November 18, 2021

What Does Google’s Move to Responsive Search Ads for Paid Search Mean for Pharma?

Image of multicolored Google sign letters

Google will be changing its format for paid search campaigns. Let’s talk about what that means for pharma marketers!

Google Ads has stated that starting June 30, 2022, responsive search ads (RSAs) will be the only text ad format that can be created or edited in standard paid search campaigns. The option to create or edit expanded text ads (ETAs) will no longer exist within Google Ads after June 29, 2022.

Why Pharma Marketers Should Care About RSAs
RSAs are a text ad format that requires an increased number of headline and description line variations than ETAs require. The variations allow Google to rotate the ad elements to show more relevant, higher-performing ads to the user performing the search. Over time, Google tests combinations, learning which perform best and promoting the ‘winning’ variation most often to boost performance.

Illustration Google ads in different positions
Source: Google

While RSAs have been around since 2019, pharma and other regulated industries have been slow to adopt them because of the inherent lack of control of the ad elements that is given to advertisers. Many were hesitant to implement RSAs until there were mechanisms in place that guaranteed that all of their ads would be legally and medically compliant

The Benefits of Pinning
In response to the concerns, Google has introduced a ‘pinning’ feature allowing advertisers to ‘pin’ headlines and description lines in place, guaranteeing these elements will always show, and show in the order set.

Illustration showing "responsive ads in action" from Google
Source: Google

Existing ETAs will not be able to be updated after June 29, 2022, and all new Google paid search ads will be RSAs.

Concerns for Pharma Marketers
Special care must be taken to accommodate the stringent regulations for pharmaceutical ads. Among the concerns that pharma marketers face:

  • The RSA ad format will be new to most MLR reviewers.
  • Content like the combination of brand and generic names, or a black-box warning (when applicable), must be pinned in place to ensure that they will always appear when the brand is mentioned.  
  • Changes to brand websites, including refreshing or adding content, will affect the approved active ad assets in a search plan.

Over the past year, Intouch has been studying RSA opportunities and performance, creating, and documenting best practices for all upcoming paid search ad plans. Case studies are in development with the preliminary data. RSAs have been introduced, where appropriate, in all recently created ad plans, and all accounts with significant data demonstrating that RSAs perform at or above ETA levels will move to a primary RSA ad plan as soon as possible. All newly created ad plans and ad plan updates will heavily feature the RSA ad format. And educational resources have been created detailing the RSA ad format to share with the audiences who review creative assets for FDA compliance.

Your Intouch team can further discuss the specifics of this change – and how we’re preparing your brands for it!

Author information: Keith Spisak is a group media director, paid search, with Intouch Media; Jack Jones is a senior media planner with Intouch Media.