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RSAs Vs. ETAs: Everything You Need To Know About The Two Most-Used Ad Formats


Written By: Matt Martinez, Paid Search Campaign Manager at MuteSix

Launched in 1998, Google Search is both the oldest and most-used campaign type in Google Ads. As such, it’s critical that advertisers understand the basics of the primary ad formats used and learn how best to leverage them. This way, your brand can stand out amongst the more than two million Google Ads accounts vying for ready-to-buy consumers’ attention.

The two most widely utilized formats are Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) and Expanded Text Ads (ETAs), with the former being the gold standard. Each format type has its own strengths and weaknesses, and many experts debate which is more beneficial for brands, but the truth is, using both may be the smartest move (more on that below). However, to continue to win in search, knowing when, how, and why to use each one for your particular advertising needs is critical.

That’s why the MuteSix Google team has put together a handy and informative guide to help advertisers test and decide for themselves which is more ideal for their particular objectives and how to use both to achieve the most optimal results and richest insights. 

Let’s take a closer look at each and then compare them side by side.

What is an ETA and how do you create one?

“ETA” stands for Expanded Text Ads, which are fully manual text ads that allow for three headlines (30 characters each), two descriptions (90 characters each), two paths (vanity URLs with 15 characters each), in addition to optional ad extensions and your choice of the final URL destination.

The “expanded” part of the name stems from the fact that previous iterations of the text ad did not allow for the three headlines and two descriptions as it now does with the latest format.

When creating an ETA, it is typically found when creating a new text ad within an ad group. In some cases, however, the “text ad” option will be unavailable. If your Google Ads account only shows “Responsive Search Ad” as an option, simply choose the RSA in the dropdown, then select the blue “switch back to text ads” link at the top right section of the screen. See below.

What are the pros of ETAs?

When looking at Google’s long-standing flagship ad format for search, there are a distinct number of strengths and weaknesses to pay attention to. For starters, ETAs provide full control over all aspects of your search ads. This includes headlines, descriptions, pathways, landing page URLs, etc., and gives advertisers a way to confidently test single variables when assessing performance and optimizing campaigns. For example, you can A/B test headline changes, while keeping all other variables consistent.

Next, ETAs offer more robust, transparent data. Unlike RSAs, which only provide a snapshot of which combinations of headlines were used most, ETAs allow you to decipher which combinations directly lead to increased conversions, conversion rates, ROAS, and more. 

Knowing these metrics can be incredibly helpful when monitoring your campaign and optimizing it accordingly.

What are the cons of ETAs?

Generally speaking, ETAs are more time consuming to create, and this can certainly become problematic when creating multiple ads to capture all your target keywords. 

Further, advertisers cannot utilize machine learning to automatically match headlines to real-time searches. Instead, the success of ETAs is more reliant on the experience and copywriting expertise of the advertiser, making it smart to partner with Google Ads experts like our team at MuteSix.

What are some best practices for ETAs?

When it comes to ETA best practices, it comes down to having a plan, using a consistent formula for headlines, and being intentional with testing.

Because they provide more manual control, it’s important to have a baked-out plan for what kinds of copy you want to test, an understanding of the learnings you want to gain, and a grasp on how these learnings affect your strategy moving forward.

For example, you may want to test questions vs. statements in “Headline 1.” To do this, develop a time frame and statistically significant marker for you to conduct the test and execute it.

When it comes to keeping elements consistent among all your ETAs, our winning formula at MuteSix is:

  • Headline 1: Represent the search term / keyword in the headline.
  • Headline 2: Provide a value prop or something unique to differentiate you from other search advertisers (for example, offers, CTAs, taglines, etc.).
  • Headline 3: Up to you! We typically like to add the brand name in this spot for acquisition campaigns because new customers are not as inclined to click on an ad of a brand they are not familiar with. On the flip side, we like to move the brand name to headline 2 for brand / remarketing campaigns to reinforce brand awareness, and move the value prop / CTA to headline 3.

No matter how you choose to use an ETA, the bottom line is that you need to have a well thought-out and strategic plan to best leverage the manual aspect of the ad format to best suit your needs.

What is an RSA and how do you create one?

Unlike ETAs, RSAs allow you to add up to 15 headlines (30 characters), four descriptions (90 characters), and two paths (vanity URLs), as well as to choose your own landing page URL for the ads to target.

From these headlines and descriptions you write, Google will automatically use machine learning to test different combinations and decipher which combinations perform best, thereby putting less pressure on the “wherewithal” of the advertiser manually creating an ETA.

This ad format is typically found when creating a new text ad within an ad group. It is simply labeled Responsive Search Ad and is much easier to locate (and create!) than an ETA. See below.

What are the pros of RSAs?

Most importantly, less time-consuming manual input frees up your time and mind to focus on other strategizing and optimizing campaigns on other Google channels.

Further, because RSAs allow you to use machine learning, your brand can expect to garner higher CTRs from real-time matching to user search terms. This allows you to test more headlines at once, giving you accelerated headline learnings over ETAs.

What are the cons of RSAs?

With less manual input comes less control, meaning advertisers do not have the opportunity to A/B test headline performance. Further, RSAs offer less insights into what is driving performance. Unlike with ETAs, with RSAs, you can only see pairs of headlines and the percent of times those pairings were used.

Additionally, and this is a big one, your brand may experience lower conversion rates since RSAs tend to prioritize CTRs.

What are best practices for RSAs?

When it comes to best practices for RSAs, it comes down to trusting Google and the algorithm for delivering successful results. 

That said, you can rely on some well-thought-out strategy when creating these. Our winning formula at MuteSix is:

  • For the 15 total headlines you have, each should be unique with the ability to stand alone should it be mixed in with other headlines.
  • We like to break these down into groups: Brand Headlines, Product Value Prop(s), Offers / Incentives, and Unique. 
    • For your Brand Headlines: Use variations of ways to incorporate your brand name: For example, “Brand Name® Official Site” / “Brand Name® Brand Description” /, etc.
    • For your Product Value Prop(s): Use variations such as: “High Quality [Product” Made in the US” / “Artisan Made [Product],” etc.
    • For your Brand Offers / Incentives: Use variations such as “Free Shipping Over $X” / Free Shirt With Your Purchase of X” / “% Off for First Time Buyers”, etc.
    • For Your Unique: Get creative! Call out what distinguishes your brand with callouts like “All Products Are Sustainably Sourced from X.”
  • Have approximately three variations per concept so that, in each case, you are likely to show at least one of each.
    • If you want to ensure your brand name or value prop(s) always show, simply use the “pin” function to ensure a headline is always present in a specific spot. Here’s how.

The above process works with descriptions, too, and you’ll want to ensure all four descriptions are carefully and completely filled out and distinct from one another.

ETAs vs. RSAs: Which Is “Better?” 

This is entirely subjective. When trying to decide if one format is more optimal over another, ask yourself instead how you can use them in tandem. Google actually recommends at least one responsive ad and three expanded text ads per ad group to get full coverage and increased performance.

Having both formats allows you to use RSAs to capture higher CTRs, and ETAs to focus on conversions by testing headlines that might influence the bottom line, in addition to having visibility into other performance-based metrics, as mentioned above.

Best Use Cases for ETAs vs. RSAs

At the end of the day, both formats have their place in your ad groups and your campaigns; it’s up to you to leverage the strengths of each.

At MuteSix, we recommend that you consider using RSAs to gain quick learnings for headlines that are most commonly served, and then move those headlines to ETAs for a more data-driven approach to A/B test performance of specific headlines.

A Final Word: The Future Is Automation

The future of text ads is becoming increasingly automated, as evidenced by Google minimizing the significance of the ETA format by reducing it to a small blue link, making it a less readily available format for advertisers. In fact, in February this year, it was announced RSAs are now the default type for Google Ads (but, advertisers can still create new ETAs and edit existing ones).

At the end of the day, while RSA performance may not drastically beat out ETAs, getting comfortable with less control and easing into automation will free up your time for other advertising initiatives.

At MuteSix, we suggest that you lean into Google’s automated trends, while prioritizing control when you have the option to do so (in other words, leverage both ETAs and RSAs). If you need help manually creating your ETAs or extracting key learnings and pivoting your Google Ads strategy for either format, reach out to our experts today. 

Special thanks to our friends at MuteSix for their insights on this topic.
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