Always Be Testing: A Google Ads Case Study

By: Sam Kessenich, Chief Digital Officer, RyTech LLC

Google is why I have trust issues.

Over the past few months we’ve been doing some interesting Responsive Search Ad (RSA) testing for clients.

For those of you who don’t know, RSAs are the new Google Search Ad format, asking you to upload up to 15 headlines and up to four descriptions. Google will then use Machine Learning to choose the best combination of those headlines and descriptions to show to users based on their persona, search behavior, and what they typed into Google.

Here at RyTech, we don’t love the traditional RSAs. Not having the granularity to tell which headline combination is performing the best, with performance here defined by:

  • Click Through Rate
  • Cost per Click
  • Conversion Rate
  • Cost per Conversion

This means we don’t get to learn from potential customers the themes (features vs. benefits vs. social proof, for example) that best resonate and influence searchers to click on the ads we run.

Instead of approaching an RSA with the traditional approach, RyTech has used the Pins Feature that Google Ads offers to make sure we know, at least thematically, which headlines and descriptions perform better or worse than others.

The issue with this approach? Google hates it. Google wants 100% control over what’s showing and what isn’t .

The reason that’s an issue is because if we load the exact same ad, with vs. without pins, the “Ad Quality,” as defined by Google, is deemed lower than the un-pinned ad.

Typically, I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in a Google-defined metric like Ad Strength. However:

  1. Ad Strength potentially impacts Ad Relevance and Expected Click Through Rate;
  2. Ad Relevance and Expected Click Through Rate (CTR) directly impact Quality Score;
  3. Quality Score impacts Ad Rank;
  4. And Ad Rank impacts what we have to bid to be competitive in an auction. The better the Ad Rank, the cheaper the Max Cost Per Click needed to rank in an auction.

Our Hypothesis:

If we introduce completely unpinned RSAs, we’ll notice a better Quality Score as well as a lower Cost per Click. It stands to reason that if Google’s Ad Strength holds any weight, it will have a positive impact on Expected CTR and Ad Relevance.

That’s not what we saw however…

Our Findings:

Instead what we noticed across multiple accounts is that our unpinned RSAs performed worse in terms of Click Through Rate and Cost per Click, while still receiving the lionshare of overall impressions and cost.

To make this even more egregious, we told Google to “rotate ads indefinitely” across these campaigns. This should have, in theory, given equal weight to every ad we had running. But it didn’t. 

What should you take from this? 

Every account is different, but every account should undergo ongoing creative testing.

We did notice that completely unpinned RSAs saw better performance across Click Through Rates and Costs per Click in some less competitive landscapes (less than 5 competitors in the auction on a normal basis). But in almost every highly competitive market (frequently 8+ competitors), we noticed our Pinned (or Half-Pinned) RSAs performed evenly OR outperformed completely unpinned RSAs.

So here’s one more marketing acronym to remember: ABT. Always. Be. Testing.

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