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A Guide to Google’s Responsive Ads for Display

Published: November 28, 2016

Author: Stephen Bergen

Responsive Ads for Display are a relatively new ad unit from Google; they are to Display Text Ads as Expanded Ads are to Text Ads. They have definite pros (flexibility) and cons (sub-optimal performance visibility), but overall they’re well worth testing.
In this post, we’ll give a quick definition of Responsive Ads and dish up examples, benefits, drawbacks, and set-up steps. Let’s get started.

What they are

  • Responsive ads are a hybrid of image, text, and native ads. They give you the ability to control your messaging across the GDN, along with simplistic functionality that creates an easy-to-use template for display advertising, testing, and optimization.
  • Google used to pull random images from your website in an attempt to produce a more native look for text ads across the display network. However, Google doesn’t always know which images are ideal for your messaging and brand, and will often choose less than ideal content to pair with your ad text, creating problems with relevancy and impacting CTRs.


responsive display ads


Why switch over to responsive ads? Some of the benefits of responsive ads include:

  • The ability to assemble and test different ad components without having to go to your graphic designer. By segmenting the images from the text, you can create a myriad of testing scenarios to optimize.
    • Additionally, Google can crawl your landing page and determine which images on your website are possible for use with the responsive ad unit. This is especially useful for SMBs who don’t have dedicated design teams and may not have access to the original image files used on their website. Unlike text display ads, however, you have the ability to choose which images from your site to utilize, and match them to the appropriate ad content.
  • Dual images. You get the benefit of a main “hero” image while still being able to upload your logo to be used in ads.
  • Nativity. Google does the work for you, taking your image, ad text, and logo and creating a seamless look within the page where your ad appears. This gives the appearance and functionality of native advertising – within the GDN.
    • The biggest positive of this feature is that Google will resize your image to fit the page. Gone are the days of requesting 10 different image resolution sizes per ad group. Now you can upload one main image, and Google will fit it to the ad space on the page, whether that is a banner, in-line, skyscraper, or any other size/ratio!
  • By removing the text from the image, you don’t have to worry about text size. Google will make the text the correct size for the device, screen, or page, which means you can focus on creating impactful messaging and spend less time on fitting the correct font size in your images across a multitude of dimensions.


Unfortunately, responsive ads are still not perfect. Some limitations to note:

  • You are unable to extrapolate which ad version appeared and get testing data and results on the different formats. This makes it difficult to determine which of your ad types is performing best and which are less impactful. For example, are the text ads variants outperforming the native ad variants?
    • Google is aware that this is desired functionality but hasn’t given a timeline on if/when the feature might become available.
    • This also means you can’t bid optimize based on ad type.
  • Similar to Facebook, your images can have no more than 20% text on them. This might be restrictive if you are attempting to copy over display image ads that might have a large amount of text.


How to create responsive ads:
On the “Ads” tab, click the +Ad drop-down and select “Responsive ad.”
Next, choose an image to attach to your ad. You’ve got four options on where to pull your images from.

  • Scan the website
    – This allows you to pull images directly from your landing page.
  • Upload
    – A standard upload option. Make sure you comply with the image size policies (image greater than 600 x 314, ratio of 1.91:1, maximum file size of 1MB ,and text less than 20% of the image).
  • Use Stock Images
    – Google will find additional stock images by scanning your site for specific keywords and searching for stock images it thinks are related to your content.
  • Pick recently used
    – This makes it easier to find recently used images when creating multiple ads, especially if your site has a large quantity of images.

Also, be sure to select a quality image for your logo.
Next, input your desired Short Headline (25 characters), Long Headline (90), and Description (90), along with your business name (25) and the Final URL you wish to lead people to when they click.
You are all set! Enjoy the power and customization of responsive ads.

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