HomeBlogHow to Master Responsive Search Ad Copy in 5 Steps (With a Template)

How to Master Responsive Search Ad Copy in 5 Steps (With a Template)

Author: Michelle Morgan
Last Updated: December 4, 2022 | Paid Search Marketing

In just two months, responsive search ads (RSAs) will be the only standard Search campaign type you can create in Google Ads. With this ad format, you provide up to 15 headlines and four descriptions and Google will mix and match those into ads that best fit each search.

how responsive search ads work

But you’re not just dealing with 15 headlines and four descriptions. You’re dealing with combinations and permutations that all need to make sense.

This is enough to make anyone’s brain hurt. 🤯

So today, I’m going to share with you a simple, five-step process for writing responsive search ad headlines and descriptions that will allow you to get the most out of this ad type—with a template to make your life even easier.

Table of contents

Which RSA strategist are you?

Before we get into the process, it might be helpful to understand where you (or your PPC partner) falls on the RSA copywriting spectrum. You’ll probably be able to tell pretty quickly the one that I think you should adopt.

The Control Freak

Pins precisely three headlines and two descriptions

The Control Freak is extremely averse to letting Google make any decisions for them whatsoever. To them, the transition from expanded text ads (ETAs) to RSAs is almost an existential threat, so they’ll do everything they can to regain that control.

In particular, they’ll simulate an ETA with their RSA by providing only three headlines and only two descriptions and pinning them all. If you do that, your ad will look similar to the one below.

responsive search ad headlines - pinning example


  • Pros: For highly regulated industries prone to Google Ads disapprovals, think financial or health care, controlling all messaging could be the only path forward to ensure you’re legally covered. Whether it’s anti-discrimination, legal disclaimers, or something else, if you have ad messaging that must be included, you may need to forgo any automation and ensure you’re presenting your company or client in a compliant manner.
  • Cons: If you do use this full control approach, you could open yourself up to lower ad strength scores which, while we’re told they don’t currently impact ad rank, could have some negative impacts. Additionally, you’ll be missing out on the potential upside that machine learning could bring to your account.

The Hot Mess

Throws RSA spaghetti at the wall…blindfolded

Unlike the Control Freak, the Hot Mess has absolutely no strategy whatsoever when writing their Google ads. This person adds a new variant, chucks in a number of headlines and a few descriptions based on their whims of the moment, hits publish, and then probably drunk texts an ex while jaywalking under a ladder and carrying a black cat.

They also likely have far too many or far too few ads in each ad group (terrible account structure) and aren’t taking advantage of the insights their ad performance is giving them.

  • Pros: None.
  • Cons: Too many to list

None of this is a good look.

Are you making any mistakes in Google Ads?

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The Calculated Practitioner

Is both pro-pin and pro-automation

Rather than controlling every single aspect of the ad copy or letting the phases of the moon decide your performance, the Calculated Practitioner has a strategy in place to both ensure their ads will be congruent from start to finish as well as take advantage of machine learning to see improved performance.

  • Pros: This strategy allows you to write super-effective Google Ads that follow RSA best practices (see the cheat sheet below).
  • Cons: For the Hot Mess, this means more work. For the Control Freak, it means giving up some control.

So what is the strategy of the Calculated Practitioner?  We’ll get to that shortly.

Responsive search ad copy best practices

To fully understand this strategy, you’ll want to make sure you know RSA best practices. You can find them all in this responsive search ad 101 post, but here are the basics:

  • Don’t use the bare minimum. Use at least 8-10 of the 15 headlines, and at least three of the four descriptions available to you.
  • Keep your headlines distinct. Google will not show similar variations.
  • Don’t put keywords in every headline. At least three of your headlines should not be keyword-focused (i.e., shares a feature, benefit, or CTA).
  • Pin sparingly. Over-restricting can limit Google’s ability to maximize your ad combinations and performance.
  • Vary headline lengths. This will allow Google to show ads with two or three headlines, so don’t use all 30 characters for all headlines.

how to run google ads - responsive search ad tip cheat sheet

View the full cheat sheet here.

5 steps to writing great responsive search ads

Alright, now that you know the best practices and where you stand on the Hot Mess –> Control Freak spectrum, you’re ready to learn the strategy. I’ll use a fictional example of an ad for my Paid Media Pros YouTube channel.

Step #1: Create different types of headlines

Use this spreadsheet template to brainstorm headlines of varying types. In it you’ll see eight different categories of headline types, with character counters.

responsive search ad headlines - template

Get the free Google Sheet template here.

Here are the categories I’d suggest, as well as some made-up examples:

  • Keyword focused: PPC Video Library, PPC Videos for All Channels, Free PPC Videos
  • Features: Step-by-Step Tutorials, Learn At Your Own Pace
  • Benefits: Improve Ad Performance, Grow Your Business, Save Wasted Budget
  • Brand messaging: Paid Media Pros, Learn With Paid Media Pros
  • Social proof: Over 17k Subscribers
  • Price comparison: Free to Watch Online
  • Advantage over competitor: Watch Ad-Free, No Signup Required
  • Calls to action: Get Free Access Today, Check Out the YouTube Chanel, Subscribe on YouTube

Write as many headlines as you can think of that fit within those categories. If there are other categories that make sense for your specific industry, add them in there as well.

Step #2: Assemble categories into themed templates

Now that we have some headlines, we need to decide where they’re going to go. But before we choose specific headlines for each RSA, we’re going to outline a template for the RSA as a whole.

Here are a few examples you could run with—again, focusing only on headlines at the moment.

responsive search ad headlines - templateLink to the template is above.

Each headline matches a category that you have already written a number of headlines for, but the idea here is to map out overall message flow.

Don’t forget, headline position #3 doesn’t always show for each impression, so this portion of the messaging shouldn’t be something imperative for every impression.

Step #3: Add messaging & pin into your template

Now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. When you create your RSA, choose the template you’re going to use and add in the headlines from each category, then pin them into the templated spot.

responsive search ad headline examples

For this example, I used Template #1 from Step #2 to create my ad, which is:

Keyword focused – Call to action – Price comparison

Each headline that is keyword-focused is pinned into Headline position #1, calls to action are in Headline position #2, and price comparisons are pinned in Headline position #3.

As you can see above, you can pin multiple components into the same placement, but the key here is to make sure you pin appropriately.

If you pin at least one headline into all three headline placements, then leave other headlines unpinned, those unpinned headlines will not be used. So to employ this strategy appropriately, pin every headline.

Step #4: Follow a similar 3-step process for descriptions

Clearly, headlines are not the only components for RSAs. Conduct a similar practice of theme generation and content writing for descriptions and add them to your headline templates to create an entirely cohesive ad variant.

Some tips for description writing:

  • Try not to duplicate the language used in headlines. This is simply not strategic.
  • Don’t forget to include calls to action in some variants.
  • Description 2 won’t always show, so be sure you’re writing copy that isn’t reliant on that variable to make sense.

Here are some description examples for the fictional ad we’re building:

  • We want to make paid advertising more accessible to everyone. New videos every week!
  • Check out the library of past videos to level up your marketing chops.
  • Learn how to advertise and get empowered to move the needle for your business.

✴️ Want to un-borify your Google Ads copy? Get the free guide ⤵️

>> 10 Tricks to Write Exceptional PPC Ad Copy (With Examples!)

Step #5: Get to testing

With the previous four steps, you now have a fully formed responsive search ad. It has headlines and descriptions that fit an overall template to where you can control the user experience with your brand but also allow Google to choose the specific messaging based on its “intuition.”

Now it’s time for you to test, just like you would have with Expanded Text Ads. (If you think you don’t need to test your ads, read my Google Ads mistakes post and let me change your mind.) Here are some samples of tests you can run:

  • Test templates against each other. What types of messages work best in which places?
  • Test within templates. Create 3 different RSAs and use the strategy outlined above for all but one component. Use each RSA to test a singular aspect of that ad to see how each does.
  • Test themes of messaging within the same template. Maybe you test Template 2, but you make one variant that is all risk aversion messaging while the other is positive messaging.

At this point, your ad copy test is like a choose-your-own-adventure book.

Be the Calculated Practitioner

Even if you’re not a huge fan of responsive search ads or you’re still chapped at having your control taken away, the fact of the matter is RSAs are here to stay. I’m not a huge fan of losing control within my ad campaigns, but I’m also not so averse to automation, and I don’t think you should be either.

So, while the Control Freaks are still fuming over the upcoming changes and the Hot Messes are oblivious to what’s about to happen to them, be the Calculated Practitioner. Get your testing house in order, have a strategy to make the most of this change, and leave your competition in the dust.

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Meet The Author

Michelle Morgan

Michelle is the Co-Founder of Paid Media Pros. She has twelve years of experience in all aspects of PPC and brings a wealth of experience developing and executing campaigns across search, social, and display platforms in both agency and in-house settings. Her experience gives her an especially well-rounded and holistic view of the paid search landscape—one she shares regularly as an influencer, author, and industry speaker at events like SMX, HeroConf, and Pubcon, as well as the Paid Media Pros YouTube channel.

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