All You Should Know About Google Display Network Responsive Ads

In January 2017, Google removed advertisers’ ability to create or edit standard text ads for Display Network campaigns and steered us toward the Responsive ad format instead. Responsive ads is one of my favorite ad types.

Here is how to get started with these ads in the new Google interface.

What Are Responsive Ads?

Responsive ads combine the text and image ad setup processes together into one. You provide assets such as headlines, images and a Final URL. Once approved, these ads will run across the Display Network and automatically adjust their format, size, and appearance to fit various ad spaces. Responsive ads can appear as Text, Native, or Image ads:

Why Responsive Ads?

Google boasts that Responsive ads make ad setup faster and easier for advertisers. While that’s true, and this change enables a more streamlined approach it undercuts advertiser control and optimization insights. Where advertisers could previously create separate text and image ads, and even break them out into separate ad groups or campaigns to help visualize and better control performance differences, with Responsive ads it isn’t currently possible to see performance stats per ad format. So, you’re unable to see how a Responsive ad is performing in its various forms separately, whether Text, Image or Native.

Creating Responsive Ads in the New UI

To create Responsive ads in a Display campaign in the new UI, simply click into your campaign and ad group within, then from the Ads & extensions tab choose the blue + button, then choose Responsive ad:

Your first step will be choosing images. You can choose to Scan your Website, Upload images you have already created, pull from images you’ve Recently Used, or browse Stock Images Google generates based on your website content:

With each image, you’ll select whether to use it as the main image or the logo. You can crop just one image to use for both the Landscape and Square formats or use two different images:

Keep in mind that if you upload images, you’ll need to meet the spec requirements. Additionally, text can’t cover more than 20% of your images so keep that in mind if you’re creating your own.

Once you’ve got images in place, you’ll write copy for a Short Headline, a Long Headline and a Description, and you’ll also enter your business name and a Final URL:

There are a few things worth noting about the Headlines:

  • The Short and Long headlines won’t show up at the same time, it’s one or the other.
  • Unlike Search campaign text ads, the Short Headline character limit is only 25 instead of 30.
  • The Short and Long Headlines can show up without the description.
  • If the Long Headline has to be shortened due to the site your ad is showing on it’ll be truncated with ellipses.

After you’ve entered the copy and URL you want to use, you can choose the Ad URL Options dropdown to include a tracking template, custom parameters, or specify a separate Mobile URL:

Call to Action Text

If you choose the More Options button you’ll see that you can also add a Call to Action. There are a variety of choices:

You’ll notice the (Automated) option at the top of the list. This is what the default ad setting. I was able to chat with a Google support team member who told me that if you leave the Automated option in place that Google will try to use context to create its own Call to Action text for your ad by looking at what your landing page and ads are about.

Since a Call to Action can be very specific from business to business and even from campaign to campaign, as goals and offers can vary, I’d recommend you choose from the preset list of CTAs if there is one that makes sense for your product or service.

Previewing Responsive Ads

While you’re creating your responsive ads, AdWords will generate previews for you to the right:


Once you’ve saved an ad, you can simply click on it from the Ads tab to see previews as well:

You’ll notice that from this preview box, you can more easily see the varying formats and how they look in a side by side comparison. You can also copy the link at the top if you’d like to share the ad preview say with a client, and you can also click through the link and another window will open with even more variations of each format for you to view:

Dynamic Responsive Ads

Although I won’t dive into setup specifically for this type of Responsive ad, I wanted to touch on it at a high level here. If you’re running a Remarketing campaign that is linked to your Merchant Center data feed, your text ads can show as both static ads and Dynamic Responsive ads. Dynamic Responsive ads show personalized content based on promotions, products, and services from your feed.

Note that once you add a feed to the campaign it’s automatically eligible to show both static and Dynamic Responsive ads. Due to the performance difference between these ad types, I recommend breaking them out into separate campaigns and removing the Responsive option from the Static campaign. You can find the option to opt in or out of Dynamic ads by choosing your campaign and navigating to Settings. From there, choose the Additional Settings dropdown:

Once you choose Additional Settings, just scroll down until you see the Dynamic ads line item, click to open that tab and you’ll see the checkbox to use Dynamic ads:

There are a few things to keep in mind when using Dynamic ads:

  • If you include a formatted price in your feed, then it will be used instead of the price prefix you add in AdWords when creating up your ad.
  • Because responsive ads show as more sizes than your dynamic feed images can fit to, your ads may not always use images from your feed.
  • Google may show layout tags for retail advertisers, such as “new”, “hot”, or “price drop”, on relevant products in order to drive performance. These layout tags appear automatically based on product insights from the feed. Learn more here.

One extra feature with Dynamic Responsive ads is the Custom color option during ad creation. You’ll specify a Main color and an Accent color.

Note that the Custom colors will only be used with Image ads variations, not Text or Native variations.

Closing Thoughts

We have been seeing increasingly better performance from the Responsive ad format over time in our campaigns, and this makes sense as Google optimizes the ads based on historical performance. Set up is certainly quicker and easier with Responsive ads, however, there is a significant lack of optimization and control options without being able to see performance for each ad by specific formats. It’d be nice if Google would roll out this additional insight and give us some more controls in the future but that is unlikely.

How has performance been for Responsive ads in your accounts? Let us know in the comments below!