’s conclusion.

Price-centric Headlines

Many shoppers are looking for pricing information when they search. These can either relate the current promotion or highlight the value proposition of the product(s).

  • “Buy 2 Get 1 Free”
  • “20% Less Than Leading Brand”
  • “Free Shipping within the USA”
  • “Save $50 Off Your First Order”

Feature Headlines

Features can either be a convenience to the shopper, or product callouts and highlights.

  • “AfterPay Available”
  • “In-Home Delivery Options”
  • “Features Natural Sleep Mode”
  • “Connects with Wi-Fi”
  • “Work with iPhone & Android”
  • “Laser & Inkjet Compatible”

Geo-Relevancy Headlines

Sometimes location matters, even on the Internet. Whether shoppers are concerned about shipping times or prices, or they want to support local businesses, or have a nationalistic pride, inserting location can boost an ad’s performance.

  • “Fast & Free Shipping in NYC”
  • “Proudly Made in the USA”
  • “Australian Owned & Operated”
  • “California’s Top Seller”

Call-To-Action Headlines

Call-to-actions, or CTAs, are often vital signposts in a shopper’s journey. Having them in ads makes sense because we’re so used to them, and they’re relevant to our intent. They can help a shopper take the next step (a site visit) with as little mental processing as possible.

  • “Shop Now and Save”
  • “Official Site · Order Now”
  • “Select Your Preferred Model”
  • “Choose Your Color…”
  • “Easily Customize Your Order”

Comparative Headlines

Shoppers naturally want to know how a store or product compares their myriad other options, so it only makes sense to set a strong tone here.

  • “Outlasts the Leading Brand”
  • “Costs 29% Less than XYZ”*
  • “Compare Us to XYZ”*
  • Works only on trademarks not actively defended in Google Ads.

Remarketing Headlines

Remarketing offers an enormous advantage because we have additional data on the shopper, such as:

  • They visited the site.
  • They viewed a collection.
  • They viewed a product.
  • They added something to their cart.
  • They’ve purchased something.

With well-structured remarketing lists, we can write enticing headlines based on these contexts in RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads) campaigns. Examples include:

  • “Suggested For You…”
  • “Interested in more X-Widgets?”
  • “Shop the Latest 2022 X-Widgets”
  • “Complete Your Order Today”
  • “Save an Extra 5% On Your Cart”
  • “We’ve Added More X-Widgets”
  • “Price Goes Back Up in {COUNTDOWN(2022-12-31 00:00:00,5)}”*
  • (see ad customizers section below)

Brand Headlines

Last, and certainly not least, are brand headlines. Make sure shoppers know there’s a brand to the store and/or product that they should associate with their current consideration, intent, or evaluation phase of their purchase journey.

  • ACME®
  • ACME® X-Widgets™
  • ACME® Official Store
  • Save More with ACME®

Sales Headlines • The Art of Selling Through Copy

One other type of headline deserves its own section here: The sales headline. This is the hook.

Not every great ad needs it. An RSA with great descriptive, brand, and trust headlines can easily be the winning combination to maximize CTR of qualified shoppers and prime them to buy.

That said… what marketer can resist writing a great hook?

In Jim Edwards’ words, author of Copywriting Secrets, “copywriting is the art of selling”. To sell, or at least entice a click, you should use some headlines to communicate why the shoppers need what the store is selling.

Hopes, fears, dreams, and desires are the best buying motivators because “without a strong why, people don’t buy.”

10 reasons why people buy

  • Make money
  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Avoid effort
  • Escape pain
  • Get comfort/pleasure
  • Achieve hygiene and health
  • Gain praise
  • Feel more loved
  • Increase popularity/social status

In order to know how the product(s) can help shoppers, you need to get to know it…

An Exercise for Headlines That Sell

Writing several headlines for any of the pertinent questions here will help you come up with strong ad copy that entices more clicks and primes the shopper for what they’ll read on the landing page:

  • What are the ways the product(s) can help the shopper make money?
  • How can the product(s) help the shopper save money over the next week, month, or year?
  • How much time can the product save them, and what else could they do with that time?
  • What is something they won’t have to do anymore once they get the product(s)?
  • What physical pain does the product eliminate for them, and what does that mean for their life and business?
  • How does the product eliminate mental pain or worry for the shopper?
  • What are three ways the product helps the shopper feel more comfortable?
  • How does the product help the shopper achieve hygiene?
  • How does the product help the shopper be healthy?
  • What are three ways the product is going to help the shopper be the envy of their friends? How will buying the product make them feel more popular and increase their social status?

Make Use of Ad Customizers

Ad customizers allow you to insert dynamic information into your headlines and descriptions. In this guide, we’re going to cover the easiest method of implementing these, which is to just set them up when you’re writing your RSAs.

Note: The other method for creating ad customizers involves creating a file to supply the data that will be inserted based on the conditions met. You can learn more about that here.

3 Types of Ad Customizers

There are three types of information that you can dynamically generate for a headline or description:

  1. Keyword insertion This uses the term that the shopper used to trigger your ad.

Example: The shopper searches for “groovy lava lamps”, and the headline serves “Shop Groovy Lava Lamps”.

  1. Countdown This uses an event date set by you to show a countdown in the ad.

Example: You’ve set the end date for your sale as January 31st, and the shopper sees on January 27th a headline stating “Sale Ends In 4 Days”.

  1. Location This uses the shopper’s current location to inform the data inserted into the ad copy.

Example: The shopper searches from Miami and sees the headline “Free Shipping to Miami”.

How To Set Up Ad Customizers Within The Headline/Description

Simple. Type a “{” curly bracket to open up a small form to input the variables.

Setting Up Keyword Insertion

Keyword Insertion

Write the default text that will appear if the keywords the shopper searched for can’t appear in the headline.

When Keyword Insertion Won’t Work…

The most common reasons a search term won’t get inserted into the headline or description are:

  • the search term is too long
  • the search term contains profanity
  • the search term is incorrectly spelled

Selecting the Case

Next, you’ll choose the case. The case is the type of capitalization you want your keyword text to have. You can choose between 3 types of capitalization:

  • Title case: The first letter of all keywords will be capitalized
  • Sentence case: Only the first letter of the first keyword will be capitalized
  • Lower case: No letters will be capitalized

The Output

For each case, here’s the example output if a shopper searches “red widgets”:

  • Headline Shop {KeyWord:X-Widgets} Now set to title case:
    • Shop Red Widgets Now
  • Headline Shop {Keyword:X-Widgets} Now set to sentence case:
    • Shop Red widgets Now
  • Headline Shop {Keyword:X-Widgets} Now set to lower case:
    • Shop red widgets Now

Note: If the shopper were to search for “red widjits”, they would see the default text instead due to the misspelling (it’s against Google policy to have misspelled ad copy). Also, if the shopper were to search for “deepest magenta red widgets available”, they would see the default text because inserting their search term would exceed the headline character limit.

  • Shop X-Widgets Now

💡Google Ads help article on keywords insertion.

Setting Up A Countdown

Setting up a countdown
  • Set the date being counted down to.
  • Set if the countdown ends at the start of the day on that date, the end of the day on that date, or at a custom time during that day.
  • Set when you want the countdown to begin counting down. (By the way, if you leave this blank, it will start showing 5 days before your end date.)
  • Select the time zone that you want the countdown to adhere to.

The Output

Once you’ve set up your variables, the text in the headline or description should look something like this:

  • Sale Ends In {COUNTDOWN(2022-12-31 23:59:59,5)}

When a shopper sees this on December 27th, they’ll see:

  • Sale Ends In 4 days

When a shopper sees this on December 31st at 11 am, they’ll see:

  • Sale Ends In 12 hours

When a shopper sees this on December 31st at 11 pm, they’ll see:

  • Sale Ends In 59 minutes

💡Google Ads help article on countdowns.

Setting Up Location Insertions

Setting Up Location Insertions
  • Select if you want the location inserted to be at the city level, state level (or provincial in other counties), or country level.
  • Write your default text.

The Output

Once you’ve set up the location format and the default text, the text in the headline or description should look something like this:

  • Free Shipping to {LOCATION(Country):the USA}

If a shopper is searching from Mountain View, California, USA…

  • For the city format, they will see:
    • Free Shipping to Mountain View
  • For the state format, they will see:
    • Free Shipping to California
  • For the country format, they will see:
    • Free Shipping to United States

If Google can’t pin down their location, they will see:

  • Free Shipping to the USA

💡Google Ads help article on location insertions.

General Notes on Copywriting

Always Match the Landing Page

What is written on the ad should be directly supported on the landing page, preferably above the fold.

We don’t want to write:

  • See Why X Is the Best” without the landing page having clear copy showing why X is the best.
  • Avoid the Hassle of X” without the landing page showing how the product helps avoid that hassle.
  • Saves Money Over Time” without the landing page outlining exactly how it does so.

Don’t forget this rule when writing your ad copy. If you come up with an amazing headline that you’d love to use, but isn’t supported by the landing page copy, then try to get that copy on the landing page.

Use Eye-Catching Characters When You Can

Google doesn’t allow “gimmicky” characters into its ads, such as stars (☆ ✦ ✪ ✵ ✫ ✱) or hearts (❤) or ►triangles◄. However, some characters are allowed that other advertisers very rarely ever make use of.

What’s the point of using them? Every way that you can catch the eye by being different is an advantage.

·interpunctA great replacement for the common dash (-).
bulletA great replacement for the common dash (-).
en dashSlightly longer replacement for the common dash.
em dashEven longer replacement for the common dash.
ellipsisAn ellipsis suggests more to come if one just clicks the link.
trademark symbolIndicates that the preceding mark is an unregistered trademark.
®registered trademarkIndicates that the preceding mark is a registered trademark.

A Great Ad Does 3 Things

It qualifies the shopper…

There are many ways your ad can and will show to an unqualified shopper.

What’s an unqualified shopper?

  • They searched for “dress shoes” and your store only sells tennis shoes.
  • They searched for “greek mythology goddess nike” and your store sells Nike shoes.
  • They searched for “cookie recipe” and your store sells cookie-shaped recipe cardholders.

Your ads should give every clue possible for what they can expect after they click it. Doing so helps prevent an excessive number of people from visiting and then bouncing right out of a site with disappointment.

It entices the click…

During the fraction of a second that most shoppers will take to scan the dozens of links and options vying for their attention, your ad copy must intrigue them enough to spend their valuable time and attention in clicking to and evaluating yet another website.

It primes the shopper…

This is an oft-overlooked aspect of the power of ads, even by seasoned professionals. If your ad copy says something like “Cheapest X-Widgets In Town”, then the shopper is primed to view the store as a bargain shop. If the store actually wants to compete on its product quality, you’ve sullied the priming that the shopper should have had.

The ad copy should support the overall brand message and unique selling proposition of the store—the reason this shopper has to buy here and not elsewhere.

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